German Infantry Anti-Tank Tactics 1941/1942

This is hair-raising.

Sucks to be the guys who suddenly find out the untermenschen have T-34s and KV-1s and none of the wonderful German guns will penetrate the enemy tanks’ armor.

The Aryan Supermen were obliged to climb onto the back of the Soviet tank, chop through the ventilation grill over the engine with an axe, and then place a hand grenade through this improvised opening to try to disable the engine. Meanwhile, the Red Army infantry were, in theory, being kept too busy by the other Wehrmacht guys on the team to shoot Hans off the back of the tank before he was finished with the axe-and-grenade improvisation.

The Germans also had a gimmick of mines affixed to a plank and then maneuvered in front of the tank with a rope by a guy hiding in a nearby hole in the ground, as another low tech solution to the problem.

Relying on kludges is bad enough under peacetime conditions. This stuff could get you killed.

13 thoughts on “German Infantry Anti-Tank Tactics 1941/1942”

  1. Those Jerrycans were extremely reliable and versatile too. I’m sure they made a great anti-tank weapon, provided you were able to get close enough. A full 20 L can would weigh about 30 – 35 lbs, so that would require quite a bit of strength and athleticism to throw it from a distance.

    The cans’ outstanding design would still be in use today if not for convoluted EPA regulations that now make gas cans impossible to use. You can buy a toy set with the attached grenades for your army men wars.

  2. I liked the early point that much of the effect of tanks on infantry was a matter of morale i.e. of scaring the pants off them.

    Apparently a similar effect was seen in France in ’44: the German tank crews became scared of the Typhoon fighter bombers which attacked them with rockets. Not only did German tanks scuttle for cover when threatened by such attacks, but sometimes their crews would just abandon ship and run for it.

    I am glad that I never had to go to war.

  3. Reminds me of a story about Sherman crews; in 1944 they started receiving new tanks with a 3-inch gun replacing the 75mm they’d had before. Bigger charge, higher muzzle velocity, much better at penetrating German armor.

    The tank crews hated the new gun.

    All those attributes that made it a better anti-tank gun meant that the high-explosive shell needed a much thicker casing to survive the trip down range (and hence, less actual explosive), so it was much less effective at suppressing/killing German soldiers.

    The Sherman crews themselves regarded their tank as an infantry-killer first.

  4. Indeed the T 34 was revolutionary. A cast steel turret, sloped armor and a diesel engine. They were far less likely to torch up, the tankers nightmare. They had wide tracks and were good off road.

    The Jagdpanzers were the immediate answer and started to appear in late 43. A tank destroyers had no turret, and a better gun, than you could mount in a turret at the time. They were very effective and outperformed the tanks in armored battle, in any set piece engagement. In open fluid combat a turret is very useful though.

  5. The Sherman crews themselves regarded their tank as an infantry-killer first.
    More fools they. A victim of the (terrible) tank doctrine we had in place at that time. What need did we have to learn from anybody else’s experiences? We were Americans, by gosh! We’d show them furriners how to do it! And then they did it to us, in spades.

    It was a much better video than I expected based upon the write up.

  6. In 44 the Panthers were starting to be quite common. A Pz 5 could probably just ignore a Sherman and kill it any time they wanted. I fought board war games for many years, mostly the Eastern Front, and a Panther was my favorite tank, by far, if I was playing the Germans.

    So yes infantry is a much better idea for a tank that is poor at armored conflict.

  7. I’m not sure that the video creator knows what the hell he is talking about, to be honest. He’s regurgitating the manual, true, but… I’ve actually talked to former German soldiers who did this sort of thing for real. One of them had earned the Wehrmacht’s Tank Destruction Badge or “Sonderabzeichen für das Niederkämpfen von Panzerkampfwagen durch Einzelkämpfer” some six times. He didn’t think what he did was that big a deal, or really that impressive–It was all in a day’s work, on the Eastern Front. He actually felt that the risks he took doing what he did were less than the guys who were going out by themselves as runners and motorcyclists, jobs he wouldn’t have taken on a bet.

    Granted, most of his kills were with the Panzerfaust, but that still took a lot of balls. The Germans restricted that award to men who killed tanks with their basic infantry weapons, not dedicated AT guns or tanks. They handed an awful lot of those awards out, over the course of the war.

