Anthony Tucker-Jones, Hitler’s Panzers The Complete History 1933-1945 (Pen & Sword, 2020)
For most of us, I suspect, the infamous German blitzkrieg of World War II rested on their ability to punch through defensive weak points with tanks and pour into the enemy’s rear areas, causing chaos then collapse. Then with Tigers and Panthers prowling around battlefields, the Germans possessed the best tanks of the war. We have, therefore, a sense of German technical superiority in tanks, and it is remarkable that they lost, but lose they did. How? With that in mind, I approached Anthony Tucker-Jones’s Hitler’s Panzers The Complete History 1933-1945 in eager anticipation of finding some answers. I was not disappointed.
Tucker-Jones begins after Versailles when Germany was forbidden to build tanks, but as in most things they worked their way round that prohibition. Tank development continued under Heinz Guderian who could see better than most how important they would be in a future war. Panzer I and IIs were quickly developed but neither matched what was needed in a main battle tank. The Panzer III was an improvement and the Panzer IV became the workhorse tank for the army, especially when it was up-gunned to compete with the Soviet T-34. The Panzer VI Tiger carried the potent 88mm gun but it was very heavy and slow as was the production of them. The same fate befell the Panzer V Panther and Tiger II. The increasing allied bomber raids on factories accounted for most of that, but the latter were both delayed in design and production. In addition, Tucker-Jones argues that these heavy tanks presented as many tactical problems as they solved.
Part II takes us into battle with the German tanks. Tucker-Jones examines the creation and tactics of the Panzer Divisions, featuring the attacks on Poland and France, and the desert campaigns. He demonstrates that the Panzer I and IIs lasted further into the war than they should have, helped by the Allies, especially the British, having distinctly average tanks. The Panzers IIIs and IV’s, chewed those up but could not cope with Allied airpower. The Tiger did well too, as expected, but their capture helped the Allies find ways to defeat them. Out in the East, the Panzers were simply overwhelmed by numbers, though lost opportunities and premature and piecemeal deployment played their part. The Panthers, in particular, were subject to mechanical failures and poorly trained crews that mitigated their power on the battlefield. The Panzers fell victim to attrition in Normandy and on the retreat into Germany.
Part III surveys the switch in emphasis from Panzers to Sturmgeschütz (Stugs), assault guns that became indistinguishable from Panzers in their role during the increasingly desperate struggle to save Germany. The Germans needed tank killers and support weapons, and Stugs fit that bill. They were also easier to build than panzers when Germany had to plug the gaps in their Panzer ranks. In Part IV, Tucker-Jones moves onto missed opportunities, starting with the Battle of the Bulge, which ultimately did not go well for the Germans. The Soviets too had worked on defeating the German heavy tanks. Tucker-Jones concludes that the Panzer IV was the best German tank of the war not the more touted Panther. For the Tigers and Panthers, he argues there simply was not enough of them to make more than a tactical difference.
Hitler’s Panzers The Complete History 1933-1945 is a well-written book that covers all the basics of the German tanks and then some. It is a balanced account too: it will satisfy those who want an authoritative account while providing a platform for further study. Tucker-Jones might have leaned on Guderian as a source a bit too much, but that does not interfere with the thrust of his arguments or the enjoyment of his book. Highly Recommended. 9/10