‘Air Power at the Battlefront’

Roncey1

USA-E-Breakout-p278

Une vieille dame passe devant l'église du Roncey en ruine, au pied de laquelle s'étend une file de blindés allemands détruits. Les blindés sont des  Marder III Reportage de 5 photos sur la place de l'église du Roncey: p004174, p004181, p013078, p01422 et p01423. http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=58897785%40N00&q=p004174&m=text D'autres vues ici: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mlq/3675220980/ De nos jours: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mlq/6219842806/in/photostream Pour aller plus loin: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marder_III http://pagesperso-orange.fr/did.panzer/Pz-MarderIII.html

Roncey lies some ten kilometres south-east of Coutances in the area overrun by the American VII Corps offensive west of 5t La on July 25. The town was captured five days later – littered with wrecked German armour. This is the Panzerjager 38(t) Ausf M (5dKfz 138) armed with the 7.5cm PaK 40 and most probably belonged to SS-Panzerjager Abteilung 2 of the 2. SS-Panzer Division.

Ian Gooderson’s ‘Air Power at the Battlefront’, London 1998, contains
a couple of cases studies.

I. Roncey Pocket.

In the wake of the Allied breakout from Normandy, Operation COBRA
which began on 25 July 1944, large German forces in the Cotentin
peninsula were forced to risk air attack by moving in daylight to
avoid being encircled by American armour. Just south of Coutances,
near Roncey, some six German divisions were cut off in what became
known as the Roncey ‘Pocket’. Choking the roads, the German columns
became ideal targets for attacks by Allied fighter-bombers whose
attacks succeeded in preventing any organised breakout […]

Some indication of the destruction caused specifically by air weapons
is provided by an RAF anti-armour operation on the same day [29 July].
Rocket Typhoons of 2nd TAF were requested by US forces to attack a
concentration of some 50 German tanks observed in the Roncey area,
near Gavray. Consequently Typhoons of No.121 Wing of No.83 Group flew
99 sorties in the area between late afternoon and dusk, and claimed
the destruction of 17 tanks with a further 27 damaged. The pilots
reported that there was little sign of life or movement during their
attacks and the area was littered with damaged and burning tanks,
making target selection difficult. There was no flak, and pilots were
able to attack at very low level. Only one Typhoon was lost, hit by
flying debris and forced to crash-land.

The Typhoon effort had been concentrated mainly against a German
column near the village of la Baleine, and shortly after the air
attacks this area was investigated by the British Army’s No.2 ORS. The
column had been a formidable mix of armour and transport, including
Panther tanks. The surrounding terrain was heavily wooded and
dissected by deep, narrow valleys and the column had used a side road
which descended to la Baleine where a bridge crossed the river Sienne.
On one side of this road was a steep, wooded cliff and on the other a
sheer drop to the river; caught by fighter-bombers at this point the
vehicles had been unable to pull off the road. P-47s had attacked the
area with 500-lb bombs before Typhoons had been called for, and the
bridge over the river had been sufficiently damaged by their bombs to
prevent heavy vehicles from crossing.  After examining the tanks and
vehicles the ORS outlined the causes of destruction. This is shown in
the following table:

lab

The motor transport was so mangled that identification of the cause of
destruction was impossible and the ORS acknowledged their ‘unknown
causes’ table to be unduly loaded. They suggested that a more accurate
picture would be provided by the motor transport being spread over the
table in the same proportion as the other losses. Although rockets
appear as the biggest single known cause of destruction, the amount
attributed to them is small compared to the relatively high number of
Panthers destroyed by their crews or abandoned intact. How they had
been left suggested abandonment in haste, almost certainly as a result
of air attack or the threat of such attack, and possibly even before
the arrival of the Typhoons. Craters of 500-lb bombs were found in an
orchard within 50 yards of two Panthers; neither tank had been hit but
the crews obviously baled out and later set fire to the tanks, one of
the guns being destroyed by a high-explosive round left in the
chamber.

Although lack of fuel in a retreat could be expected to result in the
abandonment or destruction of tanks by their crews, this was not the
case at La Baleine; near similar bomb craters two Panthers were found
completely undamaged, their fighting ability unimpaired with full
complements of petrol and ammunition. One of the 75 mm self-propelled
guns, its armour reinforced with concrete, was found abandoned
undamaged 35 yards from a bomb crater. As it had not been set on fire
by its crew it was considered more likely to have been abandoned in
haste rather than left as a deliberate roadblock.

