Armament comparison - introduction
After the devastating results of the Allied armies opposing the German invasion in Europe during the September 1939 – June 1940 period, military analysts were hasty to conclude that the Allied armies had been overrun by an overpowering, almighty opposing force, that had managed to dominate in every aspect thinkable. Analyses showed that the German weaponry had been excellent, their army fitness staggering and their moral super-human. Supposingly the entire German army had been mechanized or at least motorized, their air force illusive and their tank-formations share unstoppable and murderous rollers. These analyses were blindly copied after the war.
Those hardly challenged hastily shaped theories proved very conceivable after all. In the first place they were well believed, in the military branch also embraced, because they elevated the awe for the Allied armies that had eventually – after five long and hard years of battle – managed to overthrow that German monster army. Only during the nineties of the last century research results started to show a tilting vision on the genuine reasons why the German army had managed to over-power the Allied armies in the West during the notorious Westfeldzug campaign in 1940. Nevertheless many of the disenchanting publications of the nineties were still far to modest in recalibrating the events in May and June 1940. It seems to be a matter of stepping over one’s own shadow to present a true and genuine picture of the 1940 campaign. In other words, it shall take many decades for the historical branches to be able to present the public domain a sober and disenchanted role out of the genuine war-history of May and June 1940 – and its prelude.
A genuine and true comparison of armament - between the German and Allied armies - would show that the Allies were not less equipped than the Germans. On the contrary, the Allies dominated in many aspects, both quantitatively and qualitatively.
In fact only in one material aspect the Germans dominated and that was the air-force. The German air-force was not only highly modern and strong, but it was also built-up as a strike force, excellently shaped for close cooperation with the army. On the opposite side the air-forces of Belgium, France and the Netherlands were merely post WWI fighter- and reconnaissance-fleets. The RAF had quite a strategic bomber component, but it also lacked a capable tactical strike force. It leaned on obsolete light strike planes like the Blenheim and Fairly Battle for its tactical strike-fleet. The entire German strike capacity was tactical. It had over 1,000 very capable strike-planes with at least 1,000 kg pay-load each. The French air-force also had a modest strike force, but it was all but homogenous. Moreover, the French had held back a major portion of their ample strike-fleet in anticipation of a long-lasting battle for its territory. The German air-force was not only a tactical weapon, but also well prepared for air domination and even air superiority (air)war-fare. That aspect would count heavily during the Westfeldzug. Allied counter-strikes were repelled in such effective ways, that the already limited Allied tactical air-forces were diminished during poorly planned counter-strikes in Luftwaffe dominated sectors. It caused the balance to tilt even more into German favour.
Having said the above, on the ground there was no German domination on the material scale whatsoever. The Allies dominated the balance as it came to available men, artillery pieces and tanks. On armoured cars and motorisation the balance was about equal. In the light support chapter the best German units, about 5-10% of their formations, dominated slightly, but on the large scale there was balance between the major belligerents.
The above has been addressed before in the introduction section of this website. But a verifiable comparison of the Dutch and German arms had not been added so far. Therefore it seemed an informative addition to add such a comparison for a number of assets. Obviously not all weapons and arms can be compared and always one has to remember that arms, weapons or weapon-systems may have varied, since armies (or even units) modified their arsenals all the time. Still we think that a comparison as set forth below, may be of interest to some.
We shall prepare two Dutch airplanes to their most common German counterparts. We describe the comparison in words and put it down in clear numbers (table). In this section we focus on the most principle fighters – Fokker D-XXI (v. Bf-109) en G-1 (v. Bf-110).
The Messerschmitt Bf-109 and Fokker D-XXI were in fact different types of fighters. The German plane was a high speed interceptor rather than a dog-fighter whereas the Fokker was a dog-fighter all along. Yet the Germans only had the Bf-109 in their forward lines as a single-engine fighter.
The Bf-109E was designed as a high speed fighter that could primarily execute hit and run strikes from a high altitude. It was intended to dive down from higher altitudes, as such gain even more speed, hit the opponent and gain height again from the accumulated diving speed. The D-XXI was a medium altitude fighter, as such unfit for interceptor roles due to its poor high altitude performance and considerably slower air-speed. The Fokker was best used on medium altitudes, where it would gain from its tight curve ratio and excellent low and medium altitude climb speed on this first climb-stage. Beyond medium altitude the radial engine and particularly the carburettors caused too modest performances, especially opposing a fighter with a direct fuel injected engine like the Bf-109E. Basically the D-XXI would have been a very vulnerable fighter in a heads-on encounter with a Bf-109, should the latter stick to its role. The Bf-109’s didn’t stick to their roles however, and as such adapted to their theoretically weaker opponents. As a consequence the D-XXI was granted to expose its qualities in a dog-fight, where the Bf-109 had no dominant qualities in comparison to the Fokker.
