This is the second of Dr. Pier Paolo Battistelli's volumes about German Panzer Divisions in Osprey's Battle Order series. In this one, the author focuses on the panzer divisions from Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 through the battles around the Dnepr River and Kiev in late 1943. Overall, this volume has a very high graphic quality with excellent maps and charts, but it is written with a level of detail that will please East Front specialists but which likely will be difficult for general readers to absorb. This is very much a nuts and bolts account. Nevertheless, this volume packages a great deal of useful data and the author's insight into the reasons for the decline of Germany's preeminent combat formations in the Second World War is lucid and makes a valuable contribution to the study of this subject.
Panzer Divisions: The Eastern Front 1941-43 begins with some brief sections on the combat mission of these units and their doctrine and training. Continuing for his earlier volume, Dr. Battistelli explains how the panzer divisions were designed to conduct fast-moving operations that penetrated enemy and then enveloped enemy defenses, leading to operational-level victories. Doctrinally, the Germans learned some lessons from the 1940 French campaign and began to use more mixed kampfgruppen (battlegroups), rather than the previous preference for armor-heavy spearheads. However, the author notes that German panzer doctrine was geared toward Western European terrain/weather conditions and proved unrealistic on the Eastern Front. One of the first victims was the kradschutzen (motorcycle) battalions, which could not function well on the muddy roads of Russia. The 31-page section on unit organization covers the reorganization of panzer divisions in 1942-43, as well as detailing each of the division's main components (armor, infantry, artillery, engineers, reconnaissance, anti-tank, support services). This section may seem very dense and technical for some readers, but it has some invaluable charts, such as those listing the sub-units of each panzer division. Perhaps the best chart is one on page 26, that lists that part of the infantry in each division that was mounted on SPW halftracks in 1941, 1942 and 1943.
The next main section of the volume is a 21-page discussion of division tactics. Dr. Battistelli observes that the terrain and weather conditions in Russia, combined with the losses from the 1941 campaign, forced the panzer divisions to change their style in 1942-43. Unlike the heady days of Blitzkrieg in 1940-41, the panzer divisions of 1942-43 were forced to fight more on the defensive and even when they did attack, they were no longer able to make the kind of spectacular advances that they once made. The author then provides a series of tactical vignettes, each with its own map, that outline the changing tactical methods used in this period. These ten vignettes are: 11th Panzer Division drive to Dubno, June 1941; 20th Panzer Division's Dvina River crossing, July 1941; 3rd Panzer Division's raid across the Susha River, October 1941; the counterattack at Klin, December 1941; the Battle for Kharkov, May 1942; 1st Panzer Division's defense of Belyj, November 1942; the LVII Panzer Korps drive on Stalingrad, December 1942; the last Battle of Rostov, February 1943; the III Panzer Korps attack at Kursk, July 1943 and the 2nd Panzer Army defense at Orel, July 1943. The maps for these vignettes are very nice but unfortunately, do not have the kind of captions used in the campaign series (this has been a recurring defect in the BO series).
The author then provides a 12-page section on weapons and equipment, which provides breakdowns on the types of tanks in each of the panzer divisions during this period. It also describes the production of major weapons, ranging from tanks to infantry weapons and describes Germany's inability to equip the panzer divisions with either the quantity or quality of weaponry needed to restore their waning offensive capabilities. This section also describes how German armored capabilities were beginning to spread out, with independent Tiger tank and assault gun battalions, meaning that panzer divisions were no longer the `mailed fist' that they had been in 1940-41. For those readers who just focus on tanks, the author's discussion of the shortage of halftracks, armored cars and trucks will reveal just how weak the panzer divisions had become by mid-war.
The last sections cover C3I (auftragstaktik and `leap forward' concepts) and unit status. Flexibility, mobility and mission-orders were at the root of panzer successes in 1940-41, but the losses suffered during the first year in Russia began to sharply chip away at these advantages. When confronted by the superior Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks, the Germans opted to shift from a maneuver-based doctrine to a firepower-based doctrine which ultimately undermined their own offensive capabilities. Instead of using armored mobility to strike an enemy where he was weakest (e.g. through the Ardennes), the Germans began to use their armor as a battering ram (e.g. in the streets of Stalingrad and at Kursk), attacking the enemy where he was strongest. Despite the tactical advantages that the panzer divisions enjoyed over their opponents until late in the war, they were not configured to win a war of attrition and the changes in how these units were used ultimately led to German defeat.