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If WWI Had Lasted Long Enough For 1919 Tank Battles...

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  • If WWI Had Lasted Long Enough For 1919 Tank Battles...

    Supposing that Germany continued to put up resistance throughout 1919, and possibly beyond, the Allies would have had time to bring in new tanks into battle, such as the Mark VIII and Char 2C heavies.

    My questions are 1. How would such tanks have done on the 1919 battlefield? and 2. How would tank development have been different from what actually happened?

    Would more Mobile, WWII-style tanks like the T-34 or PzKpfw III/IV have arrived sooner? Or would we see the mass deployment of land-battleships such as the A1E1 and T-35? Or possibly both alongside? How would it change WWII, and modern tank development?
    "Do you like your new weapon? It's wonderful...Try it on yourselves, not others. I told you, this tank reacts to impulses of fear. Try not to think of danger. The machine can read your thoughts..."

  • #2
    Originally posted by Cougar1 View Post
    Supposing that Germany continued to put up resistance throughout 1919, and possibly beyond, the Allies would have had time to bring in new tanks into battle, such as the Mark VIII and Char 2C heavies.

    My questions are 1. How would such tanks have done on the 1919 battlefield? and 2. How would tank development have been different from what actually happened?

    Would more Mobile, WWII-style tanks like the T-34 or PzKpfw III/IV have arrived sooner? Or would we see the mass deployment of land-battleships such as the A1E1 and T-35? Or possibly both alongside? How would it change WWII, and modern tank development?
    They probably would have done well, provided their reliability was acceptable by standards of the time. How they were used would have been a big factor as also, given that the exploitation was often more difficult than the breakthrough itself. Combined arms and follow up would have been vital.

    As far as new types go, I think the war would have had to drag on for quite a while for the impetus to be there for what would be considered WWII style mediums to take shape. The technology to create them, specifically engines and guns, didn't exist yet and that may have taken a while. Maybe if it went on into the early to mid 20s? But I don't think an extra year or two would have made all that much difference in tanks. Aircraft, on the other hand, may have seen a greater change in a 1919-1920 war, but that's just my opinion.

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    • #3
      Fuel and reliability limited the tanks of that era to assualt support roles. The ability to act in a exploitation role as in 1938 or 1939 was severly limited. There was no motorized infantry or mechanized artillery suitable for forming combined arms high speed formations.

      Did a little research on the air war a few years ago. From that i'd think a more interesting subject would be the air war of 1919. Both sides had developed close air support and interdiction or 'strike' techniques much further than is popularly suposed. Through weight of numbers the Allied air force might have overwhelmed the German defenses with a canvas overcast properly coordinated with artillery & infantry attacks.

      But my fave was the proposal floated in the AEF HQ for dropping 7,000 infantry men from the 1st Division behind German lines, with no previous parachute training

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      • #4
        They would have faired increasingly badly. The Germans in particular, having few tanks of their own, developed weapons to stop them. The anti-tank rifle (K gun). Using light artillery in direct fire to demolish tanks, etc.

        Basically, once tank technology became the norm, just like gas, flamethrowers, machineguns, high explosive shells, etc., both sides would adapt to them and develop methods to minimize their effect on the battlefield.

        On the other hand, German Stroßtruppen tactics was a real RMA (revolution in military affairs to use a current acromym). It changed how extant technology, orgainzation, and leadership were applied on the battlefield.
        The result was devastating. The Germans knocked Russia out of the war. Then they crippled Italy and took them out of the war. Lastly, they applied them to the Western Front and did what tanks never managed: Blew a hole through the enemy's front and drove a nearly 60 mile deep penetration into their rear.
        Had it not been for the US and generally overwhelmingly better logistical position of the French and British the war would have ended with that offensive and Germany would have had some negotiated armistice.

        I suggest reading The Fighting Tanks 1916-1933 By Jones, Rarey, and Icks. It includes a detailed account of every WW 1 tank action. You come away with the clear impression that as a technology alone it won't win the war.

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        • #5
          I think one thing that would have come out of it would have been the early development of Self-Propelled Artillery. Tanks were good in their time, but rather obviously overweight, slow, unmaneuverable, and unreliable to be used as anything more than an assault-support vehicle for helping infantry crack a line that had already been pulverized by artillery fire.

          Really, the only thing that stopped SPA from being deployed in WWI was someone asking the question: "What if, instead of putting several small guns on our tanks we just put one big gun. Or a mortar. Yeah, that would be a way to haul a heavy mortar around that wouldn't take forever to emplace it."

          Say an early tank equipped with minimal overhead and maximum frontal armor, a pair of LMGs and a 9.45in British Mortar, and being used as mobile siege artillery rather than an assault vehicle. Moving behind the front lines, with a cupola on top mounting a rangefinder off of a destroyer, and armored against rifle ammunition to protect from snipers, a spotter could range for targets, locate them, and direct the mortarmen below in operations. The crew itself would be 2 drivers, 2 mechanics, commander, spotter, and 3 gunners that could man the MGs if the vehicle was being assailed by infantry. The vehicle would have forward areas immune to rifle fire, and quite a bit of the top open, only covered at the magazine portion, though with a 'grenade grate' to let grenades roll off all but the small gap needed to fire the gun through.