Possibly the tanks had been abandoned or destroyed by their crews
because they could not negotiate the damaged bridge. The ORS noted
that the German crews could have forced the river further downstream,
as American Sherman tanks later succeeded in doing, but this ignores
the fact that in their hurry to escape encirclement the Germans
probably had little time to reconnoitre the area. That all the troop
carriers discovered had been destroyed by rockets suggests the
possibility that other similar types may have escaped over the bridge,
not needing to be abandoned like the heavier tanks. At la Baleine the
most significant evidence of demoralisation was that there were no
German graves. Only one German corpse was found and local civilians,
many of whom were interviewed, confirmed that it was of a sniper
killed after the air attacks, while no evidence could be found that
American forces had removed bodies for burial. This suggests that the
German troops may have dispersed from the column when it became
obvious air attack was imminent, which squares with the Typhoon pilots
observing little German activity during their attacks.
La Baleine was the first ORS investigation of its type, and certainly
reflects the shortcomings of air-to-ground weapons against tanks.
Despite the craters none of the tanks or self-propelled guns had been
knocked out by bombs, and the number destroyed by rockets is
unimpressive. Nevertheless, there was a good deal of evidence
discovered by the ORS at la Baleine to suggest that air attack was
responsible, even if indirectly, for the disruption and abandonment of
the column, and that the German crews preferred to abandon or destroy
their armour rather than invite further air attack by attempting to
salvage combat-worthy tanks.

II. Mortain

Similar evidence of German tanks being abandoned under air attack is
seen in the example of the only large-scale German armoured offensive
mounted in Normandy. Early on the morning of 7 August 1944, the strike
force of XLVII Panzer Corps, the 1st SS, 2nd SS, and 2nd Panzer
divisions, attacked positions held by the US 30th and 9th Infantry
divisions near Mortain with the ultimate objective of reaching the
Cotentin coast at Avranches and cutting off American armoured
spearheads from their supplies. Although tank strength was depleted
after weeks of heavy fighting the Germans mustered 70 Panthers, 75 Mk
IVs, and 32 self-propelled guns for the attack. By noon on 7 August
they were within nine miles of Avranches after penetrating the front
of 30th Division to a depth of about three miles. Having arrived in
Mortain only the day before, 30th Division had nothing but its 57 mm
towed anti-tank guns and 3 inch gun tank-destroyers with which to
engage the German tanks at close range. Despite its determined
defence, the credit for bringing the German attack to a decisive halt
on the afternoon of 7 August is generally regarded as belonging to
Allied fighter-bombers, particularly the RAF Typhoons, which were
called to intervene.

The response of the Allied tactical air forces to the German attack
was swift. The Typhoons of No.83 Group RAF were made available, and
plans co-ordinated directly between the headquarters of No.83 Group
and IX Tactical Air Command. Rocket Typhoons were to engage the German
tanks, while American fighter-bombers were to attack transport moving
to and from the battle area. The Ninth Air Force was also to provide a
fighter screen to intercept German aircraft, a vital task as the
Luftwaffe had planned to make an all-out effort to support the attack
with some 300 planes. The German command had relied upon fog,
prevalent on previous days and which had been forecast for 7 August,
to protect their armoured spearheads from air observation and attack,
but at about 11 am that day the fog over the battle area began to
clear.

At about midday the first Typhoons took off for the American sector
from their advanced landing grounds, and went into action just before
1 p.m. against a concentration of some 60 tanks and 200 vehicles
observed along a hedge-lined road near Mortain. The tanks, some
heavily camouflaged, were grouped closely together as if unprepared
for the rapid lifting of the fog. After overflying at low level to
confirm them as German, the Typhoons commenced dive attacks upon the
front and rear of the column, which was immediately brought to a halt.
The pilots observed that their attacks caused great confusion, and saw
German tank crews bailing out and running for cover regardless of
whether or not their tanks were left blocking the road. Also at this
time the first American fighter-bombers arrived in the area, with
P-47s, including the squadron equipped with rockets, attacking German
transport.

The weather remained clear and between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. flights of
five or six Typhoons were taking off roughly every 20 minutes to
attack, returning to refuel and rearm before setting off again for
Mortain. As the afternoon wore on the pilots found the task of
locating the German tanks increasingly difficult due to their
dispersion and to clouds of dust and smoke in the battle area, but the
forward movement of the German attack had been halted. By the end of
the day No.83 Group had flown 294 sorties and IX Tactical Air Command
200 sorties in the Mortain area. Three Typhoons and pilots had been
lost. Though the level of flak had initially been light, it had
increased during the day with box-like patterns being put up over the
tanks, and many of the Typhoons were found to have suffered damage
from this and small-arms fire.

