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Ex Bellator

Nebelwerfer effectiveness in Normandy - help please.

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I recently picked up a couple of Delaforce's books on specific unit histories in a sale and have made a start on the 11th Armoured Division.

On page 14 he states that 75% of infantry casualties in Normandy were caused by Nebelwerfers. I find this a staggering total, and unfortunately there are no sources listed relating to this fact.

Does anyone have sources which agree with him, or should I take a large pinch of salt with the writing. He seems to rely on first hand accounts and already I note that every German tank seems to be a Tiger.

Also I'd like to hear the actual distinctive noise that the 'Moaning Minnies' made, I don't suppose there is a .wav file around on the net is there? Thanks.

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I think that figure is for mortars (or even all artillery).

I own most of his books, and to be honest the best parts of them are where he quotes verbatim from somebody else's memoir. Worth having for that, if you can pick them up at Bargain Books for a fiver. Never ever pay full price for them.

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The 75% figure sounds like the portion of infantry losses due to all forms of artillery, from 81mm mortars and 75mm tank guns up to 210mm howitzers. It would contrast with bullet wounds. It doesn't tell you anything about Nebelwerfers vs. regular artillery, or even about Nebelwerfers plus mortars.

Most of the casualties caused by artillery had to come from the standard 105mm and 150mm divisional artillery, simply because they were the types with by far the most rounds per gun of ammo expended, overall. They dwarf all other types in that regard. Only 81mm mortars are in the same league in number of shells thrown.

But I was interested enough in the question to comb through Gerob's OOB looking for information on artillery systems fielded by the Germans opposite the British in Normandy. Most of the Nebels were opposite them, and the same it true of the Tigers. This is obviously not the same thing as saying most of the artillery opposite the British were Nebelwerfers, or that most of the tanks opposite them were Tigers. Instead, it means that the small portion of the artillery and tank fleets in Normandy composed of those items, mostly fought opposite the British half of the front rather than the American half.

I identified 676 artillery systems at the level of divisional arty and above that fought in the British sector. I am ignoring weapons meant for direct fire, including 150mm sIG, 75mm leIG, PAK and FLAK, etc. Here is the breakdown -

44 76mm Russian

32 100mm Czech howitzer

20 100mm German gun (not howitzer)

239 105mm German howitzer (includes Wespe)

32 122mm Russian

96 150mm Nebelwerfer

98 150mm German howitzer (includes Hummel)

24 152mm Russian howitzer

24 155mm French howizter

15 170mm German gun

4 210mm German howitzer

36 210mm or 300mm Nebelwerfer

The main division is that half the systems are 105mm or below, half larger. Of the larger half, 5/6 are 155mm or below, leaving 1/12 of the overall total the heavy stuff. Another way to look at it is that the light 76mm Russian guns are a low-end "tail", mirroring the high end, while 5/6ths of the weapons are 100-155mm. About 1/5 of the overall total are Nebelwerfers, with the 150mm accounting for about 3/4ths of them.

Nebelwerfer batteries are also larger, with 6 launchers each, vs. 4 standard for the other types and 3 for some (170mm guns, e.g., and some 150mm batteries). In battery terms, there are 6 each of heavy artillery and heavy Nebelwerfer, 37 tube arty around 150mm and 16 more 150mm Nebel, plus 6 more 122mm, making about 5 times as much medium-heavy as heavy, and then as many as both again in the 105mm range (73 batteries), and about as many lights as heavies (11 batteries).

Or if you want a 2d6 probability system, it would not be far off to use something like -

12 - 170mm

11 - 210mm Nebelwerfer

10 - 150mm Nebelwerfer

8-9 - 150mm

4-7 - 105mm

2-3 - 75mm

There is no way Nebelwerfers proper caused even as much as 1 out of 5 artillery causalties in Normandy. There are 1/5 projectors and 1/7 batteries, but given their range, accuracy, rapid ammo expending ability (leaving them often "dry"), and the greater availability of standard 105mm and 150mm shells, they had to be underrepresented in damage caused.

