Book Review: Pershing Vs Tiger Germany 1945 (Duel 80)

Book Review

Pershing vs Tiger: Germany 1945 (Duel) by Steven Zaloga

Osprey Publishing

Pershing VS Tiger is the 80th entry in the Osprey Duel series, and the eleventh authored by Steven Zaloga.  Several of his past Duel series titles have dealt with US versus German armor during the last year of the war, including Sherman vs Panther, Sherman vs Pz IV, M10 vs Stug III and Bazooka vs Panzer.  With this title, he addresses one of the very last contests between German and American armor, the handful of encounters between the US Pershing heavy tank and the heavy German “cats.”

The first thing worth noting is that the title of the book is perhaps a bit misleading.  The artwork on the cover depicts the US Pershing and a German Tiger I tank.  And while the book does describe a combat encounter involving these two types of vehicle, there is only one incident of this type.  The other examples involve other types of German armor, including a Panther, Nashorn, Pz IV, and possibly a Jagdpanther.  This is not surprising, since the number of Pershing tanks operating in the ETO in 1945 was very low.  As Zaloga points out, by March of 1945 there were only 20 Pershing tanks in the field.  It is no wonder that the number of tank vs tank clashes involving Pershing tanks can be related individually in one volume.

For those who have read previous Duel series books, the layout of this book will be familiar.  The first section of the book traces the design and development of the Tiger, Tiger II and the Pershing. This is followed by a technical description of each tank, focusing on crew layout, firepower, armor and mobility.  After this are chapters on the combatants and the strategic situation, describing the activities of the Tiger heavy tank battalions and their encounters, or more accurately, their lack of encounters with US forces in the ETO.  All this sets up the heart of the book, which is the descriptions of the various combats by Pershing tanks and German armor.  The book delivers on its title with a description of the duel at Elsdorf, in which a Pershing tank destroyed a German Tiger and several other German tanks in exchange for the loss of one Pershing tank named “Fireball.”

The book finishes up with an analysis chapter, focusing primarily on the Tiger tank.  For those invested in the idea that the Tiger was some sort of super-tank, this analysis will prover rather deflating.  Zaloga points out that Tiger units were relatively rare in the West, suffered from low readiness rates due to poor reliability and high maintenance demands and were generally less effective than the Tiger units in the East.  The Tiger II he refers to as “an extravagant waste in the West”.  Little final analysis is offered regarding the performance of the Pershing in the final chapter.  Zaloga notes that the number of Pershings in the field were so few, and the state of the German opposition so poor by this point in the war, that few lessons regarding the tank can be learned (for more on the combat record of the Pershing, check out Zaloga’s T-34-85 vs M26 Pershing: Korea 1950)

For those interested in US and German armor in the West 1944-45, this book is certainly worth picking up.  With this volume, Zaloga seems to have covered most of the well-known US and German tanks that faced each other after D-Day until the German surrender.   This volume may prove particularly useful for those looking for an antidote to the Tiger myth.

Book Review: Dubno 1941: The Greatest Tank Battle of the Second World War

Dubno 1941: The Greatest Tank Battle of the Second World War

By Aleksei Isaev

Helion & Company

The first thing potential readers may notice about this book is the subtitle, which proclaims the 1941 battle of Dubno to be the greatest tank battle of WWII.  To those familiar with the history of the Second World War, this might cause some confusion.  Ask the average WWII fan to name a tank battle and you will probably get replies such as Kursk, Alamein, or The Bulge.  But Dubno?  It’s probably fair to say most casual readers haven’t even heard of this battle, let alone know that it was one of the largest tank battles of the war.  Fortunately, Russian historian Aleksai Isaev tries to correct this situation in his new book, Dubno 1941: The Greatest Tank Battle of the Second World War.

Before we get into the content of the book, let’s start with a description of the book itself.  This is a 244 page hardcover volume.  The book is surprisingly heavy due to the dense, high quality paper used.  The paper texture is very smooth to the touch and provides good photo reproduction quality for the several image galleries found in the book.  The galleries consist primarily of images of tanks and also pictures of some of the commanders who play a part in the battle.  The book uses footnotes rather than endnotes and contains a rather useful series of appendices, a bibliography and an index.

This book was originally written in Russian and translated into English by Kevin Bridge.  The translation reads fairly well, although every so often a sentence will come off a bit clunky.  Whether this is due to the original text or to the translation is hard to say.  One translation error that jumped out at us was the mention of Western researcher “Thomas Yentz.”  Those well read on German armor will of course recognize this person as Thomas Jentz.  The publisher provides a disclaimer at the start of the book noting that the translation has kept partisan statements such as “our tanks” and “our aircraft” in the text.  This is a Russian book written by a Russian author and as such, it focuses much more on the Russian perspective of the battle than the German.

