Eastern Front, Late 1941

The typical writings about the German army on the Eastern front at the end of 1941 focus on the harsh winter weather and insufficient winter equipment (clothing, lubricants, skis).

There was much more of interest, and of greater consequence, and I'm motivated to write a list of pointers for those interested in military history:

(1) Loss of mobility

(1a) Horses
Horses were still the No1 means of moving supplies and artillery pieces in 1941-1945 in the German army. According to different sources 600,000-750,000 horses were used by German forces on the Eastern Front in the summer of 1941.
Infantry divisions had lorry units to move supplies between railheads and the division, but horse carts hauled the supplies from the division's supply points and carried them till their consumption.
The horses were fed inadequately with oat because supply with oat was very demanding (large volume) and distances to railheads (incompatible rail lines) were often great. Most horses became exhausted within weeks.
Great many draught horses were lost during OP Barbarossa and had to be replaced with Eastern European horses; hardy, lighter - and weaker. Many smaller, lighter carts had to be used to match these different horses, and the quantity of drivers required rose.
I didn't find statistics on German horse losses during 1941 alone, but apparently 179,600 horses died mostly due to cold and hunger from 1st December 1941 to 15h March 1942, with only 20,000 replacements during this period. Replacements arrived later till May, but 60,000 replacement horses arrived in poor shape after long land marches during winter time and 118,000 horses were commandeered in Eastern Europe - almost all of them more hardy, yet also weaker. They were useless as draught horses for artillery pieces and the German standard heavy steel frame wagons.

(1b) Motorcycles
Light motorcycles excelled in pre-war competitions employed by skilled drivers for a few hours, but within weeks of OP Barbarossa's start the light motorcycles had proved to be failures in army use. Many civilian motorcycles were lost as well, and only the expensive heavy military motorcycle types (mostly used with sidecars) were judged to be really robust. Their losses were severe because of their use by combat and reconnaissance troops, though.
Within the first five weeks 9,100 motorcycles were lost, yet only 606 were replaced with production or captured vehicles. The motorcycle rifle troops (Kradschützen) that had added crucial infantry support to tanks and motorised reconnaissance troops were ruined quickly.
Later on the nominal motorcycle strength (mostly for messengers) of infantry divisions was reduced to cope with the shortages, but the motorized infantry had to be converted to trucks and would receive substantial quantities of protected half-tracks only after 1942. The successful 1939-1941 model of fully motorized divisions combined arms combat had to change and adapt.

(1c) Cars
The German army was mostly using civilian cars. They were hardly ever used for combat or reconnaissance roles anyway, so a reliable car for marches on unpaved roads was adequate. The use of civilian cars led to a horrible range of vehicles serving next to each other in a division. The repair shops could not possibly have adequate spare parts for these vehicles. Furthermore, many cars proved to be inadequate under the harsh conditions of the Eastern Front.
The Heer lost 21,559 cars during the first six months of OP Barbarossa, but production was a mere 3,089 cars. The losses were replaced with commandeered used civilian cars, which mostly represents a loss in quality.

(1d) Lorries
Many light and medium lorry types - Ford lorries with two-stroke engines, Czech lorries of all kinds etc. were found wanting if not entirely useless under the conditions of the Eastern Front. Attrition was severe by crashes, wear and combat actions.
The Heer lost 36,189 lorries during the first six months of OB Barbarossa, but production was a mere 12,139 lorries. Only 4,913 Soviet lorries (mostly light ones) were captured. Again, commandeered used civilian trucks had to be used.

(2) Anti-tank inadequacies

About half of Soviet tank production were still  light tanks that could be defeated with a 37 mm gun, but those were mostly attached to rifle divisions and similar formations of the line. The mechanised formations for the main effort actions were (also) equipped with T-34 and KV-1 tanks. Adequate guns and munitions for their defeat were introduced in substantial quantities during 1942, but still in inadequate supply during the summer of 1943. The problem was in part that due to a tungsten production shortage Germany had to limit tungsten largely to tools production for metal works. Without tungsten projectiles the range of 2.8, 4.2 and 7.5 cm squeezebore anti-tank guns became useless. The tungsten could not be replaced with in their projectiles because the whole point of these guns was to have the penetrator impact at very high velocity (~1,200 m/s). Steel penetrators shattered when impacting on hardened steel plates at such velocities. New, conventional anti-tank guns of adequate power had to be introduced, and later on shaped charge munitions arrived especially for the infantry and stub guns.

