For me I never trust one source, but check as many as possible because the content of a documentary depends on what the producer wants it to say. One book about Kursk is a very good read, called 'The Tigers are Burning' by Martin Caidin and several others. First published in 1974 it has a lot of first hand accounts. Most crews were not real thrilled about being in the Ferdinand or its mutation into the Elephant. It was the same later in the war with the JadgeTiger a 70+ ton monster based on the King Tiger. Monumental effort was needed to move, support, and repair these things for little return.
Not trusting a single source is a good idea. But I was just watching TV. I like documentaries. World War II is a particular fascination to me because I think most people got it wrong. Tanks EOAL and another series I watched about "Nazi Super Weapons" agreed with you. Crews hated them; lack of spare parts, drank fuel, too damn big. I think Evolution of a Legend said the super tiger was too wide and or heavy to cross forty or sixty percent of the bridges in Europe. And there was a bridge every twenty or so. Can't remember the exact numbers. Too big, too heavy, over complicated, too ahead of their time weapons with no spare parts was almost a feature of the Nazis.
There is a lot of dogma out there about that war. I blame the US education system first, that is the lazy parents that let it be like this. I have been politely asked not to return to PTA meeting a couple of times.
Another interesting and hard to discern aspect to German armor was design and production itself. They tended to use ship builders or companies with vast ship building experience to handle production. Problem was these types of companies tended to think in lots or batch production, one or two ships at a time. Start this batch of ten and when they are finished start the next set of ten for example. Not production line thinking and not very efficient. Other companies like Mauser knew mass production but did not have experience in complex vehicles. The car companies in Germany at the time had their hands full with trucks and other light skinned vehicles. Even the car companies did not understand mass production like the USA did. Something they never did get over even with the help of Albert Speer. This was known before the war and that is one of the reasons Henry Ford was invited to German for a tour and had awards and prizes heaped on him. Not because he liked anything about the NAZI version of socialism but because they wanted his knowledge and experience. Henry Ford was no dummy he saw through the fašade and would not let the Germans officially tour or work in his factories. Yes, the Germans captured an intact Ford truck factory in Belgium. This should have been destroyed but the Dutch were just a little busy at the time being over run with Germans.
An example of design problems was the infamous Tiger tank. the German Army armaments division was given the choice of the Porsche or the Henschel design. They picked the Henschel because it was, to them, the one that would be easier to produce. even then only some 1,200 or 1,400 Tigers were produced. Imagine if Henry Ford would have been in charge of building them? Thank the good Lord he was not!
I've never heard of those reasons for Germany's poor production levels before. I may read the book you recommended. Mostly I've heard production blamed directly on Hitler. Hitler gave a lot of top down directives that were completely bone head. He did most definitely tell German industry to concentrate on full vehicles over spare parts. The Nazi elite in general were over fond of 'super weapons' rather than concentrating on everyday things that they knew worked and incremental improvements. This was because they were insane dreamers with little grasp of reality. As for making things way to complicated; this is a disease German industry still suffers from. My brother fixed things for a living. He often complained about the needless complexity of German machines.
In documentary after documentary after documentary I have heard them drone on and one about German superiority. The fact is, with a literally infinite ways to better than someone else, almost everyone is better at something. The Germans were better than us at a handful of things. The allies were better than the Germans at dozens of things.
I like the point you make about who had the most amount of better 'things'. A very good way to put it very simply. Documentaries, yeah they are a sore point with me too. Particularly the ones that make everything America's fault somehow. All too often it is the producers point of view.
A lot of books have been read and photo's examined to glean this out, though there is mention of it places. This is a complicated subject and there is a lot more to it if you are interested, please read on. Perhaps your curiosity can be kindled even more.
Yes, Hitler's meddling made a bad situation worse. The reason production procedures are rarely mentioned outright is that the German manufacturers did not think their methods could be improved. Neither do most historians look at how things are made, just the numbers put out the door. Hitler's interference is obvious so he gets all the blame. For instance the Sd. Kfz 9, the 18- ton half track. Hitler had little to do with this very good and important piece of equipment yet there were only 2,000 - 2,500 built from 1938 until 1945. They also had a problem with over complicated designs i.e. the Sd Kfz 9 and the Henscel built Tiger. While easier to manufacture than the Porsche Tiger design Henschel's was still not easy to make. Designing for production was not exploited very well if at all. The designers job ended at the edge of the drawing board. It was someone else's job to put it together.