A dominant quality that the Bf-109 would have had over the Fokker, once it entered into dog-fights, was in the range of weaponry. The balance of the Bf-109’s active over Holland, were so called Emils, the E-version of the fighter [DB-601 engine], although quite a number of D-versions [Jumo engine] were active too. The E-type weapon configuration basically comprised four 7,92 mm machineguns [E-1], two machineguns and one 2 cm gun in the engine-shaft [E-2 and E-3] or two machineguns and two wing-guns [E-4]. The E-4 used the improved 2 cm wing-guns, since the previous guns had caused much operating trouble and only carried 60 rounds caches. In fact the guns in the Emils gave plenty of trouble, which often caused the guns to malfunction. On the E-2/E-3 version, both limited edition versions, the engine shaft gun was often entirely removed leaving the Bf-109E-2/3 an under-armed fighter. But also on the wing-gun versions the guns posed the ground-crews many challenges to overcome. As a consequence many Bf-109’s only operated with two or four MG’s only. But if the full configuration came available, the Bf-109 had a much better armament than the D-XXI, which was fitted with only four wing-based 7,9 mm Browning/FN machineguns.
The dominant Bf-109E armament didn’t pay out though when it came to dog-fighting the D-XXI. Once a D-XXI had managed to out-manoeuvre a Bf-109E jump on the tail and the Bf-109E rider had himself tempted into an equal terms dog-fight, a skilled D-XXI pilot was usually able to make his plane’s better turn performance weigh heavy on the opponent. That made the German armament an obsolete feature, because the D-XXI was usually able to get on the German tail in two or three cork-screw manoeuvres, or the Bf-109 had already evaded the fight. Surprisingly many German pilots had themselves seduced into such a duel and often paid the price. They made the fatal mistake to have their theoretical speed and armament domination be drawn into equal terms by adapting their tactic into the performance envelope of the D-XXI (or G-1).
Speed-wise the D-XXI was the considerably lesser of the Bf-109E. On high altitudes the Emils were able to get to speeds of around 530 km/hr [550 km/hr being their topspeed around 4,500 m alt.], gaining another 50 km/hr or so during steep dives. The climb rate was around 17 m/sec. The D-XXI had a maximum speed on medium altitude of around 460 km/hr. It’s climb rate was slightly less than that of the Bf-109E, with 14 m/sec, quickly falling on higher altitudes though. The D-XXI had however a better climb performance in the first climb stage, probably due to air-frame characteristics like the wider wing-base. That first climb-stage was obviously, in a dog-fight capacity, much more important than the Bf-109 dominance in the prolonged climb. Experts also believe that the odd fixed gear of the D-XXI, that caused some additional drag, had a surprisingly positive side to it by capacitating the plane to make steep curves and aggressive corners. It was in particular that feature that let the D-XXI quite easily outmanoeuvre the Bf-109E. Facing the poorly manoeuvrable Bf-110’s, the D-XXI was obviously benefitting even more of its ability to sustain extreme aerobatics.
The engines of both planes proof a remarkable comparison. The D-XXI was fitted with the quite underpowered 830 Hp Bristol Mercury VIII power plant, whereas the Bf-109E-3 was fitted with the 1.175 Hp Daimler-Benz DB601A-a engine. The first being a radial engine, the latter a line-engine. Since both planes pushed the scale down to around 2,050 kgs and the aerodynamic profile of the Bf-109E was much in favour over the Fokker’s, it is quite amazing that the performances were yet so (relatively) close.
Save the above Bf-109E / D-XXI comparison, the Bf-109E’s did dominate their adversaries in the sky elsewhere, with exception of the few Spitfires Mk.1 and Dewoitine 520 that it occasionally met up with. However, in May and June 1940 their usual opponents were the Hurricane, Curtiss H-75 and the Moranes. In the large scale air combat, seen over Belgium and Northern France in particular, the Bf-109E’s proved to easily gain the upper hand once it stayed in its comfort zone (high altitude interception and raiding). It were perhaps the aforehand underestimated qualities of the Fokker fighters that had temped quite a few Luftwaffe fighter pilots to engage into dog-fights over Holland; dog-fights that they should have stayed away from. Opposing the British and French air forces, the Luftwaffe pilots appeared to be more in focus. Hence the score of air-victories in favour of the Bf-109 pilots in particular.
|Power||830 Hp||1,175 Hp|
|Total weight (unl.)||1,450 kgs||1,900 kgs|
|Wing length||8,2 m||8,7 m|
|Wing surface||16,2 m2||16,3 m2|
|Top speed||460 km/hr||550 km/hr|
|Climb speed||13,9 m/s||17,8 m/s|
|Armament||4 x 7,9 mm||
2 x 7,9 mm
2 x 2 cm gun
The dual-engine fighters that met-up over Holland, were the Fokker G-1 and the Bf-110. Significant difference between the two types was obviously the dual-boom construction of the Fokker versus the mono-frame of the German plane. Notwithstanding the quite distinctive air-frame differences, both planes had been developed for more or less the same operation: as a heavy fighter with light support duties. The quite comparable lay-out and function of both planes could not be better expressed than by the German adherence of captured G-1’s for training of Bf-110 flying personnel.
The Fokker G-1 was basically designated as a ‘fighter cruiser’, meaning that it was intended to both conduct a fighter role and a variety of subsidiary duties like reconnaissance, bomber-escorts and light ground-support. Keyword was endurance, both in fitness and in adequate range. Basically the same profile applied to the development of the Bf-110 design when it was kicked off. The Bf-110 had to be a heavy fighter, capable of sustained flight, well armed and with a modest pay-load capacity enabling it to perform light ground support duties. In fact both types could be considered preludes of the fighter-bomber concept that would be introduced later during the war by the RAF. Save the design intentions, both planes eventually turned out to be used in the heavy fighter role particularly.
