Fist Of History

Posts Tagged ‘Tanks’

Victory Liberty Loan and “Little Zeb”

Monday, September 14th, 2015


With the end of World War I the United States federal government faced a bit of a dilemma, it had borrowed significant amounts of capital to finance the United States war effort and with the war concluded it needed a bit more borrowed capital to square things away.  The U.S. federal government also wanted to borrow the money at attractive interest rates, to bring in financiers, but to do so without the risks of borrowing on the open capital market in what experts thought might be an economically difficult post-war transition period.  Hence the final liberty loan drive, the so-titled “Victory Liberty Loan.”


Begun in April 1919 the goal of this bond run was for the U.S. federal government to raise a total of $4.5 billion with gold-backed bonds, paying 4.75%, and redeemable in four years.  (The government had an option to snap them back after three years if it wished.)  As a bonus all interest paid on these bonds was exempt from income taxes.  The bonds sold well, aimed mainly towards businesses and wealthier individuals look for save havens for their money, but the campaign was considered lackluster by people of the period.  Previous liberty bond issues had posters oriented towards patriotism, showing individuals fighting, striving, surviving and the evil Hun being blasted or defied.  As the top example shows, this bond run was more emphasized on a “Eh, I could get behind that” outlook.


However the United States federal government, leaning on the army, did have one particularly darling promotional effort that did capture the hearts of the American people, “Little Zeb.”  “Little Zeb” was a Renault FT of French construction, deployed with American forces in World War I, that was shipped around the country by train to roll around the countryside and get people excited about buying the final bond issue.  The tank was used to not only drum up enthusiasm but also get small towns involved – “Little Zeb” put in several appearances in Colorado where pictures were snapped of it.


“Little Zeb” though was also more than a promotional piece, it was a window into the future of warfare, although few realized it at the time.  The Renault FT, and later US M1917, represented a revolution in tank design.  Prior to these vehicles tanks in World War I were based around the core of ideas of “big, heavy, massive armor, multiple guns, slow.”  The Renault FT was conceived of as a light tank, built and designed by the French, and to be used in “swarm tactics” to overwhelm the enemy.  It was more lightly armored, faster than other tanks, had a turret in which was mounted its main gun, and carefully designed tracks that could operate more effectively over difficult terrain.


Take a good look at that design, although obsolete by World War II this light tank was the defining look for what a “tank” would become and its roots are still present in modern armor design.  The tactics also used for this vehicle were the opening examples of what would later become the modern version of Germany’s “war of movement” using armor in World War II.  (The misnamed “blitzkrieg” model of warfare.)

On a final note, although obsolete by World War II this tank was still in use by many nations in the early 1940s, it had been copied, both legally and illegally, the world over because it was a charming little tank.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on Liberty Bonds, the Renault FT tank, entry in “Birth of a Market” on U.S. securities, and Images of America, Early Glenwood Springs by Cynthia Hines and the Frontier Historical Society, pp. 120

Battle of France 1940 – why did France lose?

Monday, April 21st, 2014


From last Wednesday’s entry readers might have been left with the question, if France had been aware of the dangers posed by a German attack against the Ardennes forest and Sedan, why were the German’s so successful at smashing through at that point?  More critically, why once the German army had broken through did the French defense collapse so quickly – going from a robust and respected force of combined French, British, Dutch, and Belgian arms to an utterly routed force in just six weeks?  Unfortunately there are many factors to consider – a fractious and politically divided nation that had been facing its own simmering internal stability issues for years, a complicated relationship between the military and French industry that lead to wasted production and inefficient competition, outmoded industrial production models that could not complete with German material effectiveness, a declining birthrate that forced the French military to use more older and less physically able males in their forces, and paralysis in the French government – each of these factors could be an entry in and of itself.  However the most critical elements to the actual collapse of the French defense in 1940 can be zoomed in upon – historians vary in their view but it seems to boil down to these core elements:  the wrong sort of tanks that were also used incorrectly, supported by far too few aircraft, and redeployed far too late in the initial critical moments of the battle to do any good.

The tank issue is probably the best example, pictured above is one of the finest heaviest French tanks in the war, the Char B1, a heavy tank with massive armor plating, a heavy main gun, and an impressive secondary gun, the Char B1 is on record for being a highly effective machine that smashed German tanks efficiently in individual battles.  (One story, possibly false, speaks of one of these tanks smashing thirteen German tanks in a quick battle and escaping unharmed after taking 140 hits upon the vehicle.)  The problem with this beast of a tank was it was great in individual tank battles, but lacked speed and mobility, issues not considered vital by the French military leadership.  This tank was designed to smash open a strong point in the enemy line and allow infantry to follow-up on the breakthrough, or lighter tanks working with the infantry, the French military embraced the idea of combined arms but missed entirely the potential of high-speed and high mobility combined arms, infantry units moving on trucks or other mechanized vehicles following massed formations of tanks that could smash through a prepared line and then race to the rear, breaking up supply, communication, and transport routes quickly.  The Germans embraced this idea and it was this idea that allowed their major battle formations used in the Sedan to not only break through French defenses quickly but follow-up with sweeping movements that broke into open countryside and wrecked havoc on French defensive planning.


The French and British air forces were overall outnumbered in aircraft by the German air force but it was also a matter of quality, the most modern aircraft the French had, the Dewoitine D.520 (pictured above) was capable of tangling with the German aircraft as a near equal, but in the Battle of France the French deployed all of them, thirty-six in total, in one unit.  Most of the French and British aircraft were defeated in the air and, furthermore, French industry had not been focused enough to build up sufficient spare parts to allow the planes when damaged to stay in the air.  Due to this the German air force was able to gain air superiority which caused a major crimp on French defensive mobility, French units moving during daylight hours had to hide from German aerial attack.  (A problem the Germans dealt with in 1944 during their Western Winter Offensive, otherwise known as the Battle of the Bulge.)  The restricted mobility imposed by a loss of aerial control upon the French military, combined with the need to avoid concentrating units that would attract German aerial bombardment, resulted in French units being moved in a haphazard manner and gave the German military the capacity to use its air power as a highly mobile support force to their ground attacks.


In the end though the largest problem that affected the French military, and that was recognized at the time, was a major breakdown in command and control of the French military.  Marc Bloch, an officer at the time, after the defeat wrote a firsthand account of the destruction of the French military as it attempted to stem the tide of the German invasion.  He recounted how the French military was gripped by a paralysis of will, unable to move troops and supplies to areas of critical need, establishing their rear areas far too close to the front lines and seeing them overrun again and again, and a feeling of the inevitability of defeat that paralyzed the military command of France.  Even efforts by some military commanders, such as Charles De Gaulle, only delayed what many felt was inevitable.  The war with France came to an end on 22 June 1940 with an armistice, which went beyond an admission of military defeat and entered the realm of a complete collapse of the French government’s will to struggle at all.  It marked the end of the French Third Republic and the rise of Vichy France, an unusual amalgam of a nation.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on Battle of France, Char B1, and Dewoitine D.520, A Strange Victory by Ernest May, Strange Defeat by Marc Bloch.