Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Battle of the Bulge: Report on German Army Group B Artillery

From the Foreign Military Studies series Manuscript #B-311 is the post-war report by Generalleutnant Karl Thoholte, General of the Artillery for Field Marshal Model's Army Group B. Some excerpts from the report below:

The artillery of the "Heeresgrupe" had no reserves at its disposal. Any new reinforcements were immediately spoken for and subordinated to Army units immediately.

Volks Artillery Korps

Comprised of only newly organized units.

The fighting strength was comparable to that of a weak artillery brigade.

Training and equipping of the troops had not been completed at the time of its commitment.

Only a portion was fully motorized.

Signal equipment was insufficient and only a few units had a battery with fire control equipment.

Due to the shortage of German guns some units were equipped with French and Russian guns. This caused supply problems in which there were too many types of ammunition to bring forward.

Actual combat strength of Volks Artillery Korps units was from sixty to seventy percent of normal.

Heeres (regular Army) Artillery Units

Mainly composed of heavy field howitzer batteries and ordinary howitzer battalions (which lacked adequate towing capabilities).

Actual combat strength was about eighty percent of normal.

Mortar units were well equipped but were constantly short of ammunition.

Fighting strength for mortar units was one hundred percent.

General Observations

The total number of gun barrels employed in the Ardennes Offensive was about nineteen hundred and each army had about six hundred guns.

The late date at which the artillery was organized caused difficulties.

In Thoholte's opinion the artillery assigned to the offensive "was sufficient for the mission allotted it" but ammunition supply capabilities were lacking.

Observation detachments arrive late and reconnaissance for the offensive was not adequately conducted in order maintain the illusion that any German preparations detected by the Americans were for defensive purposes only. Additionally, there was "no air reconnaissance whatsoever".  The results was that the strength and organization of American artillery remained uncertain until the offensive started.

There were plans for two "Carl" guns (600 mm) and a 305mm howitzer battery for bunker busting missions.  Thoholte believes the Carl guns never were brought up in time.

Probably not in the context of the Ardennes Offensive Thoholte mentioned the promise of "Dora" guns (800 mm) but considered that both the Dora and Carl guns failed to be useful on either front and the ammunition they consumed "in no way paid back their actual effect". Railway artillery, being bound to the rails and sensitive to air attacks "was never capable of effective use".

Perception of American Forces

American artillery had no serious effect on either the 6th or 5th Panzer Army. Observed enemy fires: "..always come from a few batteries all aiming at one target and despite the great amount of ammunition they consumed - they were not effective enough to bring our attack to a standstill".

Unobserved enemy fire (i.e. fire according to plan): "usually concurred at given times and location and was so mechanical in manner that we were able to avoid it after getting used to it somewhat".

The American fire directed by air observation was exceptionally good. Any target aimed at by this method "was usually knocked out".

American radio communications between spotting aircraft and ground troops could often be intercepted and their intended targets warned in time.

American artillery units did not carry out any ground work to reinforce their positions but Thoholte states that lack of ammunition prevented the Germans from taking much advantage.

"The critical moment during the attack came on the third day of action. The American air force, namely, was master of the skies".

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Interview With Author Stephen Beckett (Waterloo Betrayed)

I had the opportunity to talk with Stephen Beckett concerning Waterloo Betrayed and the multi-volume  Operations of the Armée du Nord : 1815, which can also be found on Amazon but if you choose to buy, it helps the author if you purchase them from Mapleflower House Publishing

Scott Cole: Please tell me what inspired you begin research for Operations of the Armée Du Nord? Did you begin planning to release a four-volume set or did research compel you to expand?

Stephen Beckett: In June of 2015, I released Waterloo Betrayed. This book documented that intrigue Napoleon faced in 1815. I accused Soult of betraying Napoleon based on Soult’s writings, the orders Soult issued on June 12 which are contrary to the orders Napoleon sent on June 10, and the fact that Napoleon was unaware of the position of 1 st Corps on June 16 despite the fact that there are surviving documents that demonstrate Soult was informed of the 1 st Corps’ movements.

