Patton versus the Panzers: An Interview with Steven Zaloga

Two years ago we had a chance to interview author and historian Steven Zaloga.  That interview became the first feature of this website when it launched in January of 2015.  We recently had the chance to do a follow-up interview with Mr. Zaloga in late August, 2016.  We were able to get his thoughts concerning his two latest hardcover books, Patton Versus the Panzers: The Battle of Arracourt, September 1944 and Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, as well as a variety of other topics, including Soviet tank development, the 1940 Campaign in France and the tank book publishing business.


 

sz15Steven Zaloga is an author and defense analyst known worldwide for his articles and publications on military technology.  He has written over a hundred books on military technology and military history, including “Armored Thunderbolt: The US Army Sherman in World War II”, one of the most highly regarded histories of the Sherman Tank.  His books have been translated into Japanese, German, Polish, Czech, Romanian, and Russian. He was a special correspondent for Jane’s Intelligence Review and is on the executive board of the Journal of Slavic Military Studies and the New York Military Affairs Symposium. From 1987 through 1992, he was the writer/producer for Video Ordnance Inc., preparing their TV series Firepower.  He holds a BA in history from Union College and an MA in history from Columbia University.


 

Why did you decide to choose the battle of Arracourt, September 1944 as the topic for this book?

There were two reasons. The first reason is that I wanted to cover a big US-versus-German tank battle. The underlying theme is stated in the forward of the book- there is this impression that US tanks are always getting defeated by German tanks because the German tanks technically were so much better. But I’ve spent so much time doing campaign books, not tank-oriented books but general campaign books on the ETO for the Osprey Campaign series, that I was aware that that was simply not true. There weren’t that many large US-versus- German tank battles. As I mention in the book there were really two big ones: Arracourt in September 1944, and of course the Ardennes in December 1944 – January 1945. I selected Arracourt partly because it’s not very well known. So it makes a more interesting and fresh subject. And also it’s relatively confined in time and space. It took place over a couple of weeks and it’s not over a very large area. Doing the Ardennes would be interesting. But the problem is that inevitably I have to basically do the whole Ardennes campaign all over again to explain what is going on. And that would make it unmanageable in a book the size that Stackpole wants. So I ruled out the Ardennes for that reason. Also I had done the earlier Osprey Ardennes book (Panther vs Sherman: Battle of the Bulge 1944 (Duel)).

The second big reason was availability of research materials on both sides. The German side in a lot of battles is not especially well covered because a lot of records were lost. The Germans lost the war. At one point in the war the main German Army archive was basically burned down. So a lot of records were lost there. And a lot of records were lost during the course of campaigns. But I knew from having done some previous work on the Lorraine campaign that the German records from that battle were fairly good. I actually have day-to-day reports at corps-level and in some cases at divisional-level explaining what’s going on. And the US side also is fairly well covered. The strange thing is that in many cases you would think that US battles are very well covered because we have all the records. In fact, there often times are after-action-reports, but they are very skeletal and don’t give much detail. But I knew that in the case of the Arracourt battles there had been an Army historical team stationed with 4th Armored Division and they did a set of interviews after the battle of Arracourt. This included a lot of maps, which of course, is very useful for trying to explain exactly what happened in the battle. So those were the two reasons; there was some inherent reasons in the nature of the Arracourt battle that made it attractive for a book; and I knew from having done previous work that there was enough historical material that would enable me to make it detailed enough to keep it interesting.

In the course of researching this book, did you find anything that surprised you or was it more a case of fleshing out the framework you had established in earlier works? [Read more…]

Photo of the Day: M3 Grant at Americans in Wartime Museum

The POTD is a M3 Grant from the facebook page of Steve Zaloga who posted a number of photographs from this past weekend’s Americans in Wartime Museum open house in Nokesville, VA.

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Book Alert: Tanks: 100 Years of Armoured Warfare

Amazon is listing an October 4 release for a new book covering a century of tank history. Written by David Willey (curator of the Bovington Tank Museum) and Robin Cross, Tanks: 100 Years of Armoured Warfare is a 132 page hardcover volume. Included in the book are 20 removable recreations of archival documents. Based upon the sample images provided, this book contains many photographs and charts. This looks like a very handsome product, probably best suited for those looking to learn the basics of tank development.

Publisher’s Description.