German accounts clearly attribute the failure of their attack on 7
August to the fighter-bombers. The commander of 2nd Panzer Division,
von Luttwitz, later recalled that his tanks had made a swift advance
of about ten miles when suddenly the fighter-bombers appeared,

       They came in hundreds, firing their rockets at the
       concentrated tanks and vehicles. We could do nothing
       against them and we could make no further progress.

Hans Speidel, then the Chief of Staff of the German Army Group B,
later wrote of Mortain that

      it was possible for the Allied air forces alone to wreck
      this Panzer operation with the help of a well co-ordinated
      ground-to-air communication system.

The German troops received no air support on 7 Aug. Their aircraft
attempting to reach the battle area were intercepted by strong
American fighter patrols and none reached within 40 miles of Mortain.
Although fighting continued in the area for several days, with Mortain
being recaptured by American forces on 12 August, the Germans made no
further attempt to reach Avranches after 7 August. Typhoons took no
part in the battle after that date, with responsibility for air
support reverting to the IX Tactical Air Command. The claims made by
the Allied fighter-bomber pilots for the period 7 – 10 August are
impressive, and are shown below:

allfb

Yet these claims are misleading and cannot be substantiated. During
12 – 20 August the Mortain battle area was examined by two separate
British ORS teams; No. 2 ORS and ORS 2nd TAF. No German vehicles were
missed by the investigation as the areas was not extensive; moreover
the area was examined from an observation aircraft at low level with
no further vehicles discovered. The destruction attributed to various
weapons can be tabulated as shown in the following table, which is a
compilation of both the RAF and Army reports:

desrt

This shows that a total of only 46 German tanks and self-propelled
guns were actually found in the battle area, and of these only nine
were considered to have been destroyed by air weapons.

It was not possible to discriminate between victims of British and
American aircraft as the latter had also fired some 600 rockets. Many
of the ‘unknown causes’ were found some distance from any sign of air
attack – such as cannon and machine gun strikes on the ground and
rocket or bomb craters – and could not be considered as possible air
victims. An obvious question is whether the Germans had been able to
recover any of their tanks. The presence of a German tank recovery
vehicle would seem to confirm they had but, while it is likely that
some tanks were recovered, this can hardly be an adequate explanation
for the discrepancy between air claims and the destruction found.
Armoured and motor vehicles destroyed by air weapons were invariably
burnt out, and for recovery purposes damaged and abandoned vehicles
had priority over such. German prisoners, many of whom were
questioned on this subject, consistently stated that burnt out tanks
were never salvaged. In effect, a tank hit by a rocket or bomb was not
worth recovering and the ORS should have found what was left of it.

Another question is whether German accounts of the fighting can shed
more light on the number of tanks and vehicles destroyed by air
attack. The histories of the German divisions that fought at Mortain,
compiled post-war, stress how decisive the intervention of the
fighter-bombers had been, but are ambiguous with regard to the
question of losses. That of the 2nd Panzer Division states of the
Typhoons that they attacked with great accuracy and succeeded in
knocking out even the heaviest tanks, but the number of tanks actually
lost in this way is not given. The history of the 1st SS Panzer
Division (LAH) is similarly unclear as to the actual number of tanks
knocked out from the air, though it implies that the number was
considerable and quotes an account of the air attacks by a panzer
grenadier who recalled seeing many black oil clouds indicating the
position of destroyed tanks. Also quoted is a panzer grenadier officer
who, after describing how a fighter-bomber shot down by flak crashed
onto a tank and put it out of action, adds that most of the other
tanks and armoured personnel carriers also fell victim to the intense,
hour-long, low-level attacks. Yet such German accounts attributing
heavy tank and vehicle losses to air attack are misleading. They take
little cognizance of the losses inflicted by US ground forces which,
though almost certainly overestimated at the time in the confusion of
battle, were none the less considerable. American accounts of the
fighting indicate that, on 7 August, the forward troops of the US 30th
and 9th Divisions claimed the destruction of at least eighteen German
tanks, fourteen of them by the 30th Division’s attached 823rd Tank
Destroyer Battalion alone. Moreover, the ORS confirmed that US troops
accounted for more heavy German armour than the fighter-bombers, the
destruction of twenty of the total of forty-six tanks and SP guns
found being attributed to US ground weapons.

