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So are German forces "better" on average?


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If the Luftwaffe would have made an appearance so that Allied aircraft did not dominate the skies over Normandy, the Germans would have kicked Allied arse all over the place, all the way back to the Atlantic.

The Allied air superiority and resulting overwhelming firepower from artillery, destroyed German reinforcements before they could even reach the front, and made it very difficult for them to manuever or sustain any sort of offensive or counter-attack.

There are numerous accounts of the Germans making substantial progress, only to be stopped in their tracks due to massive artillery and aerial attacks.

I find it amazing that the Germans were able to hold out as long as they did in Normandy.

So in summary, I would say "hell yeah" the German squad/platoon/company was better than the equivalent Allied unit due to better small unit tactics, leadership, and motivation.

With very little knowledge on the matter and being somewhat of a WW2 history "newbie" (took ancient history instead) I agree wholeheartedly. Whenever one side has aerial superiority the other seems to basically get hammered into the ground regardless of all else.

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I think its important to note the war is not meant ro be fair.

War is no sport like boxing, its more some kind of dirty streetfight where its about kill or get killed.

Sure, with CM we can create such "even odds" battles, but in a real war this usually did not happen because both sides try to be superior.

Because of that i think you just cant say that soldiers from country xy are "better" then others.

That hole think is just way to complex, so many factors are involved.

Sure, the german-army training was good and the tactics/doctrines were maybe superior at the early years of WW2.

But you have to take a look at the geographic location of germany and the manpower aviable.

The germans had to build "better" (aggressive) soldiers, weapons and tactics and attack surprisingly.

Because of germanys geographic location and his small population and exhaustible raw materials there was no other way to do this.

There is a good book about this, its called "The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich".

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"emphasised German objective orientated orders rather than higher commanders telling their subordinates how to do their jobs in a dynamic environment."

Compared to the Russians maybe, but not with the Western Allies. Indeed sometimes the delegation of "How to do it" went too far with the Brits at least (an old problem, day 1 on The Somme wold have been less of a disaster if Haig had given Rawlinson less autonomy in the planning stage).

Good point; but I was still under the impression that even the Brits kept "how to" higher up the command chain while Germans devolved more of that down to the NCOs.

Regarding cohesion- I read an account of how the French so recked theirs pre 1940 that any army would have struggled. It was so convincing I stopped making cliche french retreat jokes after it.

Back to Western Front 1944. So if the Germans refited major formations out of the line; is it safe to presume they still trickle fed some replacements in?

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If the Luftwaffe would have made an appearance so that Allied aircraft did not dominate the skies over Normandy, the Germans would have kicked Allied arse all over the place, all the way back to the Atlantic....

So in summary, I would say "hell yeah" the German squad/platoon/company was better than the equivalent Allied unit due to better small unit tactics, leadership, and motivation.

I actually very much doubt the first statement is true. As NormalDude noted earlier, attacking is inherently more difficult and costly than defense, especially in close terrain. The Germans lost their marginal opportunity to drive the Allied beachhead into the sea just after D-Day partly owing to FOW and partly owing to inaction by OKW (Hitler).

After D+3, about 7 Allied divisions were ashore and destroying them was going to be pretty difficult for the German forces at hand. And by July hadn't the forces reached parity in numbers?

Of course in the absence of Allied air superiority Overlord would not have been attempted.

And I also take issue with the "better small unit tactics, leadership and motivation" bit. With no deeper analysis this segues quickly into knee-jerk Aryan superman worship -- "Duuude, the Nazis were badass -- just look at those cool weapons and uniforms." Sorry, not good enough.

1. Better small unit tactics. Fair enough. What tactics specifically? Are we talking combined arms, regiment-battalion, or company-squad, or individual? By 1944 I suspect the Western Allies had become just as good on average at many of these things.

2. Better leadership. Through 1942 I'm right there with you -- even their enemies admitted the same.

3. Better motivation. Not on board with this one at all. By 1944 a German veteran had to be pretty brainwashed not to be feeling uneasy about the future prospects of the Reich. Note that German soldiers also tended to surrender in large groups (I'm not just talking about Falaise here) when given the opportunity to do so. Allied prisoners in contrast tended to be bagged a few at a time.

