Ian Baxter, H*tl*r’s Heavy Tiger Tank Battalions 1942-1945 (Pen & Sword, 2020)
The Tiger was arguably the most feared tank in World War II. Grouped together into battalions, they could deliver a devastating blow. But they could not win the war on their own, or even a battle, and they were vulnerable to mechanical breakdowns and Allied countermeasures such as anti-tank weapons and aircraft. Every tank that entered combat, therefore, had a support network of men and machines to keep it in the field. Ian Baxter’s latest work on the German army for the Images of War series accompanies the Tiger Battalions on their pursuit of a losing cause.
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After a quick outline of the Panzerwaffe in 1941/1942, and their foray into the Soviet Union, Baxter gets down to the business of discussing Tigers. The Tiger was the biggest German tank to date in April 1942, weighing in at 56 tons with thick armour and an 88mm gun, a powerful beast by any standards. They were also expensive and high maintenance, though 1,350 Tiger Is were manufactured during the War. Tigers were organized into heavy battalions to spearhead breakthroughs. And with that background established, Baxter moves into chapters narrating the Tigers in action, profusely illustrated, of course, with many photographs of the tanks and their support vehicles.
The Eastern Front and North Africa in 1942 and 1943 are considered first. Baxter notes that the introduction of Tigers could produce dramatic results locally, but they also struggled with poor roads and weak bridges. Moreover, in Africa, there were not enough of them to make a true difference in battle. The action in 1943 stays on the Eastern Front, but moves to Sicily from Africa, though that was a stepping stone back to Italy once Allied superiority began to tell. The Tiger was used in numbers at Kursk, but despite local successes, they could not break the Soviet defences. Tigers were also withdrawn to assist on other fronts as the Allied squeeze tightened.
1944 saw a new front open in the West while operations continued on the Eastern Front. The Tiger was by now mainly a defensive weapon, notes Baxter, and ad-hoc battlegroups were sent to prop up crumbling defences. But again, there were too few of them and replacements were hard to come by. Their movements were also restricted by Allied air power. The last year of the war found Tigers supporting the German defensive lines in Italy, but losses were unsustainable. They also helped squash Operation Market Garden in Holland, but again with losses they could not replace, and took the lead in the Ardennes Offensive, aided by the bigger Tiger IIs, but fuel shortages crippled them. On the Eastern Front, they were simply overwhelmed. Six short appendices close out Baxter’s book. They cover Tiger profiles with graphic artwork (disappointingly in monochrome rather than colour); battalion histories and markings; and battalion equipment and organization.
The Images of War series depends on a wide variety of quality photographs to make the book work. This volume has those in abundance, which will make modellers and wargamers happy. Baxter’s text is serviceable; it doesn’t have to be great, but Baxter’s sometimes uncritical approach towards the Germans gets a bit cloying at times, and for all the Tiger was a feared weapon, the Germans seemed to lose an awful lot of them. He also tends to waste caption space by stating the obvious. Nevertheless, those quibbles aside, this is an entertaining and informative book on an iconic tank that WWII enthusiasts will enjoy.