(3) Infantry weakness

Infantry casualties were severe in Russia. German infantry divisions had a replacement battalion for training, but they would have needed a replacement regiment to sate their need for qualified infantrymen. This wasn't feasible for lack of trainers even if it had been attempted. Another problem was that the politically well-connected (Göring) Luftwaffe drew unnecessarily large quantities of young, potential infantrymen conscripts and did put them into poor use (such as air observers in France). The Waffen-SS's recruiting of particularly fit young men and subsequent waste by inappropriately aggressive tactics was another problem.
The German infantry strength on the Eastern Front of 1942 was approximately half of what had been available there in 1941.

(4) Armoured reconnaissance

The skilful employment of fully motorized divisions requires sufficient reconnaissance. The divisional armoured reconnaissance troops were meant to deliver this, but they depended on few armoured cars that were not very suitable for Eastern European terrain and on motorcycle infantry troops. Light (4x4) armoured cars were a disappointment on the Eastern Front and heavy ones (8x8) were astonishingly expensive. Some reconnaissance detachments were down to 11% of armoured cars and 50% of soft-skinned vehicles by November 1941.
Reconnaissance detachments of fully motorised divisions would later (about 1943) receive cost-effective light half-track vehicles for the Eastern Front, but at the end of 1941 and during 1942 their capabilities were very much reduced because of high attrition rates (when employed) and a shortage of suitable vehicles.

(5) Junior leadership

Officers from 2nd lieutenant (Leutnant) to captain (Hauptmann) faced severe attrition rates (life expectancy at the front measured in weeks) because they frequently led their troops instead of directing them from behind. Higher officers did the same, but much less often. The high attrition rates led to less experienced junior leadership and thus less skilful junior leadership. Officers who had seen Poland, France and months of OP Barbarossa were replaced by lieutenants with little leadership experience, if any substantial combat experience at all.

(6) Air support

Quality and quantity of air support was dropping as well due to attrition rates and demands of other theatres of war. The Luftwaffe's shortage of aircraft mechanics was severe.
Meanwhile the Soviets were in the process of replacing lost biplanes with relatively modern monoplanes. The red air force was not considered to be a very important influence on the war in Russia until 1943 or even 1944 by German post-war authors, but the dwindling of German air power made Soviet administrative marches safer and quicker, and less often helped the German troops to overcome stiff resistance during advances.


Summary: The German army that emerged after the spring rasputitsa of 1942 wasn't merely mauled by winter and the Soviet winter offensive; it had lost during the summer and autumn of 1941 what made it such an effective tool of warfare in the summer of 1941 and it was to never fully solve the problem of anti-tank defence in regard to quality and quantity at the same time. It had been blunted by the severity of combat, the harsh logistical conditions (rail lines first needed to be converted, roads were unpaved, dust damaged engines which had inadequate air filters) and the harsh winter climate.

This historical episode is still interesting as a potential analogy for the future because Western land forces didn't need to adapt to such circumstances during the Cold War of later, and would thus suffer from similar problems. We could trust our automotive industries to supply enough suitable vehicles as the well-developed American one did during WW2 already and horses have lost relevance, but the inability to maintain the proficiency of combat and reconnaissance troops and their junior leadership ranks in a demanding conflict with severe casualty rates is all but guaranteed. The weak infantry component of Western army brigades could be ruined within days of campaigning against a peer force. It's reasonable to expect a typical Western army brigade to be blunted by severe attrition of key equipment (such as radars, AFVs), reconnaissance troops and combat troops within a week or two, and return as a skeleton of support troops and soft-skinned vehicles for (slow) rebuilding. We might also see again what happened to American divisions in 1944: Inadequately trained support troops pressed into infantry units to compensate severe attrition.