The principal reason why such German accounts should be regarded with
caution, however, is that they provide no explanation as to what had
become of the tanks and vehicles destroyed by the fighter-bombers by
the time the ORS examined the battle area. Nor do they explain the not
inconsiderable number of tanks found abandoned or destroyed by their
own crews. To some extent, German attribution of tank losses to air
attack may stem from the confusion of battle, but it may also suggest
both a reluctance to acknowledge the morale effect of such attack, and
a desire to ascribe the halting of the armoured thrust, which was much
in the nature of a forlorn hope, to Allied air power rather than to
defeat at the hands of US ground forces.

Despite the toll taken of the German armour by US ground weapons, the
commanders of the US units engaged on 7 August later confirmed that it
was the fighter-bombers that brought the German thrust to a halt. At
the time of the ground survey, a member of ORS 2nd TAF visited the
headquarters of the US 9th Division’s 39th Infantry Regiment. He was
told by the Commander how the German attack had cut off part of his
regiment from its headquarters and how his anti-tank guns had been
insufficient to halt such a large number of tanks. He also told how he
had remained ‘vulnerable and anxious’ until Typhoons arrived to attack
the German spearhead. A visit was also made to the Commander of the
30th Division’s 117th Infantry Regiment, which had been in the path of
the 2nd Panzer and 1st SS Panzer Divisions on 7 August. He recalled
that when the mist lifted at about 12.30,

     Thunderbolt and Typhoon aircraft came in immediately and
     attacked, Typhoons attacking for what seemed to him to be
     about two hours. This, added to the resistance of the ground
     forces, stopped the thrust.

Such appreciation of the close air support on 7 August is significant
in view of the tendency of Allied aircraft to attack friendly
positions inadvertently in what was a very fluid ground battle. The US
30th Division recorded that the Typhoons and P-47s often attacked its
positions, the 120th Regiment alone receiving ten such attacks during
the day.

Given the lack of tank destruction by air weapons, the undoubted
effectiveness of the sustained fighter-bomber assault on 7 August must
have been largely the result of completely disrupting the German
attack by compelling tanks to seek cover or their crews to abandon
them. The level of destruction attributed to air weapons by the ORS is
too insignificant to have been decisive, and even if the unknown
causes for destruction of both armour and motor transport were added
to the air attack totals the number would not be a quarter of those
claimed. Yet no fewer than ten of the 33 Panthers found, or 30 per
cent, had been abandoned or destroyed by their own crews. This was an
important discovery at that time, and a contemporary RAF tactical
study stressing the demoralising effect of the 3-inch rocket (RP)
projectile offered this explanation for the German abandonment of
tanks and vehicles at Mortain:

     Interrogation of prisoners has shown without question
     that German tank crews are extremely frightened of
     attacks by RP…Crews are very aware that if an RP
     does hit a tank, their chance of survival is small.
     It is admitted that the chances of a direct hit are
     slight; nevertheless, this would hardly be appreciated
     by a crew whose first thought would be of the disastrous
     results if a hit was obtained.

Prisoner of war data further confirmed the demoralising effect of air
attack upon tank crews. German tank crewmen questioned for the later
joint RAF/British Army study of Typhoon effectiveness indicated an
irrational compulsion among inexperienced men to leave the relative
safety of their tank and seek alternative cover during air attack:

    The experienced crews stated that when attacked from the
    air they remained in their tanks which had no more than
    superficial damage (cannon strikes or near misses from
    bombs). They had a great difficulty in preventing the in-
    experienced men from baling out when our aircraft attacked.

It is certainly plausible that tank crews under a heavy scale of air
attack would be induced to bale out, despite the interior of the tank
being possibly the safest place to be, and in this way the bombs and
rockets did not need to strike the tanks to be effective. When asked
for an opinion by the ORS on the number of abandoned tanks in the
Mortain battle area, an experienced NCO of a US anti-tank unit
replied,
         There is nothing but air attack that would
         make a crack Panzer crew do that.

III. Falaise Pocket

The retreat of the German army towards the River Seine in order to
escape encirclement in the Falaise ‘Pocket’ in August 1944 also
provided the Allied tactical air forces with an abundance of targets,
and great claims of destruction were made. On 18 August RAF 2nd TAF
alone claimed 1 159 vehicles destroyed and 1 700 damaged together with
124 tanks destroyed and 100 damaged. On the same day the Ninth Air
Force claimed 400 vehicles destroyed.