Both fighters were formidable arms platforms. The G-1 Mercury – the basic type in use with the Dutch air-force – had eight nose machineguns of the medium fire rate 7,92 mm Browning FN type, and one rapid fire 7,92 mm MG in the rear-turret. The Bf-110 – versions C and D, which were mostly used during the Westfeldzug – had four 7,92 mm MG’s in the nose as well as two 2 cm guns and an additional 7,92 mm MG for the rear gunner. Additional ordinance of 400 kg in small bombs for the G-1 [although never used due to failing racks ...] and up to 1,000 kg for the Bf-110.
Unloaded both planes differed quite substantially in weight. The G-1 with Mercury engines weighted 3,400 kgs against the Bf-110 (DB601A engines) 5,150 kgs. That difference was easily explained from the different body-work constructions. The G-1 was made from an aluminium-wooden frame configuration. The fuselage central piece and wings were an all wooden construction, whereas the nose and booms were made of aluminium. The Bf-110 was an all-metal plane.
The power-plants of both types differed considerably too. The two Bristol Mercury VIII engines – identical to the D-XXI engine – each produced 830 Hp, whereas the two DB601A engines of the Bf-110 delivered 1.100 Hp each. Yet the German plane was considerably heavier and therefore the Bf-110 thrust advantage was partially compensated by that feature. Still, the Fokker – with its maximum speed (at 4,100 m alt.) of 475 km/hr – was considerably slower than the Bf-110 that made up to 550 km/hr. The climb-rate of the G-1 was much better though, with 13,9 m/sec (unloaded) against the 10 m/sec of the (unloaded) Bf-110, that clearly suffered from the heavier basic weight in this instance. Also the pitch- and roll manoeuvring of the G-1 was better than that of its adversary. The poor manoeuvrability of the Bf-110 would proof this German ‘heavy fighter’ a sitting dug when it was opposed by single engine fighters, particularly when during the late Summer of 1940 the Spitfire became a prominent opponent. It would soon after have the Bf-110 move into the night-fighter role, for which it would proof itself an excellent platform.
The Fokker G-1 was slower but much more manoeuvrable than the Bf-110. Even more so, in the air battles over Holland the Fokker G-1 would even proof itself adequately enough to survive and win quite a large number of encounters with the Bf-109’s. In fact, the Fokker G-1’s lost were hardly ever shot down in air-combat and the G-1’s – although only few came to action – downed the majority of the German adversaries during the May war over the Netherlands. Amongst its confirmed 14 (and 4 probable) air-combat victims quite a number of Bf-109’s.
The G-1’s that were fitted with the Wasp engines had originally been intended for Spain. In December 1939 the G-1’s Wasp had been confiscated by the Dutch Government and consequently transferred to the Dutch air-force. In order to become operable some slight modifications had to be executed and armament had to be installed. The slightly smaller G-1 Wasp [Pratt & Whitney Wasp junior SB4G engines] had less power [2 x 750 Hp] but also a slightly smaller airframe and wingspan. Moreover, they were only envisaged to receive a single four MG (rapid fire rate) MG battery rather than the double (medium fire rate) MG battery in the nose. The rear MG remained. The top speed was considerably less and for its fighter task in fact too slow, with 434 km/hr. Only a handful of these Wasp versions were available during the May war. Possibly only five flew operational sorties.
The G-1 was quite a feared and formidable opponent for German pilots. Unfortunately it were specifically these most capable Dutch fighters that were hit hardest by the Luftwaffe's first strike, crippling one of the two operational G-1 squadrons. As such in the morning of the 10th only one squadron – at Waalhaven – managed to scramble and oppose the Luftwaffe. But this one squadron (that had only eight planes airborne) took care of 13 confirmed and another 4 probable kills, against one air-combat loss themselves! Having said this, the other seven planes had to make emergency landings in the country due to the airfields being lost to the German airlanding troops in the west of the country. Only one G-1 managed to escape this fate. Combined with the disastrous loss of more than half the other G-1 squadron in the north, the very capable Fokker G-1 hardly mattered on the whole picture. The remaining G-1’s – mainly used for ground support missions – only managed to down one other plane (Bf-109) in the days after its first successes.
|Engine||2 x Mercury VIII||2 x DB-601A|
|Power||2x 830 Hp||2 x 1,100 Hp|
|Weight (unl.)||3,360 kgs||5,150 kgs|
|Wingspan||17,2 m||16,2 m|
|Wing surface||38,5 m2||38,8 m2|
|Top speed||475 km/hr||550 km/hr|
|Climb speed||13,9 m/s||10 m/s|
|Ceiling||9,300 m||10,000 m|
8 x 7,9 mm nose
1 x 7,9 mm rear
4 x 7,92 + 2 x 2 cm nose
1 x 7,92 rear
The artillery was the Achilles heel of the German army in the early years of the war. In fact it would remain to be so during the entire war, particularly in the war against the Sowjet army that highly relied on heavy artillery barrages. Both quantity and quality played a role when it came to the relatively poor artillery component in the German army. And for an army that already during WWI had focussed so much on the close cooperation of infantry and artillery, the always trailing artillery component in the modern German army is hard to understand.