some sources:
"Vabanque", H. Schustereit
"Personenkraftwagen der Wehrmacht", Reinhard Frank 
"Die deutschen Panzeraufklärer 1935-1945", W.Fleischer/R.Eiermann
"Das Handbuch der deutschen Infanterie", Alex Buchner


The most irrational camo suits

Camouflage uniforms for armies are a complex topic, but air force uniforms are a simple thing: A monocolour greenish, brownish or greyish uniform would be suitable, with only their dedicated security units equipped with army uniforms.

Navy uniform patterns are neither a particularly tricky nor particularly simple topic, but they have a huge potential for nonsense. Have a look at today's fashion for sailor uniforms:

These are about the worst possible colours for sailors serving onboard warships. Sure, they do hide minor stains by hydraulic fluids and the like, and don't signal a revival of the "spit and polish school" (laudable "no shine" boot option). Still, this pattern is the last you'd want to wear when you've gone overboard. This is how people look like who pay attention to safety at sea:
E 307 (c) immersion suits
This is for fishery:
Sea Fish worksuit, (c) Immersion suits

The materials aren't appropriate for a general issue uniform, but take a hint from the colour: A man in the water should have orange on top, not some camouflage pattern that works only to hide a man in the water and absolutely nowhere else. The material should be fire retarding for personnel on ships.

The general issue uniform could have this orange without looking orange all the time (too annoying). Assuming an inflatable life vest in orange is worn, one would only need an orange hoodie that could be hidden most of the time.
The rest of the uniform should remind the sailor that (s)he's a combatant and could be called upon in a land campaign to run rear area checkpoints, POW handling. point security for bridges, railroads or airfields et cetera. A greyish, brownish or greenish colour (possibly coupled with black) would work as satisfactorily as for an air force.

2010-11 Camouflage is no end in itself

edit: 2015-09 China Defense Blog: "blue smurf"


P.S.: Plenty warships have been hit badly and sunk during routine activities, unaware of the coming disaster. Extra immersion suits for navy personnel on board of warships are fine, but no excuse for a 180° wrong basic uniform colour palette.



Offensive Cyber Ops and the Bundeswehr

The German ministry of defence is planning to establish offensive 'cyber warfare' capabilities according to the online edition of the Spiegel.

Here's a bit of context: The German constitution allows the employment of the German military exclusively for purposes mentioned in the constitution expressly (the German constitutional court did bend this beyond recognition in 1999 to include the bombing of Yugoslavia).

My assumption is the minister wants to employ the offensive 'cyber warfare' capability and she does not want to be in trouble for blatantly violating the constitution.

Does it make sense to include 'cyber warfare' capabilities in the Bundeswehr in light of this assumption and the constitutional restrictions on employment of the German military?
Not for someone who wants the German federal government to work well, and this is independent of the questions whether offensive 'cyber warfare' makes sense or whether public servants or soldiers are the correct personnel for the job.

It does make sense once we take into account two of my economic pet theories; Niskanen's budget-maximizing bureaucrat and the principal-agent problem.

The intent to create offensive 'cyber warfare' capabilities in the Bundeswehr (or otherwise under MoD control) doesn't make sense to someone who wants good governance, for it wouldn't be good governance. It makes a lot of sense if we consider the top of the German MoD as a bunch of selfish individuals not optimizing public benefits, but maximizing their power, prestige, toy arsenal, budget, personnel strength, media attention and political profile.



Why military budgets are this big

A common case in favour of the size of arguments goes like "bad things would happen (more likely) if the budget was smaller". This makes sense with expenses such as for seawalls, but it always depends on assumptions rather than forces of nature when applied to military budgets.

The current discussions about what conditions Greece has to meet to get more money of other people for its needs provide yet another natural experiment (or anecdote) on the necessary size of military budgets.

