Germany & railway bottlenecks in the east

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jpmuikku
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Germany & railway bottlenecks in the east

Post by jpmuikku » 04 Jun 2004 16:27

Hello forum,
In most of the history books the story is the same: Germans in the east suffered because the logistic tail had a bottleneck in the Polish/Soviet border area. The railway gauge was different, so the need to change either the undercarriage or the entire train caused huge delays with the material deliveries. But how come? German military relied a lot for the railways as means of transportation and hence there had to be a certain amount of repair/maintenance teams... to rerail (is this even the proper word?) the Soviet railway gauge to German one. I thought that maybe it was just a way too complex task, but then a few days ago I read about situation during US Civil War; Union railwa maintenance troops rerailed some 80 mails in 8 hours. 80 miles in 8 hours.
Of course the Germans had some shortages of material & men even by 1941, but the Allied aerial bombardment were not really taking any heavy toll for their own railways & maintenance yet, so why no rerailing? Just another example of inefficiency of Nazi-German Bureaucracy and lack of co-ordination among different departments of the government/state? Any insight to this issue more than welcome.

Regards, / J-P

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baldviking
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Post by baldviking » 05 Jun 2004 07:30

General on US versus European/German railway thinking - the americans seeing the railway as just a means of transportation, the europeans seeing it as mechanical art, they (the americans) was allways better than us at standardization and mass production, we (the europeans) allways making superior locomotives.

General on regauging - in the 1860's during the civil war, railway and river boats would be the only means of transporting heavy goods. A hastily regauged railway would therefore offer some way of transport (at a very slow speed). The germans did the same in the 1940's, for instance in Norway, but again the speed would be very slow, as the necessary resources to regauge properly would be lacking in wartime. The difference now beeing you also had trucks. Thus you could choose to regauge or not. The Union did not have this luxury in the 1860's. They only had the trains. The trains (and rails and so fort...) was much heavier in the 1940's than in the 1860's, thus much more work and resources would be needed. The Union had lots of industrial resources compared to their oponent. Germany was lacking everything compared to their combined oponents. For them to reuse Sovjet equipment would look very logical.

Btw - you are sure rerailing means regauging, and not just fixing destroyed rail...?

Edit

Was Sovjet and Germany having different railway gauges realy a major transport botleneck? I would asume lack of locomotives and railway cars due to the war, lack of railway track inside Sovjet (compared to western europe), track beeing blown up by the partisans and so on was more important? Having standard gauge is of course a very good thing, but back in early 20. century and late 19. century there were many reasons different gauge were used, as for instance smaller gauge would be cheaper to lay. Deutsche Reichsbahn would be well experienced to deal with these problems, as other steam-age railway problems (the need to switch locomotives every few hundred kilometers, the extensive maintanance required by steam engines, having different locomotives for flat and hilly landscape, and so on...).

John T
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Post by John T » 05 Jun 2004 10:18

Hi
My general perception of this was that the problem where most critical during the summer of 1941. At that time both the fighting army and the supplies had to be transported in addition to the rail-repair kit.
The repair crew came behind the Infantry wich came behind the Panzers(and other motorised units) and the two first competed with the panzers logistical tail for road space.
(very brief and directly from my memory,
the book to read are Van Creveld "Supplying war".

Later the vast distances of USSR and what you already said about limited resources came in. Shifting supplies from one front to another was almost impossible.


One other thing making the comparison with US less viable are the maximum load in the 1860'ies railways might been much lighter than 1941?



Cheers
/John T.

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baldviking
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Post by baldviking » 05 Jun 2004 12:00

Up until WW2 you had both Decauville and many industrial railway tracks that could be laid directly on the ground, requiring very litle work. They were used where you would use busses and trucks today. This would be fine during the American Civil War, at least for battlefield suplies (not longer hauls...) but absolutly useless to transport heavy equipment from Germany deep into Sovjet at reasonable high speed (20 km/h +) during WW2.

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Qvist
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Post by Qvist » 07 Jun 2004 08:43

The Germans were of course prepared for the need to relay tracks, and doing so was a comparatively simple task, just as it had been in the 1860s.