          Obviously it wouldn't fire on the move, but it could advance at the same pace infantry can walk, so it allows you to keep heavier artillery in a supporting role longer, and to have responsive artillery that will be harder for German rear-area gunners to pin down for counterbattery fire. It would also carry quite a number of its own shells, so it reduces the logistics train needed to move heavy artillery in the early stages of an advance, yet again making it more responsive.
          Tacitos, Satrap of Kyrene

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          • #6
            Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
            They would have faired increasingly badly. The Germans in particular, having few tanks of their own, developed weapons to stop them. The anti-tank rifle (K gun). Using light artillery in direct fire to demolish tanks, etc.

            Basically, once tank technology became the norm, just like gas, flamethrowers, machineguns, high explosive shells, etc., both sides would adapt to them and develop methods to minimize their effect on the battlefield.

            On the other hand, German Stroßtruppen tactics was a real RMA (revolution in military affairs to use a current acromym). It changed how extant technology, orgainzation, and leadership were applied on the battlefield.
            The result was devastating. The Germans knocked Russia out of the war. Then they crippled Italy and took them out of the war. Lastly, they applied them to the Western Front and did what tanks never managed: Blew a hole through the enemy's front and drove a nearly 60 mile deep penetration into their rear.
            Had it not been for the US and generally overwhelmingly better logistical position of the French and British the war would have ended with that offensive and Germany would have had some negotiated armistice.

            I suggest reading The Fighting Tanks 1916-1933 By Jones, Rarey, and Icks. It includes a detailed account of every WW 1 tank action. You come away with the clear impression that as a technology alone it won't win the war.
            The Strosstruppen did not take Russia out of the war - Russia's primitive and overworked railway network was more responsible than any German troop type. Similarly, Italy's poor performance was more the result of its rudimentary industrialisation and underperforming general staff than anything the Central Powers threw Italy's way. Italy also developed highly effective "stormtrooper" infantry, complete with body armour and close fighting weapons.

            However, the Kaiser Battles were undertaken by a spearhead of Stormtroopers who were then followed by infantry units stripped of horses - the biggest loss the Germans had was among their horses, so they could barely move anything. The German logistical situation away from railways sucked big time. The Allied counteroffensive relied on the 1918 equivalent of combined arms: aircraft recce, artillery support and infantry to hold the gains. If this had continued into 1919, the Whippet may have provided a bit of an advantage in trying to obtain a breakthrough, but the strategists had dismissed that as a chimera. The entire 100 Days campaign was "Bite and Hold" writ large. Any heavier tank would have been thrown forward at strong points the artillery missed. Once the front line fanned out after the Rhine, I can see cavalry and motorised cavalry having a renaissance.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by broderickwells View Post
              The Strosstruppen did not take Russia out of the war - Russia's primitive and overworked railway network was more responsible than any German troop type. Similarly, Italy's poor performance was more the result of its rudimentary industrialisation and underperforming general staff than anything the Central Powers threw Italy's way. Italy also developed highly effective "stormtrooper" infantry, complete with body armour and close fighting weapons.

              However, the Kaiser Battles were undertaken by a spearhead of Stormtroopers who were then followed by infantry units stripped of horses - the biggest loss the Germans had was among their horses, so they could barely move anything. The German logistical situation away from railways sucked big time. The Allied counteroffensive relied on the 1918 equivalent of combined arms: aircraft recce, artillery support and infantry to hold the gains. If this had continued into 1919, the Whippet may have provided a bit of an advantage in trying to obtain a breakthrough, but the strategists had dismissed that as a chimera. The entire 100 Days campaign was "Bite and Hold" writ large. Any heavier tank would have been thrown forward at strong points the artillery missed. Once the front line fanned out after the Rhine, I can see cavalry and motorised cavalry having a renaissance.
              Say what you want. Giving the Germans equal logisitcs but leaving them without tanks and they would have ground up Allied offensives one after another. Late war French tactics hinged on what became "Methodical Battle" in 1940. Their plodding scripted attacks like at Second Soissons, broke the German line but failed to produce the deep penetration they wanted. The Germans failed mainly due to poor logistics and their simply running out of manpower.

              You admit that last yourself. Had the Germans had better supplies and sufficent vehicles or horses the Kaiser offensive would have finished the French and British.

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              • #8
                So, had a penetration been able to get through the trench lines, which pretty well stop armored cars, could they have been deployed as an 'armored cavalry' to penetrate to the rear? Were they fast enough, reliable enough, or well armed enough to pull it off? Or would they break down and/or be outrun or outgunned by horse cavalry or infantry?
                Tacitos, Satrap of Kyrene

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                • #9
                  The Medium A (Whippet) was involved in 7 actions in WW 1 in strengths from 50 to 100 vehicles.

