How the Allies Used Math to Figure out Nazi Germany's Tank Production

During World War II, the Allies tried to estimate the number of tanks produced by Nazi Germany. But these estimates often contradicted each other. So they asked statisticians to come up with a solution. The statisticians noted that the Germans gave their tanks serial numbers, and guessed that they were given sequentially. This led to an accurate estimate, as described in this Guardian article from 2006:

The German tanks were numbered as follows: 1, 2, 3 ... N, where N was the desired total number of tanks produced. Imagine that they had captured five tanks, with serial numbers 20, 31, 43, 78 and 92. They now had a sample of five, with a maximum serial number of 92. Call the sample size S and the maximum serial number M. After some experimentation with other series, the statisticians reckoned that a good estimator of the number of tanks would probably be provided by the simple equation (M-1)(S+1)/S. In the example given, this translates to (92-1)(5+1)/5, which is equal to 109.2. Therefore the estimate of tanks produced at that time would be 109

By using this formula, statisticians reportedly estimated that the Germans produced 246 tanks per month between June 1940 and September 1942. At that time, standard intelligence estimates had believed the number was far, far higher, at around 1,400. After the war, the allies captured German production records, showing that the true number of tanks produced in those three years was 245 per month, almost exactly what the statisticians had calculated, and less than one fifth of what standard intelligence had thought likely.

Link via Now I Know | Photo of Tiger II tank by Flickr user cliff1066 used under Creative Commons license

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

According to
the tanks were 256 against 245 in this article. I really wonder the exact figures. I really wonder is this technique going 2 work?I also agree with Jill may be it is just coincidence.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Edward says:"That equation says: If we are capturing X percentage of the tanks we see...".
No, I don't think so. We don't know how many tanks are produced, so we don't know what percentage of them we have captured.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Commenting is closed.

Email This Post to a Friend
"How the Allies Used Math to Figure out Nazi Germany's Tank Production"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More