When the book was published, I never stopped searching for answers. The fact is, only a
fraction of the French order books and correspondence have been seen.

In July of 2015, a month after publication, I discovered a book, Catalogue general des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France. In this book I found the following listing:

“Registre de correspondance et rapports du maréchal Soult à l’Empereur (9 mai-6 juin 1815).”

 I searched every source I had – nothing referenced this. This was a previously unseen registry of Soult’s!

As often happens with web research, a success leads to additional search terms, and over the
next year more registries (order books) and private correspondence was identified. These materials then needed to be collated with archival materials to fully digest them. Thus, this project of gathering transcriptions for the significant correspondence started without any real plan in mind.

Some of the key findings were in private collections. I went to Europe and spoke to many: how do we gain access to all these materials many of which have been identified, but are still out of view? I was told time and time again that it simply wouldn’t be possible. Most collectors would not speak to me – those that did were very guarded. I decided that an impressive book set might be the key – think of a half-done puzzle – who can resist not placing a piece if one sees where it goes? 

So here it is – a puzzle with over 2,000 pieces, but with hundreds known to remain in private hands. I hope these collectors will give access to their pieces.

SC: Do you mind giving a couple of examples of events that information in these privately held
collections could bring light to? 

SB: Half of Bertrand’s registry and notes from the cent-jours remains private – the half we found gave us Napoleon’s dictations and orders from June 10. Who knows what these might contain, but it could be just as dramatic. Bertrand’s materials are very difficult to read, and it took a team to decipher – the owner may have no clue what they say or their importance.

There are reports from June 15 and 16 in private collections. Might be routine stuff we know or might have details about d’Erlon’s movements and what the headquarters knew. Christopher Stoffel told his nephew, Eugène, that HQ did not know where d’Erlon was. I theorized this in WB, so it was nice to find this corroboration when I acquired Eugène’s notes/draft for his unpublished work on Waterloo.

Napoleon’s planning in late May, as recorded by Soult, is in a private collection. It appears Chuquet published this prior to it disappearing from the archives. A lot of materials found in the auctions were once in the archives and are stamped as such.

And finally, though hundreds of documents have been seen at auction, how many more have
not been publicly disclosed?

SC: The description for one of the volumes states that many important documents came to light in 2015 that allowed for new insights into the events of 1815. Were some of these discoveries the result of your work on Waterloo Betrayed?

SB: Without WB, there is no Operations of the Armée du Nord : 1815, but as described, the impetus
for the reference set came when discovering the aforementioned new sources after WB’s publication.

However, the motivation in all my work has been to answer the fundamental questions WB raised. Why did Soult change Napoleon’s orders? Why was Napoleon ignorant of his left’s dispositions on June 16? The combat operations dominate almost all the histories of Waterloo, but this is a campaign where the most critical events occurred before the French reached the Sambre. Further, even after hostilities began, there is a huge focus on what could have been at Ligny – but Napoleon’s plans were never executable. He had no clue where d’Erlon was and based critical orders on ignorance.

SC: How did you go about conducting research? Did you have to travel to Europe to visit the archives and if so, please tell about your time there.

SB: All my archival acquisitions have been handled by assistants, and some friends. However, I have visited Europe several times for extended stays, meeting with peers and recently collectors. It was on a trip to Europe that I toured numerous places and shared the original idea – online database of primary source material using Elasticsearch or similar to allow full text search. The initial transcriptions were for this purpose. But the response from collectors and historians was a big yawn. Most simply didn’t understand. But Books! Big, heavy books with thousands of pages!

On my last trip, I delivered the four volumes of transcriptions, and it was like the Red Sea parting. Since then, the collectors I have spoken with have made a 180-degree turn. Organizations that never responded to letters and email are now enthusiastic. I have real hope that a global effort can be organized to access the numerous private materials.

