I like to think that I’m a decently educated person when it comes to things like the design and engineering of motor vehicles, consumer electronics, and military history including firearms and weaponry.
Today I found this article that pretty much says what I learned about the Germany military’s supplies in WWII is flat-out wrong.
Here’s the official history: the equipment issued to German soldiers during WWII was well designed, better engineered, and easier for them to maintain than our clunky Allied gear thrown together after we were ambushed by the Japanese. The Germans had better machine guns, better tanks, better airplanes, better artillery (ok, so the 88 was a piece of genius), and we only beat them because, we’ll, we’re the good guys and fought for good things and maybe John Wayne. Every tank battle was Shermans getting slaughtered by Tiger tanks, every hedgerow battle was a handful of Germans with machine guns against thousands of Allied soldiers with pointed sticks.
Changing a tread on a tank, a hot barrel on a machine gun, or dealing with gas masks was something done in every army during WWII, but the Germans must have had amazing skills to maintain their more complicated equipment.
Or maybe they didn’t. They gave up and started using captured equipment that didn’t require all the maintenance. The above article discusses the MG42 machine gun and the Tiger tank, amazing bits of machinery that turned out to be too expensive to support and use in combat. Two iconic pieces of German design and engineering from the late 40s — the BMW motorcycle and the VW “Beetle” — were done after the war and for consumer markets. The VW Beetle is more like a Sherman tank than a Tiger tank and the BMW motorcycle is very much a complete do-over of the bikes used by the German army.
Putting it in today’s context: imagine going to work and waiting so long for the IT administrated Windows and OS X software to update before you can start work that you “borrow” something from the other side. Maybe you buy a laptop and run Linux, Windows, or OS X and do your work there. At some point your official machine is working, so you transfer your work over and continue your job.
There’s a lot of industrial design history out there that might need a similar revisit or even revision. How did we get to the IBM Selectric? Why were the EO and Magic Link PDAs total failures while Palm cornered the market?