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Scholar cites WW II myths & misconceptions

By Bob Arnold



History is riddled with myths and misconceptions caused by mistakes in seeing and understanding what was happening, errors in reporting, propaganda and people just trying to make better stories about events.


World War II is a case in point, according to Co-Lin sophomore history major Jacy Maher. Maher, vice president of the Co-Lin Centurions, an organization that promotes historical research and scholarship of its student members, discussed the myths and misconceptions of the Great War with Institute for Learning in Retirement (ILR) seminar participants.


Maher cited German propagandist Franz Holder for articles and books that perpetrated many of those myths, if not originating them. Holder was honored for this work by not only Adolph Hitler for work during the War, but later post-War by John F. Kennedy for his supposed assistance in helping U.S. analysts understand what happened during the War. German Generals also fed information to U.S., French and Russian officials following World War II, which helped build the mythology, Maher said.


Maher pointed to ten World War II tall tales at the ILR seminar:


. The Blitzkrieg. "There was no such thing as the lightning attack by the German Army," Maher said. "Actually, the German Army mastered 'bewegungkrieg' -- maneuver warfare, movements into positions for knockout blows.


. Mechanization of the German Army. Actually, the infantry was far and away the biggest part of the German Army, outnumbering its panzer front line and mechanized divisions, Maher explained. "Infantrymen with backpacks and rifles walked into their attack positions." he said. "For transportation, it used 625,000 horses as well as 600,000 trucks."


. "Clean wehrmacth" the myth that German officers and soldiers just took orders from Hitler, but were not responsible for war crimes. "Nonsense," Maher said. "They engaged not only military targets, but civilian populations."


. The German Tiger Tank's superior armor, mobility and firepower. In reality, the German tank was a complicated, overweight weapon, said Maher. "It would develop catastrophic problems on the battlefield and was difficult to fix," he explained. "It's main task was positioning soldiers."


. Panzer aces. Propaganda portrayed the German tanker killers as young, handsome supermen, but they were just regular joes, according to Maher.


. The large, complex German weaponry could have won the war. In fact, the STG-44, an new kind of infantry rifle, was the biggest German advantage, Maher said. It was a new model for the battlefield, making the bolt action rifle obsolete as semi-automatic that could be turned into an automatic weapon with the flip of a switch. Maher called it "my favorite gun." The U.S. Sherman tank had a weak gun and thin armor, but could more effectively support infantry and place soldiers. In many respects, the Sherman Fire Fly was cobbled together, but it worked.


. The ping -- the sound of a rifle ejecting an ammunition clip -- signaled soldiers that it was safe to charge enemy forces. The ping was not heard easily. All rifles did not eject clips at the same time. A soldier could quickly reload a rifle. "Charging at the sound of the ping was a bad idea," Maher summarized.


. Russian human wave attacks. In fact, Germans often outnumber Russians on battlefields and Stalin fretted about losses. The Russian deep battle infantry, however, did penetrate German lines to hit where it hurt, Maher affirmed.


. Allied equipment inferiority. Actually, mass-produced allied weapons, in general, performed better than German weaponry. Russian testing of captured German equipment also informed production of allied weapons.


. The tank numbers. The number of allied tanks were far great than what the German put on the battlefield -- 49,234 Sherman tanks and 57,339 T-34 Russian tanks vs. German Tiger 1s (1,347), Tiger 2s (492) and Panzers (6,000).



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