is carving out a niche in Military History books that should be closely-followed by modelers. Their titles range from general histories down to specific classes of weapons. I have already reviewed their German Self-Propelled Artillery Guns
, and now comes a book devoted to Germany's heavy tanks, both real and in development.
According to the author, Kenneth W. Estes, a prolific writer for Osprey and other well-known publishers, Germany entered WW2 with a dearth of heavy fighting vehicles. The Panzer I was outmoded already, the Pz. II suitable mostly for recce work, while the Pz. III and IV quickly ran into superior designs that showed them under-armed and outclassed. The German Blitzkrieg succeeded almost in spite of Germany's tanks because of superior tactics (massing armor in motorized units instead of spreading them out as infantry support) and command & control (especially the then novel idea of using radios in every tank, not just the tank company commander's vehicle).
There then ensued a long and complex process of designing a heavy tank that would counter both the Russians and anticipated heavy tanks being developed in the UK. According to Estes, this process was far from smooth and guaranteed to run into problems once Hitler took control. Estes does a good job of showing how chaotic that made things as the Führer changed his mind and added new requirements. Enabling the chaos was Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, who both designed tanks for his own firm, and oversaw the government's efforts to acquire new weapons.
The 187-page soft-sided book comes with 118 color and B&W illustrations and photos. Besides the introduction, the book is divided into eleven chapters:
1. German Tank Development 1918-1939
2. War the the Heavy Tank Program 1939-1945
3. The Tiger Tank
4. The Successor: The Tiger II Tank
5. Inspecting a Tiger II
6. Dr. Porsche's Tank to the Battlefield: The Ferdinand-Elefant
7. Superheavy Tanks: Maus
10. German Heavy Tank Units in World War II
11. Conclusions: Quality v. Quantity
One of the first questions I ask when reviewing a new book is: does it advance what we already know, or does it at least bring together material that otherwise would require multiple references and thereby simplify a modeler's research? One side benefit of the latter is saving money when buying fewer reference works. I'm a big believer in having adequate source material, both photo books and background information, but this is a hobby and some modelers have limited financial resources. Finding an "all in one" reference for a particular topic can be a good development. Most modelers in my opinion spend far too much on kits vs. reference works, but is is daunting when trying to build a particular vehicle while deciding whether "Panzertracts," "Panzerwrecks," or books about entire classes of vehicles like Spielberger's German Halftracks are called for.
is attempting to mine the second niche in references with books that sum up or otherwise concentrate in one source information that modelers otherwise might have to scour across multiple sources. And in this case, Kenneth Estes is both a good writer and has assembled a wealth of historical information.
The book is organized around chapters on each of the "heavies," especially the Tigers (both I and II). This is quite natural, since both tanks were significant factors on the battlefield. Indeed, the 88mm gun variants used on both tanks were largely unmatched in killing power until late in the war when the British 17-pounder was mounted in the Sherman to create the Firefly, and the Soviets deployed their 122mm JS-2.
Each chapter devotes extensive information to the development of the tank, including details about specs, design, variants, etc. The chapters specifically do NOT then deal with deployment and combat history. The author reserves the business side of these tanks to a separate chapter at the end about their role in combat. He argues convincingly that Germany made a fatal error in the "quality vs. quantity" equation by staking everything on big, expensive tanks that were brought too quickly to production, plagued with design flaws, and inadequately supported in the field (with spare parts in short supply, disabled tanks were shipped back to the factory for overhaul rather than serviced in the field). And with tactics switching away from "super heavy" ground weapons to air power, Germany was ill-prepared to handle late WW2 combat with vehicles that broke down often on their way to battle.
For modelers, one limitation of the book is the number and size of the photographs. Many of the ones included are new to me, and look excellent, though there probably aren't enough of them to avoid the need for a source with more action photos and color plates, especially camo patters. Still, the book does feature some contemporary photos of both a Tiger I and II from Le Musée des Blindés in Saumur, France. Less famous than its English cousin in Bovington, the museum features the world's only working Tiger II, which beats the relic sitting outdoors in La Gleize, Belgium that my son and I saw in the rain some years ago. Otherwise this is a superb overview of the German heavy tank and its development, including both actual vehicles and prototypes like the E-100 that didn't impact the war once Germany ground to a halt.
This book is an outstanding compendium of information, technical details, and historical writing that should entertain, inform and enlighten most modelers. The material about the development of Germany's heavy tanks is very readable and relevant to understanding how these vehicles were procured and the limitations of Germany's wartime economy that virtually assured defeat. The technical details will be helpful in building kits, and the photos are both illustrative and useful for model builders.
Thanks to Fonthill Media for this review copy. Be sure to let them know you saw it reviewed on Armorama when ordering your copy.