The perfect WW II army

If one had to fight a World War II style conflict on land, the army would have to be capable of solid defense of territory, but also capable of advancing across vast tracts of land, doing so quickly, and as far as possible into the ‘belly’ of the enemy.

Infantry

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June 1944 Utah Beach – Normandy, France

Without infantry, there is no army. Infantry hold your territory. They mop up & hold conquered territory after your armored units advance forward, and they keep logistics lines open.

For reliability, ease of training, and raw fire power, your infantry can’t be better served than with the basic equipment, weaponry and field gear of the US Army. The British Army was on par with basic equipment and field gear. But, it’s weaponry didn’t quite match the performance of basic American infantry weapons, from the Browning .50 caliber machine gun, down to the M1911 .45 caliber pistol.

That being said however, there is a caveat.

Parachute Infantry (Paratroopers)

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British Paratroopers in Normandy – June 1944

British and American paratroopers, were essentially equal in all aspects. But, a number of US paratroopers lost weapons and/or equipment jumping from aircraft. British paratroopers rarely encountered these problems.

The British Army developed their paratrooper ‘kit’, with the paratrooper in mind, even down to their distinctive battle helmets. They jumped only with field gear they absolutely had to have, and light-weight weaponry. Using the British model, is the best way to go.

Armored Warfare

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T-34 tank circa 1943-45

World War II revolutionized land combat with mechanized mobility, and entire units up to corps & army size being built entirely around armored formations. Tanks, tank destroyers, self-propelled artillery, half-tracks, and auxiliary armored vehicles were all developed and standardized by wars end.

The best tank of World War II hands-down, is the Soviet T-34. Bigger, faster, with thicker armor than any Allied tank. Germany’s Tiger & Panther tanks were a direct response to the T-34 and in some respects superior. But, they never matched the T-34’s overall performance, speed, mass producibility, or ease of battlefield maintenance and operation.

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Sherman tanks at Anzio Beach, Italy

Light tanks were useful for infantry support against fortified resistance, and can handle this role to keep battle tanks free to take on enemy tanks. The Sherman tank, never adequate as a battle tank, was actually best for this role.

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Sturmgeschütz III tank destroyer in Belgrade, Serbia.

The best defense for mechanized infantry against an enemy tank assault is a tank destroyer. Tank destroyers could also go on offense as an assault gun in support of mechanized infantry.

Germany’s Sturmgeschütz III was the best, of the best. Built on the Panzer III tank chassis, ‘Stug’s were light, small, and stealthy with a low silhouette due to having no turret, were incredibly adept for camouflaging in almost any terrain, or even inside of buildings. Other tank destroyers, including succeeding German models, were large, lumbering, and cumbersome, and only proved effective in the assault gun role.

30 ‘Stug’ III’s in use by the Finnish Army destroyed 87 Soviet T-34’s with a loss of only 8 ‘Stug’s; most of which were destroyed by their crews to keep them out of Soviet hands when they ran out of fuel.

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British Army Sexton 25pdr self-propelled artillery.

Armored & mechanized infantry divisions need to have artillery that can keep up with their advance, and move quickly when ordered to. Self-propelled artillery is best for this role. Top of the line in World War II, were Britain’s Sexton armed with the venerable 25 pounder and America’s Priest with a 105mm howitzer.

Sexton edges out the Priest however, because it could carry 105 rounds vs Priests 69 rounds. Armored formations were on the move frequently, and standstill engagement with SP artillery were meant to be brief. If Sextons can’t get the job done, then an airstrike by ground attack aircraft is probably in order.

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Hungary’s Nimrod Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns in German service.

Few combatants in World War II, tried to develop self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (SPAAG). Most, relegated this function to heavy machine guns, 20mm and 40mm cannon make-shift-mounted on trucks and half-tracks, or towed behind them.