The text of the book is relatively straight forward, starting with a description of forces on both sides of the battle forces at the onset of Operation Barbarossa.  The chain of events from the launch of the German invasion on June 22 up to the Dubno battle a week later are explained with a good deal of detail.  A few maps are provided in the text, although readers may want to get a more detailed map of their own to prevent getting lost in the various details of unit movements and dispositions.  For those looking for individual accounts of combat or Steven Ambrose style history, this book will be quite dry and unrewarding.  For those looking for a detailed operational level description of events with analysis, this book should prove enjoyable.

The book ends with a conclusion offering an overview of the events and some analysis explaining why things turned out the way they did.  Isaev provides several reasons for why the Soviets lost this battle, primarily lack of experience and training, poor communication and poor unit organization compared to their German adversary.  One other factor that seems to crop up continuously in the description of the fighting is a lack of proper artillery support for Soviet armored units due to a lack of suitable prime movers.

Throughout the text the author regularly emphasizes certain points that he sees as important for having been misinterpreted or left out of Soviet era histories.  However, since most Western readers will not be familiar with these older histories, these points by the author may seem a bit confusing.  One thing not addressed in great detail in this book is the issue of why this battle, as large as it was, is so little known.  For the answer to that question, one needs to take a dive into the world of post war Soviet historiography.  And while this book avoids that topic, the next book in our review pile fearlessly plunges into it. (The Battle of Kursk: Controversial and Neglected Aspects by Valeriy Zamulin by Valeriy Zamulin – expect the review later next week.)

For those interested in learning more about this battle, we would easily give this book a recommendation, provided people understand this is a pretty information dense book.  Those looking for some light reading should go elsewhere.  This volume is one of several Russian language WWII histories that Helion & Company have brought over to the English reading public.  We commend them for doing so and hope the keep it up.

Book Review: Soviet Lend Lease Tanks of World War II

When it comes to book series about tanks and armored vehicles, Osprey Publishing’s New Vanguard series certainly holds claim to being the longest running.  The publication of Soviet Lend-Lease Tanks of World War II (New Vanguard), the 247th book in the series, is a testament to the popularity and quality of these books.  Much of the success of this series has to be attributed to the authors and illustrators that Osprey has been able to assemble, with Steven Zaloga being one of the most prolific and respected of the New Vanguard contributors.  With this new title on Soviet Lend Lease tanks he adds yet another entry into his already impressive bibliography.

For those not familiar with the format of the New Vanguard titles, these books are softcover, 48 page books, with numerous photographs, illustrations, and charts.  The earlier books in the series tended to focus on fairly well known vehicles, making them decent introductory primers on the subject.  As the series has gone on, the more obvious topic choices have been largely exhausted, opening up opportunities for less explored subjects.  One such example is Soviet Lend Lease tanks of WWII, which as far as we know has never been the sole topic of a book until now.

Having long been regarded as one of the foremost experts on Soviet armor history writing in English, Steven Zaloga is the ideal candidate to author this volume.  His writing is clear and understandable, containing a considerable density of information yet never becoming impenetrable.  The photos are well chosen and the paper quality is good, making for good photo reproduction.  The illustrations are attractive and appear to be accurate representations.  Given the relatively limited length of the book, technical specifics of the various lend lease vehicles is limited.  This is understandable since these individual armored vehicles all are described in other New Vanguard titles (as well as many other books.)  The focus of the book is on the role that these lend lease vehicles played within the Red Army and the interplay between the Soviet war planners and the Western officials in charge of Lend Lease deliveries.

One of the more interesting aspects of the story of these Lend-Lease vehicles is the Soviet interpretation of their quality and classification.  For example, while the British supplied three different types of “infantry tank” via Lend-Lease (the Matilda, the Churchill and the Valentine), the Soviets had to reclassify these vehicles according to their own system.  Hence, the Matilda and the Churchill were deemed heavy tanks while the Valentine was deemed a light tank.  Given the relatively weak armament of the Matilda and Churchill tanks compared to Soviet Heavy tanks, it’s not surprising that no more of them were asked for.  On the other end of the spectrum, the Valentine was rather well armed and armored compared to the Soviet T-60 light tank, so the Valentine was requested by Soviet forces even after it was regarded as outdated by British forces.