As I said before, I suspect that any battlefield "motivation" edge is more a function of desperation than anything. German units found themselves in extremis more often than Allied troops and did their best for as long as they could, and then fled or surrendered when the situation became too extreme. So we admire them for that when they were merely making the best of a bad situation.

In contrast, the Allies didn't face "do or die" situations most of the time, which is why you're more likely to see 3 waves of wrecked Shermans piled up against German gun lines from attacks that first stalled and were then called off in situations where German attackers might have no alternative but to push on.

On the occasions when Allied troops did find themselves in "do or die" situations -- e.g. airborne drops, Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse, Aachen, Trois Points -- I believe that both elite and regular forces performed at least as well as Germans would have in their places. And that isn't just individual heroics; small unit leaders and the command and support structure performed too.

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But is it, or are you, implying by extension that the German felds and gefreiters have the judgment and "intellect" to undertake actions in battle that Sergeant Rock and D-Day Dawson (his British counterpart) wouldn't?

And are Allied officers really more prone to "sudden inspiration" (i.e. execution of half baked ideas) or unable to "pursue them to logical conclusions"?

My short response probably didn't help clarify, but you are confusing two things here. All the doctrine was expected to be learned and utilized by the officers in a decisive manner. (It will help to show much of the Introduction that I mentioned- it lays out what is expected of a soldier.) What the authors are saying is that while the allies stood pat with their WWI doctrines the Germans were devising a combined arms doctrine and refining it for close to five years (1934-1939) including new technologies such as the Panzer division. The US, Britain and Russia began to change their own doctrines, much of it based on the German's own, but this took time and they never adopted some of the more radical ideas within Truppenfuhrung. As far as the allied officers, the Beck comments were aimed at his contemporaries at the staff level in regards to developing a doctrine, not at field troops and officers. But in regards to that, I think that at the General Staff level, the allies did lack the things Beck speaks of in the time between the wars and it wasn't until the early war years when their doctrines were scrapped and rewritten.

Sorry, that stuff all smacks of self-congratulatory German superiority to me, with fairly meaningless talk of "intellect" "character" and "nerve". And the disdain for "inspiration" (i.e. "clever" ideas that haven't gone through proper channels) is typical of the anti-Semitic ideology that went hand in hand with it.

I honestly think the authors are being objective here. I can just as easily say that your comment smacks of the overtones attached to the German Nazi "evil regime" and stereotypes just as much as you are claiming the authors have. I honestly believe that the truth lies between the two ends of the decades-old discussion. And here is the thing- if you read Truppenfuhrung, particularly the foreward, authors notes and the book's Introduction, you come away with one overall impression (at least I did) that the Germans didn't just write this stuff and put it on a shelf to gather dust. They lived it and expected the tenents within to be followed from the top down. It was part and parcel of what made the German Army what it was in WWII.

Remember also, by 1944 the German junior-mid officer corps (company - regiment) that was truly steeped in the Prussian tradition and might have been able to translate some kind of intellectual jujitsu into battlefield miracles was largely dead, replaced by hastily trained former university students with little more experience than the American "Ninety Day Wonders" they opposed.

As some others have said, I think many of the Atlantic Wall troops were of mediocre at best quality, some of them weren't even German! But I don't believe the core values were ever abandoned- even at the end of things. To be sure, the Germans had their own stop-gap troops and measures as things began to get more and more desparate with a multifront war.

Here is part of the Introduction text I referred to earlier that I don't think one will find in any Allied Army doctrine or manual:

4. Lessons in the conduct of war cannot be exhaustively compiled in the form of regulations. The principles enunciated must be applied in accordance with the situation. Simple actions, logically carried out will lead most surely to the objective.

5. War subjects the individual to the most severe tests of his spiritual and physical endurance. For this reason, character counts more in war than does intellect. Many who distinguish themselves on the battlefield remain unnoticed in peacetime.

6. The command of an army and its subordinate units requires leaders capable of judgement, with clear vision and foresight, and the ability to make independent and decisive decisions and carry them out unwaveringly and positively. Such leaders must be impervious to the changes in the fortunes of war and possess full awareness of the high degree of responsibility placed on their shoulders.

8. The example and personal bearing of officers and other soldiers who are responsible for leadership has a decisive effect on the troops. The officer, who in the face of the enemy displays coolness, decisiveness, and courage, carries his troops with him. He also must win their affections and earn their trust through his understanding of their feelings, their way of thinking, and through his selfless care for them. Mutual trust is the surest foundation for discipline in times of need and danger.