                  Second Somme
                  Amiens
                  Bapaume
                  Second Arras
                  Second Cambari
                  Selle
                  Maubeuge

                  Instructive: At second Somme the 2nd tank Battalion counterattacked on the 22nd of March (day 2 of the action) near Beugny.

                  They went into action with 30 vehicles and the fight lasted less than an hour. 17 of 30 tanks were knocked out, mostly by artillery fire, and 70% of the crew were listed as casualties.

                  At second Soissons (the largest numerically tank battle of the war) on the first day of the offensive 223 tanks were employed. 62 were knocked out and a further 40 were disabled by mechanical failures. Crew casualties amounted to 25% of the total men.

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                  • #10
                    So they were used in the assault role, I should say misused. Also generally the terrain of the trench systems was horrible for wheeled vehicles of any type.

                    I did notice that as a trend, all Armored Cars of the war were armed with either a single Vickers, Hotchkiss, or Maxim gun, two of them (or one heavy and one light as a backup of sorts), or in a few cases a 37mm naval gun or boys antitank rifle. They were also rather pathetically armored, even rifle rounds could penetrate at somewhat close ranges.

                    It is interesting to wonder if proper tactics had been made to break through the enemy line before unleashing the armored cars, by breaking through I mean breaking through the entire main part of the trench system, would the ACs have been able to pull off similar stunts as seen in France later in the war. Probably not for a lack of explosive capability, but interesting to consider.
                    Tacitos, Satrap of Kyrene

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                      Say what you want. Giving the Germans equal logisitcs but leaving them without tanks and they would have ground up Allied offensives one after another. Late war French tactics hinged on what became "Methodical Battle" in 1940. Their plodding scripted attacks like at Second Soissons, broke the German line but failed to produce the deep penetration they wanted. The Germans failed mainly due to poor logistics and their simply running out of manpower.

                      You admit that last yourself. Had the Germans had better supplies and sufficent vehicles or horses the Kaiser offensive would have finished the French and British.
                      I'm not going to give the Germans equal logistics - the Allied/Entente blockade has to have some effect, and that effect was to destroy the Germans' ability to conduct mobile operations. The "What if" is continued German resistance into 1919. Returning to the effects of blockade, if it had continued into 1919, starvation would have been rife in Germany and they would be facing a war on two fronts (armies up the Danube).

                      Returning to the Kaiser offensives for a moment; Operation Michael took place over the old Somme battlefield. The infantry had a good chance of advancing, but artillery, even with horses or caterpillar tractors had little chance as the ground was too churned up. After that, any bulk advance relies on capturing railways. Moving to Operation Georgette, and again the problem is moving artillery across the battlefield fast enough. As with the Entente victories earlier in the war, the Germans had outrun their own artillery. Plus they couldn't join up the railway they controlled with the railway the Allies controlled. The same applies in the battles in the French sector. And during all this, the fittest men are being expended. But if the Germans really were a serious threat to Allied control of France, men would have been made available, even completely green American units.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by TacCovert4 View Post
                        It is interesting to wonder if proper tactics had been made to break through the enemy line before unleashing the armored cars, by breaking through I mean breaking through the entire main part of the trench system, would the ACs have been able to pull off similar stunts as seen in France later in the war. Probably not for a lack of explosive capability, but interesting to consider.
                        Tanks with cannon like the 6 pdr carried HE common, case (canister) and shrapnel rounds generally. They would try to straddle a trench and sweep the lenght of it to each side with case where they could.

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                        • #13
                          In 1919, one of the few bright spots for Germany would have been in the air, another Fokker scourge was in the making already.

                          The most expedient way for Germany to deal with tanks could have been the first anti-tank aircraft. One of those metal Junkers planes with a Heavy MG would have been ideal... but did Germany have any 13mm MG?
                          "Why is the Rum gone?"

                          -Captain Jack

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Carl Schwamberg View Post
                            Fuel and reliability limited the tanks of that era to assualt support roles. The ability to act in a exploitation role as in 1938 or 1939 was severly limited. There was no motorized infantry or mechanized artillery suitable for forming combined arms high speed formations.

                            This is wrong, the Whippets and Ft-17 could exploit and in the case of the Whippets surviving pictures show tank riders. Cavalry as well could act as dragoon style infantry. In the Assault some of the Rhomboids were converted to APC use and gave us mechanized infantry. The first motorized infantry hailed a cab to battle in 1914...

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                            • #15
                              Big tanks, fast tanks, powerful tanks, pretty tanks and tanks with strong armor. By 1919 would it have mattered how great the tanks were if there was very few trained solders to operate them?
                              “When you're in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, 'Damn, that was fun'.”
                              ― Groucho Marx

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