on 2 March 2007
Will Fey's `Armor Battles of the Waffen-SS, 1943-1945' is not, as one might suspect from just the title, an analytical military history, nor is it the author's personal memoir: it is instead a varied collection of battle reports or `experiences' written by at least fourteen (including the author) Waffen-SS Panzer commander veterans. The author, who first fought in the ranks of the Wehrmacht, later served with the 102nd (redesignated 502nd) SS Tiger tank battalion as a Panzer and platoon leader. A decade after the end of the war he continued his career in the Bundeswehr. His book was originally published in German as `Panzerkampf'.
After a short overview of the Waffen-SS Panzer units the initial part of the book covers the war in Russia 1943-1944, including the battles for Charkov, Kursk and Warsaw, the second part covers the Western front 1944 (Normandy to the Ardennes) and the third part the final battles in the East in 1945. Sadly there are only two maps included (the Mortain counter-attack and Caen to the Falaise pocket 1944) so the reader will want to keep his atlas handy, especially for the Eastern front battles. A general knowledge of the main WWII campaigns comes in handy also, although sometimes a brief introduction or `setting the scene' is given. The final part of the book consists of Appendices, including an eight page summary (apparently by an American author) of the history of the Panzer complement of the 2nd SS Das Reich division. Noteworthy is that no mention is made of the massacre of French civilians by Das Reich in Oradour in June 1944; the killing of American POW's by Kampfgruppe Peiper during the Battle of the Bulge is however given attention, and vehemently refuted. The other appendices give information such as the main types of WWII battle tanks, interesting for the general reader perhaps but not for a specialist. Thirty-seven photographs are included, but no specific unit or campaign orders of battle.
The reports themselves, all of them tactical in scope, vary somewhat in length and content. A few give a rather dry synopsis of towns captured or lost, tanks destroyed and overwhelming Russian superiority in numbers. The best or most readable reports read like one was right there with the author in his Panzer, amidst the powder fumes, heat, tension, fear and quite often the elation of `a kill'. Taken as a whole this book provides the reader with an eye-opening collection of the nitty-gritty of tank combat in WWII, from the German perspective: the close-knit Panzer crew working as a team; desperately hand-cranking engines that won't respond to the start button; fixing damaged tracks under fire; sinking armor side-plates into a river to be able to ford; turrets swiveled manually when the engine (and thus the electricity supply) is switched off; Typhoon rocket attacks; the vital importance of the on-board machine guns; the vulnerability of tanks without infantry support; bedding down under the Panzer at night; the list goes on.... It is interesting to read that even when a Panzer was disabled quite often at least some of the crew escaped, albeit usually wounded. The tank types most frequently mentioned are the Panzer IV, Panther, Tiger and King Tiger. Those readers most interested in the grand finale of the war in the East are well catered for: in total more than a hundred pages are devoted to reports on the relief of Budapest, the battles for Vienna, Berlin etc.
After an initial reading this reviewer found only a few mistakes or oversights in the text: the lake in Hungary mentioned on p.232 should probably be Lake Velencze, not Balaton; the SS-Panzer Corps mentioned on p.266 should be the IIIrd (Germanic), not the IInd. Also the Tiger I engine is given various horsepower strengths at times. One other small quibble is that at times the section headings leave it unclear whether one is reading the report of the same commander, an `anonymous' part or a general overview. The translation reads well, there are no obvious awkward Anglo-German mix-ups.
In conclusion: if you are looking for a German-perspective account of tactical Panzer warfare in WWII, buy this book.
Panzer ace Willi Fey survived the war having earned the Deutsche Kreuz in Gold for his actions in Normandy and fought in the final battles for Berlin. This cheap reprint of the Fedorowicz classic is a translation of Fey's original German text Panzerkampf im Bild first published by Munin Verlag. As a fund of personal accounts from Waffen SS tank commanders it provides unrivalled reference material, from the hot spots of the Russian front and the battles for Charkov in early 1943 to an account of Jagdtigers in action in the final days of the war..