German field commanders complaint about two things in particular during and after the Westfeldzug. At first the vulnerability of their armoured cars and tanks and secondly the lack of artillery available in the first line. The tank-division commanders elevated that complaint even more, since the mechanized artillery was entirely absent with exception of a few dozen modified Pz.I undercarriages carrying old short range 15 cm howitzers that were only capable of infantry support. More importantly, most of the German artillery was still horse towed, since only the tank-divisions, the few motorised units and most of the first levy [Erste Welle] divisions had been provided with motorised artillery battalions. In most of the secondary units all medium howitzer (or field-gun) battalions were horse towed and often even the heavy howitzer battalions too.
At the eve of war in the West – 9 May 1940 – the German army had less than half the Allied amount of artillery pieces. The French army alone had almost twice the German number, and that was added by BEF, Belgium and Dutch artillery pieces that amounted to another 2,500 guns or so.
Numbers alone often tell a wrong story. But not in this instance. The German artillery made use of plenty of older guns too. The WWI 7,5 cm field gun was still in use with many of the lower grade divisions and SS field units and so was the old 10,5 cm howitzer. The old WWI 15 cm howitzer too. It were the early levy [Welle] and tank divisions that had been distributed the modern 10,5 cm and 15 cm howitzers. A few independant heavy howitzer battalions were added too, fitted with long barrel 15 cm or heavy 21 or 24 cm howitzers. But the lower divisions often only had three artillery battalions, mostly horse towed and frequently of that contingent one or more battalions equipped with older gun types.
The quality of the German most principle medium guns was moderate. The 10,5 cm howitzer – available in two quite different types (in short: the long and the short barrel) – were quite underpowered guns. The older WWI short barrelled version – the lFH.16 – was capable of delivering a HE shell across a 9,000 m distance with maximum load. Its maximum fire rate – sustainable for only a short time – was around 4 grenades a minute. The modernized version, the lFH.18 with a longer barrel and much improved undercarriage – was capable of delivering HE loads at 10,600 m distances, but only with a restricted maximum load. Restricted – we say – because the maximum load for this gun caused so much wear and tear that it was only rarely used. Its operational max. range lay therefore around 9,000 m. Maximum fire rate – sustainable for only a few minutes – was 5-6 HE grenades per minute. All in all that was a poor performance envelope for a 1929 gun design. Yet the far majority of the German artillery units had to go to war with these lFH.16 or lFH.18 guns.
The medium or heavy howitzer sHF.18 was the prime howitzer in the divisional heavy artillery battalions. It was a very capable gun, able to deliver loads up to 13,200 m (with maximum loads). The fire rate of 4 rounds a minute was quite acceptable for such a heavy gun. It was assisted in low numbers by the sFH.36, a variant of the sFH.18 of the same make, that had a slightly shorter maximum range [12,300 m] due to a shortened barrel. It was a 15 cm howitzer designed for horse traction. But in May 1940 yet many WWI howitzers WWI 15 cm howitzers sFH.13 were in use with the second rate divisions. These Krupp howitzers were identical to the Dutch 15 cm hw l 17, in use as the prime heavy howitzer in the Dutch field army.
Lower divisions and SS units were largely equipped with the 10,5 cm lFH.16 and 7,5 cm FK.16 NA [Field Gun] or FK.18. Usually these guns were horse towed. The 7,5 cm FK.16 NA was still capable of delivering its (light) load over a distance of 12,000 m, but usually fired with medium loads up to 9,500 m. Its rate of fire was high, up to 12 rounds a minute. The FK.18 was less capable. Its maximum range [9,400 m] and fire-rate [max. 10 rounds a minute] were not as impressive. Moreover, both guns were indeed light field artillery pieces.
The Dutch army had nearly 700 artillery pieces in use during the May war. The backbone of the division artillery was formed by two Krupp 7,5 cm field gun battalions and one Bofors 12 cm or Krupp 15 cm howitzer battalion for every division. The division artillery was supported by corps artillery battalions, which had either 12,5 cm (vintage) Krupp guns or 15 cm Vickers howitzers. In addition four separate corps artillery battalions had been formed with the very capable Bofors 10,5 cm howitzers. The latter was the only post-WWI gun-type in the Dutch army, although virtually all gun-types in use had been modified during the interbellum. Last but not least three artillery battalions with totally obsolete Krupp 15 cm guns had been made available to the stationary army at the southfront of Fortress Holland. These vintage guns [year of introduction, 1880] had been taken from the arsenals, due to the fact that orders for new artillery pieces had not been delivered yet.
The standard piece – forming the far majority of the field artillery battalions in the active divisions – was the 7,5 cm Krupp rapid fire field gun. This was a 1903 Krupp design [FG 1903], that had been largely modified in the 1920’s. The gun was quite capable and accurate, able to deliver a 6,5 kgs HE shell over a distance of 10,200 m and a prolonged rapid fire operation of 6-8 grenades a minute. Compared to the German standard piece – the long barrelled 10,5 cm lFH.18, the Dutch gun had a comparable maximum range, but delivered a considerably lighter punch. Yet it was capable of a higher fire-rate than the German opponent. The flatter projectory made the Dutch gun more accurate, but the German gun was considerably more effective in stationary (trench) warfare conditions. In comparison, the German weapon was favourable over the Dutch gun due to its ability to deliver a 50% higher punch HE shell.
