Of the billions of words written about every aspect of World War Two, the thousands of kilometres of film, it seems hard to imagine any new book is going to present a unique insight. This book has achieved that.
NAME: Panzer Warfare on the Eastern Front
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Hans Schaufler
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, Eastern Front, Panzer forces, tactics, technology, opinion, Russia, USSR, Soviet, Second Front
DESCRIPTION: Of the billions of words written about every aspect of World War Two, the thousands of kilometres of film, it seems hard to imagine any new book is going to present a unique insight. This book has achieved that. Hans Schaufler has collected together a fascinating selection of first-hand German accounts of panzer warfare on the Eastern Front as Germany swung from seemingly endless triumphs to stalemate and then the relentless retreats and crushing defeat. The book bares the thoughts of those who participated in rapid advances and great armoured battles from the initial optimism to the growing doubts and then the painful certainty that defeat was the only outcome. Opinions from untested recruits to seasoned generals have given a rich exposure of views.
When Hitler decided to invade Russia with Operation Barbarossa, it was the inevitable next stage in a European Tragedy. A totalitarian State always holds an initial advantage because it is making the decisions to wage war against neighbours who are hoping for a continuation of peace. That desire to avoid bloodshed can result in appeasement that only serves to encourage the aggressor. This is what began to happen almost from the day that Hitler was voted to power by the German people and given his license to engage in war and genocide on a truly terrible scale.
The encouragement of appeasement turned into a German belief in immortality, where whatever Hitler wanted would be delivered by those too weak to resist his endless demands. When German panzers turned East for the first time and into Poland, he was convinced that once again France and Britain would watch from the sidelines and then allow him to digest his latest conquest. He reasoned that his pact with Stalin had neutered Western politicians and ensured that the brave but ill-equipped Poles would be further weakened by having to face invasion from two fronts by vastly superior numbers and equipment.
When, to Hitler’s great surprise, Britain and France declared that they would stand firm to their commitments to Poland, Germany found itself in a European war that it had not intended to fight until after 1944 when all of its strategic armament programmes were reaching conclusion of deliveries and when the potential enemies had been further weakened by a series of unopposed German advances. The German generals were deeply concerned because they knew how much still had to be achieved in completing the re-armament programme and building trained forces with a healthy reserve of war materials.
When German forces achieved one victory after the other in record time, Germans took for granted that they were the master race and that their conviction in their natural supremacy was well-founded. Even the defeat of the German Air Force over Britain did not start the alarm bells ringing loudly. It was not a battle that was highly visible. Britain completed its re-arming and moved over to the attack and at El Alamein demonstrated that the German panzer forces were not invincible and victory was not a foregone conclusion. However, that was to come after the commitment by Hitler to invade Russia.
Barbarossa was expected to result in another victory drive into another poorly prepared nation. So it initially appeared. German forces advanced at a dizzy pace, frequently outrunning their logistics and suffering relatively light casualties, but taking vast numbers of prisoners and destroying huge numbers of tanks and aircraft. In an arc from Stalingrad to Moscow to Leningrad, victory seemed assured. Then the reverses began to stall the advance and place the Germans on the defensive. Hitler had underestimated his western adversaries. British industry was working flat out to deliver new ships, tanks and aircraft, while the male population was plundered to build new armies and women took over on the production lines. In the hard fought Atlantic battle, the Royal Navy was managing to escort enough convoys through to fed the people and the factories. America entered the war and placed its huge production capability behind the Allies, which was more important than the initial movement of troops and aircraft to Britain. The Anglo-American aerial bombardment moved into a 24 x 7 operation that destroyed irreplaceable war materials, devastated cites and production facilities and reduced the flow of arms and supplies to the panzer armies on the Eastern Front. Significantly, German troops and heavy anti-aircraft guns were withdrawn from the Eastern Front to strengthen defences against the Anglo-American bombers and those guns would have provided vital anti-tank artillery against the growing number of modern Russian tanks. Even with the production of advanced weapons, Germany could only look forward to eventual and painful defeat. The only questions were: when that defeat would be completed, and; how painful it would be. The false hope began to arise that the Western Allies would advance into Germany and then join with the German Army in a battle to destroy the Soviets and leave Germany better off that when it entered war in 1939.
The accounts in this book show how German panzer troops moved through the emotions, hopes, fears, and false beliefs as the tragedy unfolded. They were exposed to a bitter war of attrition against an implacable foe, who was both being supplied by the Western Allies and operating factories beyond the reach of German bombers.
This book provides both a detailed review of the German experiences on the Eastern Front and reveals the degree to which Germans, across German society, bought into the Hitler propaganda which was so effective because it told them what they wanted to hear. Germans believed that they were uniquely able to rule everyone else and any leader who confirmed that belief gained immediate support. Even in the final hours as brutal defeat stared them in the face, Germans clung to desperate and unjustified beliefs. This level of self-deception was matched only by the self-deception of Hitler and his immediate supporters.
The text is well-written and supported by a large number of photographs that have been reproduced through the text in single colour. Gloss photo plates would have produced more impact, but the definition is reasonable and this production approach keeps the costs at a level to permit an aggressive price for an outstanding portrait of German panzers on the Eastern Front.