SC: One of the main themes of Waterloo Betrayed is that Marshal Soult betrayed Napoleon and sabotaged the campaign. When Soult declared himself for Napoleon early in the 100 Days do you think he did this with the intent to sabotage Napoleon’s return or was it growing dissatisfaction during the campaign that led to the betrayal.

SB: In WB, I suggest a role play that as a prosecutor, I felt there was clear and convincing evidence
of Soult’s malfeasance. Continuing in this role, I would now drop the charges against Soult. Due to the new discoveries, we now know there was a plan to advance on Mons via Maubeuge, and that Soult followed this plan. I propose a couple theories as to why this happened, but regardless of what happened, Soult did not act arbitrarily on June 12. However, this does not change Soult’s feelings about Napoleon expressed in his own words, nor the inexplicable ignorance Napoleon operated under late on June 15 and throughout June 16. It is very telling, to me, that Napoleon said nothing of the mishap of the concentration. He either believed, or wanted us to believe, that the concentration was brilliant in concept and execution. His silence also may serve to hide his culpability in the confusion.

If Soult did work against Napoleon, it could have been very subtle – as in keeping Napoleon in
the dark about the progress of 1 st Corps on June 15 that would spill into June 16. Napoleon
revealed in exile that he had later realized 1 st Corps was not where he expected, and he blamed

SC: Did Soult act alone or as part of a conspiracy? If in a conspiracy, was there a unifying theme that united the conspirators or a wide variety of motivations?

SB: If Soult betrayed Napoleon, I believe he operated on his own. It is also possible some of his aides or members of staff acted on behalf of the King. But, as mentioned, this is not a central premise of my work going forward. I do not feel strongly for Soult, never met the man. If he did not actively undermine Napoleon, then the facts of June 16 demonstrate incredible incompetence. I wonder what Soult would prefer – evil genius, or bumbling idiot?

The royalists were very active in France and directly serving the King. Individuals may have been bribed, but the entire 19 th Century in France was dominated by the battle between the royalists, republicans, and Bonapartists. A 4 th much smaller faction was the individualists who worked for their own power or wealth. Fouché was an individualist who, for a few days after Napoleon’s second abdication, seized power. Soult was an individualist who had tremendous ambition. A week after Waterloo he left the army and thrust himself into the politics in Paris. He went into exile but returned under Louis-Philippe and was a dominant force in French politics.

Many have challenged me that there could not have been a huge conspiracy against Napoleon
in 1815 because it would be well known. But it was well known – it simply doesn’t make 20th
century histories of the campaign. 

Waterloo impacted the French psyche considerably. Royalist families who fought against the revolution, who fought against Napoleon, who had family killed in 1815, would, 30 years later, condemn the “traitors” who fought for the enemy that occupied France during the second restoration. No Frenchman became a hero for contributing to the loss at Waterloo. They became despised. I provide a translation of a defense of Bourmont written by his son which documents the family getting stoned in 1840. When the Bourbons were finally chased from France, those that worked against Napoleon in 1815 lost their platform. No longer in power, at personal risk if they bragged about their exploits, they have simply faded away.

The intrigue of 1815 was unique, and defines the environment Napoleon operated in. The walls had ears, every staff member was a potential spy, etc. Plans from Paris, real or fake, arrived in Belgium two days after they were uttered. One of my theories of the June 10 – June 12 failure is rooted in the possibility that the Mons plan was a ruse meant to deceive the Allies, but instead Soult was caught in the trap. I write extensively about this possibility, and it would explain why Napoleon buried the episode.

SC: Based on your research which books would you recommend Napoleon, his marshals and the Battle of Waterloo?