The standard German 15 cm howitzer – although hardly used in the Netherlands – was considerably better than the Dutch calibre equivalents. The 15 cm howitzers in use with the Dutch army, were the 15 cm Krupp – also still used in the German army as the 15 cm sFH.13 – and the 15 cm Vickers. Both Dutch howitzers were limited in range and fire-rate, being 8,400-8,800 m and 3 rounds a minute max. The German 15 cm howitzer was capable of delivering over a distance of 13,200 m and a 4 rounds ratio.
The Dutch did have another gun-type that was much more competitive and in fact applied in the same duty as the German 15 cm howitzer. That was the 10,5 cm Bofors howitzer – designated as 'field gun' in the Dutch army. That was a model 1927 weapon, capable of delivering a 16 kg HE shell up to 16,500 m away in a sustained rapid fire mode of 5-6 rounds a minute. The maximum range was hardly applied, for it required a full powder load weighing heavy on the wear of the barrel, but the second highest powder load already delivered up to 15,000 m. As such this gun was highly appreciated by the Dutch. It outmatched any of its German opponents in the range of medium heavy artillery. During the three days battle for the Dutch Grebbe-line, a number of 10,5 cm batteries caused the German 227.ID quite a challange.
|Gun type||Field gun||Field gun||Howitzer||Howitzer|
|Calibre||7,5 cm||7,5 cm||10,5 cm||10,5 cm|
|Max. range||10,200 m||12,800 m||16,500 m||10,600 m|
|Max. firing rate||10 rds/m||10 rds/min||6 rds/m||6 rds/m|
|Gun ident.||15 hw l 15||15 hw l 17||s.FH18|
|Calibre||15 cm||15 cm||15 cm|
|Max. range||8,400 m||8,500 m||13,300 m|
|Max. firing rate||3 rds/m||3 rds/m||4 rds/m|
Armoured cars [wheeled AFV’s]
During the entire eight days of battle on Dutch soil in May 1940, Dutch and German armoured cars [wheeled AFV’s] would never meet head-to-head. This was mainly caused by the fact that the Germans had applied virtually all their AFV’s [assigned to the Dutch theatre] in the south of the Netherlands, whereas the Dutch had assigned their AFV’s in the central front sector as well as within the Fortress Holland. The German X.Corps operated only a handful AFV’s in the front sector, all belonging to the two SS squads that operated there. It is quite unknown that the total number of available German AFV’s for the entire Westfeldzug was limited to around 600 cars, most of which were concentrated in the ten tank-divisions and a few motorised units. Only a few dozens were found in other outfits and these were usually of obsolete makes.
Nevertheless a comparison could be of some interest. The Dutch AFV’s were basically two types of cars. The first 26 entering service were of the Swedish Landsverk maker, a quite adequate manufacturer of both wheeled and tracked AFV’s. Also the tracked AFV product of Landsverk, their light tank model 60, had tickled the interest of Dutch army purchasers. The Dutch bought wheeled AFV’s though, of the types L180 and L181. Both were fine products and comparatively heavily armed with a 3,7 cm Bofors main-gun and three 7,9 mm machinegun of which one coaxial, one more in the front-armour and one in the rear-armour. Two batches of twelve AFV’s of both types had been purchased as well as two more of the L180 type without the main-gun, designated as squadron command cars.
Besides the early purchase of 26 Landsverks, the Dutch army had instructed the indigenous industry to develop a more compact and more robust wheeled AFV with the same arms configuration as the Landsverks, but an even better terrain behaviour. DAF produced a prototype that after some modifications entered service during the winter 1939/1940. Twelve had been ordered, about nine were operational and ready during the Maywar. A follow-up order for yet another dozen DAF AFV’s had not made it out of the factory yet when the German invasion came. As such a mere 35 capable AFV’s were available on May 10, 1940.
The Germans used a large variety in AFV’s, although they messed around quite a bit with armament, downgrading AFV’s to riding signal posts, stripping most or all of the arms. Two basic types were true AFV’s, being the four-wheel type-series 221 [incl. 222 and 223] and type-series 231 [six-wheel and eight-wheel 231, 232] series. The first was a four-wheeled pimped up car with an armoured skirt and either one MG or – in some modified types – with an MG and 2 cm gun. The signals version, the 223, was easily identified by its remarkable frame antenna. The 231 was seen in both a six wheel and eight wheel version, the last one being the most recent version with a gun tower on the front section of the skirt rather than on the back section. The 232 was a signals version of the basic six-wheel type, with a large frame antenna. These five types formed the backbone of the German AFV fleet, and as such these were virtually all distributed over the reconnaissance battalions of the ten tank-divisions, the motorised divisions and the SS Aufklärungsabteilung, which was assigned to the Dutch front. Very small numbers were distributed amongst other units than the aforementioned, like four SS motorised regiments and one or two divisions with special tasks or duties.