And some portion of the shrapnel causalties will be due to direct fire weapons - tank HE, PAK and FLAK, infantry guns - and to mortars. So it is safe to say no more than about 10% of infantry casualties on the British sector in Normandy can have been caused by Nebelwerfer fire. And that is where almost all of the Nebelwerfers were used, so the portion of all Allied infantry losses, including the American sector, is probably 5% or less. Perhaps as low as half that.

As for the comment that every German tank seems to be a Tiger, all three German Tiger battalions that fought in Normandy did so in the British sector. But that is 135 tanks, out of more like 1250 AFVs that faced the Brits at one time or another.

I decided to look at one case in which the British 11th AD was famously involved in very heavy tank fighting - the later stages of Operation Epsom at the end of June. The initial attack was made on positions of the 12 SS. 9th and 10th SS then counterattacked. 11th AD stopped the counterattack and subsequently took hill 112, but found it far too hot to hold and lost it again.

2nd Panzer lent its Panther battalion during that fighting. 10th SS had no Panther battalion, and the Tiger battalion that later filled in for it had not yet arrived. There may have been as much as one company of Tigers from the 101 SS, which was already present but not in the direct path of the attack, and perhaps another of early arrivals from the 102 SS. Less than 30 Tigers, though, and not necessarily any.

The other tanks in the units engaged come to 168 Panthers, 147 Pz IVs, and 78 StuGs, total 393 AFVs. That is discounting units not engaged in the Epsom fighting, losses already incurred, and known non-operational vehicles before the battle started. Because of incomplete reporting, though, the number operational may be somewhat lower, perhaps 350 or so.

We can look at the German losses in the fighting two ways, permanent reductions in strength and reductions in operational vehicles. I see 86 of the former and 161 of the latter, in the units involved. In terms of initial unit strengths the fraction affected, by type, runs as follows. Roughly, 1/2 the Pz IVs weren't operational after Epsom while 1/4 had been lost; 3/8 of the Panthers non-operational with 1/5 lost; and 1/4 of the StuG non-operational with 1/6 lost.

Certainly not all Tigers, and certainly not all invunerable. British armor losses in Epsom were probably higher than German but probably within a factor of two. The main problem was that the attack had odds only vs. 12 SS alone, and once 9SS and 10SS joined the fighting, the AFV odds weren't appreciably better than even. 1:1 odds armor attacks fail. No uber-Tiger stories needed to account for it.

I hope this is interesting.

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Well, Rex said that the 11th AD history he mentioned reads like every German tank was a Tiger. So I decided to try to be factual about the Tigers 11th AD probably faced, as opposed to the real armor problems they faced, just like I tried to do for the arty deployed against the Brits, as opposed to the tall tale about Nebelwerfers everywhere. I didn't want to rewrite the whole history of the 11th AD in Normandy, so I picked one major fight it was in, Epsom.

The idea in both cases was to go a little bit beyond "he is probably exaggerating if that is the impression he leaves", to something more substantive. The kind of thing that you ought to see in a *good* history, that would tell you you are seeing a realistic account of the real difficulties of the battle. Instead of a sensationalized one focusing on the most exotic hardware the enemy had. Not to substitute for full histories, but to make clear what sorts of things you should expect to find in good ones, as opposed to mediocre ones, the better select good things to read.

Thus, a history that explains most of the infantry casualties were caused by artillery, ought to explain in some reasonably detailed fashion what they meant, what sort of artillery fire the British infantry was facing. A history that explains times when British armor ran into a buzz saw and got hurt ought to talk about things besides the thickest armor plates in the field, to include little uninteresting items like entire SS Panzer corps being thrown in to stop them, making the armor odds no better than even.

I sort of hoped such morals would be tolerably clear. Maybe I should have spelled them out. Or maybe everyone just looks as the thread title and can't imagine why they should read it, for all I know...