SB: There are many great books on the campaign and battle – testament that fiction cannot compete with real-life. However, the events of June 18 are no longer very interesting to me. The campaign had already failed. Many wargamers would disagree and have their favorite strategy where Napoleon has vanquished Wellington before the Prussians arrive. But had the French seized the Nivelles-Namur road early on June 15, after advancing on June 14 as planned, then Napoleon seizes Brussels without mauling his one maneuverable army. Had the Allies tried to stand, then Napoleon eats the army of his choice – which is why I doubt Wellington would have remained south of Brussels with Napoleon between him and Blücher preventing coordination.

For Waterloo, I recommend Pierre de Wit’s website that will soon be published in book form:

It is the definitive resource.

SC: What projects are you working on at this time?

SB: In the late 1980s, I worked on two computer wargames. 1987’s Borodino won the Charles S.
Roberts Award, and one can play Austerlitz today via online streaming at:

 I played it again for first time in 20 years just recently, and the Allies broke through the fog, hit the center of my line, and routed me off the battlefield by 10:30 am. Very cool.

This project started many years ago with the dream of the ultimate operational simulation of
Napoleonics. I started with Waterloo thinking the research would be easy – most written about
campaign, just download all the orders etc.

I found that due to the rout, most of the French materials were scattered. The archives only
have a fraction of what was sent. Hence, the campaign is poorly understood with many
questions. WB was written to address some of these questions.

The new discoveries led to the Operations of the Armée du Nord : 1815. So much more is
known, and in my final volume, The Analysis, I propose some bold theories. In the conclusion, I
point out that there are still hundreds if not thousands of documents in private collections.
We found two additional registries of Soult – yet another is still in private hands! And the
original of Registre du major-général that Grouchy published remains missing.

We found d’Erlon’s registry, but it ends on June 12. Vandamme, Gérard, Lobau – all never

I knew that with Soult on a mission and absent from Paris during the final concentration orders,
Bertrand was someone to pursue. And after a diligent search, we found Bertrand’s registry and
notes – which includes June 10, the Mons plan, and so much more. Yet 27 pages of Bertrand’s
notes from the cent-jours remains in a private collection. Are they about Theater budgets – as
that topic is covered in the materials found? Or, do they cover military events in June!?

That is the major project I am working on now – using the Operations of the Armée du Nord :
1815 as a catalyst to show key organizations, individuals, and the world, that we must access
these private materials to have an accurate history. Napoleon’s concentration on the Sambre
was a disaster. How many more truths are waiting to be discovered? This is the project I hope
unites everyone – we can debate our interpretations and conclusions later.

For now, let’s work together to gain access to these private collections – step one is awareness.

SC: How can folks help?

SB: Those interest can contact me via the Mapleflower Publishing web page.  Contact info with a mailto is at the bottom of the page.

Anyone who wishes to help I would love to have them contact me. I have thousands of documents scanned and friends with tens of thousands more. Processing, transcribing, translating these.....there will always be something to do.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


For those that frequent Reddit I have created a sub called r/LiechtensteinHistory.

My Liechtenstein project is still ongoing though research has been on hold. I'm going to get back into it but before I post updates here, a lot of thoughts, links and ideas will go up on that sub.

Here links to prior blog posts on the subject:

They all link back to Castalia blog posts which can be found here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

M7 Priest versus Mk V Panther

On the always interesting Art of Manliness podcast an interview with author Adam Makos,  who has published a book about "one of WW2's greatest tank gunners", Clarence Smoyer.

After listening, I read Makos' Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives in World War II  and recommend it for the insight into daily life of a tanker on the West Front. The book features Smoyer's counterpart, Gustav Schaefer, a Panther tank gunner. Ultimately, both gunners meet up in front of the Cologne Cathedral in an encounter caught on film, then would meet again many years later on better terms.

Early in the book, an ambush of a column of Sherman tanks is described from Schaefer's point of view. I found this passage intriguing as the tables were turned on the Germans by the appearance of an M7 Priest which scored several direct hits on Schaefer's Panther, causing it to retreat then disabling it. I was surprised that the mobile artillery platform could engage Panthers and survive. It was not unheard of for artillery pieces to be used in direct fire mode, the Russians relied on this method early in the war and the German 88mm AA gun, while not technically artillery, was one of the most feared German weapons by both American tankers and infantry.