A century of the weapon that changed modern warfare.
In 1916, for the very first time, the tank entered the military arsenals at a small engagement on the Somme. And despite its shortcomings, it altered the course of World War I. Tanks charts the weapon’s first century, from its early stumbling attempts to the lethal killing machines of today: the technical developments, the various types and models, the tacticians who used it best, and the famous battles where they played a role. The book also contains 20 removable documents from the archives of the museum, including diaries from tank soldiers, blueprints, instruction manuals, and handbooks.

Video: Christopher Foss at DVD 2016

Here are a few videos featuring IHS Jane’s reporter Christopher Foss at DVD 2016 reporting on a few different AFVs, including the Patria AMV, the Terrex IFV, and the M777 Portee concept vehicle..

 

 

 

 

Book Review: French Tanks of the Great War

With all the attention recently on the 100th anniversary of the first tanks used in battle by the British in 1916, it may seem easy to forget that the French also had a tank program during the First World War.  While much ink has been spilled describing the British First World War tank program, comparatively little has been written about the French tank program in English.  Fortunately, French Tanks of the Great War: Development, Tactics and Operations by Tim Gale fills that void, presenting a detailed history of efforts by the French to develop tanks as well as describing the major actions where early French tanks saw combat.

This book is a 260 page hardcover volume.  While containing a few pages of photos and maps, this book will not be of much interest to modelers, at least as far as providing specific details of particular tank types.  However, it will be of great interest to those interested in the history of tank and AFV development of the First World War.  Important battles are described, including first-hand accounts from French tank crews.  Quite a bit of detail is included in these battle descriptions, often times reporting on the activities of specific tanks.  Battles described include the Nivelle Offensive, the Battles of Malmaison, The Matz, St Mihiel, Soissons and Champagne.  Also described are the actions of the French tanks operating with the US Army.

The first chapter deals with the development of the first French tanks, describing the individuals and governmental departments involved.  The figure of Jean Baptiste Eugene Estienne stands out in this section, a figure of great importance.  While most readers will be familiar with his name, this book makes it clear that Estienne was a figure of central importance of early French tank design, far more important than any single individual in the development of British WWI armor.

The following chapters are broken up by battle.  Each battle is well explained, combining an overview of the strategic situation followed by a description of the actual combat.  Tactics are explained, each battle being in some ways an experiment for the French forces, testing out tactical ideas for the deployment of their “Artillerie Speciale.”  The limitations of these early machines come sharply into focus for the reader in the battle descriptions.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the primary cause of tank causalities in these engagements is not enemy action but rather mechanical breakdown and getting bogged down in crater holes.  When enemy action is noted as destroying French tanks, the most common culprit seems to be German 77mm field guns moved into forward positions.  The short operating range of these early vehicles becomes quite apparent from the battle descriptions, as do the issues of lack of tank to tank communications and communications with supporting infantry.

While the British beat the French in introducing the first tanks to the battlefield, the importance of the French contribution to early armor development, both technical and doctrinal, should not be forgotten.  In particular, the contributions of Estienne should probably be given more emphasis in English language accounts then they generally receive.  In terms of technical achievements, the French FT-17 is likely the most important tank design of the war, heralding the transition from sponson carrying armored boxes to the more modern turreted tank concept.  Of course, all this is known to French tank enthusiasts who have French language histories of their armored vehicle heritage.  Up to now, early French tank history has been covered in English in smaller works such as the Osprey New Vanguard volume on French Tanks of World War I or within books covering a wider topic.  Now, English reading audiences finally have an in-depth account of French World War I tank history thanks to the efforts of Tim Gale.

 

Photo of the Day: Vitaly Kuzmin Military Blog

We recently came across the Vitaly Kuzmin Military Blog.  For those that like photos of Russian and Soviet armored vehicles, this site is very much worth checking out.  Many high quality pictures here arraigned in well organized categories.  For the POTD, we chose from the blog this picture of the Object 292.

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Video: Christopher Foss on Challenger II LEP

IHS Jane’s reporter Christopher Foss talks about the Challenger 2 and the British Army’s plans for the Life Extension Program.

Walk around videos of M114, M3A1 and Ferret

East Coast Armory has posted a series of walk around videos on their youtube channel.  These clips show some nice exterior and interior detail on three different vehicles, the M114, the M3A1 and a British Ferret.  These videos may prove particularly of interest to model makers looking for reference material.