Mystics & Statistics blog on US tank losses at Sidi Bau Zid

Sidi-Bou-Zid00-768x593Mystics & Statistics recently made a very interesting post about a diagram showing the location of US tanks destroyed during the counterattack carried out by Combat Command C of the US 1st Armored Division near the village of Sidi Bau Zid on February 15, 1943.  According to the post, the attack was a disaster, with 46 of 52 M4 Sherman tanks knocked out and over 300 men killed, captured or missing.  What makes the diagram so interesting is that it shows not only the location of each knocked out tank, but also what type of enemy weapon knocked it out.  Interestingly, not a single one of the Sherman tanks were penetrated through their frontal armor and only one tank was knocked out by an 88mm gun, most tanks having been knocked out by 50mm guns.

The Mystics and Statistics post notes that in this battle the M4 Sherman clearly had a technical advantage in those stats that people like to focus on so much, frontal armor and firepower.  The most common German weapon in this battle was the 50mm gun, either found on the Panzer III tank or the towed PaK 38.  The Sherman frontal armor was generally effective at protecting against this weapon while the 75mm gun of the Sherman was capable of handling the Pz III and Pz IV tanks opposing it.  And yet despite this advantage on paper, the American force got trounced quite thoroughly.  The deciding factor was the greater experience and tactical skill of their German opponent.

It’s worth contrasting this example to the battle of Arracourt a year and a half later.  In this instance, the German Panzers had the the technical advantage in the form of the Panther tank with its formidable cannon and thick sloped frontal armor.  However, by this point it was the German tank force that was lacking the qualities necessary for battlefield success.  In 1943, it was the American 1st Armored division CCC that charged in without adequate reconnaissance or air superiority and paid the price, despite have the “better” tank.  Eighteen months later, it would be the 111th Panzer Brigade’s turn to learn the same lessons.  (For more on the battle of Arracourt, be sure to check out the new book Patton Vs the Panzers.)

Excerpt from Mystics and Statistics:

A few years ago, I came across a student battle analysis exercise prepared by the U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute on the Battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia in February 1943. At the time, I noted the diagram below (click for larger version), which showed the locations of U.S. tanks knocked out during a counterattack conducted by Combat Command C (CCC) of the U.S. 1st Armored Division against elements of the German 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions near the village of Sidi Bou Zid on 15 February 1943. Without reconnaissance and in the teeth of enemy air superiority, the inexperienced CCC attacked directly into a classic German tank ambush. CCC’s drive on Sidi Bou Zid was halted by a screen of German anti-tank guns, while elements of the two panzer divisions attacked the Americans on both flanks. By the time CCC withdrew several hours later, it had lost 46 of 52 M4 Sherman medium tanks, along with 15 officers and 298 men killed, captured, or missing.

Read the full Mystics and Statistics post here.  There is also a larger format version of the chart available there.

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