No matter what the detractors of the bombing campaign say, it mattered. One case is the Stug III produced in the Daimler-Benz plant in Alkett near Berlin, 9,000+ produced during the war. The factory was heavily damaged in November of 1943 and only produced 24 vehicle's that month. The next month Krupp, a ship builder among many other things and rival to Daimler-Benz, sold Hitler on the idea of using the Pnzr Mk IV chassis as a substitute for the Stug III. This resulting in the Stug IV of which 1,080(?) where produced by wars end. Records are vague but it looks like Krupp tried to produce the Pnzr Mk IV concurrent with the Stug IV making even more chaos in production. Not to mention lower Pnzr Mk IV production and the problems created in the logistics system. Since the Pnzr Mk III was being phased out, production the Stug III should have ceased in favor of the Stug IV. However Krupp was not about to cooperate with Daimler-Benz unless ordered to. Then Hilter really started messing things up by demanding production change back and fourth between anti tank self propelled guns and tanks and even what gun should be used on what vehicle. Given what had happened with the Pnzr Mk III Hitler's reaction can be somewhat understood.
Worse was to come when Hitler decreed that no more spare parts be sent to the front, sometime in mid(?) 1944. Spare parts are critical to any army and there are always allowances made for this in production contracts. Hitler thought that with all of the parts going to the factories there would be more production. Things do not work that way. Many small parts like track links, drive sprockets, boogie wheels, wheel bearings, gaskets, sparkplugs, clutches, radiator hoses, turret traverse motors and such suddenly became scarce in repair units. Many vehicles, not just tanks had to be left behind because of simple repairs. Meanwhile back in Germany all these spare parts that had been paid for and produced were going unused until they were blown up in the next bomber raid. That is a lot of wasted production and materials. It is a wonder they could build anything!
Then there was the man-power problem. Much of the young skilled factory workers were sent off to war early on before anyone realized they would be needed later, particularly into the U-Boat service. This problem only became worse as the meat grinder on the Eastern Front demanded more and more men. This lead to the idea of making these very complicated machines with slave labor. Insane!
Then there is Albert Speer, but that is a whole other story . . .
When first deployed in Russia at the battle of Kursk they were known as the Ferdinand, after its designer Ferdinand Porsche. They should have been used as long range tank destroyers but Hitler insisted they be used up front. Because they had no small arms defense, though several things were tried, they were easy targets for Russian infantry. Let it through and surround it, with no turret it was easy to stay out of its arc of fire. Then wait for it to run out of gas, break down or blow off a track and it was just a matter of time for the crew. Those few that made it out of Kursk were modified to have a machine gun on the bow. Some had had armor some did not records are not exact. Then renamed the Elephant because of its embarrassing performance and to distance the thing from Hitler's friend Ferdinand Porsche. The one at Aberdeen was captured at or near Anzio is an Elephant. The one is Russia is a Ferdinand.
Given the state of German logistics and the amount of resources used in manufacture, this thing was a bad idea.
The only reason the Germans even had them was because Hitler had let Porsche know he favored his design for the Tiger tank and was sure Porsche would get the contract. Hitler then allowed the Army to choose the design they wanted. They picked the Henschel design known so well today as the Panzer MkVI Tiger. Porsche redesigned his offering as a tank destroyer and Hitler ordered it into production to make up for the lost contract to his friend Ferdinand. Pure politics. The German Army was horrified and proven correct. The cost was enormous, logistics was worse, the weight and size made them a nightmare to move, with no useful return. Eventually sent to Italy where they could be forgotten about.
I'm very lucky to live near Aberdeen proving grounds where they have a great collection of tanks from all over the world. They actually have one of the two remaining Elephants in the world. The other one is in a museum in Russia.