During the period of this retreat nearly 9 900 sorties were flown by
the RAF. Destruction was claimed of 3 340 soft and 257 armoured
vehicles or some 36 targets destroyed for every hundred sorties. The
USAAF claimed 2 520 soft and 134 armoured vehicles destroyed during
nearly 2 900 sorties, or some 91 successes per hundred. Overall claims
therefore amount to a successful strike approximately every second
sortie.

scfal1

Shortly after the pocket had been closed No.2 ORS conducted an
extensive investigation in the area to determine the German losses
caused by air attack and the effectiveness of air-to-ground
weapons.The principal roads taken by the Germans were patrolled in
three areas; the ‘Pocket’ itself around Falaise, the area at the mouth
of the pocket near Chambois and referred to as the ‘Shambles’, and the
area known as the ‘Chase’ which led to the Seine crossings. The result
of the investigation is shown in the following tables:

gerafv

Of the 133 armoured vehicles of all types located by the ORS in the
‘Pocket’, only 33 had been the victim of any form of air attack. The
remaining hundred had been destroyed by their crews or simply
abandoned. Air attacks were far more effective against soft-skinned
vehicles. Of 701 cars, trucks and motor cycles found in the ‘Pocket’,
325 had been the victim of attack from the air, and of these 85 per
cent were hit by cannon or machine-gun fire – a testament to the
effectiveness of this form of attack. The fact however remains that of
a total of 885 vehicles of all types lost by the Germans in the
Falaise pocket nearly 60 per cent were destroyed or abandoned by their
crews rather than as the direct result of attack from the air. The
large number of armoured and motor vehicles abandoned or destroyed by
their crews is hardly surprising in such a retreat, and it was thought
many of those destroyed by air weapons had already been abandoned. Air
attack, though, was considered responsible for much of the abandonment
as a result of causing disorganisation; moreover, destroyed vehicles
had completely blocked roads. Cannon and machine gun attacks had
proved to be extremely effective against the densely-packed motor
transport. Such vehicles hit by cannon or machine gun rounds were
invariably burnt out, and the report noted that where pock marks of
strikes appeared in the roads a burnt vehicle was usually found.

shab

In the ‘Shambles’ so many German vehicles were found that it was
impossible to examine each in detail; they were classes either as
burnt or unburnt as an indication of whether they had been hit by air
weapons or abandoned. A total of 1 411 tanks and vehicles were classed
as burnt, and 1 380 as unburnt. Of the 187 tanks and SP guns found in
this area, 82 were examined in detail, of these only two were
destroyed by attack from the air and eight by ground fire, while all
but one of the remainder were either burnt by their crews or merely
abandoned. There was no evidence – such as rocket craters – to suggest
that any appreciable number of those burnt tanks and SP guns not
examined had been destroyed by air weapons. A sample of 330 of the
softskin vehicles, and 31 of the lightly armoured vehicles, found in
the ‘Shambles’ were also examined in detail. Of the softskin vehicles,
110 were found to have been destroyed by air weapons and 135 abandoned
intact, while of the lightly armoured vehicles 6 were credited to air
weapons and 13 were found abandoned intact. The effectiveness of
strafing against soft-skin and light armoured vehicles was again
confirmed, this being the greatest known cause of destruction.

chas

The ‘Chase’ area yielded a count of 3 648 vehicles and guns, and of
3 332 light armoured and soft-skin vehicles, 2 390 were classed as
burnt and 942 unburnt. The ORS were unable to cover every road in such
an extensive area, so the absolute number of vehicles and guns was
unknown but thought to be less than twice that recorded. Of the 150
tanks and self-propelled guns 98 were examined. None were found to
have been destroyed by rockets, nor were there any craters to suggest
rocket attacks had been made in the area. Most, amounting to some 81
per cent, had been destroyed by their crews or abandoned.

To allow for the possibility of German vehicles and guns being missed
in wooded terrain or along unchecked roads, No.2 ORS estimated that
the Germans had lost some 10 000 vehicles and guns during the retreat,
a figure not thought to be in error by more than 2 000 either way.
This was broken down as 1 500 in the ‘Pocket’ area, 3 500 in the
‘Shambles’, and 5 000 in the ‘Chase’. As it was estimated that the
Germans must have had a total of some 30 000 vehicles it was
considered that two-thirds, including about 250 tanks and SP guns, had
escaped across the Seine. This was regarded as the result of the air
forces attempting general destruction rather than trying to achieve
interdiction by attacking key ‘choke’ points, a charge strongly
refuted by 2nd TAF as taking no account of weather, flak levels, or
bomblines set by friendly ground forces. In fact No.2 ORS
overestimated the number of German tanks that had escaped, as on 22 –
23 August the German Army Group B, reporting on the state of its eight
surviving Panzer divisions, listed only some 72 tanks.