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Originally posted by JasonC:

2nd Panzer lent its Panther battalion during that fighting. 10th SS had no Panther battalion, and the Tiger battalion that later filled in for it had not yet arrived. There may have been as much as one company of Tigers from the 101 SS, which was already present but not in the direct path of the attack, and perhaps another of early arrivals from the 102 SS. Less than 30 Tigers, though, and not necessarily any.

The other tanks in the units engaged come to 168 Panthers, 147 Pz IVs, and 78 StuGs, total 393 AFVs. That is discounting units not engaged in the Epsom fighting, losses already incurred, and known non-operational vehicles before the battle started. Because of incomplete reporting, though, the number operational may be somewhat lower, perhaps 350 or so.

We can look at the German losses in the fighting two ways, permanent reductions in strength and reductions in operational vehicles. I see 86 of the former and 161 of the latter, in the units involved. In terms of initial unit strengths the fraction affected, by type, runs as follows. Roughly, 1/2 the Pz IVs weren't operational after Epsom while 1/4 had been lost; 3/8 of the Panthers non-operational with 1/5 lost; and 1/4 of the StuG non-operational with 1/6 lost.

Certainly not all Tigers, and certainly not all invunerable. British armor losses in Epsom were probably higher than German but probably within a factor of two. The main problem was that the attack had odds only vs. 12 SS alone, and once 9SS and 10SS joined the fighting, the AFV odds weren't appreciably better than even. 1:1 odds armor attacks fail. No uber-Tiger stories needed to account for it.

I hope this is interesting.

O'Connor's VIII Corp tasked with Epsom had including two reinforced tank brigades; 600 tanks to carry out the assault on 12 SS alone from the 25 June till the 29 June when General Dollmann ordered 10 and 9 SS to make the counter attack. Elements of 1 SS had arrived by the 28. It should be evident that O'Connor's VIII vastly out numbered 12 SS in tank numbers in the initial stages. Even in the later stages the ratios would be closer to 2:1 as opposed to 1:1.

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I read today, the cassualitys true friendly fire (on US side) was around 21% plus 75% as you mentioned thrue german arty comes to 96%..Im wonder why the germans build tanks and other supporting weapons.

I think the 75% is a bit overated..

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600 in Epsom? You are including Stuarts then, right? Against Panthers. I suppose we could include all the gun armed halftracks and armored cars in the defending German armor divisions if you prefer an accounting with light armor included. There certainly weren't 600 British mediums in Epsom (maybe 450), and as I have already explained there were 400 mediums against it.

As for 1SS, my understanding is that only a Pz Gdr kampgruppe from it intervened, which had only 2 infantry battalions, plus the extras of a Pz Gdr regiment. Methinks 170 Panthers, 150 Pz IVs, 80 StuGs, and 3 full SS divisions had more to do with Epsom failing than that KG. In fact, the 2nd Pz contribution (its Panther battalion) may have been more important.

I did note that it began with odds when up against 12 SS alone; it also made progress then. But the failure to move the whole II SS Panzer Corps in addition, was hardly surprising, and no technological fish stories ("son, the tanks we were fighting were THIS big, and there were rockets THIS big everywhere") are needed to explain it. Numbers suffice.

Here is a quote and reference on 1SS -

"The SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 1 (minus the III. Battalion) fought along the national highway 175 on the eastern flank of the British Epsom offensive. No other elements of the division took part in the fighting during June." Says Gerob. He cites Lehmann and Tiemann's unit history of 1SS, pp. 121-126.

[ March 25, 2002, 11:27 AM: Message edited by: JasonC ]

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Originally posted by JasonC:

600 in Epsom? You are including Stuarts then, right? Against Panthers. I suppose we could include all the gun armed halftracks and armored cars in the defending German armor divisions if you prefer an accounting with light armor included. There certainly weren't 600 British mediums in Epsom (maybe 450), and as I have already explained there were 400 mediums against it.

