Common WWII Myths
Myth: Belton Cooper’s book “Death Traps” is a good book about the Sherman.
Fact: Belton Cooper was a mechanic during the war, and thus lacked a good overall perspective of the Sherman’s performance. His laments about Shermans being no good against Tigers and Panthers are questionable, as his unit did not encounter Tigers and Panthers when he said it did. Furthermore, a portion of his book is dedicated to a rant about a Yankee conspiracy when it came to naming the tank, despite the fact that “Sherman” was a British nickname. The American designation was “Medium Tank M4″. To be fair, the Sherman name did make it into official documentation in 1944, but the common soldiers never used it.
Myth: Shermans were prone to fires due to the gasoline engines, and were nicknamed “Ronson” by their crews.
Fact: Shermans were not especially fire-prone (consider German tanks that also used gasoline engines, but avoid this reputation). Fires were caused by improper storage of ammunition, when it was literally stuffed everywhere inside the tank it could fit. The end of this practice drastically reduced the number of Sherman fires. The Ronson nickname is attributed to the slogan “lights every time”. The slogan was launched post-war, and thus could not influence the nickname.
Myth: German tanks in general, and Tigers in particular, were impervious to Allied guns.
Fact: Tigers were vulnerable to even Shermans armed with 75 mm guns. The longer 76 mm gun (superior in AP performance to the Soviet 85 mm gun, which could handle Tigers just fine) had no problem with Tigers or Panthers. British “Firefly” Shermans equipped with 17 pounder guns could effectively combat any German armour, including Tiger II tanks.
Myth: The Germans enjoyed unprecedented success in Europe due to the “Blitzkrieg” doctrine.
Fact: Blitzkrieg was never a doctrine. Zinegata explored the topic here.
Myth: German and crews were superior to anything the Allies had, and achieved an X:1 kill to death ratio (the number varies greatly).
Fact: The flaws of German kill counts are covered in detail here and here.
Myth: Soviet optics were abysmal, and their guns inaccurate, to the point where they could not engage enemy targets at more than a few hundred meters.
Fact: Soviet guns do not lack mechanical accuracy, and are occasionally more accurate than their German counterparts. As for optics, Americans praised them at Aberdeen trials: “Consensus: the gun sights are the best in the world. Incomparable to any currently known worldwide or currently developed in America.”.
Myth: The T-34 was a very unreliable tank, as proven by trials at Aberdeen.
Fact: While trials at Aberdeen uncovered some flaws in early T-34 tanks, the tank sent to them was an obsolete model that went through major refurbishment. Furthermore, American testing was flawed (for example, they failed to oil up the air filter). Read more details here and here.
Myth: Order #227 of the People’s Commissariat of Defense, nicknamed “Not One Step Back”, allowed for executions of Soviet soldier and officers without trial by commissars for retreating.
Fact: Many people have heard of the order, but never actually read it. The text of the order states that officers that retreat without authorization are to be relieved of duty and face court-martial. Court-martial for disobeying orders is common procedure in any army. “Panickers and cowards should be executed”, however, did allow for overzealous interpretation. The order is also frequently confused with Order #270, which allowed for execution of any commander or political worker that removes their rank insignia and flees to the rear or surrenders to the enemy.
Myth: The King Tiger could not be penetrated by any tank gun.
Fact: The Tiger II was penetrated many times by various weapons in trials. Even the meek 85 mm gun on the T-34-85 was capable of dealing a fatal blow to it at 300 meters. The Wikipedia article for the Tiger II has a very nice photo of a Tiger II with a 17 pounder hole in the front.
Ironically, the only weapon in Soviet tests that was consistently incapable of penetrating the front of the Tiger II was the Panther’s gun, even with APCR.
Myth: If the Germans could build the Maus, they would win the war for sure, as it would be invincible!
Fact: Even if the Germans managed to get a Maus into combat without it getting stuck, the Soviets had guns that were capable of fighting it by 1944: the BL-8/10 and BL-9 (and, if you want to go back further, various 107 mm guns).
Myth: Germans had the best optics in the entire war.
Fact: Not really, just some minor advantages in sight form factors (and not glass quality, like is often said). Daigensui explores the topic here.
Myth: Soviet Cold War era armour was abysmal, and the Americans had nothing to fear from it.
Fact: The CIA disagrees.
Myth: Germans could knock out Allied tanks at great ranges, and routinely did so from distances as great as 2 kilometers or even greater.
Fact: Research indicates that the average engagement range was only several hundred meters. Shots from over 1 kilometer were either rarely taken, or rarely reached their target.
Myth: The Panther was a great tank that could have turned the tide of the war if only _________.
Fact: Panthers, even the latest models, were full of mechanical issues, such as final drives that lasted 150 kilometers. The_Chieftain goes over them here. Additionally, the armour was of exceptionally poor quality,cracking after non-penetrating hits. Credit:
Myth: A SuperPershing knocked out a King Tiger at Dassau.
Fact: Only if you had a teleporter
Myth: Shermans were not meant to engage enemy tanks, and were supposed to run away whenever they saw them.
Fact: There is no such instruction in the War Department Armoured for Feild manual
Myth: The SS were an elite fighting force, especially their armoured divisions.
Fact: The success attributed to the SS is mostly based on their war diaries (Tigers in Combat). The diaries had little to do with reality (Tigers in Normandy). Even the Wehrmacht slashed the claims of the SS in half when estimating their performance, and Schneider’s research shows that even that was an optimistic figure. For example, Wittmann’s famous battle at Villers-Bocage where he is claims 20 kills only had 7 to his name. His victory was blown out of proportion by SS propaganda, since they were desperate for a tank ace among their own, routinely assigning an entire unit’s accomplishments to one tank/crew.
Most people focus on the three SS divisions that were LAH, Reich, and Totenkopf, which were equivalent to a Wehrmacht division at the best of times. The remaining SS divisions were barely Volkssturm quality, assigned to rear line duties such as executing civilians and fighting partisans.
Myth: Early war French tanks were awful and no match for German armour.
Fact: The B1, Hotchkiss, and Somua tanks were superior to German tanks in armament and armour thickness. However, “soft” characteristics (gas tank capacity, for instance) allowed German tanks to avoid battle with them.
Myth: The IS tank was created as a direct counter to the Tiger tank.
Fact: Here is a list of GABTU’s requests on the matter. The IS tank is not in it. The IS was meant to replace the KV as a breakthrough tank. The ability to combat enemy armour was a secondary, not a primary, requirement.
Myth: German tanks were superior to all of their contemporaries even in the early war, and the Germans scoffed at whatever they faced in battle.
Fact: While the PzIII and PzIV were solid vehicles, they were available in small numbers. The Germans gladly used captured Czech tanks, and even French tanks up to and including the Renault FT (Sotvoreniye Broni, Y. Reznik).Even old Soviet tanks were no exception.
Myth: The Marine Corps used the M4A2 Sherman because they wanted fuel commonality with the Navy and Springfield rifles because they were considered more reliable.
Fact: The Marine Corps during WWII was a bit of a red-headed stepchild of the US military. They had to make do with equipment no one else wanted, which included old rifles and diesel Shermans.