The Dutch AFV’s were all fitted with the armament arrangement mentioned before. The main gun of 3,7 cm Bofors [L.34] was capable of delivering a HEAT grenade or a HE shell. About the AP capacity exists conflicting information, but basically it would be able to penetrate any German armour within 500 m ranges. The German counterparts had two configurations. All six- and eight-wheel AFV’s had a 2 cm gun [KwK 30 L/55] and one MG. Many of the four wheel cars had just one MG, but particularly those in the tank-division recce squads, were fitted with the 2 cm gun too. Those 2 cm guns had a modest AP capacity.
The terrain going capacity of the German AFV’s was quite poor. The four wheeled 221 series had great difficulties to cross ditches and trenches. The off the road capacity of the six-wheeled cars – which were based on a basic truck undercarriage – was very poor. It was unwise to try negotiate rough terrain whereas sloped terrain was entirely out of the question due to the then ‘launched’ front side of the car. The eight wheeled AFV’s were specifically constructed as AFV’s and therefore better fit for off the road operation, but the length of the vehicle still made it only capable of moderate terrain applications. The eight-wheel independent drive provided constant traction, which made levelled heavy terrain going much less of a challenge than with the six-wheeled cars.
The armour on the Dutch AFV’s was a weak point, particularly concerning the Landsverks. In fact the armour was so thin that only hand-weapon fire and light shrapnel impacts could be sustained or absorbed. Any heavier weapon was able to penetrate the bodywork of the Dutch cars, including heavy MG’s firing at short distances at vulnerable armour spots. Only the small tower was additionally armoured. The L.180 [M.38] and L.181 [M.36] Landsverk AFV’s had a body work armour of only 5 mm thick. Notwithstanding its basically sloped frontal armour, the side and motor compartment sections were placed in near straight angles, hardly increasing the relative thickness of the armour. Therefore the 5 mm thick plating proved only limited protection, but the forward installed engine was an important additional shield for the driver and gunner. The tower was executed in 9 mm armour plating, but curved as to increase the relative thickness to about 12 mm, with exception of the gun and coax tower-base, which was quite well reinforced. All in all, any AP rifle round or AP grenade was good enough to penetrate the Landsverk AFV’s at virtually all locations on the armour.
The DAF AFV’s had a better armour arrangement and a much sloped armour skirt all around. The absolute thickness was 10 mm on all four sides, and a topside thickness of 6 mm. The relative thickness grew to around 14 – 15 mm due to the sloped skirt arrangement. As such only AP ammunition could penetrate the armour. The tower had a 7,5 mm thick curved armoured plate and an additional reinforced bulk-head for the main gun and coax. The top of the tower had a 5 mm thick plate. The curved tower had a relative penetration thickness of around 10-11 mm. The tower was - remarkably enough - the most vulnerable location of the armour.
In comparison to the Landsverks the DAF had a considerably thicker armour but its engine was placed on the rear-side of the vehicle. As such the driver, gunner and commander were not protected by the engine in front of them, like in the Landsverks. That lack of engine protection wasn’t fully compensated by the additional armour plates and additional sloped skirt.
The German AFV’s had poor armour too, but in comparison to the Dutch Landsverks yet considerably thicker. The sloped skirt of the 221 series had 8,5 mm thick plates and the small tower 14,5 mm. These arrangements were the same for the eight-wheeled 231 series, but the six-wheel 231 had a 14,5 mm armour all around. Nevertheless also these armour thicknesses were only good for small arms fire protection.
Basically the Dutch and German AFV’s were lightly armoured vehicles, but the ‘bite’ of the Dutch AFV’s was considerably stronger. The main gun on the Landsverks and DAF’s was able to deliver a considerable punch and penetrate all German armour that was brought in the field in May 1940. Not that it came to a match up between Dutch and German armour, but for comparison sake it is a notable difference.
The Germans would never bother about their wheeled AFV capacity anyhow. In fact during the war their light tank and AFV component never grew into emphasis, like it had been in the 1930's. Although some magnificent German AFV’s would be produced close to the end of the war, the German army put all their (armoured) cards on tank-destroyers and heavy tracked AFV’s. The Allies did invest much more in light AFV’s, both wheeled and tracked. Nowadays the wheeled AFV’s are booming again, although better armoured and (increasingly) heavier armed.
|AFV type||AFV (6w)||AFV (6w)||AFV (6w)||AFV (8w)|
|AFV Ident.||L.180/M.38||M.39||SdKfz 231||SdKfz 231|
|Weight||7 tonnes||6,2 tonnes||5 tonnes||8,2 tonnes|
|Max. range (road)||306 km||230 km||250 km||300 km|
|Power||150 Hp||95 Hp||70 Hp||155 Hp|
|Top speed||65 km/hr||70 km/hr||70 km/hr||85 km/hr|
|Drive||6 x 4||6 x 4||6 x 4||8 x 8|
|Main gun||3,7 cm L.34||3,7 cm L.34||2 cm L.55||2 cm L.55|
|Secund. arms||3 x 7,9 mm MG||3 x 7,9 mm MG||1 x 7,92 mm MG||1 x 7,92 mm MG|
|Armour||5 - 9 mm||10 mm||14,5 mm||8 - 14,5 mm|
The hand-weapon comparison is always a very popular topic on WWII internet forums. Obviously a matter of high subjective character, but therefore not less interesting. There seem to be plenty of myths about the German infantry weapons, particularly their supposingly outstanding quality. In fact that classification would only fit the two main machineguns of WWII, the MG-34 and MG-42. Obviously the latter being out of scope for this website, since it was only introduced later during WWII.