Fey had transferred to the Waffen-SS from the Heer and was posted to Schwere SS Panzer Abteilung 102. The Tiger crews enjoyed great success in Normandy & France as a static defensive vehicle, a role it was forced to perform due to Allied air superiority. Static defense neatly helped the German's sidestep the issue of mechanical unreliability & helped conserve valuable fuel without taking away the advantage in firepower.
The actions for which Fey won his German cross in Gold are recounted in detail here and are typical of the type of material presented by individual SS tank commanders in the book.
By early August 1944 the German lines in Normandy were crumbling. On 8 August as Allied forces crept towards Vire, west of Falaise, Willi Fey as an SS-Unterscharf?hrer from the 1st Company of sSSPzAbt 102, launched an attack, supported by the 1./Pioneer Btn 600 under Oberleutnant GAUL, on a column of 15 Shermans and gun carriers from the 23rd Hussars/11th Armoured Division, sighted approaching down the valley from the direction of the hamlet of Houssemagne. Opening fire at a distance of 600 metres, 4 Shermans were rapidly put out of action. Fey's Tiger 134 was disabled by a number of hits. Kommandeur Pz. Ab 102 Obersturmbannfuehrer Weiss ordered Fey to blow up his Tiger. Fey continued firing at the Shermans accounting for 14 off them in a 30 minute action. His Tiger was subsequently towed back to German lines later that night. Weiss recommended Fey for the Deutsche Kreuz in Gold following this action and the award was presented by General II Panzerkorps Bittrich on 15 September 1944.
It should be stressed that there is little in the way of documentary evidence for the accounts presented here (certainly British records do not record the loss of 15 Shermans on the day in question) but the book works fine on a purely descriptive level..herein are the sort of personal accounts that Tim Ripley's works on the Waffen SS Panzer arm so lacked..
Despite individual Tiger actions like this, disaster befell the Tigers at Falaise with 102nd SS-SPz Abt " Das Reich " losing all its Tigers although claiming to have knocked out 227 tanks in 6 weeks. The 101st LSSAH claimed over 200 including Wittmans tally at Villers-Bocage. However not many Tiger I's crossed the Seine after Falaise.
Post war, Willi Fey achieved high rank in the Bundeswehr..(Federal German armed forces..)
Once again, thanks to Stackpole for this fine re-print..
Like the famous egg, this book is good in parts.
There is certainly a wealth of information on the German side of tank combat on the Eastern Front and in Normandy, very good for those interested in personal accounts of small scale actions.
The downside for this reviewer is the translation. I was surprised to see a fellow reviewer praise the translation for being free of Anglo-German awkwardness. If you're looking for just this, then this book is for you. The selection that Amazon has made available on this page demonstrates almost everything that's wrong.
Why use the German transliteration of Russian place names? Charkow sounds more like a barbecue instruction than the city of Kharkov in Ukraine. Why Donez for Donets, Poltawa for Poltava? Many will find the names hard enough to pronounce without having to double back through another language. Then suddenly just when you're gettign used to it we arrive at Novomoskovsk which according to the convention used so far shoudl be Nowomoskowsk!
On page 3 the Italian 8th Army is "in full dissolution", rather like the moansteries or perhaps their forebears in the days of the Empire. Later "...Panzer IIIs...also did not allow... the enemy rest" - this is classic Anglo-German. "We'll advance...under cover of terrain" - is this really easy to read English? Enemy Pak knock out advancing Pz IIIs. Why not enemy anti-tank guns?
There are also examples of the Leo Kessler school such as "steel rain of death" etc. For me this makes this a dip-into book as I am unable to read more than about five pages or so of this type of writing.
However, there is still quite a bit of meat to be got off these rather shaky bones in terms of technical details and info on lesser known actions.
Basically a typical Stackpole offering. Caveat emptor