German Tank Kills: Lying with Statistics?


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German Tank Kills: Lying with Statistics?



In this video we particularly look at the aspect that Fremde Heere Ost (the German military intelligence for the Eastern Front) discounted German Tank Kill claims by 50 % / divided them by two. This is not necessarily incorrect, yet the reason for this discount is often not mentioned or unknown. Additionally, one has to keep in mind when this statement was made and that the explanation given might not be correct either. Furthermore, various other problems with statistics, kill claims, keeping records etc. are also short discussed. In short, context matters and usually there are several aspects to consider.

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Overmans, Rüdiger: Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg. 3. Auflage, Oldenbourg: München, Germany, 2004.

BArch, RH 2/1933; Vortragsnotiz über Instandsetzung abgeschossener Panzerkampfwagen und Fertigung von Panzerkampfwagen und Sturmgeschützen in der SU, FHO (IId), 1.10.1943.

Zaloga, Steven: Sledgehammers: Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II (review), in: The Journal of Military History. Volume 68, Number 4, October 2004, p. 1283-1284. Online version (with typo in the heading) https://muse.jhu.edu/article/173363, last accessed: 3rd September 2021.

Morison, Samuel Eliot: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier 22 July 1942-1 May 1944. History of the United States Naval Operation in World War II. Volume VI. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, USA, 1950 (2010).

BArch, RL 10/512: Angriffsverfahren von Sturzkampfverbänden gegen Seeziele. (Einsatzerfahrungen der II/St.G.1 England und Mittelmeer.)

McNab, Chris: Hitler’s Tanks: German Panzers of World War II. Osprey Publishing: Oxford, UK, 2020.

#GermanKillClaims,#TankKills,#LyingWithStatistics

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38 Comments

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  1. My father and uncles were in WW2 (USA), and when someone in the media related a statistic, most of they would say, "That is a bull sh|t number they fed everyone." My father flew B-17's and according to his gunners they shot down more ME109's than were ever produced. Not out of malice; a fighter might be shot at by several planes, and when it starts to smoke, every plane notes "one plane downed'. Look at the number of 'Tiger' tanks knocked out by the US Army, even though Tigers were rarely used against them. "They attacked us with 5000 Tiger tanks!" Hmm, this agrees with Albert Speer's production numbers…

  2. Military History Visualized!!!
    I have one topic or question. Why did not Germany concentrate all its industrial resources on producing a single tank model instead of producing so many different tank models.
    For example, why not just mass-produce the Panzer IV and stop the production of Stug, Tigers and Panther tanks. Could it have helped the Germans win the war?
    Do you have the answer on this question/topic?

  3. tl;dr: believable that same tank (wreck) gets KIA 3-4 times before its towed away

    I can believe that one tank that got taken out by an assault gun last week gets popped by a passing tank because it turned the corner and was like 'woah shit!'
    and then the next day a movement of infantry almost shit bricks when they looks to the left and see a tank barrel poking at them.

  4. The Sherman tank poses an interesting problem. The Americans developed a highly efficient retrieval system. I spoke with a man once who had been one of the members of a unit whose job it was to clean these tanks out after they were returned. Some had an entire section of armor blasted away… through which they would spray hoses to get the remains of the crew members out. On other occasions, they were required to climb inside and hand pieces up to team members outside the tank. He estimated he was involved in the cleaning and repair of approximately 860 different Sherman tanks. Now mind you, some of those were relatively minor, but the severe ones were sufficient to guarantee him a long occupancy in various mental institutions over the years.
    He eventually did great work with his life and is well remembered by many people. So, yes, he turned out not only all right, but exceptional.

    The fact that they employed men in this way indicates how essential the Allies considered keeping Sherman tanks in the fight to be.

  5. Tank kills are probably the hardest of all to properly calculate. Firstly you have establish what constitutes a kill. Take in that all sides prioritized the retrieval of damaged, destroyed, broken down and captured tanks. Knowing they were valuable for parts or for repairing damaged units and for basic spare parts. This made getting number of tanks in the units back up to operational strength in hours, days or weeks as opposed to the wait for delivery from the factory. So theoretically a tank could be destroyed on the battle field and counted as killed 3 times in the battle and then same thing in a battle 3 weeks later and counted as killed again and so on and so on. The recycling of these vehicles helped keep the sides relatively stable until you went on full retreat like the Germans did in 1944-45 losing its ability to recover these vehicles, plus the loss of quality tank crews probably from fatigue and just luck running out making inexperience crews to lose more tanks in battle or due to mechanical breakdowns from this.