The MG-34 was an awesome weapon that beat all competition for the duration of the war, and that was even superseded by the MG-42. None of the Allied armies came even close when it came to producing machineguns that would come near to the performance of both German champions. Only when it came to reliability the Allies managed to produce some fine products, but given the extremely high fire-rates of both German machineguns, it (still) is astonishing how reliable those MG’s were.
The German handguns, like the standard K-98 rifle and the MP-38/MP-40 were different matters. These weapons were (and are) often also drawn into comparisons like it were miracle weapons, but that is far from realistic. The German rifle was a quality product, but easily matched by plenty of competitive rifles in the opposing European armies. The German sub-machineguns were adequate weapons, but during the war easily dominated by the robust Sowjet PPSh-41 [nicknamed ‘Burpgun’] and also the American Thompson .45 ACP [c/w box magazine] and BAR weren’t too far off.
Since the Dutch army in the Netherlands did not operate sub-machineguns, we shall not address those in a comparison. The standard rifles and light and heavy MG’s we shall compare on equal terms.
The Dutch standard rifle was the Austrian designed and manufactured Steyr rifle applying the Mannlicher action-system. A bolt action rifle, highly accurate with a five round clip reload. The calibre used by the Dutch was 6,5 mm, execution round full metal jacket. The design dated from 1895, basically the era of the first ‘new generation’ bolt action rifles. The German counterpart dated from 1898, had been designed by Mauser, was a bolt action rifle with a five round clip, but in calibre 7,92 mm. The German weapon was originally the G-98, but in the 1930's slightly shortened and as such designated as carbine in 1935, hence the K prefix [for ‘Karabiner’ in stead of G for ‘Gewehr’]. The German weapon was accurate and reliable. Both weapons were an equal match as it came to operation, reliability and accuracy. No need to match these two in a comparison table.
The Dutch standard light machinegun was the air-cooled, slightly improved, WWI Lewis gun with a drum magazine. Basically used in calibre 6,5 mm, only in the Cavalry units (and AFV appliance) in calibre 7,9 mm. The Lewis was a reliable gun as long as it was used in a fixed gun emplacement or none polluted environment (such as a casemate). But in dynamic warfare the gun proved itself extremely vulnerable to mechanical jams or failure. Particularly the drum loading process was a weak spot of this weapon, which was even more emphasised once a gunner had moved the weapon with the drum on. Nine out of ten times the weapon jammed on the second cartridge when it had been moved with the drum on top. Soon enough its operators recognized the necessity to remove the drum during transit, but in battle, matters like that tend to be forgotten or the open chamber (with the drum off) was contaminated with dirt, which points towards the other main weakness of the Lewis; its very delicate mechanical system. The Lewis proved to be such a delicate weapon all along, that perhaps about 50% failed sooner or later during battle. Locations where prolonged operation was required even show Lewis weapon failure of magnitudes beyond 50%. And then we talk failures beyond quick repair nuisances, like tightly jammed mechanisms, metal fatigues or yield failures.
Besides the high fail ratio of the Lewis machineguns, it had a slow firing rate too. It’s 400-450 rounds a minute was half the rate of the opponent’s main MG, which made its effectiveness – compared to the German MG-34 – considerably lower. Also the loading process was a nuisance once pre-filled mag’s had been consumed. The reloading process of the drums was very laborious and besides, a delicate operation under fire, for the slightest bit of dirt could jam the weapon once the drum was used. This performance sheet made the Lewis a very unpopular weapon. In fact comparison of the Lewis to the MG-34 is comparing two weapons of majestic inequality.
The 7,92 mm MG-34 was an excellent weapon from the start [Rheinmetall basic design]. Originally intended to be designed as an easily producible standard weapon it turned out to be an amazing success. Its reliability was high, especially when its operators had gotten the hang of it in means of short burst firing mode and timely barrel exchange. The weapon was mechanically even so effective that its firing rate had to be choked in order to prevent absurd ammo consumption and unnecessary tear and wear acceleration. Still in the choked version the MG-34 managed to make firing rates of around 900 rounds a minute, making it an excellent weapon to effectively covering the angles of the battlefield in focus. The down side of the high firing rate was obviously soon appreciated. The air cooled barrel quite rapidly heated up into dangerous distortion ranges, and as such the weapon crew always carried one or two spare barrels to exchange the barrels in time. That exchanging process was so effective that well trained crews executed an exchange in a few seconds. The other disadvantage of the high firing rate was – obviously – the high consumption rate of ammo. The remedy for that was basically the same as for keeping the barrel temp low; short bursts of fire rather than prolonged salvoes. That mode of short bursts helped keeping the aim on target too. Ammo was usually contained in a round drum or a box drum. The round drums came with 50 or 75 rounds, and were easily consumed in no time. They were not very popular. Notwithstanding its weight, light MG crews preferred the 250-round box-drums. It was not only providing an adequate supply of ammo in one go, but also easily put beside the weapon for an excellent feed-loading process. The large box-drums also caused considerable decreases in changes of jams in comparison to the round drums.