10. The decisive factor, despite technology and weaponry, is the value of the individual soldier. The wider his experience in combat, the greater his importance. The emptiness of the battlefield requires soldiers who can think and act independently, who can make calculated, decisive, and daring use of every situation, and who understand that victory depends on each individual. Training, physical fitness, selflessness, determination, self-confidence, and daring equip a man to master the most difficult situations.

12. Leaders must live with their troops and share in their dangers and deprivations, their joys and sorrows. Only thus can they acquire a first-hand knowledge of the combat capabilites and needs of their soldiers. The individual is a part of the whole and is not only responsible for himself alone, but also for his comrades. He who is capable of more than the others, who can achieve more, must guide and lead the inexperienced and the weak. Out of such a foundation grows genuine comradeship, which is as important between the leaders and the men as it is among the men themselves.

13. Units that are only superficially held together, not bonded by long training and discipline, easily fail in moments of grave danger and under the pressure of unexpected events. From the very beginning of a war, therefore, great importance must be attached to creating and maintaining inner strength and to the discipline and training of units.

15. Every man, from the youngest soldier upward, must be required at all times and in all situations to commit his whole mental, spiritual, and physical strength. Only in this way will the full force of a unit be brought to bear in decisive action. Only thus will men develop, who will in the hour of danger maintain their courage and decisiveness and carry their weaker comrades with them to achieve deeds of daring.

The first criterion in war remains decisive action. Everyone, from the highest commander down to the youngest soldier, must constantly be aware that inaction and neglect incriminate him more severely than any error in the choice of means. (Emphasis in the original)

Note that the General Staff knew going in that not all soldiers would be able to maintain such standards, and provided for that fact through mutual support of comrades. I believe that the German doctrine, unlike the allies, began with the concepts above and they continued throughout the war. These are the "radical" parts I mentined early on that the Allied General Staffs didn't feel fit within their armies, as far as I can tell. Remember the pre-DDay scene in Band of Brothers where Winters reprimands Lt. Compton for playing poker with his troops? The Americans didn't believe in "fraternization" as something to be actively promoted or practised. Officers did just about everything as a group when not actively leading troops, and the same was true for the rank and file. The concepts outlined above from Truppenfuhrung would seem ridiculous to most Allied armies.

One last quote, this time from Major General F.W. von Mellenthin's Panzer Battles:

"In Venice, while dining at a hotel, I surprised the Italians by having my driver at the same table. While normally officers and other ranks took their meals separately, it was a matter of course for us to eat together like this when an officer and a private were all on their own. In contrast to 1918 the inner knowledge that officers and enlisted men belonged together was never shaken, and even in 1945 there were no signs of rot in the German Army."

One scene in Band of Brothers that I thought was done particularly well is the German Officer's speech to his remaining surrendering troops at the end of things.

To wrap up- were the Germans some kind of supermen with fanatic zeal? No, I don't think so on average. I believe they were lead by determined, focused officers and non-comms that were able to get the most from their troops (foreign draftees aside) despite some very difficult situations more often than the Allies could on average.

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I am sorry but history does not bear out German superiority of arms or higher quality of troops.

British/Canadian : Battle for Caen 3 Armoured and 11 Infantry Divisions face off against a defending and heavily entrenched 8 Panzer, including SS and Heavy Tank Battalions and 7 Infantry Divisions resulted in German defeat and equal losses on either side. Ultimately the German army in Normandy was utterly destroyed.

American : Ardennes Offensive. A Battalion size group of the 101 Abn supported by a few Tank destroyers attack the 2nd Panzer Division inflicting up to 1000 casualties and destroying 30+ tanks. Although heavily outnumbered and in a deteriorating tactical situation and without air support the Yanks handed them their butts. Infantry v Armour

Russian: Stalingrad. End of

The Germans enjoyed early success because of their tactics took their adversaries by surprise but really when it came down to the hard slog of battle at best they were on a par with their opponents and at worst I believe they were found wanting. The historical evidence is clear on that.

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Great post here, Gromit. Some of this stuff could appear almost unchanged in Peter Drucker's works on management.

