Panzer Battles Paperback – Illustrated, 12 Mar 2008
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About the Author
F.W. von Mellenthin was born in 1904, and joined the German Army in 1924. By 1945, he had been involved almost every major tank battle on every front.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Opening chapters of the book focus on evolution of German Panzer troops and blitzkrieg in Poland,France , Balkans. Conservative faction in the army ,Mellenthin says, opposed mechanisation .However Hitler's unflinching support helped override opposition.
The outcome of German invasion of Poland was a foregone conclusion. Polish army was ineptly deployed with bulk of forces holding the salient.Wehrmacht outflanked Polish dispositions even before hostilities commenced.For the Poles the best option was to retreat and take up positions behind river barriers[ Vistula,San, Bug] which would have slowed down German attack. Such a step would have given Allies sufficient time to attack weak German holding forces in the west.
Mellenthin expounds his views on German invasion of France and Low countries unquestionably most brilliant campaign in World War II. He says allies had superior quality tanks and their tank strength exceeded those fielded by Wehrmacht.But outcome of the campaign was shaped by 'how' armour was used.Allies frittered away their strength by distributing tanks among infantry divisions which robbed its striking power.This can be compared to fingers of a hand kept wide apart and cannot be clenched to form a fist . Germans massed their panzers which struck like a 'mailed fist' at weakest sector of Allied front.German attack unexpected in time and place resulted in victory which stunned the world.Besides it toppled balance of power in Europe.
German campaign in Balkans panzers were used in the mountainous landscape of Greece. This disproves the notion that armour is fit to be used only in plains.
Mellenthin served in the staff of Gen Rommel's Deutsche Afrika corps.Author says desert's flat open space gave sufficent room for turning manoeuvres. He stresses the need for close co- operation among different arms within a armoured division.British tactics were faulty.They thought tanks should only fight tanks.In short, British were trying to supplant world War I naval tactics in the desert.On many occasions Brits ran into German anti tank screen and suffered appalling losses.They were led into this trap by retreating German panzers.Tanks should be massed and used only against lightly defended sectors.Key principle of strategy is concentration of force against weakness.Anti tank guns should be used to knock out enemy tanks and artillery for destroying anti tank guns.British failed to do this.
Author's experience of war in Russia forms core of this book.German superiority in mobile tactics were in display in the vast open steppes of southern Russia.However German panzers were designed to deliver strikes along a limited periphery. In Russia distances to be covered were great and German follow- on forces minimal.Therefore Russian space exposed the weakness of German strategy.Chapter on Russian tactics was awesome. Author says Russian attacks were characterised by lavish use of material and manpower.Red Army was insensitive to losses and had an abject disregard for human life.
Hitler's insistence on rigid defence doomed Wehrmacht.This entailed dissipation of German strength across a sprawling front.Fuehrer was unwilling to barter territory for gaining tactical advantage.Field Marshal Manstein's Donetz counter offensive[ Feb 22 1943]shows the best way to counter Red Army was through manoeuvre. Russian campaign proved futility of throwing panzers against fortified defences. Striking example being operation Citadel[ Kursk] on July 5 1943.
Finally, author emphaises the importance of air power. Panzers cannot operate without air cover.This became obvious when Wehrmacht was struggling to stop the thrust of Gen Patton's Third Army.Mellenthin at that time serving as chief of staff to Army Group G saw how repeated German attacks were foiled by allied air forces. In fact, German blitzkrieg in France was made possible by Luftwaffe. German air force launched pre-emptive strikes which wiped out allied air forces in the ground which opened the way for panzers. Further serving as flying artillery it provided close fire support for rampaging panzers.
'Panzer Battles' is well written and contains some good maps. though published in the early 1950's the book has maintained its indispensability to students of War/History.
His perspective is taken from the front lines on the Russian front where he participated in many battles in 1943 and 1944 in the southern sector where the Battle of Stalingrad occured. He describes Generals Manstein, Hoth and Balck strategy and tactic approaches and the battles around the Chir River and the attempt to rescue the 6 th army in the Cauldron. He also fought with Rommel in the Desert War against the British in 1941 and 1942. I am convinced he is right when he says War is an Art and all nations must know it well to survive.
He offers an objective view of what went right for the Germans in their victories as well as their shortcomings. Even though the Germans were greatly outnumbered by the Russians especially after the Battle of Stalingrad he submits the Germans almost never panicked even when surrounded. The Germans were led by well trained Officers and NCO's who were well trained in tank or panzer tactics. Training and tactics especially with their tanks were key to winning. Their leaders typically led from the front, were decisive, knew how to improvise when things went awry and nearly pulled off a victory on the eastern front. The strategic decision by Hitler to not pull back to behind the Don River in Oct of 1942 was the major reason why the 6th army was lost at Stalingrad. German troops were for the most part well led and had esprit de corp from 1940 - 1944.