While British tanks made up most of the early war Lend-Lease shipments to the USSR, by the later part of the war the US was making the majority of the tanks being shipped.  Of course, the ubiquitous M4 Sherman became the primary tank sent overseas from the USA, being dubbed “Emcha” in Soviet service.  The primary variant sent was the M4A2, preferred by the Soviets due to its diesel engine.  One of the more unusual US vehicles in Soviet service was the T48 57mm motor gun carriage.  Intended as a tank destroyer, this was a US halftrack with a 57mm anti-tank gun mounted on top.  After these vehicles were rejected by the British, they were offered to the Soviets who took several hundred into service, renaming it the SU-57.  The SU-57 would become the only Lend-Lease combat vehicle used exclusively by the Red Army.

For those looking for statistics regarding Lend-Lease tanks, there are two pages of charts at the end of the book that will prove very useful.  Numbers are provided for total numbers of tanks shipped and received, broken down by vehicle type, year, and country of origin.  Also provided are numbers for Lend-Lease armored vehicles in service with the Red Army by type at the end of the war.  It is rather interesting to consider that in May of 1945 there were still 40 British Matilda tanks in Soviet service!  The book ends with a final assessment, stating that while tank shipments to the USSR were by no means insubstantial, they played a relatively small role in the Lend-Lease story compared to the large amount of trucks and raw materials that were shipped.  That said, these vehicles did play a role in filling production shortfalls experienced by the Soviets, particularly in 1942 when much Soviet heavy industry was still recovering from their rather hasty relocation eastward to avoid German occupation.

For fans of Eastern Front tank warfare history, this book will fill a niche that has not been addressed in a single volume.  For those interested in the tanks of the Western Allies, it provides an intriguing look into how these familiar vehicles were regarded by a foreign user in an environment very different from the deserts of North Africa or Western Europe.  The book retails for $18 and can be found at book stores and hobby shops as well as online.

Book Review: Forgotten Archives 2: The Lost Signal Corps Photos

Over the past two decades, the Panzerwrecks series of books has become known for quality books showcasing photos of WWII armor.  Founded by Lee Archer and Bill Auerbach, Panzerwrecks has became both a book series and a publishing house focusing on  armored warfare in WWII.  Unfortunately, co-founder BIll Auerbach passed away in 2015, but Panzerwrecks has soldiered on, both with the original Panzerwrecks series andForgotten-Archives-2-Jacket-600px with titles by a new generation of authors.  One such writer/researcher is Darren Neely.  Last year Panzerwrecks released his book Forgotten Archives 1: The Lost Signal Corps Photos.  This month saw the release of the follow-up book, Forgotten Archives 2: The Lost Signal Corps Photos in the UK with release in the US coming this July.

We had a chance to examine a copy of this latest book and it is a very handsome volume indeed.  This is a large hardcover volume of 240 pages.  Primarily a photo book, the pages are printed on high quality glossy paper and the photo quality is excellent.  The black and white photos, of which there are 252, are generally printed one to a page making it very easy to see the details contained in the images.  There are also a small number of nicely done color illustrations by artist Felipe Rodna.

The subject matter of the book is, of course, WWII armor, specifically US and German armor in the ETO 1944-45.  This ground has been covered extensively over the years by numerous authors and publishers.  Probably everyone with an interest in WWII armor has had the experience of getting a new book on WWII tanks and upon cracking it open, finding the same familiar photos that get recycled year after year.  Fear not, this is not the case with Forgotten Archives 2.  What makes this new book unique is that the author was able to work with the families of eight former US Army Signal Corps photographers, going through the photo collections that these men brought back from the war.  Each photo is accompanied by the original caption written by the wartime photographer as well as a caption by the author, noting any errors or discrepancies in the original captions.  The book is arraigned by photographer, each chapter dedicated to a particular Signal Corps soldiers’ collection.  In organizing the book this way, each chapter tells the story of that particular photographer, marking the places they passed through and the things they saw and experienced.  Being presented in this way, the book becomes a tribute not just to the fighting men captured in the images, but also to the men who risked their lives behind the camera.

For those looking for original, never before seen photos of US and German armor in the ETO, we highly recommend this book.  Both the content and the presentation are top notch and should prove a valuable reference for both tank historians and model builders.  The book is currently available at the Panzerwrecks website.

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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.

 

Book Review: Images of War: The Panther Tank

Images of War is a long running series by Pen and Sword books, primarily focused on WW2.  While most of the titles in the series focus on either a particular campaign or a military unit, they also include titles on different WW2 era tanks.  The latest tank themed entry in the series is The Panther Tank: Hitler’s T-34 Killer (Images of War) by Anthony Tucker-Jones.