The retreat to the Seine clearly reveals the limitations of Allied
air-to-ground weapons against tanks, particularly the 3-inch rocket.
Only ten out of 301 tanks and SP guns examined, and three out of 87
armoured troop carriers examined, were found to have been destroyed by
this weapon – these figures must be compared with 222 claims of armour
destruction made by Typhoon pilots alone. In contrast is the marked
effectiveness of cannon and machine guns, and to a lesser extent
bombs, against soft-skin transport vehicles. By destroying large
numbers of these, thus blocking roads and increasing congestion, the
fighter-bombers indirectly caused the abandonment of many tanks.
Moreover, many of the tanks and SP guns were found abandoned without
petrol, not least because trucks carrying their fuel had been shot up
from the air. German prisoners described how the threat of air attack
restricted movement to the hours of darkness until congestion and
haste compelled movement by day. They also told how whenever aircraft
appeared crews stopped to take cover and vehicles were driven off the
main roads into side roads which in turn became blocked. In effect,
the almost continuous fighter-bomber attacks in daylight, within a
restricted area upon retreating troops, caused a great deal of
demoralization and delay which prevented many tanks and vehicles
escaping.

IV. Ardennes

The influence of Allied tactical air power upon German ability to
carry out large-scale armoured operations was so great by the end of
1944 that the timing of the German Ardennes offensive was dictated by
the occurrence of bad weather. In the early stages of the offensive,
which began on 16 Dec 1944, fog and low cloud protected the tank
spearheads from aerial observation and attack. Then the weather
cleared and Allied fighter-bomber pilots were presented with targets
such as they had not seen since Normandy and, as in Normandy, they
made large claims for the destruction of armour. Between 17 December
1944 and 16 January 1945 the IX and XIX Tactical Air Commands of the
Ninth Air Force and RAF 2nd TAF claimed a total of 413 German armoured
vehicles destroyed in the Ardennes salient, 324 of which were claimed
as tanks. In early January No.2 ORS began an investigation of these
claims, in the middle of the month they were joined by ORS 2nd TAF and
a joint report was produced.

Although hampered by thick snow which prevented the discovery of
rocket craters and burnt patches caused by napalm bombs, the ORS were
able to examine 101 armoured vehicles – the practice being to search
an area within 2 – 3 kilometres of each claim. The claims for
destruction within the salient are shown below:

areaors

The air weapons used were general purpose high-explosive bombs,
fragmentation bombs, napalm fire bombs, and rockets. Many of the tanks
claimed by Ninth Air Force had also been engaged by machine guns, some
only by this means. For the 101 tanks and armoured vehicles examined,
damage was attributed as in the following table:

asdr

Considering that this represents the investigation of claims for the
destruction of 66 tanks and 24 armoured vehicles the effect of air
attack seems unimpressive; a maximum of seven out of 101 vehicles
examined, some six per cent. It was found that fighter-bomber attack
had also involved some wastage, with bombs dropped among tanks already
knocked out by American troops, and it is revealing that even when
these bombs landed within 15 yards of the tanks no additional damage
was done. Not surprisingly, the report concluded that, while the
contribution of the air forces to stemming the German offensive had
been considerable, this

      was not by the direct destruction of armour, which appears
      to have been insignificant; but rather by the strafing and
      bombing of supply routes, which prevented essential supplies
      from reaching the front.

V. The Identification of Kills

As regards the reliability of the ORS ground surveys, one may wonder
if tanks attributed to destruction by ground weapons had in fact been
knocked out by aircraft and subsequently used as target practice by
Allied troops. However, such mistakes were very unlikely. Bombs and
rockets were hardly ever, if at all, used singly, and near vehicles
destroyed by such weapons were always found the craters of near
misses. Moreover, rocket craters were distinctive, oval in shape and
usually with part of the rocket tube or fins in or near them. Parts of
the rocket were also often found in tanks or vehicles destroyed by the
weapon. In or near tanks and vehicles destroyed by their crews were
often found the metal cases that had contained German demolition
charges, these being placed in a specific part of the tank, such as
under engine hatches. Pock marks on roads or holes roughly six inches
in diameter in the ground indicated machine gun or cannon attacks, and
tanks and vehicles that had been strafed bore holes or dents on upper
surfaces. It is possible that tanks abandoned intact were subsequently
used for target practice, and attributed to a particular ground
weapon, but this has little relevance to the effectiveness of air
weapons.