  6. This has been the case forever. I think it was first highlighted by the British media regarding claims made by Napoleon during the Italian campaign in the late 1700, where it was observed that if Napoleon’s claims were true, there wouldn’t be a single male left in all of Austria. That said, the British media certainly didn’t shy away from trying to discredit Napoleon either. As the saying goes, “the first casualty of war is the truth “.

  7. Using a Mk-1 Eyeball, I think seeing a big explosion followed by a large fire would lead me to conclude that the vehicle is destroyed.
    Also, a tank at 800 yards looks smaller than a Matchbox car and I doubt anyone is going to be in a rush to get up close and personal to confirm their kills.

  8. It's a small point, but you have to wonder about the perverse incentives created by giving Soviet soldiers bonuses for pulling damaged tanks back to the repair yard. It would seem that the more tanks you have to repair the less likely you are to fully repair each one. It would be more interesting if sending someone back into battle with a half working tank was a likely death sentence. I can only imagine what tanks that were poorly machined to begin with look like after shell impacts and repairs done by the side of the road.

  9. This may be an impossible question, but what percentage of German military archives are digitized? The question assumes that digitized records can be searched by anyone in any university, but non digital records can only be searched by a visit to the archives. Thus an answer would give some idea of how many new discoveries are waiting buried in written records that only a handful of scholars can access.

  10. I recalled seeing the film "Panfilov's 28" addressing this issue on several occasions. In the first instance, after beating back the German vanguard, the commander of the 2 gun AT "Battery" directed the gun layers of his battery to fire at 2 of the 4 "mission killed" tanks, explicitly stating that they were only lightly damaged, and would be repaired in 30 minutes if they don't shell it into scrap.
    The film brought up the issue of kill claims again at the end, as the survivors pondered how many tank wreckages were there. One thought they destroyed about 50 tanks, to which the surviving NCO responded that "we will tell our grandchildren that there's more, but for the Germans, 14 is enough, not counting the 4 we destroyed earlier this morning."

  11. I've always figured the simple fact of multiple units shooting the one tank inflates numbers quite a bit. If I'm an infantryman with an anti tank gun and I shoot at a tank then it subsequently bursts into flame I'm gonna chalk that up as a kill and not check to see if maybe someone else also shot it. The someone else shooting it is likely doing the same.

  12. Heavily damaged tanks are still off the current orbat and unavailable to continuing action for some time
    Crews may be dead or seriously injured, ammo, instruments and fuel lost, recovery takes resources and – especially for the Germans, spares seem to have been a constant issue

  13. as my Arma experience has shown, a lot of times multiple people shooting at one thing everyone takes credit for it going down if they've shot at it in the last half second (except with tubes as the explosions are easy to spot). Then the kill count shows up and you killed about a third of what you thought you killed.

    So this concept isn't weird to me.

  14. Kill claims by all parties in all circumstances in all eras have a tenuous relationship with reality, and it has always been near impossible to actually VERIFY which ones are legit without having the hull in question to analyse. And even that's iffy because of the 'shoot first ask questions later' approach soldiers naturally developed, so there's vast numbers of duplicate kills.

  15. In light of the topic, here's a ironic quote from Panther tank "ace" Ernst Barkmann when interviewed for the book "Panther" (Fiest Publications) in 1995:
    Questioner: "So how many enemy tanks and antitank guns did you and your crew destroy?"
    Barkmann: "Who counts, I don't know!"

  16. Very informative video, thanks! As someone who is working with statistical subjects routinely, I can confirm that even today, with all these powerful computers, advance statistical software, improved data sharing systems, etc., statistics are highly unreliable and could easily be misleading if interpreted by someone without enough experience in the matter.
    So, considering the WW II technology, and considering the chaos of war and all those things, it's not really surprising that war time statistics can be very wrong. But then again, some people won't accept that, because it's always easier to just eat up everything you are spoon fed rather than thinking about the details and the context.

  17. I thoroughly enjoyed this video but I am suprized that it is being treated as if it's a recent revolation. The discrepancies between reported losses and actuall losses is a subject that has been discussed since the day the war ended and probably during the war too. I suppose that every new generation needs to hash it out for themselves. I was happy to hear that new archival sources are being discovered all of the time on this subject and many others concerning the war and other events. Kudos to the researchers that keep digging for that additional info and to those that bring it to light.