But the problems with the Soviet railways did not stop there. One very basic problem was support infrastructure. Soviet locomotives were larger than Western, and designed to carry more supplies, which meant that they could build support structures at less frequent intervals. The Germans discovered that for every water and coaling station in existence, they had to build another one, and for this they were not prepared. Also, the sheer speed of the German advance created temporary problems in 1941. During the winter, keeping the railroads clear of snow was a major challenge, and an even greater one was the unsuitability of German locomotives under conditions of extreme cold. In sum the problems were beyond the German capability to deal effectively with in 1941, but at later stages of the war in the East they appear to have suffered no major problems in maintaining adequate supply by means of rail.

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Andreas
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Post by Andreas » 07 Jun 2004 21:10

baldviking wrote:Btw - you are sure rerailing means regauging, and not just fixing destroyed rail...?


Yes it means re-gauging in the context of the Soviet-German railways. The Red Army faced the same problem when they advanced wide stretches in 1944 across land where the Germans had re-gauged. The General Staff study on L'vov gives the mileage per day , and it was not a lot (I think at most 20km/day). Their job was made more difficult by the very proper (one is tempted to say 'Germanic-style') destruction of the railway lines, by use of the Schienenwolf, that tore up the whole bedding as well as the sleepers.

The big problem, on top of what Qvist mentions, for the Germans was that the Soviets also managed to evacuate, or destroy, a lot of their rolling stock.

BTW - just one fully equipped 1942 Panzerdivision took somewhere between 60-70 trains to move (6.PD being railed in to participate in Wintergewitter). The railways were absolutely crucial in the east.

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Qvist
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Post by Qvist » 08 Jun 2004 08:33

The railways were absolutely crucial in the east.


Yep, this cannot be overstressed. There was simply no other conceivable way to effect either supply or timely movement of units from one part of the front to another. It's visible in the major advance axis for Barbarossa too, which generally followed the rail lines.

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Michate
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Post by Michate » 08 Jun 2004 10:26

Hi Quist,

please forgive me if I am neatpicky again :) .

In sum the problems were beyond the German capability to deal effectively with in 1941, but at later stages of the war in the East they appear to have suffered no major problems in maintaining adequate supply by means of rail.


Hm, many operations during the Blau campaign in 1942 osuffered from supply shortages, too.

6th army was halted for two weeks or so during its advance to Stalingrad for lack of fuel, the forces approaching the Caucasus suffered from similar problems.

During the city fighting in Stalingrad German troops were also often short on ammunition and fuel.

Wegner who wrote the campaign history in DRZW, Vol. 6, also claims that even without encirclement by Soviet forces the position of 6th army in Stalingrad during the coming winter would have become untenable due to lack of adequate supplies.

Of course these problems may have been caused by lack of sufficient railway in this part of the Soviet Union rather then problems to use these railways effectively.

Best regards,
Michael

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Post by Michate » 08 Jun 2004 11:50

Hereare some excerpts from R.S. Stolfi "Hitler's Panzers East". (I am well aware this book is a failed exercise to support an untenable thesis and also sometimes employs a strange methodological approach. Yet these remarks may still provide some useful information.)

They are taken from this link:
http://www.wargamesdirectory.com/html/a ... ast/11.asp

To operate the rail lines, the Germans had to regauge rail sidings and marshalling areas and, depending on battle damage, to repair buildings and equipment at the train stations.{14} On the most important rail line in Barbarossa, the tracks from Brest directly toward Moscow, the Germans completed the line from Brest to Oranczyce by 29 June 1941 and began to move German trains on normal-gauge track on 30 June. That day. four supply trains arrived at Oranczyce, 85 km into the Soviet Union, with approximately 2,000 tons of supplies. Meantime, regauging of Russian lines continued with work being completed to Baranovice junction by 2000, I July, and three trains reaching that city, 210 km into the Soviet Union. The Germans continued their impressive pace of building a normal-gauge rail system into White Russia and completed regaug-ing from Brest to the capital, Minsk, at noon on 5 July. Army Group Center ran four supply trains there the same day, more than 330 km into the Soviet Union.{15} By 5 July, the Germans began to develop a great rail head at Minsk, which capably supported the lightning panzer advance to Smolensk that overran the city on 16 July. In a historic performance, the Germans regauged the Russian rail system from Brest to Minsk by early July and extended construction to Smolensk before the end of the same month. Their performance established a logistical system able to support an offensive toward Moscow before the middle of August 1941 and bridge the gap between Smolensk and Moscow in a single offensive, similar in style to the earlier leaps to Minsk and Smolensk.

