From: Cologne, Germany
...Overall tanks were very powerful and frustratingly unreliable mechanical devices. Anyone ever driven an 1940's built car and found them to be a picture of mechanical excellence?
That's a pretty simple generalization, sorry.
1940's cars may have been less fragile and finicky than you think, and they incorporated quite some innovations and mechanical reliability/quality. The Mercedes-Benz W136 (around 1936/1937), a roadster (170 VR, 170 VS [twin carburetor]), consumed 13 liters/100 km. That aint bad if compared to modern fuel swigging roadsters/sportscars or recent premium sedans.
For the versions participating in the then popular "cross-country" reliability-races/parades, the car bodies consisted of a magnesium alloy and the fenders were made of aluminium, reducing the weight about up to 260 kg.
Some Mercedes cars had "compressors" (a certain type of pressure charging). Safety measures such as a deformable zone or a safety steering column had not yet been invented, but I wouldn't say that owners of 1940s cars were better off with a horse drawn carriage, back then , reliability/quality-wise.
Back to the tanks: Russian T-34 tanks were mechanical reliable, and (afaik) rather immune to Russian (winter) weather conditions. Captured T-34 were popular among German tank crews, due to their reliability and mechanical simplicity (for maintenance). The limited field of vision for the commander was a different story, though.
US Shermans were pretty reliable too, with a relatively low number of variants, streamlined/simplified/reliable design allowing for high factory output, maybe at the cost of crew protection and penetration power.
.... Maintaining tanks that were hand produced while the factory was being bombed and quality of supply of parts was always in doubt was a nightmare.
"Hand-produced": Well, no robots involved back then . Other than that, late war tanks' hulls consisted of 2-3 parts (hull + chassis + turret or just hull + turret later on), the remaining parts then "just" had to be put in.
I don't see a too big difference to a more modern assembly line, except for the various single/unique parts which had to be welded let's say on German tank turrets or as instrument/gear inside. It just takes more effort when assembling less streamlined vehicles, let alone having various sub-types. Having rather complicated vehicle designs, which offered enhanced protection and superior firepower, lowered the German factory output.
An interesting what-if here would be whether they should have "copied" T-34s or Shermans and how things then would have played out. IMHO, their early victories were a result of concerted use of combined forces or the then new commitment of airborne troops, not necessarily a result of superior equipment, as the Allies did have some assets (ie. french medium tanks 1940, Mathilda tanks in Greece 1941, Russian T-34).
As for the German situation regarding material quality, a division of the Waffenamt rejected some grades of steel (each grade had its own "serial number" or designation) coming from the melt facilities, each melt had to apply for approval if a grade was outside the specified chemical composition or hardness.
The Germans employed a standard procedure to test the armor's resistance to penetration and mode of failure, this included penetration tests with armor-piercing rounds on representative test samples from each melt. Certain specifications had to be met, before the Waffenamt would let the particular grade pass.
I'm not totally sure whether mechanical parts (gears, wheels, gun mounts, turret drive[train] etc.) underwent some material testing (at least the tracks had been tested thoroughly) as well, but you can be sure that the Germans used to be pretty nit-picky there, especially since they had to excel regarding quality, as they could not compete with the numerical output of Allied factories.
According to recent literature, there is no proof that the Germans ever used substandard armor plates/parts, as original documents state compliance with standard specifications all through the war.
The massive number of breakdowns of German tanks (Tiger I, Tiger II and Panther tanks), starting with the very first Tiger I (2 of the first 3 tanks broke down, IIRC) fielded in Russia, rather occured due to faulty and hasty design. All these tanks' developments had been rushed to get the new tanks to the fronts, without the possibility to apply thorough testing. Some of the first versions of the sophisticated German tanks were underpowered (really weak engine) - thus putting more mechanical stress on parts like the drive units/transmissions. Many tanks got immobilized due to jammed transmissions.
Some of the early engines and transmissions were so finicky that it took careful starting on part of the drivers. For example, the Tiger I's transmission suffered of a bad design, the transmission and drive were not fully capable of powering a vehicle of that size/weight, although this lack of reliability could have been discovered in a couple of field tests. A real re-design never took place, as production then focused on the Panther tanks. In turn, suffering of similar problems with the gears, the Panthers received at least some modifications with the later revisions.
I don't think that the material quality was the big issue here, it may have been rather about badly designed parts, undersized parts or underpowered engines.
Actually, German ammunition and explosives (mines, rifle/small arm rounds, artillery rounds, Panzerschreck rounds) were subject to various quality problems here and there, indeed, as they were often produced by slave labourers (who might have produced some amount of bad pieces on purpose - sabotage) or by inexperienced/underqualified civilian workers.
< Message edited by GoodGuy -- 12/5/2008 12:26:22 PM >
General Anthony McAuliffe
December 22nd, 1944
"I've always felt that the AA (Alied Assault engine) had the potential to be [....] big."
8th of August, 2006