Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Tigers in the Mud
Every now and then, I'll buy a book that a blogger recommends. Sometimes they just review the book and it sounds interesting so I buy it. A couple of times, I've bought books recommended by bloggers that I liked to read and wound up losing interest in that blog because the book was such a disappointment. I've bought a few that I found reading Free North Carolina. I can't even remember all of them. I have yet to be disappointed by any book Brock posts about.
A few weeks ago, Free North Carolina linked to a write up about Otto Carius' Tigers in the Mud. I had seen the book on Amazon and figured that it was just another memoir by a German soldier and he just happened to have some time in a Tiger Tank. Its quite a bit more.
Having never heard of Otto Carius, I always thought that Michael Whittman with his 138 tank kills was the highest scoring Tank Ace ever. The write up that Free North Carolina linked to said Carius had 150. 150 is more than 138 everywhere except in "communist core" math so that got me interested. I won't ever make any money by knowing that but its nice to learn something new so I bought the Kindle book and began to learn more.
Most of Carius' experience was with the Tiger I. I have always heard that "Tigers" were underpowered, unreliable, too heavy, too complex and too expensive. Its a common statement that each one cost a million Reichmarks and that the Germans should have spent the money, time and resources building more of something cheaper. Reading Carius' book leaves a different impression.
According to Caruis, the Tiger I had a top road speed of 45 kph and could do 20 kph cross country. 45 kph works out to about 27 mph. Contrast that with the roughly 25 mph top speed of most variants of the nimble, quick and downright agile Sherman. He said they only ran them 25 kph on the roads because faster speeds were hard on them but it could be done. He says you could shift the transmission and steer it with two fingers and that it was as easy to drive as an automobile. Underpowered and too heavy. Uh huh.
The most common mechanical problem Carius talks about is shell fragments from Russian artillery getting into the grates on the engine decking where they cut the radiator hoses or poked holes in the radiators. He doesn't ever say the Tiger I was unreliable. In fact, he liked it for its "robustness." The only negative comment that he has on reliablity is that the carburetors were "too sensitive" compared to the diesel engines on the Russian tanks. Just about any carbureted engine is going to have more sensitive carburetors than an engine that doesn't use carburetors. Too complex and unreliable. Right.
I have always suspected that historians have conflated the Panther's early reliability problems and the King Tiger's weight and power troubles with the Tiger I. The book makes me think I may be right. Caruis finished the war in a Jagd Tiger. He does say those were underpowered and unreliable. (He did like being able to shoot through a house and knock out a Sherman though). I think he would have said so if the Tiger I suffered any of those problems.
Carius never addresses the cost issue. He just talks about the tank for what it is but I think the book itself speaks to that point. Time after time, Carius took his four Tiger Is out and stopped dozens of Russian tanks. They were frequently used as a fire brigade to stop Russian breakthroughs. So the Tiger I weighed something more than twice as much as a late model Mk IV. Could eight or ten Mk IVs have done as much as those four Tiger Is? Doubtful. One of his stories involves rescuing a group of something like seventeen Stugs that were cut off by the Russians. Did four Tiger Is cost as much as seventeen Stugs? I don't know. Did they use as much fuel? Did they cost as much to maintain? I doubt it. It took twenty men to crew four Tiger Is. It took as many men to crew a Mk IV or a Stug as a Tiger I. Seventeen Stugs was eighty five men and they had to be rescued by twenty men in four Tiger Is. If the Germans had built a lot more of something cheaper, where would they have gotten the men to crew them? How would they have fed them if they had gotten them? If they had the men to crew them, could they have actually built four or five or six times as many Mk IVs as they built? Maybe that's a question for Albert Speer. About the only argument that can be made along the cost issue is that perhaps they should have built fewer Tiger Is in favor of more Panthers. One is still left to wonder whether the Germans had the resources, men, guns and engines to field significantly more tanks than they did or the fuel to keep many more tanks running.
Funny how we are told that the Germans' big mistake in the air war was postponing development of jet fighters because they thought their Me 109 and FW 190 were good enough and that they made a big mistake in the ground war because they did go ahead and develop advanced, extremely capable tanks because the Mk IV was outclassed by the T-34.
(I find that I have misplaced the thumb drive that has the picture that I took of the Tiger I that was at Aberdeen Proving Grounds on it. Dang. Imagine something dark green that's really big and then imagine it about 20% bigger).
I think Tigers in the Mud demonstrates that the Tiger I was really, to borrow Charles Atwater's words, "a good, solid tank" and actually what the Germans needed by the time it got to the field. Reading Caruis' book didn't leave me wondering whether the Germans should have built something cheaper instead of the Tiger I. It left me wondering whether they wouldn't have fared a lot better if they had been able to build 2,700 of them instead of just under half that many.
I'm going to go see the movie "Fury" this weekend. I am told that they actually use a Tiger I to play a Tiger I in the movie. Those mocked up T-34s (yes, look at their wheels and tracks) that they fixed up to look like Tiger Is for the movie "Kelly's Heroes" and that made their way into "Saving Private Ryan" were better than Hollywood's usual practice of using M 47s, M 48s and M41s (and sometimes even Shermans) for Tigers but I want to see the real thing. I'm gonna be pig-bitin' mad if it ain't a real one.