For All Nails (FAN) #158: Nightrain
Excerpt from Chapter 15 of "Total War - The History and Battles of the
Global War, 1939-1948"
Chapter 15: Supplying War
German Chancellor Karl von Bruning could not have been a happy man by
the time 1943 rolled around. By that point he must have realised that
the military successes of the German armed forces had reached their
apogee and were beginning to decline. Many different authors have cited
innumerable different reasons for this reversal of fortune, some
focusing on the loss of morale that accompanied defeats, some the length
of the war and the effect that had on morale, others on improved
military doctrine of Germany's opponents and, in at least one infamous
work, on the peptic ulcers suffered by the German Chancellor.
But this author believes that more than anything else the German war
effort began to fail for a very simple reason with a very complex set of
circumstances: supplies. While it is unarguable that Germany was able
to generate sufficient supplies for its armies in the field and for its
people at home it was patently unable to actually get those supplies to
The question as to why this is the case can probably be answered in a
dozen different ways, but this author believes that it comes down to a
single answer: trains. The Germans simply lacked the trains, the train
cars, and the train tracks to supply armies as far away as India and
deep into Europe. A single bomb from a British airmobile, or a single
charge placed by a Pushtun tribesman would disrupt the supplies to the
German armies for days. The proof of this thesis can perhaps be seen
most clearly in the extremely effective resistance that the Germans were
able to erect in close proximity to the Reich, a resistance which
dropped off exponentially with distance from the Fatherland.
Why would the Germans have chosen rail as the method by which they
supplied their troops? This is a virtually rhetorical question. They
used rail as they had no other method of doing so. Terramobiles, even
the Vorstadtangriffträger (VsAnTg) class, simply could not make the trip
in a manner which was timely, nor one that consumed fewer supplies than
were carried by the vehicle itself. Not that this wasn't attempted of
course. To date, there are 31,567 men officially reported as missing in
action along the German-India and German-Ottoman supply routes.
Yet again, we are brought back to the technological attempts by the
Germans to bridge gaps in their war effort by skipping the entire
effective testing phase. Perhaps this could have been addressed in
Chapter 12, but as it directly pertains to supply, it is included here.
The 'rocket trains' the Germans used on the Asian rail-lines in an
attempt to speed up supply along the woefully inadequate in number
rail-lines through this region were not a catastrophic failure, but they
were a waste of resources which could have been spent better elsewhere.
Though, at the same time, one could make that argument about the entire
Asian adventure the Germans embarked upon.
The engines of the 'rocket trains' were equipped with single burst
rockets which were to be used to assist the trains in climbing steep
grades on in covering flat areas quickly. In practice however, they
were viewed by the train engineers as deadly (not without reason) and
were rarely, if ever used.
While Germany had some extremely impressive equipment during the Global
War, much of it was lost through simply not being able to move it any
longer. Battlemobiles were left sitting by the sides of roads or in
fields, completely undamaged but lacking fuel. And this was in spite of
there actually being no shortage of any of the types of fuels the
Germans needed for their machines. It was simply and only a case of not
being able to get the fuel, and the battlemobiles to the same place at
the same time. Belinger (1972) has estimated that 2,567 battlemobiles
were abandoned in the field in a fully recoverable condition during 1943
and 1944 alone. Again, referring to Figure 24, one can see that the
further from Germany the armies were, the higher losses of equipment
they suffered. While this may be partly the result of harder fighting,
it is more likely that commanders simply listed as irreparably damaged
or destroyed battlemobiles which were simply unable to move for lack of
This is supported by the observations of General Hasting Alexander of
the 4th Indian Army, writing in 1946:
"The entire 5th Armoured Brigade is equipped with German battlemobiles
captured or claimed after being abandoned. In number, they are equipped
with 127 Class Fours, 89 Class Fives, 37 Class Sixes and even a trio of
Class Seven heavy battlemobiles. The quartermaster of that Brigade
reports that ninety percent of these battlemobiles had nothing more than
cosmetic damage when salvaged."
This anecdote makes clear that the Germans had outstripped their supply
lines, not by tens of miles or even hundreds of miles, but in fact
thousands of miles. A clear case of ones eyes being larger than one's
stomach, this author thinks.
As one might imagine, the transport of battlemobiles to the various
islands of Southest Asia for use in invasion of these areas suffered
>from similar problems in lack of supply, serving to equip their
opponents with weapons.