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…]