* World War II German Military Weaknesses logistics








World War II German Military Weaknesses: Logistics


Figure 1.--This unidentified photogtaph shows a pulverized Panzerkampfwagen MKIV--the mainstay of the German Panzer forces during World War II (albeit with many upgrades). The level of destruction suggests it was hit by a high-velocity gun or another tank. One moment it was a Panzer MkIV and the next a huge pile of scrap iron. That is what a tank can look like after getting a direct hit by a large anti-tank round and having it's ammo and fuel blow up at same time. We can assure you with a blast like that the crew were vaporized. We are not sure about the car, perhaps a reader can identify it and/or the truck in the background. We believe that the photograph was taken during Barbarossa, perhaps July or August 1941. Perhaps readers will have some thoughts. But what is especially interesting here is the German supply train following in the wake of the Panzers. Notice the slow moving horses. This is the German Army's logistical train that tried to follow the Panzer's first to Moscow (1941) and then to the Volga (1942). It worked in the West, but not in the East and was a major factor in the failure of both Barbarossa and Fall Blau (Case Blue). Image courtesy of: Military History Of the 20th Century website.

Perhaps the most serious German military weakness was the lack of attention and inability to adequately address logistics. German officers did not want to be in quatermaster service. That was not where careers and professional prestige were established. As a result, the supply sections tended to atract a poorer quality of officers. This is perhaps true in other armies as well, but it was especially true in the German Army. And this was a traditional German tendency. Germany's limited industrial base was a factor in its weak logistical system. As a result, Hitler launched the War before the Wehrmacht was fully mobilized. The Heer still relived heavily on draft animals, both for supplies and artillery. There were in particular, not enough trucks. This was only partially resolved by seizing trucks in France and the other occupied countries. For a military committed to Blitzkrieg mean mobility and speed this was a very serious weakness. It meant that supplies could not keep up with the advansing Panzers. It was an area of lesser importance to an army designed to win a war in a brief period, but was of vital importance to an army involved in a protacted war. [Citino, p. xiv.] The Wehrmacht over came this weakness in the short campaigns on relatively small battlefields in Poland and the West. The emense battlefield presented by the Soviet Union was a very different matter. A weak logistical system proved to be a critical weakness on the Eastern Front where the Wehrmacht had to contend with huge distances, hostile weather, and a primitive transportation network. And the planning for Barbarossa did not address this potential problem. Hitler demanded an aggresive invasion plan and planners who raised possible problems were often criticized or removed. The Allies after landing in Normandy had logistical problems. The Wehrmacht struggling to supply armie as far east as the Volga had insurmountable logistical problems. It is not true as often claimed that the Wehrmacht did not have winter uniforms. Warm clothing was stocked at wearhouses in the Reich. What Germany did not have was a logistical train that to could get the warm clothing in the troops. The logigistical system was strained getting fuel, amunitiuoin, and other supplies to the troops and thus winter clothing was given low priority in a campaign that was suposed to be completed in a short summer campaign. The Red Army facd some of the same logistical problemsxthe Wehrmacht fcd, but the Sovier not only had the outputvfrom their own factories ti support them, but huge numbers of American trucks deliverd through Lend Lease.

Serious Weakness

Perhaps the most serious German military weakness was the lack of attention and inability to adequately address logistics. A wudely accepted orinciole o warfare is "Amateurs strategy. Professionals talk logistics." We are not sure whi is the author. It is sometimes attributed to Gen. Omar Bradley. Substantial armies cannot cannot fightwars without secure supply chains. Husrir=eic armies often lived off tevkand, but even in ancuebt rimes,m whole armoies were lost when cut off from supplies. Rgus us especially the casevof modern armies which cannot love off the land. The success or failure of major operations can turn on the work of anonymous logisticians.

German Way of War

Germany was unified by the Prussian nonarchy afrr the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). This neanb that Prussian institutions abd mindset became the heart of the new German Empire. Prussian gas veeb calkkled ascrather than a country with ab armnym an army with a country. It began as the Margraviate of Brandenveg, a poor province of the Holy Roman Empire. Until the 15th century, it virtually dis nit exist and played no role in European history. With a small population and vurtually no resources it was an unlikely principlaity to come to play a major role in European affairs. Frederick VI of Nuremberg, the Hohenzollern burgrave (a nobel who ruled a burg or city) was made Prince Elector of Brandenburg. From an early point, the Hohenzollern dynasty gave a najor emphasis on their army whichb became the vaunted Prussian Army. Brandenberg-Peussia coud not fight extended wars with the large ciynries that surrinded them. They ciykd, hiwever, have a small, well trained army thatbcoukd be raoidly dedployed. Thus they were useful as n ally to larger countries. And based on this, Brabdenverg Prussia gradually epanded to become an imnpotant Eurooean power (18th century). Another aspect of Prussian milirary doctrine was fighting a war of movement. This woukd allow then to have a manot impact in the beginning pjase of wars. And whike they coukd nit begin tommatch thevake=rgevarmies of thenanot powrs, they could often outpomch theur adversaries by bringing foeces to bear at the schwerpunkt or deciding pointof battle. These were the same oribnckes that the Germans nroughtbto bearbin thev19th and 20th century, And Hitker's armies in 1939 combined these principles with the weapons of modern warfare incliding aircraft and panzers. This was the heart of Blizkrieg-all in the Prussian milirary tradition. Hitler's Germany was nonlonger a pppr backwater. It was a major industrail power eith an impressive technolgical capanility. It dis not, however, have am indystrial base greater than the countries Hutler was interntbon comquering. And it lvaked alobstball of the resources neededvto feed its industriesband support its armies. .