One of the conditions is that Greece shall reduce its military budget that - by current definitions - is still one of the very highest in terms of "% GDP" in both NATO and the EU (see page six here). Obviously, the NATO and EU allies of Greece are convinced it's spending more than necessary.

The recent Greek counter-offer includes a reduction among many, many much more unpopular things - but the reduction is much smaller than previously noted as condition. This is incredible. Politicians who were elected to fight unpopular conditions, who fought to the bone for months against said unpopular conditions, who recently got a strong popular majority support in a plebiscite against the said unpopular conditions now offer to largely accept said unpopular conditions. They partially do so in preference over cutting the military budget a bit more. Meanwhile, their country is a member in the two most powerful military alliances mankind has ever seen, including three and two nuclear powers respectively.


The answer appears to be obvious: The governing coalition's far right wing member party's founder and president is the minister of defence now, and he likes to play with his new toys. He also likes to purchase new and more toys of "questionable" necessity.

Long story, small core lesson. One can point much at abstract theories such as the principal-agent problem or Niskanen's budget-maximizing bureaucrat as I did a few times already, but a clear-cut real-life example - a natural experiment - may be a more powerful demonstration of a simple insight:

Military budgets are not necessarily set wisely and are not necessarily a proportional response to a real threat situation or the potential for future threats. The reason for high military spending in a country may just as well be primitive politics and a preference of interest groups (especially insiders at the top) in favour of high spending. The prejudice that the existing spending level is necessary for national (or collective) security is thus invalid.

The power of this prejudice doesn't come across when I mention it because I don't have that fever in myself. It is a very, very powerful prejudice, though. It makes people claim that Europe couldn't fight its way out of a wet paper bag, doesn't spend much on military power, would be unable to defend itself, would depend on American military power as the central response to any peripheral military challenge.
The reality is that there's hardly any military threat. Even Russia is actually vastly inferior in conventional military terms and faces a double mutually assured destruction deterrence with France and the UK. Russia's conventional military weakness was confirmed by the events in and around the Ukraine, but due to the prejudice almost all interested people appear to draw the opposite conclusion from the events.



Two-year arms races ahead of great wars

I wrote repeatedly (during the last eight years) about how both world wars and many wars in general were preceded by two or three years of intense arms racing. Long, sustained arms races rarely end in wars without such a final sprint.

The final arms race prior to the First World War began when the German parliament finally authorized an expansion of German land power in response to many years of great and sustained French and Russian efforts to create and maintain greater land power.
The final arms race prior to the Second World War in Europe began slowly in 1935 and accelerated considerably in 1938.

Now we could ask ourselves whether the refreshed interest in main battle tanks, in deployment and other exercises in Eastern Europe or maybe the gazillionth post-Cold War military reform in Russia may signal the start of another such horribly fateful arms race.

The statistical indicators won't be available until the next budget laws are passed, but I suppose no - this is not a final two-year or three-year dash into another great war. Using an analogy from the early 20th century, I'd rate the crisis in the Ukraine rather as the equivalent of  the First Moroccan Crisis. An event that allowed for sabre rattling, raised fears of war, contributed to adversarial foreign policies - but it was in itself not the direct prelude to a great war.



The three checks

Many writers write loose about 'national security', and I think it would help very much if we kept our minds more clear when discussing such topics.

There are three things to consider usually:

                               (1) being blockaded by sea or in the air
                               (2) being bombed
                               (3) being invaded/occupied

If the scare story isn't about any of these three, it shouldn't be considered relevant to national security. 
Alliances can be purposeful for national security, and the criteria have to be applied to the treaty allies (within the treaties' definitions) for 'collective security'.

Very, very much hyperventilation, hyperbole, scaremongering, warmongering, wasteful spending and actual wars could be cut down or avoided if only we focused on these three criteria.

A miscreant government on a distant continent is almost never a national or collective security concern - but it might still be the target of extreme hyperventilation, hyperbole, hypocrisy, scaremongering, warmongering, wasteful spending and even be invaded for nothing, with thousands of dead (orders of magnitude more total loss of life) and trillions € wasted expenses.