    The Germans were of the opinion that, and I quote, “…killing tanks is fun and easy, for the infantryman…”. It’s doable, but you have to have an enormous amount of testicular fortitude, and an utter disregard for your own life. An awful lot of German infantrymen had both–The guy who’s got the record for that badge I mention above? 21 tanks, he’s credited with–And, there were a lot of guys who managed at least five or six.

    Get a tank into broken or close terrain, with no supporting infantry? Killing them is actually not that hard to do. Where you had problems was when you needed to do your tank killing out in open terrain, where they had the advantage. Tanks are impressively scary, in the open; get them into terrain where you can sneak up on them, and they can’t use their speed? Salad days, for the light infantryman.

  8. PenGun Says @ April 28th, 2017 at 11:54 am:

    In 44 the Panthers were starting to be quite common. A Pz 5 could probably just ignore a Sherman and kill it any time they wanted…

    Tell that to General Creighton Abrams (Army Chief of Staff, 1972-74; the M1 tank is named for him). In WW II, he commanded the 37th Tank Battalion, which at Arracourt defeated two Panzer Brigades equipped with Panthers, destroying 86 tanks and assault guns.

  9. By the time of Arracourt, the Germans were short of trained armour. In that battle they had one veteran unit with almost no tanks and two brand new ones with only elemental training. By contrast the US force was experienced and well led. Thus the usual role was reversed with the experienced US forces defeating a poorly led and tactically inept German force.

    Panthers were notoriously unreliable but powerful. German tank doctrine emphasized engagement at a distance where possible so the Panther had very strong frontal armour; an M4 Sherman or even one of the later 76.2 mm armed units essentially could not penetrate a Panther frontally except by luck, by contrast the Panther could disable and defeat a Sherman at ranges exceeding 2 kilometres. However the panther was large, and had much weaker side armour. By their inept tactics the Panthers at Arracourt allowed themselves to expose that side armour to the US tanks and the Shermans could easily kill a Panther side on.

    It could be said, if you want to fight and can do so more or less on your terms, the Panther is very superior to a Sherman of any stripe. If you want to campaign, the Sherman is considerably superior.

    And just to explain, the Panther was particularly unreliable because the original design included a final drive based on the Tiger II unit, a robust and reliable device, but because of shortages not of material but of machine tool time a lighter, simpler unit was used, much to the detriment of the reliability of the Panther. The Panther was designed specifically to support “neutral turning” where one track goes forward and the other back which makes a tank considerably more nimble than just braking one track or the other. However this put such a strain on the simpler final drive that in practice it was rarely used so the panther was less maneuverable than it should have been. Although the Germans kept up until very late 1944 an impressive output of material, the quality was indeed suffering as a result of the air campaign against industrial assets.

  10. American armor doctrine was certainly not optimal in France, but you have to view the Sherman in the context of the entire US Army. While the Sherman was an obsolescent design (too high a profile, low-velocity main gun), they were fast, reliable and effective against the 95% of the German army that wasn’t equipped with Panthers or Tigers. Those they dealt with using tank destroyers or tactical air, which worked well enough, rather than getting involved in tank duels. They certainly lost more tanks than they might have otherwise, but the battles where the USA struggled to overcome German opposition weren’t open field tank battles – they were confined terrain like the bocage country in Normandy and the German frontier defenses where it was hard for tanks to be used offensively at all.

    Operating at the end of a very long supply chain, the Army needed reliable, standardized equipment. They didn’t have the luxury of home factories that could refit tanks (like the constant German upgrades and redesigns of their basic tank platforms), and manage a half dozen tank types in the field. The campaign in Europe only lasted 11 months – once the decision was made to go into Normandy with the Sherman, the Army was pretty much all-in.

    For better or worse, Eisenhower’s approach to the campaign was to rely on the Allies marked material superiority to grind down the Germans while denying them any opportunity to pull off a decisive counter-offensive. The Sherman was consistent with that strategy, while the Pershing would not have been. In 1944 it was still an unproven design, and by comparison, the Panther suffered a year or more of severe teething problems following its introduction into combat units in late 1942 (poor mechanical reliability and other design flaws that weren’t completely fixed until 1944). This is a recurring theme with the US armed forces in Europe – the replacement policy for personnel casualties, persistence with unescorted B17 raids and general operational tactics. All were based around a willingness to spend blood and resources to deny the Germans any chance to regroup or take advantage of their interior lines. It meant that France 1944 would not be the Allied version of France 1940 – but the Allies didn’t need it to be, just reprising the fall of 1918 (sans armistice) was enough.

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