Tomb of the Panzerwaffe
Aleksei Isaev and Maksim Kolomiet’s Tomb of the Panzerwaffe delivers an engaging operational history of the significant battles that took place near Hungary’s Lake Balaton from January to early March of 1945. In addition it also provides readers with several points of value not normally found in Second World War Eastern Front operational histories. For these reasons as well as those that follow I believe even well informed readers will enjoy this fast moving but information packed book.
Tomb of the Panzerwaffe is divided into two parts. The first covers the German attempts in January of 1945, Operations Konrad I and II, to relieve the encircled Axis forces at Budapest, their failure to reach Budapest, and the Axis garrison’s subsequent fall. The strength of Part I is in its discussion and analysis of Konrad I and II. Each of these operations are covered in a clear and concise manner that includes detailed coverage of terrain, larger strategic considerations, objectives, opposing forces, and the course of combat operations; all followed by perceptive analysis of the reasons for German failures and Soviet successes. What makes this discussion so engaging is not only its brisk pace, judicious use of tables to convey various tables of organization and equipment (TO&E), and ample detail, but is in its analysis.
In today’s day and age one of the primary values an author can provide a reader of Second World War events is in offering a well thought out analysis that, in addition, is balanced. And here Aleksei Isaev and Maksim Kolomiet’s deliver both in quite a commendable fashion. For that matter, and throughout this book, the authors draw on not only rare Soviet primary sources but also German sources which when coupled together provides the reader a far more complete picture than other operational histories that tend to rely on just one or the other. As to the latter please see David Stahel’s lamentable and recent works covering Germany’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. Stahel's work is invariably drawn almost exclusively from German sources most of which are well known in even the English speaking world and thus not surprisingly his books produce deeply flawed analytical outcomes; such as a belief that Germany had lost the war within six to eight weeks of the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Tomb of the Panzerwaffe’s Part II is just as strong and well put together as Part I, though in this part the emphasis has shifted to covering the last major German offensive of the war; March 1945’s Operation Fruhlingserwachen (Spring Awakening). Just as in Part I, Part II features a detailed operational history of the campaign. In addition it follows up on several interesting aspects of Part I’s discussion; including the German use of night optics and the first large scale Soviet deployment of the SU-100 self-propelled gun. These are both welcome additions to the book, and provide a further depth of insight that enables the reader to get a much stronger feel for the flavor of combat on this front of the war.
In addition, and even though Spring Awakening is well known as the final great assembly of German armor during the war Part II spends ample time explaining why Spring Awakening was not in fact a great clash of armor. This was because the Soviet defensive effort rested overwhelmingly on the use of deeply echeloned defensive fronts built around the use of anti-tank guns and artillery. From there and though Soviet tanks were present on the battlefield the mobile portion of the Soviet defensive effort was primarily carried by assault guns and self-propelled guns. Accordingly this work includes detailed descriptions of the use of these weapons systems:
"In order to combat enemy tanks, the SU-100s primarily operated out of ambush positions. SU-100 batteries were deployed in covered positions, camouflaged in woods, or on the reverse slopes of hills and ridges. In front of them, at distances of 100-200 meters, firing positions with good visibility and good fields of fire were prepared, and as a rule, they offered 360 degree fields of fire. In the positions next to them observation posts were set up, in which there would be an officer who had a communications link with the battery. Whenever German tanks appeared at a distance of 1,000 to 1,500 meters, the tank destroyers would move up into their firing positions, fire several rounds, and the use of reserve drive to pull back into cover. Such a tactic justified itself when repelling enemy attacks in the areas of Saregres and Simontornya. For example on 11 March, a battery of the 209th Self-propelled Artillery Brigade’s 1953rd Self-propelled Artillery Regiment, having taken up an ambush position in a dense patch of woods west of Simontornya’s train station, repelled an attack of 14 German tanks, three of which were set on fire at a range of 1,500 meters." (Tomb of the Panzerwaffe page 168)
I must mention one other highlight of Tomb of the Panzerwaffe; that being its wonderful use of archival pictures taken by Soviet photographers not only during combat operations but also of knocked out Soviet and Axis armor following the end of each battle. It is rare to find operational histories that also include significant numbers of photographs, and this inclusion further marks this work as a unique find. All told there are well over 100 exceedingly rare photographs that even well informed English language readers on this subject matter are not likely to have previously seen.
Finally, and once again, I must single out the superb work of Stuart Britton in translating Aleksei Isaev and Maksim Kolomiet’s original text, and in making it accessible for the English language reader. I have reviewed a number of his other books, and find his work to hold to a consistently high level of excellence. Though some prospective readers may be put off by what seems to be a steep price to pay for a 184 page book, the quality of its contents makes this work one I wholeheartedly recommend.