In my favorite WW2 simulation, the venerable Campaign Series, I live for a battery of Priests crossing into my line of sight and in range. American artillery fire is both abundant and deadly and there is definitely a satisfying element of revenge when the tables are turned. The game system assigns the M7 a very strong high explosive factor but limited armored piercing factors. In the book the Priest engaged the Panther at two miles away and was undetected until after scoring its first hit, which was a HE round of white phosphorus. Schaefer recalls another hit on the Panther's slanted front armor before the M7 was spotted. After two more hits in quick succession fissures started forming up and down the armor welds in the interior convincing the tank commander to retreat. In order to maneuver behind a grove of trees and out of the M7's LOS, the Panther's left side is exposed and the left track is hit. The Panther is still able to move but by the time the wheels roll off the last track the tank is safe behind cover.

In Campaign Series an M7 engaging a Panther from 8 hexes (two miles) will never get a retreat result and I'm not sure I would bother tweaking the combat system to allow for it but I'm glad to have read this account of what HE fire could do. The book mentions a statistic that most tank encounters on the West Front were won by the tank that was the first to spot and fire upon the enemy as what happened in this long range, one sided, duel.

Even though the M7 was outside of the Panther's "effective range" of about 1000 meters, if Schaefer had spotted the M7 first, a hit at two miles was not out of the question and the Panther's shells would not have an issue penetrating the M7's armor.

Update:  excellent discussion with technical details over on The Miniatures Page forums concerning this subject matter. 

From David Porter's Allied Tanks of World War II:

105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage (HMC) M7 Priest

Crew: 7
Weight: 26.01 tonnes
Length: 6.02m
Width:  2.88m
Height 2.54 m
Engine: 298kW (400hp) Continental R975 C1 radial petrol
Speed: 42km/h (26mph)
1 x 105mm (4.1 in) M1A2 howitzer
1 x 12.7mm (0.5in) HMG

No information on armor but Infogalactic comes to the rescue with a link to the American Fighting Vehicle database where we find it was lightly armored (from 0.5 to 1.5 inch except by the lower front which was around 4.25 inches).


From the Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two*:

Panzerkampfwagen V Ausf G (Sd Kfz 171).
I'll use the Ausf G model as it was produced from March 1944 to April 1945.

Crew: 5
Weight: 45.5 tonns
Length: 8.86 meters
Width:   3.4 meters
Height:  2.98 meters
Engine: Mayback HL230P30
Speed:  46 kmhr

1 x 7.5cm KwK42 L/70
2 x 7.92mm MG34 (one in cupola, one lower front armor)

Armor (thickness in mm/angle in degrees)     Front         Side      Rear          Top/Bottom:
Turret:                                                              110/11      45/25   45/25           16/84
Hull (upper):                                                    80/55        50/30                        40 & 16/90                   
        (lower):                                                    60/55        40/0      40/30           30-16/90
Gun mantlet:                                                    100/round

There was an interesting note in the book when Clarence Smoyer was still a Sherman tank gunner in that feedback was distributed to all units that the Panther was vulnerable to the Sherman's gun from head on if the shell hit the Panther's gun mantlet but only at close range, i.e. <250 yards.  Shells fired from the Sherman's 76mm gun were always ineffective against the thick / sloped frontal armor.

Note that the gun mantlet armor is thicker than the hull armor but the 55 degree slope of the hull armor gave it a greater relative thickness.


* Finally, Barnes and Noble is competitive with a book price against AMZN. Unfortunately, "currently not available online" but may be worth double checking if you are thinking of buying.

Over at Castalia House I have a post on an book released in 1905 right before the end of the Russian - Japanese War

Old School Miniatures: Alpine Gnomes Kickstarter

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