11th Armoured - ~250 mediums

4th Armoured Brigade - ~180 mediums

31st Tank Brigade - ~120 mediums*

Total ~550 medium tanks

*edit necessary because I overlooked the fact that the third regiment in the Brigade, 141 RAC (The Buffs) was given up to 79th Armoured to convert to Crocodiles. Therfore only 7 RTR and 9 RTR with their Churchills would be present at Epsom.

[ March 25, 2002, 01:25 PM: Message edited by: Andreas ]

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Originally posted by JasonC:

600 in Epsom? You are including Stuarts then, right? Against Panthers. I suppose we could include all the gun armed halftracks and armored cars in the defending German armor divisions if you prefer an accounting with light armor included. There certainly weren't 600 British mediums in Epsom (maybe 450), and as I have already explained there were 400 mediums against it.

As for 1SS, my understanding is that only a Pz Gdr kampgruppe from it intervened, which had only 2 infantry battalions, plus the extras of a Pz Gdr regiment. Methinks 170 Panthers, 150 Pz IVs, 80 StuGs, and 3 full SS divisions had more to do with Epsom failing than that KG. In fact, the 2nd Pz contribution (its Panther battalion) may have been more important.

I did note that it began with odds when up against 12 SS alone; it also made progress then. But the failure to move the whole II SS Panzer Corps in addition, was hardly surprising, and no technological fish stories ("son, the tanks we were fighting were THIS big, and there were rockets THIS big everywhere") are needed to explain it. Numbers suffice.

Here is a quote and reference on 1SS -

"The SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 1 (minus the III. Battalion) fought along the national highway 175 on the eastern flank of the British Epsom offensive. No other elements of the division took part in the fighting during June." Says Gerob. He cites Lehmann and Tiemann's unit history of 1SS, pp. 121-126.

You should also then note that Panzer elements of 10SS unable to commit due to lack of fuel during the first two days. Also that 10 and 9SS took part in counter attacks not shoring up 12SS position. By the time 10SS and 9SS arrived VIII corps had already stalled. The biggest problem with Epsom was O'Connor goosing himself because he thought based on VIII Corps Int that a bigger attack than the already failed 10SS and 9SS one was imminent and so left hill 112.

[ March 25, 2002, 03:02 PM: Message edited by: Bastables ]

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Jason, I would still be interested as to how you arrive at the number of 400 medium tanks for the British in Epsom. To my knowledge all the units I listed where fully committed, and apart from LOB they would be full-strength.

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Originally posted by JasonC:

600 in Epsom? You are including Stuarts then, right?

Dunno 'bout that. Mike Reynolds' "Steel inferno", Max Hastings' "Overlord" and Carruthers and Trew's "Normandy Battles" all give 600.

By my back-of-an-envelope calculations, there are three tank or armoured brigades committed to Epsom (one in the Armoured Division and two in independent brigades). This makes nine regiments (one of the independent brigades is shy a regiment, but the division has an armoured recce regiment to be counted in). Each regiment has three sabre squadrons. Each sabre squadron would have 18 or 19 battle tanks. Assuming 18, and completely disregarding all light tanks, AA tanks and tanks in RHQs, we have 9 x 3 x 18 = 486.

I suspect that the 600 figure has been arrived at by assuming, in round numbers, 60 battle tanks per regiment (a reasonable figure if including the RHQ tanks) and multiplying by 10 for the number of regiments, failing to notice the missing regiment from 31 (IIRC) tank bde. This adjustment would make the final figure 540, rather like Andreas' suggested figure.

All the best,

John.

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Originally posted by Bastables:

You should also then note that Panzer elements of 10SS unable to commit due to lack of fuel during the first two days. Also that 10 and 9SS took part in counter attacks not shoring up 12SS position. By the time 10SS and 9SS arrived VIII corps had already stalled. The biggest problem with Epsom was O'Connor goosing himself because he thought based on VIII Corps Int that a bigger attack than the already failed 10SS and 9SS one was imminent and so left hill 112.