Military Prestige

German officers did not want to be in quatermaster service. That was not where careers and professional prestige were established. As a result, the supply sections tended to atract a poorer quality of officers. This is perhaps true in other armies as well, but was especially true of the German/Peussian armes historicallym incliding World War II. Army commanders craced commands in which they could demosrrate thaeir mastery of military skills, especially field commands. The idea of a command vareer based on logistics was not what an aspiring German officers wanted anynpart of for his career.

German World War II Heer

Hitler launched the War before the Wehrmacht was fully motorized. This was in oar the resultbof Germany;'s limited infustrial capacity and manufacturing tecgniques. The kack of petroleum reservers to fuel kotor vehicles was a nonter factor. The German Heer still relived heavily on draft animals, both for supplies and artillery. There were in particular, not enough trucks. This was a manageable problem on the small battkefieds of Western Eurooe in which the issues could be decided within weeks, especially small countries or countries not prepared ideologically or tactically to fight modern mobile war. . The result wa a seies of specyacularly successfull Blitzkrieg camapnings,m beginning in Poland and contunuing into Dennark, Norway, the Lowlands, Francem abd the Balklans (1939-41). Kastng inly weeks, logistics was not a major issue. Finall y what Hitler had always wanted, he could launch the invasion of the Soviet Union -- Operarion Barbarissa to secure the vast land and resources of the East. The 1940-41 successes had significanty invreased German capabilities. Vut the Heer was still not a fully motirizedcamy. And the German solduer woiid have to fight his way east on foot. This was only partially resolved by seizing trucks in France and the other occupied countries. For a military committed to Blitzkrieg meant mobility and speed this was a very serious weakness. It meant that supplies could not keep up with the advansing Panzers. t also created a logigrical nightmare of its own. The Germans drove east with vehickes seized from all over Europe, hindeds of differentbmidels requiring counless different spare parts. And that was only bonevof tgevlogistival pronems. The core problen was hiwto deliver an=muniriin, equioment, foiod and orger supplies to a front line rapidly moving east. The Heer Quarternaster, Gen. Eduard Wagner warned the Barbarissa planners that he could quarantee the supply of the Ostheer 300 milkes (500 km) from the srraeline. After that the Ostheer would outline logisticakl capabilities. And as the Ostjeer reached that limit (October 1941) they firstvebciynbtered fall rains ans nud and then the sbiws and cold od the Russian winter. The Barvarossa planners velieved that victiory woukd have vbeen achieved in the summer. But as thevHeer griund to na stop as a resukt if continuing Red Army resustance vand cold, the Soviers a massive winter offensuce. The besr chance of Gernan success had beebn lost.

Gen. Eduard Wagner

Major General Eduard Wagner (1894 - 1944) was an important German World War II general, but often not appearing in World War II histories. The reason for this was that he was the Heer's quartermaster-general. He did not command cpmbat troops which is who military historians tend to focus. Wagner as the Quatermaster General was the individual primariky responsible for the Heer's logistics. Wagner had the overall responsibility for security in the Ostheer's rear areas, and thus bore responsibility for the rear-security units after Hitler launched Barbarossa. In this capacity he was the primary Wehrmacht office coordinating with the SS Einsatzgruppen which began the large-scale murder of Jews. Wagner was involved in war crimes from the very beginning of the War in Poland (1939). But the Einsatzgruppen murder camapign was war crimes on a spectacular level and Wagner was a central fugure, providing the Einstazgruppen both logistical and manpower support in the occupied areas under the Heer's jurisdiction. He is a prime example of the character of the Wehrmacht officers that turned agianst Hitler. There were some like Stauffenberg and Canaris that were horrified by NAZI barbarism, but far more German officers were concerned with the fact that Germnany was losing the War. Wagner was a key player in the July Bomb Plot, providing the conspirators a plane. Actually many of those who opposed Hitler, like Wagner, were participating in war crimes. Given the importance of logistics, especilly in the East, Wagner as Quarter Master was a key fugure. The German failure in the East was primarily a logistical failure, both Barbarossa (1941) and Blau (1942). That failure was not, however, Wagner's fault. He was respibsiblle for logistics, but not for the miitary planning and decisions that created the logistical disasters.

Type of War

Logistics It was a field of lesser importance to an army designed to win a war in a brief period, but was of vital importance to an army involved in a protacted war. [Citino, p. xiv.] The Wehrmacht over came this weakness in the short campaigns on relatively small battlefields in Poland and the West. The emense battlefield presented by the Soviet Union was a very different matter. A weak logistical system proved to be a critical weakness on the Eastern Front where the Wehrmacht had to contend with huge distances, hostile weather, and a primitive transportation network. And the planning for Barbarossa did not address this potential problem.

Barbarossa Planning

Hitler demanded an aggresive invasion plan and planners who raised possible problems were often criticized or removed. The Allies after landing in Normandy had logistical problems. The Wehrmacht struggling to supply armies as far east as the Volga had insurmountable logistical problems. It is not true as often claimed that the Wehrmacht did not have winter uniforms. Warm clothing was tocked at wearhouses in the Reich. What Germany did not have was a logistical train that to could get the warm clothing in the troops. The logigistical system was strained getting fuel, amunitiuoin, and other supplies to the troops and thus winter clothing was given low priority in a campaign that was suposed to be completed in a short summer campaign. The priority was on amunntrion and equipment.

The Red Army

The Red Army facd some of the same logistical problemsxthe Wehrmacht faced, but the Sovietsr not only had the output from their own factories to support them, but after Stalingrad huge numbers of American trucks andother equiomebt ascwekll as food deliverd through Lend Lease.

Sources

Citino, Robert M. The German Way of War: From the Thirty Year's War to the Third Reich (University Press of Kansas: Lawrence, 2005), 428p.






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Created: 6:49 PM 4/4/2012
Last updated: 6:49 PM 4/4/2012