That generalization derives from the actions of Army Group Center from the middle of July to early August 1941. On 15 July 1941, the quartermaster general reviewed the supply status of, Army Group Center in terms of its capabilities to continue offensive operations. He made it clear that the great rail head for continuing operations lay in the cities of Minsk and Molodecno, no longer on the prewar frontier. The army group then had 45,450 tons of 60-ton truck columns and, deducting one-third as inoperable at any time and in repair, still had approximately 30,700 tons available for continuous operations.{16} In mid-July 1941 the German army transportation chief guaranteed the substantial total of fourteen trains and 6,300 tons of supplies daily for the Minsk-Molodecno base. The quartermaster general averred that, based on the logistical situation of 15 July 1941, Army Group Center could conduct an offensive on Moscow with four panzer, three motorized infantry, and ten infantry divisions with appropriate army reserves, maintaining the remainder of the army group in static fighting around Smolensk. This logistical feat was moderately impressive for the middle of July, with enough trains arriving at the Minsk-Molodecno railroad and more than enough trucks to move a panzer group and an infantry army to Moscow. Meanwhile, the Germans were fighting the battle of Smolensk and would take two more weeks to finish the job and another week to tidy up operationally. The Germans used this time to build up logistic stockpiles at the rail head in the center of White Russia and regauge the main rail line from Minsk through Orsha into Smolensk{17}.

By the second week of August 1941, Army Group Center regained operational freedom of movement. If the army group had been directed by Hitler and OKH at the end of July 1941 to continue operations toward Moscow as soon as possible, it would have eliminated remnants of Soviet forces in the great pocket just north of Smolensk and cleared the communications zone of Panzer Group Guderian to the south. Unhampered by Hitler's stubborn attempt to diffuse the combat strength of Army Group Center about the Russian countryside, and the battle between the Fuhrer and OKH over one decisive objective rather than many indecisive ones. Army Group Center would have entered a period of rest, rehabilitation, and stockpiling on approximately 5 August 1941. Regarding the logistical possibilities for an advance a little over a week later, on 13 August 1941, Army Group Center would receive almost double the number of trains daily it had received a month earher{18} — approximately twenty-four trains rather than fourteen. With time to establish larger stockpiles, and with rail heads advanced to Orsha and Smolensk, Army Group Center obviously had the logistical system to support its advance on Moscow with its entire strength{19}.


Here are the sources for the endnotes (taken from this link: http://www.wargamesdirectory.com/html/a ... ast/15.asp )

14. The additional track would comprise a substantial 15 percent over and above the track constructed among cities. See, for example, the mileages in Gen. d. Eisb. Tr. Aus-schnitte. Stand derStreckenwederherstellung. 1941-1942. U.S. NationalArchives. Records. German Army High Command. Microcopy T-78, Roll 117. Fr. 6041049.

15. Eisenbahntruppen. U.S. National Archives, German Army High Command. Microcopy, T-78. Roll 113, Fr. 6035898. See also Bock. Tagebuchnotizen Osten 1. p. 13.

16. See Halder. Diaries, vol. 6, p. 241.

17. Note the use of the rail system through Orsha. Vitebsk, and Smolensk in the first half of August 1941 in Generalma)or Windisch, Personal Diary of the German 9th Army Supply Officer German Language Copy) (from 1.8.1941-31.1.1942Ë5 February 1954), p. 7. U.S. Army, European Command, Historical Division, MS P-201.

18. See Halder, Diaries, vol. 6, p. 248. in which fourteen trains are noted as available for Army Group Center as of 18 July 1941, and Halder. Diaries, vol. 7. pp. 25. 26, in which twenty-four trains daily are noted as running to supply the center after 7 August 1941.

19. As early as 12 July 1941, the quartermaster general of the German army noted in a telephone call to the chief of staff that Army Group Center had enough supplies to maintain an armored drive to Moscow. He also notes that the infantry had only enough to get to Smolensk. It follows that as early as 12 July, the Germans were close to having logistics under control for a push almost straight through to Moscow. See Halder. Diaries, vol. 6. p. 231.


Best regards,
Michael

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Qvist
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Post by Qvist » 08 Jun 2004 12:41

Hi Quist,

please forgive me if I am neatpicky again .

Quote:
In sum the problems were beyond the German capability to deal effectively with in 1941, but at later stages of the war in the East they appear to have suffered no major problems in maintaining adequate supply by means of rail.


