Small Command Tank being unloaded in Tripolis, probably March 1941. Picture taken by Rommel.
While much has been made of the lack of mechanical reliability of the British tanks, I feel it is important to note that the Germans had similar issues with their tanks. A report published in the history of Panzerregiment 5 by Bernd Hartmann (published in English as Panzers in the Sand) has some detail on this. The short answer seems to be that the desert was a pretty unforgiving environment to tanks.
- The driving distance of 700 km (presumably from Agedabia to Tobruk) had a very negative effect on the tanks, and led to a large number of them having to be handed into the workshops for damage to engines and drive assembly. It is noteworthy that this does not seem to include the drive along the road towards Mersa el Brega prior to the attack at the end of March.
- Air filters were useless in desert conditions.
- General flaws of springs and shock absorbers were not just caused by using inappropriate high speeds during operations across poor terrain (especially the high-speed advance along the Trigh el Abd towards Tobruk), but also by mine damage.
- Brake pads were faulty, and this led to greasing problems with the secondary brakes.
|Panzer II||45||19||42%||Twenty broken springs and 16 broken tread elements.|
|PanzerIII and large command tanks (based on the Panzer III chassis)||65||44||68%||Engine seizure due to sand entering the engine. (see below)All 65 Panzer III and large command tanks had their shock absorbers replaced.50 shock absorbers failed and had to be replaced.60 jobs could be traced back to flawed final inspections in the factory.8 Panzer III had sand issues with the turret ring assembly, and in five cases the turret drive train (Variorex Getriebe) had to be replaced.|
|Total||152||81||53%||58 tanks had to have their engines replaced.40 ventilator shafts had to be replaced because of faulty pressure bearings.|
Engine seizures in Panzer III/large command tanks
The fault and cause was always the same. The engine stopped and oil pressure went to zero, stopping the tank. When the attempt was made to drive on after changing oil, the cylinders and piston seized. The cause was always the same. The crank shaft housing clogged up with the paste-like fine dust, and this stopped the oil from circulating. Cylinders and pistons were abraded down to 6 mm.
Utility of air filters
The originally issued air filters were completely useless for desert use, since they did not keep out the fine dust which lead to the clogging up of the crankshaft housing. The use of a dry felt filter, such as is being used in British cars, trucks, and tanks, was proposed to remedy this.
What is astonishing is that the Germans were so unprepared for this. One would have presumed that it would have been relatively simple to get the required information about the air filters in particular.
It is of note that the faulty inspections seem to have continued in the factories for a long time, since break-downs, mostly related to faulty rollers on factory fresh tanks affected the 56 tanks which were delivered by the convoy of Jan. 5 1942.