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How much equipment got lost in battle?

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I know it's a silly question, but is there a way to tell roughly how much infantry weaponry was lost in combat in a WW2 division after a long month of fighting? I suppose there can't be any precise or even remotely scientific answer to a question like that, but I'm playing in an ongoing CMBB campaign and that got me wondering about replacement rates. People become casualties, but equipment could last much longer than the men crewing it, or couldn't it?

Suppose a vanilla infantry division took part in some serious fighting for a month and held the field after each fight, so nothing is lost to the enemy. Let's say they began the month with 100 HMGs - would they need one replacement gun or twenty, excluding those that just needed spare parts or simple repairs? How long does your average mortar last before an unlucky hit destroys it or it simply falls off the proverbial truck?

If there were any statistics on that, the numbers would probably be all over the place, but does anyone have an informed gut feeling on this?

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I guess it would be correlated pretty strongly with human losses. A HMG team gets nailed by an arty round, the gun is probably dead too. Otherwise a healthy soldier will maintain and repair their kit and it should keep on working. Interesting question though. I wonder if there is info on whether spare MGs or mortars were kept on hand in case of failures.

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I'd say it is highly variable and depends on a lot of conditions, such as weather; morale, training, and discipline of the troops; how much and what kind of combat the unit has recently faced; etc.

Probably no troops took better care of their weapons than the USMC, but Eugene Sledge writes of the fighting on Okinawa that his battalion was in the line for over a month, during which they were subject to almost constant heavy shelling as well as rain and mud. It was deadly to venture out of your foxhole so no one was going around during the battle collecting the weapons of dead soldiers of either side. They lay in the mud until so completely rusted as to be irreparable.

Even in conditions less hostile than that, weapons wore out or broke and needed repair and replacement. After so many rounds, artillery needed its tubes relined. Vehicles were possibly the worst. Even if not damaged or destroyed by enemy fire, they needed frequent maintenance and repair, and sometimes it was a question of whether to rebuild them or scavenge them for usable parts.

Personal equipment, such as clothing, webbing, kit of all kinds had to be regularly replaced and augmented as the weather changed.

There is a reason why a huge proportion of modern fighting forces consisted of men simply moving stuff forward to the front. True, most of that was expendable matériel like ammunition and fuel, but a lot of it was equipment including spares.


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As for sources, I would recommend Zetterling's Normandy book. It goes into quite a bit of detail regarding the daily strengths of the German divisions involved. Obviously there are some gaps in the research, due to missing or destroyed reports, but there is enough for one to get the overall idea.

I don't have the book on hand right now, but there are a few major points that I recall.

First, AFV strengths probably see the biggest strength reductions in prolonged fighting, even if the frontline isn't moving that much. They are an important weapon system and serious clashes between armor tend to result in high attrition on both sides. They also take time to repair and are difficult to replace (for the Germans at this time, given production rates not high enough, some difficulty due to tac air, though often overstated).

Small arms and HMG losses should be roughly proportional to the manpower losses needed to man them. Maybe somewhat higher on occasion (eg MG team panics and runs away, leaving the weapon behind).

What you don't see though are men later combing the battlefield to recover every possible lost rifle or MG. There simply weren't shortages of these things and they were easy to ship out and supply to units. I have never read of small arms or serious MG shortages except during the darkest days for the SU on the eastern front. Generally production and the transportation network was sufficient to keep these in supply. Ammunition, on the other hand, was something that was much harder to keep in constant supply. Understand, a MG like the HMG-42 can throw ammo arbitrarily high; over 1000 rounds a minute. Units could not remotely afford to keep their fingers on the trigger indefinitely.

Heavier weapons such as AT and Inf guns were probably similar. A few knocked out here or there by arty or direct fire. Losses of course go up during major efforts when such weapons are overrun.

Artillery and mortars are a different case. In a static frontline, these weapons do not suffer very high attrition. By employing roving guns, multiple positions, digging in, etc, arty proved to be quite resilient to counterbattery fire. An attacker may be able to suppress the guns for a short time, but rarely destroyed many of them in this fashion. Like MG's, the big bottleneck here was ammo supply, not # of tubes or losses. Guns can throw lots of ammo during a short amount of time; more than any army could realistically supply, included the lavishly equipped western armies.

However, arty attrition rates change significantly once the front is cracked open. Why? German and Soviet infantry divisions used horse drawn artillery and supplied it the same way. Once off the rail net, such formations were quite primitive in their ability to resupply and move (static units in Normandy especially). Thus, these weapons were always to slow to get away once the fighting went mobile.

As for CM, attrition rates tend to be much higher than the real deal. Unsustainably high. Players tend to use direct fire guns a lot more too than they were used historically, resulting in higher losses.