The Russian had strength in their great numbers, their stubborness and what appear to be a disdain for death. The Germans were in awe of how little the Russians could eat and survive and still fight.
The Germans were appalled by the human wave tactics that the Russian leaders used to throw back the Germans. The Russians were the leaders in infiltration behind German lines and in their T-34 tanks which were superior to the Germans until the Panther and Tiger appeared in 1943. "Once Ivan got an idea there was no changing his mind on an objective". Huge losses of men did not matter. Men were commodities and their lives did not seem to matter. Sometimes the Russians in these huge mass charges had no weapons and little training.........they were canon fodder.
What truly impressed me about this book is the narrative of Von Mellenthin describing the masses of Russians attacking the German defenses. You have a sense of being there in the terrible cold and brutal conditions. As he describes........They came in mass waves with horrendous yells and only veteran German soldiers and officers who knew what they doing and had plenty of ammunition could keep their lines from being overrun. Inexperienced German troops were no match for the Russians. From his vivid description of the situation you get a clear picture of these incredible battles where the Germans are sometimes outnumbered 5 & 8 - 1 but are somehow able to win many battles against overwhelming odds and the knowledge that the War was lost; yet they fought on fiercly to try to protect their families from the coming onslaught in 1945.
This is the book you want to read if you want to understand the War in the East between the Germans and the Russians from mostly the German perspective. Lots of lessons learned for the reader if he wants to understand how to fight a tenacious and stubborn foe who despises death and doesn't care about his losses (i.e. Taliban).
His book is divided into four sections; one for each front that he was deployed. They were Europe in 1939-41; North Africa; Russian Front and finally back to Europe on the Western Front. There is coverage of 22 campaigns; some of them are Poland 1939; Balkans, Tobruk, El Alamein; Stalingrad; Kursk, Kiev; Poland in 1944; Alsace-Lorraine. The author concisely describes the tank battles with emphasis on panzer tactics. He describes how his side won a campaign or why they lost other battles. He mentions how Russians never gave up, how they would fight to the bitter end. He would discuss the material advantage the Allies had in 1944-45 and many other pertinent aspects of the war.
This book would be good for any reading level. If you're new to the conflict, you could learn about the key battles of the war. If you are more experienced, you could enjoy learning the many little insights of tactics that only a soldier could deliver. This is one of my favorites for that reason.
There are nearly 70 maps that are very effective and will help with understanding the battle action. A few photos are included as was a useful Index. Since this book was written from his personal memories, a Notes section or Bibliography are absent.
Toward the end of the book, there is a chapter called "In Retrospect" that was very good. The author discusses many things. He talks about if Germany could have won the war, treason, German production vs Allied production, how casualties eventually outstripped replacements and more. This book was written in 1956 during a rough time in the cold war; the author had an ulterior motive for writing this training manual. The author was trying to divulge Soviet tank practices to the West in case the cold war turned hot.
I really enjoyed this book and if you're interested in mobile tactics and battle action then you'll probably like it also.
The personal nature of the book made his writing style very engaging but his understandable bias; something that he does not try to hide, can greatly distort the reality of the Russian front for the western reader unless you avail yourselves to other resources. In short, this is fascinating source material but not a good overview. I highly recommend reading David Glantz's book, `When Titan's Clashed', it is only 290 pages and conveys much about the Russians that is missing from Von Mellenthin's account. I would also recommend a Russian produced series called `Soviet Storm' freely available on the web in 46 minute episodes. I have come to the conclusion that the Russians understood their opponent better than the other way around.
Please be assured that I believe that Von Mellenthin was being completely truthful in his accounts regarding Russian frontal attacks and other events that he witnessed. I am only suggesting that his information is selective because of his viewpoint.
He attributes racial characteristics to the Russians when logical alternatives exist. For example, he mentions how the Russians panic at the sudden appearance of even a small number of tanks on their flanks and talks about how these Asiatic's are driven by moods that us westerner's cannot understand. Many troops will panic in these situations, especially if they are inexperienced or don't have the proper equipment in place. However, he tersely dismisses in one sentence how the newly arrived 25th panzer was routed in their first combat because they lacked inexperience without reference to ethnic attributes.
His book is very flattering to the western reader, it could be summarized as, `we westerners are more adaptable in the field while the Russians rely on brute force and will'. I believe that he is giving his honest assessment but without writing my own book, his account leaves a lot of important, big picture things that the Russians did off the table. He dwells at great length on every single German victory, every single in-artful Russian frontal attack and then in the briefest sentence he will make the tiniest reference to a major Russian victory as in `our flanks didn't do so well' (the capture of Kiev).
I gave this book 4 stars for the reasons explained in the comment that I posted to my own review. The book is well written, it contains valuable information on tactics but I believed he missed the big picture while stressing that he is giving us the big picture. I understand his bias and expect it but I am dinging him because, in my opinion, the author failed one of his primary goals.
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