The book is a softcover volume of 120 pages and contains over 100 photographs as well as a selection of color drawings.  The book is roughly the same dimensions as an Osprey New Vanguard or Duel book, although considerably thicker.  The paper quality is good, as is the quality of the images.  While the title of the series might make one assume this book is strictly a photo collection, there is actually a good deal of text included in the book.  A quick count reveals that roughly one of out every three pages is text, typically divided in two or three page sections addressing different models of the tank or different campaigns the Panther was involved in.

Tucker-Jones does a good job in presenting the history of the vehicle in the relatively limited number of pages available.  The book does not go in depth into the technical features of the Panther, rather focusing on the reasons for its development and combat history.  The author gives a well-balanced history of the Panther, noting that while the vehicle had some significant technical advantages over its Allied foes, it ultimately was not well suited to the needs of the German war machine in the later stages of the war.  The descriptions of various combat actions involving Panthers illustrate quite well the frustrations German crews and commanders had with these vehicles due to their size, fuel consumption and mechanical unreliability.  Our only nitpick would be that while the title of the book references the Panther as “Hitler’s T-34 Killer”, little attention is given to the Panther on the Eastern Front beyond the vehicles introduction at the battle of Kursk in 1943.  Given the limited size of this book, this omission is probably excusable.

As to the photographs, some are ones that have been reprinted in other books, some were unfamiliar to this reviewer.  The color plates are attractive and may be of use to modelers, although there are only ten pages of these.

For those looking for an introductory level book on the Panther, this book will do nicely. For those already familiar with the topic, most of the content of this book will be familiar.  That said, it’s a handsome volume with a reasonable price tag.  Currently, quite a few copies are available through third party vendors on Amazon at nearly half off the cover price, making this book a veritable bargain.

Book Review: Patton Versus the Panzers

Patton Versus the Panzers: The Battle of Arracourt, September 1944

Author: Steven Zaloga

Publisher: Stackpole Books, August 2016

Hardcover: 288 pages

This book is a good antidote to the popular media conception of the M4 tank as a “Death Trap” as stated in films such as “Fury” or numerous cable TV documentaries. Zaloga first addressed this theme in his 2008 book on the history of the Sherman tank, “Armored Thunderbolt” as well as in the Osprey Duel books “Sherman vs Panther” and “Sherman Vs Panzer IV.”  In this book he further makes his case by examining in detail the battle of Arracourt, clearly showing that the outcome of the battle was decided far more by the quality and training of the tank crews involved than by the technical advantages or disadvantages of the Sherman and Panther tanks. It also becomes apparent in this book just how desperate the situation was for German Panzer forces in this period and how poorly thought out was the conception of the late war “Panzer Brigades.” At the other end of the spectrum is the US 4th Armored Division, one of the best armored units in the US army at the time, well trained, well equipped and well led.

While popular media fixate on the heavy armor and powerful gun of the Panther tank, in every other regard the German Panzer Brigades came up short against US Armor, lacking artillery, reconnaissance units, air support, recovery and repair capability, logistical support, trained crew, fuel and other basic supplies. And of course, the Panzer Brigades were also handicapped by being assigned unrealistic mission orders from the Fuhrer himself. This all becomes abundantly clear as the German attacks detailed in the book consistently fail to achieve even their initial goals, let alone the audacious goals assigned to them by Hitler.

The book contains a rather sizable appendices, containing some interesting essays. There is a section with short biographies of the various officers involved in the battle, as well as a chapter on Patton’s various command vehicles. An essay from 1946 by 4th Armored Division veteran Albin Irzyk in defense of the Sherman tank makes for interesting reading. Irzyk is featured in several of the TV documentaries on the battle of Arracourt and the Sherman tank, his thoughts on the topic usually limited to short clips. Getting to read his thoughts on the matter in a longer, uninterrupted format gives some valuable context to his TV documentary appearances. Also featured in the appendices is a short essay on the role (or more accurately, the lack of a role) that the infamous Tiger I tank played against the US forces in the ETO. This is included in response to the popular conception that Tiger tanks were regularly encountered by US forces. The reality was that the US Army in Western Europe very seldom encountered the famous Tiger I tank. This is in contrast to the British, who encountered a number of Tiger I tanks during the Normandy campaign.

For those with an interest in WW2 armor and the role it played in the Fall of 1944 in Western Europe, this book will be a welcome addition to your collection.