Also, was not part of 12th SS together with a part of Panzerlehr rather busy fending off Operation Martlet (started on the 25th), the attack by XXX Corps using 49th West Riding supported by 8th Armoured Brigade (another 180 tanks on the left flank of the Odon attack). I have been looking for confirmation that it really was a part of 12th SS, but only have Delaforce, and I don't trust him. But that would further push the odds in favour of the British.

Thanks for the answer John, good to see I can still count.

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I was thinking of 11th AD and 4th AB. I did not know about the tank brigade in addition. That might raise the total to 500-550, I agree. Although I doubt all of them were 100% operational strength, though they were undoubtedly higher as a percent of TOE than the Germans were. The nominal TOE of the German divisions engaged was around 630 AFVs and the reality was more like 400, because Pz Jgr battalions were missing, not all tanks that were there were operational, 12 SS had sustained some losses earlier in July, etc. I am still inclined to think that 600 on the Allied side would include light tanks.

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Originally posted by JasonC:

I was thinking of 11th AD and 4th AB. I did not know about the tank brigade in addition. That might raise the total to 500-550, I agree. Although I doubt all of them were 100% operational strength, though they were undoubtedly higher as a percent of TOE than the Germans were. The nominal TOE of the German divisions engaged was around 630 AFVs and the reality was more like 400, because Pz Jgr battalions were missing, not all tanks that were there were operational, 12 SS had sustained some losses earlier in July, etc. I am still inclined to think that 600 on the Allied side would include light tanks.

You seem to also have forgotten that the EPSOM Operation included XXX (Committed 35 June) corps with another 190 medium tanks of 8th armoured Brigade under 49 West riding division on top of the 550 tanks of the fresh off the boat VIII Corps (Committed 26 June). Andreas has already tried to bring your attention to it earlier. MARTLET/XXX Corp was phase one of EPSOM. Again VIII corps had already been halted before 10SS and 9SS failed counter attack of the 29th june.

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Originally posted by Bastables:

Again VIII corps had already been halted before 10SS and 9SS failed counter attack of the 29th june.

Well they'd been halted, but not by the Germans :D

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Originally posted by JasonC:

I was thinking of 11th AD and 4th AB. I did not know about the tank brigade in addition. That might raise the total to 500-550, I agree. Although I doubt all of them were 100% operational strength, though they were undoubtedly higher as a percent of TOE than the Germans were.

All of these British units were fresh, and had not been engaged before. I have histories of all of them, and none does indicate combat and/or losses prior to being engaged in Epsom. I know that tank crews were LOB, but I doubt tanks were, so my calculation for total, and John's for actual frontline strength would be roughly correct. Add to that Operation Martlet, and you are looking at about 680 (frontline) or 730 (total) mediums hitting 12th SS and elms of Panzerlehr on the 25th and 26th June.

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Originally posted by Rex-Bellator:

On page 14 he states that 75% of infantry casualties in Normandy were caused by Nebelwerfers. I find this a staggering total, and unfortunately there are no sources listed relating to this fact.

Try Major Michael Swann: Operational Research in North-West Europe: The Work of No. 2 Operational Research Section and 21 Army-Group, June 1944-July 1945. Reference number to look it up is PRO WO 291/1331.

He has a similar figure, but it relates to all mortars, including nebelwerfers.

[ March 27, 2002, 04:03 AM: Message edited by: Desdichado ]

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Not engaged before does not mean 100% of TOE, let alone all tanks present running. 9SS and 10SS hadn't been engaged before in the campaign either, nor 2nd Panzer's Panther battalion. But they were hardly at TOE. It is of course far more likely the Brits had all the tanks TOE called for than it is for the Germans, but that every one of them was running is unlikely. 90% readiness would be excellent, even at the start of an offensive.

I also notice a creeping tendency toward one entry accounting in the comments of some others. Most of the heavy fighting in Epsom was between just the 15th Scottish with their supporting tanks, and 11th Armored, vs. 12SS, 9SS, and 10SS. If you want to widen out the units included, you'd also wind up dragging in more of Lehr and I SS Pz Corps, etc.