I hope this helps with your question. I definitely recommend Zetterling's book though, if you want to do a more detailed analysis. I also think there is a book floating around on the internet regarding US logistics in the ETO campaign, though I don't recall if it examines specific divisional formations.

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here are some stats for Finnish 18th division for 1943. it saw little action, so stats do not fit heavy combat period at all. also, this is just my interpretation of the stats. those who speak Finnish are free to correct my errors. the report can be viewed at http://digi.narc.fi/digi/view.ka?kuid=4558081 .

a special caveat: division was receiving new sniper rifles and SMGs, and thus some received weapons might not have been sent "for repair" under normal conditions. some of them were just in bad condition. on the other hand the report notes how the year was very quiet and the arrival of new light arms doesn't change stats for MGs and mortars.

i might try to find a similar or better report for a period of heavy combat, but digging thru the tens of thousands of pages of the archives is very time consuming and boring. i use these stats only because by chance there happened to be a separate entry for the report in the archives so that i could find it with a simple keyword search.

anyway, here are some numbers for different types of weapons (relevant to the original post) sent for repair within the division during 1943:

rifles - 5104

pistols and SMGs - 551

LMGs - 147

MGs - 107

med mortars - 20

hvy mortars - 14

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ok, i found the relevant document for that division for 1941 (http://digi.narc.fi/digi/view.ka?kuid=4558993). finns are free to correct my wrong interpretations.

apparently i misinterpreted a part of the 1943 report. tables included columns for a higher level unit, and i might have made a mistake by interpreting it as some other type of weapons transfers (i didn't include numbers from those columns on my previous post). according to the 1941 document heavily damaged weapons were sent to those corps level units and divisional repair units repaired only less damaged weapons. possible losses of equipment could actually have been dramatically higher for 1943 as given in my previous post.

in any case, the document for 1941 covers a period of roughly 1½ months (31st July - 10th September) of offensive combat. stats are only for a single infantry division (18th) and only include repairs performed by divisional repair units (thus may not include full losses). stats are as follows:


rifles - 1970

lmgs - 64

mgs - 33

pistols - 13

mortars - 29

and weapon transfers and evacuations

rifles - 4989

lmgs - 138

mgs - 80

smgs - 156

pistols - 238

mortars - 44

worth noting is that the division was originally heavily understrength what comes to fire arms. as the division pushed thru the Kareilan Isthmus it got stronger due to captured equipment. damaged equipment was typically replaced by captured equipment on the spot and damaged weapons were just left on the field, without any reports, thus distorting stats.

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Thanks! It seems that the question is even trickier than I thought. Full-write offs can not be calculated, even when comparing month-to-month strengths, because a large number of weapons is in the shop at any given time.

BTW, what's meant by "transfers and evacuations"? Sent back to a higher-level depot?

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regarding counter-battery fire. I have just read a report where an FOO and two Piper Cubs spent most of a day taking out seven German batteries. If I can only remember in which book I read it I could give details!!!

I distinctly recall one of the Piper observers was giving shell by shell results.

Edit : found it pages 131,132 and 133 "United States Tanks of World WarII" by George Forty.

The Pipers flew seven two hour missions during the day and 2623 rounds were fired . The FOO on the ground recorded 43 fire missions though the Battalion [58th Armored FA Battalion] records record it as 16 counter-battery missions. The difference being that they were logging off after a series. The amount fired well above average. However it would seem that each target would be getting round 50 rounds - think what BF gives us!

Interestingly the effect was - bythe end of day the German batteries left had been reduced to one or two guns and by dark no counter fire. Apparently in the afternoon when things had slowed down the Airborne FOO's would wait for the gun crews to return to their guns from their slit trenches before ordering firing again.

He does also record a US tank unit getting fifty rounds of 150mm which was deemed pretty heavy. The unit took casualties.

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Thanks! It seems that the question is even trickier than I thought. Full-write offs can not be calculated, even when comparing month-to-month strengths, because a large number of weapons is in the shop at any given time.

and there's no information about the cause of damage.

i might check some MG company / mortar platoon diaries to see if they contain mentions of lost equipment.

BTW, what's meant by "transfers and evacuations"? Sent back to a higher-level depot?

i think it includes all the weapons they received but didn't repair. i'm not sure if it includes captured equipment. i only read a part of that report.

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Small arms and HMG losses should be roughly proportional to the manpower losses needed to man them. Maybe somewhat higher on occasion (eg MG team panics and runs away, leaving the weapon behind).

for Germans HMG losses should not be proportional to manpower losses at all. HMGs and mortars are the last elements to go. that's why they could put up solid tactical resistance with seriously understrength units.