As I mentioned above, I live this in my company every day -- we are an asset-intensive business and there's a constant tug of war between established "doctrine" (which creates a tendency to want to gold plate everything using shareholder monies) and "change agents" (whose ideas may well be half-baked or worse, an unconscionable bleeding of cash from the business to achieve short term market metrics).

Returning to history, don't underestimate the interplay between the intellectual heritage of the Prussian Generalstabs and that of the Nazis. But as you say, it's equally easy -- and misleading -- to caricature the "German mind" (too easy in fact when philosophers like Nietszche write piles of bizarre essays and aphorisms).

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@ Magpie_Oz

I think picking out some battles like "look, one guy hold off a entire division for 2 weeks" is totally pointless, its the same like saying all german soldiers were better...pointless.

You just cant look at a single battle like you cant look at a single football game and say this team is better because it won this single game.

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Vencere,

" I was still under the impression that even the Brits kept "how to" higher up the command chain while Germans devolved more of that down to the NCOs."

The Brits were are and still are quite rigid about where the "How to" lies. For example in WWI Haig thought Rawlinson was quite misguided in his plan of attack for the first day of the Somme. However, Haig as the commander-in-chief did not feel he could over-rule one his generals on such matters. So although he tried to persuade in some areas he never actually put his foot down. Rawlinson in response gave way a little on some things but never really changed his ideas. The result was an awful compromise and many more casualties on the first day than there need have been. The same devolvement of decision on "How to" can be traced all down the line, then, in WWII and now (read the accounts of Bitish Infantry fighting in Afghanistan).

The issue whether NCO's get to decide how, is possibly down to cultural differences. The base level for the Brits was and is the Platoon commanded by an officer (normally). However, even then a platoon commander will restrict his orders to outlining the Company Commanders plan, the platoons part in it and telling each section commander what he wants them to do. Thereafter, its down to each corporal to decide how he will deploy his 8-10 men to do the task he has been given.

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Magpie, in all those examples the Germans fought against the odds. Either overwhelming enemy numbers (Stalingrad), or total enemy air superiority, overwhelming firepower and logistical resources (Normandy, Ardennes).

It's quite clear that throughout the war, the Germans were able to maintain a greater fighting efficiency, mostly due to the reasons given in Gromit's excellent post.

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I agree with Wiggum in that there are many, many factors at work here that we haven't even begun to take into account. One of the things the translation authors did was essentially take to task the Germans for forgetting the strategic lessons given them by Clauswitz and Moltke. Their system also was not good for producing any senior commanders like Marshall, Eisenhower or Brooke. A couple other areas they get low marks on are combat intelligence and logistics, along with lack of development in the area of self-propelled guns that were never fully developed and ended up costing the Germans dearly in tactical battles.

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The ones I point out are just some examples.

To use your own analogy which football team won the premiership in 1945 ?

Germany not, thats clear.

But this thread is not about who won the war or who won battle xy.

Its about "are German forces better on average ?".

And for such a discussion its pointless to look a single battles.

I even doubt that statistics like the ones Matin van Crefeld uses in his book "Fighting Power" (which says that the germans inflicted overall more casualties to the americans in engagements) tell the hole story and are pointless too.

Its just too complex, too many factors are involved.

You have to look at much more then a single battle or some statistic that are easy to manipulate.

The german army was great at the tactical and operational level but not very clever at the strategics and logistics.

Again, take a look at germanys geographic location, the raw materials and manpower that was aviable in 1939 and ask yourself if there is a way such a country can stand a long war on many fronts.

The hole concept was to win the war as fast as possible, destroy the enemys ability to fight and took everything you can get (man and material).

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Magpie, in all those examples the Germans fought against the odds. Either overwhelming enemy numbers (Stalingrad), or total enemy air superiority, overwhelming firepower and logistical resources (Normandy, Ardennes).

It's quite clear that throughout the war, the Germans were able to maintain a greater fighting efficiency, mostly due to the reasons given in Gromit's excellent post.

Well no.

Stalingrad the Germans outnumbered the Russian defenders by a good margin but were fought to a stand still. In the counter offensive they were out numbered.

The Ardennes, no air, no logistics, no backup, no nothing for the Yankees

Accounts of the fighting in and around Caen the air superiority did hamper German resupply but did not weigh greatly in the smaller level battles.