Hungary however, pioneered an underutilized gem of the war in their Nimrod SPAAG. A 40mm anti-aircraft gun mounted on a Swedish L-60 tank chassis. The vehicle itself, could outrun any tank of it’s day.

The 40mm AA gun, was the same 40mm built by Axis and Allies alike under license from Sweden. Though Germany tried to copycat Nimrod into something better, nothing could beat it for providing anti-aircraft protection for ground formations; other than a squadron of your own fighters overhead.

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Germany’s SdKfz 251 Half-track
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US Army M3 Half-track

Half-tracks were the armored personnel carriers of WW II, usually deployed with armored or mechanized infantry units. Only two nations produced half-tracks in World War II, Germany and America.

Both were almost identical in range, troop capacity, and armor protection. The US Army M3 was faster. However, either vehicle would be a good choice. Half-tracks open troop bays could also be modified to mount a howitzer, anti-aircraft guns, or clusters of heavy machine guns.

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Germany’s SdKfz 234/2 Puma armored car.

There were no limits placed on Germany regarding armored cars by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, since no one at the time took armored cars seriously. So, Germany got to work on them quickly. Resulting in the Puma.

Early versions led the blitzkrieg in Poland, and France conducting reconnaissance ahead of the Panzers; and sometimes with a little infantry support, engaging and defeating Allied units without the Panzers.

The SdKfz 234/3 & 4 were late war models with larger open gun mounts, as Germany was running woefully short on tanks. The SdKfz 234/2, with a 50mm gun, pictured above, was the best of her kind in any army.

Able to reach 55-60mph, Puma was fast for WW II, and could rush to hot infantry firefights in a hurry to lend supporting fire. Though used primarily for field reconnaissance, they also performed security, armed escort, and other subordinate battlefield missions.

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Jeep

For general purpose transportation of all other kinds on the battlefield, and even a few involving light combat, there simply is no competitor to the venerable Jeep. So venerable, that not only did the Soviets ask for them in great numbers; but when German forces managed to capture them, they painted swastikas on them, and used them.

Artillery

The mortars and artillery of the Axis, Allies and the Soviets were all relatively on par with each other. The only slight differences were barrel sizes. The Soviets in particular had a lengthy list of varying artillery & howitzer sizes, all of which were used in combat, sometimes all mixed together in one unit.

In World War II, precision artillery was but a pipe dream. So, artillery was used in mass barrages for the opening of a general attack, or to break up an enemy advance.

German artillery was most accurate at laying barrages in a given area, Russians the least. The Allies tended to coordinate theirs with air strikes. So, it wasn’t easy to gauge effectiveness and accuracy.

All three blocs each had heavy siege guns and massive railway guns. Though the Germans were the ones to employ the latter the most, and effectively so.

However, there were two standouts, which a perfect World War II Army, should have. But, during the war, most did not have.

The ’88’ anti-tank gun

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German 88mm anti-tank gun in North Africa.

The ’88’ began life as an anti-aircraft gun. The anti-tank version was rushed into production to counter Soviet T-34’s. Nothing matched the ’88’ in either Soviet or Allied arsenals the entire war in the anti-tank role.

The photo above shows the earliest of the dual purpose 88’s of Rommel’s Afrika Korps, in anti-tank mode. Later in the war, a sole purpose, towed 88mm anti-tank was produced.

The ’88’ was incorporated into Tiger & Panther tank designs due to its success, as well as the Elefant & Jagdpanther heavy tank destroyers. The anti-aircraft variant remained effective and in use for the duration of the war as well.

Pack Howitzer

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M116 ‘Pack’ Howitzer

Developed shortly after World War I, the 75mm Pack Howitzer became a hot favorite of Allied airborne assault forces, and special warfare formations like Rangers, and Commandos. It was light, quickly assembled/disassembled, could be pack hauled in mountains by mule, and easily embarked and debarked from troop gliders. Though not heavy artillery, it was very effective in expeditionary warfare.

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