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In the earlier periods of the war equipment destroyed or beaten beyond repair would have been hard too replace. subsequently after the nations in WWII switched their economies into total war mode these losses where replaced quite easily.

A good note or point example is albert speer's miracle with the German economy. By the end of the war he had more arms and armaments made that there were soldiers too use them.

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Anecdotal, to be sure: My grandfather was in Belgium in WWII, and he recounted that he once was astounded to see a forest road after an American unit (he had no idea how big it was, I always assumed it must have been a batallion or similar) strewn with personal gear. Especially in a bend in the road, there were hundreds of gasmasks, bayonets, tent gear, (ammunition?) boxes,and even a few rifles. Just discarded a few hundred meters from the mustering ground when going on a march. There were people making their living from scavenging, although my grandfather did not dare touch anything; if the Germans caught you with German army materiel, they would summarily execute you, and he didn't expect dissimilar treatment from any other army.

As a contrast, he said that the Germans never left anything behind, even the empty ammunition boxes were taken along. Again, it's anecdotal, but it seems interesting.

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I've heard of troops discarding gas masks once they got into combat, but it's odd to hear of all that other stuff. Soldiers would not normally discard their rifles if they were still in working order. And some of that other stuff is iffy too. I have to wonder if they could have been surprised by the enemy and taken prisoner, then forcibly disarmed.


BTW, if the "boxes" were wooden (and could have contained rations), normally they would either be broken up and used for fuel or scavenged to make their foxholes more habitable.

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The US army green books has an anecdote on this subject, in the volume covering logistics. Through mid July, there were 835 replacement BARs ordered for 1st Army, and this was much more than initially expected. The passage mentions that this was about 1/3rd of the force allotment at TOE. If they are all actually replacement weapons, that implies a "half life" of about 3 months for a BAR in the field. It is possible some of the requisitioning was an attempt to uparm to 2 BARs per squad, but most of it probably reflects actual combat losses.

Other items mentioned as being in shortage include mortars and grenade launcher attachments, and the reasons behind these (only partly discussed in the green books) may also shed some light on the typical equipment loss question. Most of the grenade launcher attachments were for the Springfield; the M1 version was new. The attachment was often discarded and lost after use - that was the cause of the item shortage. The operator wanted to get his grenade off and switch back to ordinary rifle operation quickly - that didn't facilitate care for the gizmo etc.

Mortars are another item said to be in shortage and the reason there is a bit more involved. Actual combat losses of field mortars, 60mm and 81mm, had to be pretty low, given the close terrain (plenty of cover, general indirect use, etc) and continual offensive operations.

The problem was different. Mortar ammunition was in very short supply. The 81mm for example had only 0.3 units of fire on hand throughout the beachhead by mid July, and amounts delivered had been low. The mortars could fire the stuff off arbitarily fast. But priority for shell shipments to the beachhead went to div arty, 105mm and 155mm, which were firing virtually all of the missions.

Meanwhile, replacements were at a premium. The army had expected 70% of losses to occur in the infantry, while the real figure was 85%. The army had planned on 60% of replacement infantrymen being riflemen (as opposed to heavy weapons, other specialists, etc) and actually only got around 40%, plus another 20% or so heavy weapons trained, but the replacement requirement was more like 65% riflemen and 90-95% rifleman or infantry heavy weapons (with medics the next highest category).

In short, the 81s were "dry" and the battalions were short of riflemen and not getting nearly enough. So, they cannabilized their heavy weapons sections - mortar and HMG companies at battalion, plus 57mm ATG teams, etc - for extra front line infantry strength. The mortars were heavy and not being used; many were undoubtedly abandoned as a result. The units then reported shortfalls of weapons compared to TOE.

In other words, it wasn't combat losses leading to not enough of the weapon, but lack of ammunition supply leading to non-use of the weapon and reassignment of the personnel.

This undoubtedly happened to other forces at other times, as well. The details would vary. The general principle is that chance shortages stress the complementarity of weapons and other military systems, and temporarily useless stuff gets permanently discarded under battle stress.

