Hitler’s Panzers – the Complete History 1933-1945, Anthony Tucker-Jones

Hitler’s Panzers – the Complete History 1933-1945, Anthony Tucker-Jones

I like the basic structure of this book – we start with a series of chapters on the six main types of German tank, followed by a series of chapters on their use in combat. As a result there is less of a tendancy to treat each type of tank as if it was fighting an entirely separate war, and to remember that each was just part of the overall German war machine. A good example is the chapter on Normandy, which looks at the roles of the Panzer IV and the Panther, noting which units were issued with each type, how many tanks they lost and so forth. The StuG and similar weapons get their own section, which avoids cluttering up the tank story, as do the various late war designs that never made it.

The book does have some flaws. It doesn’t start well. In the introduction we get a repeat of the wartime Nazi propaganda about Polish swords and lances being used against German tanks. In reality the Polish cavalry was armed with modern weapons, including anti-tank guns, artillery and tankettes. The famous battle at Krojanty, which led to the myth, started with a successful Polish cavalry attack against German infantry, before they were driven off by armour cars. No tanks were involved at any time, but the idea was quickly spread by the Germans. Soon afterwards we are told that the short barrel of the Panzer IV’s original gun made it ideal for firing high explosive shells. In fact it was the larger calibre of the Panzer IV gun that made it a better HE gun than the longer but smaller calibre gun of the Panzer III – the larger calibre shell could carry much more HE than the smaller calibre shell, and the lower muzzle velocity didn’t matter when it was the explosive force of the HE that did the damage. In contrast the Panzer III’s anti tank shells relied on their high velocity to penetrate enemy armour, so here the longer barrel was important.

Parts of the book feel like they needed some serious editing. Sometimes material is repeated (on occasion more than once, as with the subvariants of some of the early Panzers), suggesting that notes have been expanding into the text without being properly organised. This can lead to some inconsistency – for example in the section on the Sherman vs the Panther in Normandy, when discussing the Sherman’s use of its manoeuvrability to attack the Panther’s weaker flanks, this is portrayed both as a weakness, leaving it exposed to flank attack, and as strength, taking advantage of the Panther’s limited manoeuvrability in the bocage country, where the tight confines of the hedgerows also often caused problems for the Panther’s long barrelled gun. If these comments were combined into a single summary section this would be fine, but they are presented separately, as different conclusions. Likewise an examination of a German counterattack in Lorraine lists a whole series of reasons why the attack could never have succeeded, ranging from new American tactics to the limited training and support for the attacking forces, before inexplicably ending by suggesting that the Panthers could have ‘easily overpowered their weaker opponents’ if they had pressed their attack home!

Despite these flaws this is still quite a useful single volume history of the German armoured forces. I like the structure, and I agree with the author’s overall conclusions, especially on the Panther and Tiger tanks, which might well have been well armed and armoured, but that suffered from some many other problems that their impact on the war was very limited. A bit more editing, and this book would have gone from quite useful up to very good!

Part I: Designing Tractors
1 – Goodbye Versailles
2 – Going Farming
3 – We Need a Tank Killer
4 – A Blind Alley
5 – Tank Killer Par Excellence
6 – Bring Me a Tiger
7 – I Want a T-34

Part II: Off to War
8 – Blitzkrieg Babies
9 – Panzers in North Africa
10 – Panzers on the Steppe
11 – Failure at Kursk
12 – An Italian Sideshow
13 – Panzers in Normandy

Part III: Sturmgeschutz Not Panzers
14 – Fiddling While Rome Burns
15 – Firmly on the Defensive

Part IV: Wasted Opportunities
16 – The Last Hurrah
17 – To the Bitter End
18 – No Wonder Weapon 

Author: Anthony Tucker-Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 229
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2020

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