"National security" debates and articles and the subcultures obsessing about navies, air power, armies depend on fuzzy definitions, unfounded assumptions and an absence of any cost-benefit analysis as do humans depend on oxygen. The emperors are truly without clothes once you cut through the nonsense and ask how a certain described (proposed) effort does avert or end any of the three points.

The last three German surface warship programs, for example: A corvette that's useless in warfare and excessively armed for coast guard-like jobs. A "frigate" with the same flaws, meant to do the same jobs farther away from port, and for longer. And now a program for yet another such useless ship "built for, but not with" useful capabilities in wartime (such as anti-submarine equipment or true area air defence capability). Tragically, these ships were designed to inflict harm #1 on another country (naval blockade), albeit supposedly with a UN mandate only. Such spending is not defence spending, not national security spending, not collective security spending - it's spending for bullying and extremely wasteful spending for maritime policing.



Spain's gag law

I have little doubt: At least parts of this law will crash in either their constitutional court or on the European level.

Still, this law fits into a pattern.
It's been common for politicians even in democratic, liberal countries to think of small parts of their own population as to be repressed, not to be represented. This was mostly about minorities (Catholics in Northern Ireland, Basques in Spain), criminal groups or political extremists (both far left and far right), but it feels to me as if this has changed.

It feels as if it's in fashion, Zeitgeist, for European governments to think of larger shares of their populations as to be repressed, and of everyone as a potential suspect. The mass surveillance, move towards authoritarian governance (most of all in Hungary), the repression of anti-financial sector demonstrations and the far-reaching "security" efforts at G7 and G8 meetings as well as submissiveness to "security" demands for certain visiting heads of state and certain embassies added to this perception.

It doesn't help much to nullify some of the repressive or mass surveillance laws in constitutional courts and to expose and criticize "security" overreach during multinational meetings.
The current seems to point towards more repression, more authoritarian governance - two steps towards, one step back, two steps towards, one step back ... the people lose their liberty this way if the affected societies in Europe don't begin to walk away from authoritarian tendencies for real.

The politicians don't understand what they're doing The power is in their hands, not in the hands of some caricature of an autocrat, right? Yet it doesn't matter who's in power; you're kept unfree if laws punish you for speaking out to power.
And that's where the current leads us. Read the links above if you have doubts about this.




The string of news about U.S. intelligence services (mostly NSA) treating (by treaty allied) countries as if they were hostile doesn't seem to end, and this among a gazillion other things is bound to create backlash.
A mild form of backlash is critique.

That's what usually triggers the accusation of "anti-Americanism".

Isn't it incredibly expedient how this charge appears to absolve Americans from thinking of the critique as caused by their own behaviour?
It's always the others' fault. It's never about objective violations, but always about subjective, unfounded aversions - ideology. Oh, and communists. Lots of communists are sponsoring this, of course. And Arabs. And Russians. Lots of bad people are working behind the scenes to ruin the United States' reputation in and relations with the world.

I agree. Lots of bad people are harming the reputation and relations. The disagreement is about who these bad people are.
I suppose a lot of backlash / critique will be seen in topics relevant to 'civil rights' and 'war and peace' in the near future.


P.S.: I've observed a lot of critique rising about a supposed 'return of the Cold War', often centred on American troops' presence and exercises in Eastern Europe (that largely useless Stryker brigade driving around there). This cooldown of relations is seen as Western-driven usually, whereas I suppose the critics ignore the Baltic NATO members too much. They do get right that the Ukraine was and is not allied and Russia so far didn't turn aggressive against EU or NATO members.
Then again, I've just today read that Russia is investigating whether the secession of the Baltic countries was legal by USSR law at all. They're creating a "in reality the USSR still exists" line for conspiracy theorists.

The U.S. is not the biggest bullshit producer, but I think it's easily in the top ten of developed countries and it doesn't deserve to be spared in regard to criticism.