I agree it is a pretty much pointless analysis as there is no clear way to determine what "better" really means but did the German army constantly best their opponents on the field and then lose out because of other factors? No they were regularly defeated at small unit level and really each side gave as good as it got so on average no the Germans were not better.

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It's quite clear that throughout the war, the Germans were able to maintain a greater fighting efficiency

No, it isn't quite clear at all and nor, I think, does Grommit claim that.

The most that I think can be said is that on balance, taking one thing with another, and in the circumstances prevailing at anyone time, some German leaders and some German units were better than some Allied leaders and some Allied Units and that sometimes the Germans had better operational plans than did the Allies and sometimes they didn't.

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Replacements: two extremes, US Replacement Depot (Repple Depple's) and German Field Ersatz Battalions.

- The US version: Men would be placed in the replacement pool, irregardless of origin. A wounded rifleman returned to duty? They wouldn't get him back in his unit, he'd be placed in the replacement pool. The same with cooks, basic trainees, etc. Anyone NOT attached to a unit went inot the replacement pool. There, they were organized in 100 man units. These 100 man units would then be shoved into whatever manpower hole existed. If a division, in combat, needed 700 men, (say 550 riflemen, 100 gunners, 50 rear services) they would get 7 of these 100 man units. The division, if good and having the time, may've asked about experience. Otherwise the men were chosen randomly and shoved into the gaps. This would usually happen at night, given the tempo of movements and whatnot. That's what would lead to 3 new guys showing up in a squad's fighting position at midnight and being found dead the next morning.

The Soviet conscription of "liberated" men directly into combat units in '43-'45 was only marginally worse.

- The German system: they tried (at first when they had the luxury) of keeping all men from the same area in the same division. Not town specific, but regional. Remember, Germany had (has?) distinct regional characteristics. Hence comment like "The division acted just as you'd expect a division of Bavarians to act." Replacements would be trained in the unit's home base, by unit veterans, perhaps on convelascent duty. (They would have similar backgrounds, due to the regionalism.) Next, the replacements would get to the division. There, they would go into a special battalion, the Feld Ersatz (Field Replacement) battalion. They were organized and equipped as combat squads. The could, and did, participate in battle as a unit if absolutely needed. The cadre was made up of men just out of the front line battalions. Their job was to bring the replacement's training up to "front" standards. When the unit needing replacements was rotated out of the line, the men in the Field Replacement battalion would be assigned their new roles. A few days, or weeks, of fitting in, then up to the front.

At least, this is how the system worked while the Germans had time and manpower available. It fell apart later.

Which system do you think was better at integrating replacements into a cohesive combat unit?

Ken

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German artillery: look at Eastern Front accounts, especially after Kursk (or even after Stalingrad). Usually the German unit frontages were ridiculously long. The German battalions manning the lines were horrendously undermanned. However, the divisional artillery would have a lot of tubes. Sometimes over the TO&E allotment, extras "borrowed" from other units, captured guns, corps and army level assets, etc. The front units would man high ground and RELY on artillery on the defense to smash Soviet attacks. (MG's would pin, artillery would smash.)

Their artillery was good, flexible, and numerous. Soviet artillery was VASTLY more numerous, but could not keep up after a breakthrough preparatory bombardment.

Western artillery mixed soviet-style numbers with German-style flexibility, and added better comms for the ability to call in more than one battery at a time.

It's not that the Germans didn't try to rely on their artillery - they did, and it was all that saved them in the East - it's that it was totally outmatched in the West.

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In WWI, the British and Canadians took that regionalization down to the battalion and company level (most notably in the Kitchener "Pals" battalions), for similar reasons. Result: entire towns and villages bereft of their young men in a single afternoon.

By WWII, the regimental formations certainly kept their regional orientation (which would extend to the peacetime cadres mostly living in and around the garrison), but the levies would be drawn from all over the region. Am I remembering correctly?

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Well no.

Stalingrad the Germans outnumbered the Russian defenders by a good margin but were fought to a stand still. In the counter offensive they were out numbered.

The Soviets kept pouring reinforcements into the city. Many more than the Germans were able to send. And in the end they won because they encircled the Germans with more than a million troops in addition to those fighting in the city. So the Germans were totally outnumbered.