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1/3 replacements is about the same scale as that of the Finnish 18th division stats, as far as i am familiar with it - which i am not to any greater lengths. though i don't know how US repair services worked in June/July.

if i guesstimate the TOE, and sum up both repaired items and transfers & evacuations, the loss percentages for the Finnish 18th div would be something like:

rifles - 139%

LMGs - 75%

MGs - 157%

for all these types, the number of captured enemy equipment is higher that 100% of the TOE, so it does pump the percentages up somewhat in the field.

it would not be hard to see the required replacements to be within the general scale of 1/3 of the TOE. i.e. if i pull up a figure from my hat and say third of the t&e would mean replacements from higher level depots (other thirds would be equipment fixed at higher level repair shops and evacuated working equipment), the replacement % would be:

rifles - 33%

LMGs - 17%

MGs - 37%

my gut feeling for the Finnish numbers is that the great majority of weapon losses are caused by wear & tear, not by enemy combat activity.

one way, with tongue in cheek & just for fun, to try to find the battlefield life expectancy for these weapons, in these conditions etc, would be to go for rounds shot/weapon loss or units of fire/weapon loss route, as the numbers of ammo expenditure are known.

for the division i have discussed, the number of required rifle caliber rounds fired

to lose one own weapon of the type

rifles - 300 rounds

LMGs - 10 000

MGs - 20 000

to lose 1% of the TOE for the type

rifles - 15 000

LMGs - 28 000

MGs - 13 500

so if the ammo expenditure of your identical division would be 60 000 rifle caliber rounds for certain period during which you were the attacker with success etc etc, you would still lose 200 rifles, 6 LMGs and 3 MGs = 4% rifle strength, 2% LMG strength and 4.5% MG strength.

yes yes, not scientific at all, all bound to other arms of the unit etc etc etc.

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So if a gun doesn't get destroyed but gets supressed in counterbattery fire is that like people just running for cover for a few minutes or maybe parts of the gun damaged by splinters etc. and not fully knocked out...kinda interesting how ATG's seem to get easily knocked out by Artillery fire but that artillergy guns are more resiliant (perhaps this is because counterbattery fire is very much indirect (i.e. no spotters) and therefore pretty scattered?

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Um, much more important, artillery positions are typically miles behind any front line and ATG positions are generally right in the front line, and the front line moving is the leading cause of permanent material losses for anything that doesn't move itself - and even for a solid half of stuff that does.

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One study I have read ("Attrition: Forecasting Battle Casualties and Equipment Losses in Modern War" by TN Dupuy) suggest that machine gun losses are comparable to the personnel loss percentages times 1.25, and 1.00 for mortars and anti-tank weapons. I.e. a battalion that took 20% casualties (as a percentage of the total battalion strength, not just "trench strength") would on average lose about 25% of its MGs and 20% of its mortars. For artillery it is 0.25% per 1%, so a division taking 4% of its total strength in losses might be expected to lose 1% of its artillery.

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Equipment gets lost with personnel lost, will be dropped on the retreat, will break down, ...

If a MG crew becomes casualties, some might return a few days later. Their MG is lost.

If half a MG crew becomes casualties - will their comrades carry the wounded or the gun?

If just one crew member out of six becomes a casualty we won't see 1/6th of the weapon vanish.

If a MG breaks down, the crew might still be alive.

So just considering one cause and its relation between personnel strength and number of weapons won't work. You'd need to know the mix of all reasons for personnel or equipment losses. Which might depend on the tide of war and the experience of the soldiers. Cons and vets might drop their equipment much faster than greens or regulars when on the retreat. The attacker will loose less heavy weapons as those won't get overrun. It will be the forward elms that die first. On the retreat, heavy weapons might cover the withdrawal and thus get lost.


I doubt a study considering one unit, nation or war will realy forecast another unit, nation or war.

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hmmm well I'm thinking about how when artillery gets suppresed it goes firing a few minutes later... this didn't seem to happen with ATGs?

usually enemy advances while you are being suppressed by artillery fire. when the enemy advances, the defending ATG's position may become tactically exposed, useless or otherwise less than optimal.

to a lesser point (i'm not sure this matters at all), it was easier to prepare protected positions for field artillery, because stealth and local fields of fire were not that important.

usually most of artillery prep fires fall within a couple of kilometers of the frontline. it specifically targets all located enemy key positions, like those of AT guns. known enemy artillery batteries did receive fire, but not as much.

counter-battery warfare existed on a different level (operational-strategic, not tactical) and it was a slow war of attrition.

other than that, it did happen with ATGs as well, if we are talking about enemy indirect artillery fires.

what comes to direct fires, the crew will abandon the gun only when they really have to and when that happens the situation won't change within a couple of minutes. usually they die before their courage fails / sense prevails, because of their sense of duty for their comrades (infantry) who depend on them. usually they won't leave the gun until they are over run, run out of ammo, the infantry falls back around them or they receive orders to do so.

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So just considering one cause and its relation between personnel strength and number of weapons won't work.

you need to consider national doctrine as well. not all weapons are born equal. some are privileged and considered more important than the others. for example for Germans it were the MGs and mortars. guys with rifles were little more than glorified ammo bearers. as long as there was one man left, the MG was firing. leaving the MG was probably considered something unthinkable.

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