Steven J. Zaloga, German Tanks in France 1940 (Osprey, 2024)
Anyone with even a passing interest in World War II knows that the Germans swept through France in May 1940, ending in the disastrous Allied ‘victory’ at Dunkirk. In this New Vanguard volume from Osprey, Steven Zaloga surveys the German panzers that spearheaded that assault.
Zaloga begins by narrating the development of panzer formations, which flourished under Hitler’s patronage. Combined arms tactics lagged behind, however, leading to panzers and infantry often fighting apart. The author turns to the technical factors of the various German panzers: Panzerkampfwagen I, II, III, IV, and two Czech tanks taken as booty from the German annexation in 1939. He adds the tank destroyer Panzerjäger and the Sturmgeschütz assault gun, both of which provided support for the panzers though in small numbers.
The campaign for France was titled Fall Gelb (Plan Yellow), and that is where Zaloga turns next. He describes the plan and organisation before narrating the world’s first great tank battle near Hannut in May 1940. This proved to be a hard fight, with Zaloga stressing the logistical importance of fuel and ammunition in the outcome, adding to the main problems of enemy action and mechanical breakdowns. But the panzers kept coming, pouring through the Ardennes, and peeling the French out of their defences aided by the luftwaffe. Then began the race to the sea despite orders for caution from the German high command. Zaloga notes that Allied counter-attacks fostered such thinking. The campaign culminated in much of the Anglo-French army escaping from Dunkirk with the panzers on the horizon but stalled. In his analysis of the campaign, Zaloga highlights the bold thrust of the panzers contrasted with the lacklustre efforts of the French. He puts this down to German combat experience, though they still had much to learn. Perhaps surprisingly, Zaloga argues that the German panzers were not that much better than the French machines, though they did have better tactical proficiency. In particular, he expresses disappointment at the PzKpfwIII, while extolling the virtues of the PzKpfwIV.
Zaloga has written an interesting survey of the German panzers, which works as a basic introduction. It is a slim volume, however, and there are many aspects of those tanks omitted, particularly the human experience of fighting in and against them – a deeper bibliography would have compensated for this. Nevertheless, that is balanced by Osprey’s excellent graphic depictions of the tanks along with a wide range of photographs. This makes Zaloga’s book useful for modellers, wargamers, and any military history reader taking their first step into the world of the panzers.