Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tomb of the Panzerwaffe: The Defeat of the Sixth SS Panzer Army in Hungary by Aleksei Isaev, Maksim Kolomiets, Stuart Britton (Translator)

"Tomb of the Panzwerwaffe" covers the actions of the last large-scale German offensive on the Eastern Front from January through March of 1945.  The majority of this work is concentrated on the Soviet point of view but simultaneously there are reports, figures, and information that details the German side as well.  Isaev and Kolomiets have put out multiple volumes on the Second World War in Russia and this collaborative effort is a great addition to any library on the Eastern Front of the Second World War.  There is not much here in terms of eye-witness accounts as this is an operation and tactical account of the German attack to initially break through into besieged Budapest and then launch an attack against the Soviets around the area of Lake Balaton.  The authors are critical of both sides and their actions when the need arises.  Some archival information provided reveals the lack of readiness on the part of various Red Army formations but simultaneously there is also evident the high quality of actions undertaken by some units when the need appeared.  Soviet forces had been through much and their knowledge and abilities can be seen in detail throughout these operations, whether creating anti-tank kill zones or utilizing dummy positions in order to steer German tanks into tank ambushes.  One of the points the authors stress is the importance throughout these battles of anti-tank self-propelled artillery and artillery formations in general, it was their presence (in regiment, brigade, and division size) that stabilized much of the front with Red Army tank forces playing a secondary role, to a large extent.

While Kolomiets usually deals with a specific type of publication (photo heavy, oversized, and usually focuses on accounts of various battles or periods of the war) Isaev for the most part sticks to operational and strategic narratives in at times rather thick volumes.  I'm not a big fan of numerous photos of knocked out or abandoned tanks, but in the case of this book they served a very important purpose.  The Soviets marked each knocked out or abandoned tank, self-propelled gun, and half-track with markings and numbered them during this period.  This makes it possible to track the damage inflicted on the Wehrmacht in operations around Lake Balaton and compare the knocked out and abandoned equipment left on the field of battle with the numbers claimed by both the Red Army and the Wehrmacht in after-action reports.  While the Red Army claimed some 324 tanks and self-propelled guns burned out with another 332 knocked out, as well as 120 half-tracks burned and 97 knocked out, the German claims were for 42 tanks and 1 halftrack listed as irrecoverably lost, with another 396 tanks and self-propelled guns and 228 halftracks in for short and long term repairs.  Yet the pictures provided show a high number of at least 355, with most showing destroyed tanks and self-propelled guns (279 in total), thus the truth appears to be somewhere in the middle of Soviet claims and German reported figures.  More so, there is also the question of the Germans listing armored vehicles in 'short term' and 'long term' repair, categories which initially mean at least a month out of service, if not more, and indefinitely (respectively).  Additionally, categories can change over time, meaning a tank listed as in for short term repair can then be switched to long term and finally written off altogether.  I will mention that the only real weakness I found here is the limited endnotes and the limited bibliography provided.  Otherwise, this was a very interesting account of the final months of the war on the Eastern Front.

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