The Lewis machinegun was generally addressed by Dutch soldiers as too heavy. It was quite heavy indeed, but of about the same weight as the MG-34. Both weapons were heavy with 11,8 [6,5 mm; 12,5 kgs for the cavalry 7,9 mm] and 11,5 kg respectively. Compared to the British Brengun [10 kg], Czech 7,92 MG’s [9,5 kg] and French 8 mm Hotchkiss [9,2 kgs] and 7,5 mm Fusil-Mitrailleuse mle 1924/29 [8,9 kgs] both the MG-34 and Lewis were heavy weapons.
|Producer||Lewis / AI||Several|
|Calibre||6,5 mm||7,92 mm|
|Ammo feed||97 rds drum||
50/75 rds drum
250 rds box
|Weight||11,8 kgs||11,5 kgs|
|Fire rate||<500 rds/m||<900 rds/m|
The heavy MG’s in the Dutch army were all (pre)WWI weapons. The standard heavy MG was the Schwarzlose, which had entered service in 1908. It was also in use in the Italian army during WII, but used in many more armies during WWI. A classic Maxim-ish design, water-cooled weapon, manufactured by the Steyr company in Austria. A very reliable weapon, with an ability to produce sustained fire without extraordinary servicing. It was slightly more robust than the 7,92 mm Spandau M.08 of the German army (both WW) and the 7,7 mm Vickers of the British army, both weapons which were also used by the Dutch army besides the Schwarzlose. All these machineguns had comparable configurations, were water cooled heavy weapons with a firing rate between 450-550 rounds a minute. Both the Schwarzlose and the Vickers (mostly in calibre 7,9 mm, some still in calibre 7,7 cm) proved reliable weapons. The Dutch used Spandaus - WWI left overs from German arsenals - were only used in AA platoons and proved highly unreliable from heavy to extreme wear causes.
The opposing heavy machinegun was partially the German MG-34, but than in the medium or heavy configuration. That meant that the standard 0,5 kg two-leg spread was replaced by either a tripod or gun-table. The tripod came in several versions, most of which were of medium weight [6,75 kgs – 12 kgs] and as such designating the weapon and undercarriage as ‘medium MG’ in the German army. The heavy gun-table [23 kgs] gave it the designation ‘heavy MG’. Both configurations were frequently used in May 1940. The MG-34 weighted 11 kgs exactly (without the two-leg standard, without scope) and as such the medium configuration amounted to about 18-23 kgs and the heavy version to 34 kgs. Obviously the still much used Spandau sMG.08 – identical to the Dutch version – weighted much more. The MG itself (excl. cooling water) weighted 19,5 kgs and the German tripod undercarriage 28 kgs, whereas the heavy gun-table even amounted to 33 kg. The heaviest configuration therefore came to a mere 51 kgs excluding 4 litres cooling liquid!
The Dutch heavy MG’s presented quite a weight challenge too. Particularly the Schwarzlose [M.08/15]. The weapon itself was 21 kg (excl. 4,5 litre cooling liquid, excl. 2 kg scope) and the standard tripod undercarriage [M.25] came to 12 kgs. Weapon and tripod came to a mere 33 kgs, identical to the medium MG-34 with exception of the to be added 4,5 litre liquid to the cooling of the Schwarzlose. The heavier tripod, with an additional slide construction underneath, was almost twice the weight of the M.25 tripod. It was hardly used during the war. The Vickers MG [M.18] was slightly lighter than the Schwarzlose. The no.1 [7,7 mm] weighted up to 17,5 kgs (excl. 3,5 litre coolant, excl. scope) and the no.2 [7,9 mm] 18 kgs. The standard Vickers undercarriage, of which some were used, weighted more than the gun with 21 kgs. But usually the M.25 undercarriage was used, weighing only 12 kgs. As such the Vickers configuration including coolant weighted about the same as the medium MG-34. The Dutch Spandau’s were strictly used for AA duties and therefore not compared.
Obviously the same applies on the firing rate as said before on the Lewis / MG-34 comparison. The German medium MG-34 almost doubled the firing rate of any of the Dutch heavy MG’s. Accuracy-wise, the MG-34 on a medium undercarriage could not outclass the good old WWI MG’s though. That only applied for the MG-34 on a heavy gun-table, that showed excellent indirect fire capacity too. Notwithstanding the fact that the Dutch MG’s had a relatively slow firing rate, this didn’t quite seem to bother the Allied gun manufacturers too much during the war. The vast majority of Allied heavy machineguns already in use or introduced on the battlefield later during the war, usually showed firing-rates of up to 600 rds/minute maximum. Yet, usually the focus of ‘critical’ historians is somehow set on the early years of the war, where they refer to ‘poor weaponry’ on the Allied side, while in fact in the area of heavy machineguns – performance-wise – little changed on the Allied end in the course of the war.
|Ident.||M.18 no.2||M.08/15||MG-34 med||MG-34 hvy|
|Calibre||7,9 mm||7,9 mm||7,92 mm||7,92 mm|
|Firing rate||<550 rds/m||<550 rds/m||<900 rds/m||<900 rds/m|
|Weight||18 kgs||21 kgs||11 kgs||11 kgs|
|Tripod||12 kgs||12 kgs||6,75-12 kgs||23 kgs|
|Coolant||3,5 kgs||4,5 kgs||0||0|
|Config weight||33,5 kgs||37,5 kgs||18-23 kgs||34 kgs|