“I must say, that the increase in dead and wounded was greatly inconvenient for German officials, filtering information from the front, and attempting to present it in the best possible light. As one of them admitted to me later, they worked on the principle of “Let us lose the war in reality, but we must win it on paper.”” - Hendrick C. Verton, In the Fire of the Eastern Front, The Experiences of a Dutch Waffen-SS Volunteer, 1941-1945
In the wake of the apparently controversial M4 vs Panther myth article, I was asked to write a similar article for the Eastern Front. However, since there is no “authority” on the subject that claims any kind of ludicrous ratio like Belton Cooper did for the Western, I’m going to have to do my own legwork.
You might have heard some kind of ridiculous figures like “Each Tiger would take out 10 T-34s”. First of all, let’s start with the fact that a Tiger that even engaged enemy tanks on its own in the first place was not doing its job. Tigers were meant to act as parts of assault groups, accompanied by infantry, assault guns, and tank destroyers. Even if a s.Pz.Abt goes off on its own and starts fighting enemy tanks, we run into a different problem. German tank losses were counted much differently than Soviet losses. A German tank is considered lost if it is destroyed, and, more importantly, there is no longer hope of recovering it. That is why losses can show up days, even weeks, after the tanks have actually been destroyed. When looking for German tanks losses, a much more reliable method is to look at dead crew members. You can’t fake those.
On the other hand, the Germans would claim an immobilized Soviet tank in no-man’s land as a kill, even if the Soviets would recover it later. A German tank in the same position would not be counted as a loss, but a Soviet one would be, even if the Germans didn’t actually do any work to knock it out! Pretty sneaky.
Let’s count the claims in that article, and compare them to reality.
KVs: 1 actually destroyed by the Germans, 4 lost in total. Germans claim 5 KVs. Claim inflation: 500%.
T-34s: 8 actually lost (let’s give them the MIA one), Germans claim 16. Claim inflation: 200%
And that’s only for tanks. When it comes to infantry, the claims can get even more ludicrous. The Germans claim 300 killed to 3 of their men lost, compared to the harsh reality: at a cost of 150 SS troops, only 8 wounded Soviets were killed. Even if you throw in all Soviet soldiers from the entire unit killed or missing in action in that area over two months, that’s still just over 100 people. So much for the “elite” SS unit. However, sometimes they didn’t make things up in their favour, sometimes, you have to make the enemy look good in order to get away with executing POWs!
Moral of the story? Don’t trust kill claims. If you want to blabber on about how your favourite tank has an x:1 kill ratio, go play Counterstrike, where that wins battles. In the real world, it does not.