Hm, many operations during the Blau campaign in 1942 osuffered from supply shortages, too.

6th army was halted for two weeks or so during its advance to Stalingrad for lack of fuel, the forces approaching the Caucasus suffered from similar problems.

During the city fighting in Stalingrad German troops were also often short on ammunition and fuel.

Wegner who wrote the campaign history in DRZW, Vol. 6, also claims that even without encirclement by Soviet forces the position of 6th army in Stalingrad during the coming winter would have become untenable due to lack of adequate supplies.

Of course these problems may have been caused by lack of sufficient railway in this part of the Soviet Union rather then problems to use these railways effectively.


Hi Michael

"Nitpicking" is just another word for attention to detail, which is a virtue :D

I'm sure your point is entirely pertinent - again underlining the connection between speedy advances over long distances and logistical troubles. I guess a better summation than the one I offered would be to say that both sides were generally able to sustain their efforts logistically by the use of railways unless they covered great distances in a short time. In other words - the trouble was not with the capacity of the rail net in the USSR as such, but rather with the inherent challenges of putting railways in newly captured territory to use.

cheers

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Post by Jon G. » 09 Jun 2004 00:44

jpmuikku wrote:Of course the Germans had some shortages of material & men even by 1941, but the Allied aerial bombardment were not really taking any heavy toll for their own railways & maintenance yet, so why no rerailing? Just another example of inefficiency of Nazi-German Bureaucracy and lack of co-ordination among different departments of the government/state?


I think some of the unwarranted optimism with which the Germans invaded the USSR in 1941 was due to their very successful use of railroads in 1914 - the Germans were confident that they would be able to marshal and deploy their forces faster than the French because their railroads were laid along military, rather than civilian lines. And at least this part of the Schlieffen Plan generally worked - despite heavy demolitions in Belgium, the German railroad troops were able to open up railroad lines fairly quickly - where the re-opening of rail lines was delayed by particularly heavy demolitions, the Germans could fall back on some available motor transport for their armies' needs, as well as the ancient practice of living off the land.

Barbarossa was a different matter - not only would the Eisenbahntruppe have to clear railroads for traffic, they would also have to regauge them. The Germans would have to provide rolling stock themselves - it's not only Soviet rails that are constructed to a different gauge. Rolling stock is of a different design also, and even though changing wheel-gauge on a railroad truck is easy and speedy to do, the railroad car carried by the truck would be of no use in Germany and Poland - it would hit sidings and signals etc.

So historically, the Germans had made great use of railroads, also captured railroads, until 1941. It was the addítional strain of converting great stretches of track, as well as the forever increasing needs of the armies to be supplied that broke the Germans' neck in Russia - 10,000 soldiers would need far more supplies in 1941 than they would in 1914, and infinitely more than they would in 1863.

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Post by baldviking » 10 Jun 2004 02:23

I think some of the unwarranted optimism with which the Germans invaded the USSR in 1941 was due to their very successful use of railroads in 1914


Not to mention their even greater sucesses in the 1860's internal wars, when Preussia were able to use the same army both in north and south east by using the railway. Quite revolutionary - infantery not needing to walk to the battlefront anymore.

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Post by Qvist » 10 Jun 2004 07:07

I think some of the unwarranted optimism with which the Germans invaded the USSR in 1941 was due to their very successful use of railroads in 1914


I seem to remember though from Creveld that the Germans had extremely large problems keeping their advance supplied through Railways in 1914, mainly because of absence of means to move supplies up from the railheads to the advancing troops. What you are describing is rather an advantage in speedy mobilisation and pre-war deployment. Once the German armies crossed the frontier it was a different story - as in 1941.

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Post by Foelkersam » 10 Jun 2004 09:28

Andreas wrote:BTW - just one fully equipped 1942 Panzerdivision took somewhere between 60-70 trains to move (6.PD being railed in to participate in Wintergewitter). The railways were absolutely crucial in the east.


Do you mean 60-70 wagons or do you mean 60-70 trains (=series of wagons put together), in that case, how many wagons were put together in a train?

/Regards David

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Qvist
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Post by Qvist » 10 Jun 2004 10:00

He means trains, which is frequently used a standard measure. But what exactly constitutes "a train" is a good question - I've always wondered about that too, and have never seen it defined anywhere.

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