As for the idea that it was a ringing success foiled by timid withdrawls, that hardly fits the facts either. The Scotts and 11 AD alone lost as much as all the German formations involved, and the pull back from Hill 112 was to protect the base of the salient driven in to the German lines from the counterattack of 9SS and 10SS, against its base, on the near side of the Odon river. Which was distinct from their action beyond the river to stop the drive at the hill, earlier.

It is not exactly surprising that one AD at the tip of the incursion, already about halved in tank strength, was regarded as rather exposed with 200-300 fresh German tanks directed at their right flank. Especially with only one safe crossing over the river in British hands. Pulling them back was eminently sensible. The initial odds that had allowed the break-in in the first place were no longer present at the point of attack.

I am sure the infantry left up on Hill 112 saw it differently, just feeling abandoned. But that is hardly an objective, birds eye view of the battle. No amount of bullheadness to keep or push beyond Hill 112 would have gone anywhere in the face of the new local odds created by losses so far, combined with the arrival of 9SS and 10SS.

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Jason, 11th Armoured attacked with 4th Armoured Brigade under command, which maybe the reason why you don't see them mentioned that often. That makes a frontline strength (using John's method of calculation here) for the division of 7x3x18 (378 full, say 330 actual at ~90%) mediums alone. Supported by four battalions of infantry.

15th Scottish attacked with its nine battalions of infantry supported by 2x3x18 (108 full, say 95 actual) tanks. 49th attacked in Martlet with 8th Armoured Brigade under command with 3x3x18 Shermans. They had incurred previous losses, so say they were at 60%, which would give them ~100 Shermans. Reynolds sees Martlet as an integral part of Epsom and treats it as such in his narrative.

Why 11th Armoured needed more tanks than it had organically is beyond me. GOC 11th Armoured, MG 'Pip' Roberts commented on the lack of co-operation that he got from 15th Scottish after the battle, which maybe one reason why things did not go as well as planned.

I don't now who here suggested it was a ringing success. I don't think it was.

I agree that there is a bigger picture. Fact is anyway, 12th SS was hit by two different operations on the same day. Realistically one should count in the elements of Panzerlehr involved if they fought in the battle - I don't know if they did. Reynolds does not mention them, but he maybe too hung up about 1st SS Panzerkorps. Then again, he mentions the failed attack by 2. PD later.

Martlet was a success, but hardly a ringing one - losses were high both in 49th West Riding and 8th Armoured Brigade. It was an essential part of Epsom's flank protection though as I understand, since it secured a commanding feature NW of Rauray. What it did according to Reynolds was split 12th SS and Panzerlehr, and it presented 12th SS with two strong thrusts at its line. It also necessitated shifting armour over to meet 49th thrust. Reynolds gives the 12th SS 102 tanks (44 Panthers). About half of these were used to meet 49th at some time. So I think it would be right to say that even when 11th Armoured and 4th Armoured Brigade were not committed, British armour superiority in the sector was about 2:1 (assuming all German tanks were in the line) if not better. I don't know how many tanks II SS Panzerkorps brought to the party, but unless it was ~160 frontline runners it would not even begin to even out the score somewhat. According to Reynolds they were not committed before the 28th anyway, so for some time 12th SS had to fend off the whole of VIII Corps with limited support from 2. Panzerdivision and some Tigers.

Whether Epsom was a success - it did not achieve what it set out to do, but it got the British across the Odon. At high losses.

I hope this is interesting :D

Croda:

Peter Beale: 'Tank Tracks - 9 RTR at war'

Delaforce: 'The Polar Bears', 'Monty's Marauders', 'The Black Bull', 'The Fighting Wessex Wyvern'

Reynolds 'Steel Inferno'

Carver 'The British Army in the 20th Century'

Anonymous 'History of the 79th Armoured Division' (1945)

Godfrey 'The Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry 1939-1945'

Err, that's it.

[ March 27, 2002, 03:34 PM: Message edited by: Andreas ]

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