Thursday, 26 December 2013

Ferdinand in Combat

The Ferdinand may have surprised the Red Army at Kursk, but the weakness of the design meant that one of the biggest dangers to the Ferdinand was the SPG itself. CAMD RF 500-12462-39 contains a translated captured document requesting more of them due to the rate that they were breaking down.

"The condition of the 656th anti-tank regiment, if the unit is to remain intact for even months, requires immediate withdrawal. As a result of reinforcements and repairs in the rear or at the Governor-Generalty, combat readiness can be restored in approximately 8 weeks.
After 2000 km, the condition of the Ferdinands is so poor that last week, four Ferdinands caught fire during a march, and were completely lost.
Repairs are long and difficult, and therefore it is impossible to maintain the SPGs, neither with the regiment's resources, nor the resources of the army group.
The successes of this time (for example, 8 Ferdinands knocked out 54 tanks on November 25th) demand immediate withdrawal of the regiment for reinforcements.
After 8 weeks, the army group will once again have a unit that is a decisive combat force."

54 tanks, eh? That's quite a feat! Let's see what the regimental diary says about this.

Hm, now the date moves to November 26-27. Interesting. Let's see what was happening at Nikopol between November 25th and November 27th.

The map shows positions of Soviet forces in the fall of 1943 around Nikopol. The only tank unit in the area is the 5th Guards Tank Army. Let's zoom in and look at a map of the 5th Guards Tank Army's position at the time.

Indeed, there are some elements of the 5th Guards Tank Army, shown south-west of Kremenchug (just as the German diary says), moving north-west, to Kosovka. Let's see what it was they were doing. The following are excerpts from the book Roads of Victory: Combat Path of the 5th Guards Tank Army:

"In order to accelerate the enemy's defeat, army commander of the 29th Tank Corps General Kirichenko sent the 31st Tank Brigade on a raid deep into the rear of the enemy.
The 31st brigade, possessing, 13 tanks, rolled over the Germans West of Kosovka, and, by the end of the day, reached the eastern outskirts of Dikovka."

Hm, 13 tanks. Even if all were lost, it is a far cry from the 54 the Ferdinands are credited with. That is, if the Ferdinands ever actually ran into them:

"The raid of the 31st Tank Brigade was going well. After the capture of Dikovka, the brigade continued to Dmitrovka.
The brigade commander sent scouts to the Chutin forest, which was darkening the horizon. On the morning of November 26th, they met the partisan group...
At the moment of meeting the group, the 31st Tank Brigade had 7 working tanks, and was running out of fuel. The partisans aided them in obtaining it..."

Looks like the tank brigade lost 6 tanks on November 25th (instead of the vaulted 54) and no tanks on November 26th and 27th, because they were sitting around with no fuel. The next combat action of the brigade is on November 28th, and it does not mention any Ferdinands either. The 31st Tank Brigade covered a lot of ground south-west of Kremenchug, and yet, no Ferdinands.

There is another claim in the diary: 112 tanks destroyed at the Nikopol bridgehead "yesterday". That's a pretty lofty figure. The size of a Soviet tank regiment was 21 tanks. 5 regiments lost in one day is no joke.

The Soviet unit defending the Nikopol bridgehead was the 185th Guards Infantry Regiment. Their condition is described in "Combat Actions of an Infantry Regiment: Collection of Examples". Since it was a textbook for military officers, the description includes every resource available to the regiment, down to the kitchen staff and how many rounds of ammunition each soldier had. Turning to page 152, we see a list of all the armoured forces the regiment was equipped with to hold the bridgehead. Surely, there must be at least 112 such tanks for the Germans to destroy?

"4. The regiment was not reinforced with tank or self propelled guns."

Oh. Well then. Looks like that's another one in the "reasons not to trust unverified kill claims" box.


  1. A full strength Soviet tank brigade would have around 64-65 tanks. Are we believe a brigade that had been reduced by 80% was sent on operation to attack with only 13 tanks? Consider this: it started the operation with 65 tanks but lost 65-13=52 tanks to the Ferdinands. Then it 'possessed' only 13 at the end of the day.

    1. The book quite clearly states that they started out with 13 tanks. As for why it was understrength, you wouldn't send a full tank brigade on a raid, it would be a nightmare to keep the supply chain going (as it was in this case as well, apparently).

  2. The 31st Tank Brigade if full strength would consist of 44 tanks,
    277th Armored Battalion-21 tanks
    278th Armored Battalion=21 tanks
    HQ 2 T-34s

    The 28th tank corp consisted of
    25th brigade of 3 battalions OOB=65
    31st brigade of 2 battalions OOB=44
    32nd brigade of 3 battalions OOB=65

    The 5th Guards Tank Army consisted of:
    18th Tank corps
    29th Tank corps
    5th Guards Mechanized corps

    The small map details their locations at various dates. The units are all over the map so the Ferdinands could of fought any one of them. (There's even a date where the 5th G. Mech corps is on 28.11 and the 18th and 29th corps on 25.11). In Glantz's book From Don to the Dnepr the 5th Guards Tank Army was rebuilt from 150-200 tanks after Kursk back to 503 tanks on Aug 3. In the fighting during August it lost over 450 tanks. It could well have been rebuilt back up to full strength again by Nov 11.

  3. It looks like the small map is of the wrong area. You can find Miropol (Myropil') using Google Earth. Kosckasovka (Kashkarivka) too. These are to the east of Kryvyi Rih so are off the small map. It would be near the red arrow points between the 46A and 8TB.A on the color map. The OOB in 1.4.44 for the 8TB.A had the 5th Guards Separate Tank Regiment.

    1. The small map contains Kremenchug and the front line to its south-west, which is the exact area that the German diary describes.

  4. The part about fighting southwest of Kremenchug shows dates on the small map of locations at 11/28 and 11/23 matches the diary. Plus on the big map there are blue arrows in this area indicating German attacks.
    21 tanks destroyed by Kretschmer who would be around Myropil' matches with where the 5th Separate Tank regiment part of 8th Guards Army would be. And a tank regiment is 21 tanks.
    Thanks for the information.

  5. I think everybody will admit that the German army (or any other army in WW2, for that matter) didn't kill what they claimed. It would be difficult to see how a relatively clumsy vehicle like the Ferdinand would be able to kill 54 enemy vehicles in a day, much less a month, no matter how skilled the crew... it's simply not realistic. I think of the claims made by the Luftwaffe the first weeks of the Battle of Britain, where they essentially claimed to have destroyed the entire British air force.

  6. The "Nikopol bridgehead" is in the eastern side of the Dnieper river(it a german bridgehead in soviet held side) the report is very clear that the unit moved from Petropol to Nikopol crossed the river and helped the defense here from 13th november.
    So 5th Guards tank army and 656th anti-tank regiment are separated from ~100 km in 25th November.