The Ardennes, no air, no logistics, no backup, no nothing for the Yankees

Maybe not in the beginning, and that's when they got totally crushed. Well, except for the paratroopers at Bastogne that held out. But they were elite troops that could match the Germans.

The allies then turned the battle around when the weather cleared, allowing massive air attacks against the Germans, and massive reinforcements (Pattons army). Also, the Germans started running out of fuel and other supplies.

Accounts of the fighting in and around Caen the air superiority did hamper German resupply but did not weigh greatly in the smaller level battles.

Air, artillery and logistics superiority did certainly stack the odds heavily against the Germans in Normandy. Wasn't it at Caen that the allies attacked with many hundreds of bombers, totally obliterating the German lines? And the allies were delayed by months in capturing Caen, so this example would tend to support the fact of greater German fighting efficiency.

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It's not that the Germans didn't try to rely on their artillery - they did, and it was all that saved them in the East - it's that it was totally outmatched in the West.

I mainly agree with your post above, but would qualify this part. IIRC, the German weapons that had the most devastating battlefield effect on the Allied grunts were, in order:

1. The MG34/MG42.... "All those damn machine guns".

2. The 81mm mortar, the universal company-level support weapon. Simple to set up and operate, with a high rate of fire and a variety of ammo types. Combine that with a first class German ability to quickly identify and register the most likely enemy axes of advance and cover so that within moments of their troops going to ground a lethal and demoralizing rain of death is coming down on their heads. Even if their OPs are down, the Germans can still accurately guess where the enemy is.

At the larger scales (tube artillery), (a) the qualitative differences between German and Allied artillery were probably nonexistent by mid 1944, (B) they simply didn't have nearly as many tubes or shells, and © they and their support trains had to worry constantly about air attack (and counterbattery fire, which I recall the Brits were getting particularly good at, having honed their skills in Italy).

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This thread is a powderkeg imo, but hey it's a valid question by the OP.

Two things that haven't been brought up to any degree so far are the operational situation and leadership training.

The Germans were mostly defending during the campaign and defending troops tend to fight "harder" than advancing ones (simply because they're forced to). When attacking it's easier to be careful and not put yourself or your men at risk.

When it comes to leadership I'd argue that there were significant differences between German officers and NCOs compared to the allied counterparts.

Much of the German leadership theories were based upon the time before WW1 and the lessons learned during the war and interwar years. There are several studies that suggests that the German conclusions after WW1 differed a lot from that of the western allies, which resulted in quite different schools of command. "Auftragstaktik" was something so natural for a German officer that there really never was a standardized word for it in the Heer. The Germans simply continued to build upon this system during the interwar years and it was therefore deeply rooted in their training from the single soldier up army generals.

Despite the German political regime being a brutal one the Heer was a pretty "open" organization (less so from late 44 and onwards though) compared to the other branches and the relationship between the men and officers were a lot more relaxed than in western armies.

Now I'm not saying that the German officers were superior to their western counterparts but there were some significant differences in their training and Germany was, compared to the allies, pretty well stocked on well trained officers and NCOs when the war started.

The allies had to expand their armies quickly and one can argue that the "90 day wonders" of the US Army didn't quite meet the standards as frequently as German officers (with some notable exceptions).

Modeling this is something that's not really something that ANY wargame does well (with ASL as a "maybe" example) but I'm quite confident that it would NOT be in the best interest of BF to do so for the CM series anyhow since it would diminish the skill and effort of the players themselves.

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In the 1980s the U.S. military worked very hard to impliment the 'cohort' system, trying to build in German-style unit cohesion, to rotate entire units out of theatre and rebuild instead of piecemeal replacement. That kind of stuff. The cohort system was a laudible objective but hasn't entirely survive the strains of Iraq and Afghanistan. So 67 years later we're still struggling with the issue of unit cohesion.

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Yeah, I think that's another good point there MikeyD. It's not about the Germans being superior aryan supermen, they just had a system for creating effective warriors, with great unit cohesion, an emphasis on individual initative and effective, relevant training that other militaries are still struggling to replicate today.

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This thread is a powderkeg imo, but hey it's a valid question by the OP.

I was just getting sick of reading all the "you know, the Germans would have kicked butt except for the ________." comments. Sure, they retained some qualitative advantages in 1944, but no longer across the board.

My contention is that Allied forces were capable of fairly comparable performance in comparable situations.

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