Thursday, 30 January 2014

Panzer Warfare on the Eastern Front - Hans Schaufler

Title: Panzer Warfare on the Eastern Front
Author: Hans Schaufler
ISBN: 978-1-781-59005-8
Pages: 341
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Photos: 77 b/w//4 maps

Hans Schaufler has not so much written a book as gathered an anthology of the experiences of his  fellow panzer soldiers into a time capsule of Eastern Front operations. Focussing on five panzer divisions: 4th, 9th, 11th, 16th and the 18th he has made a concerted effort to provide a medium whereby the voice of history may be passed on by those who actually experienced it. One of the interesting and unique aspects of his narrative is the fact that the author really does take a very hands off approach, to the point where there is no introduction or conclusion, nor is there any commentary by him of the inputs of the soldiers and officers who have contributed. His editorial input is limited to ensuring the narrative follows a definite timeline and that the stories make grammatical sense. Additionally, he provides appendices of the order of battle's of the five panzer divisions and a rank equivalency chart.

Not only has the author gathered the narratives, but he is also a contributor himself having served with the 4th Panzer-Division. This style of storytelling provides for the reader a sense of authenticity that is lacking from the traditional historical work. This generation is quickly passing into history themselves and with them, the personal aspect of an experience that may only be passed on by someone who has 'lived' it themselves.

This work is not a study of grand strategic plans, or dramatic operational pincer movements, it does not glorify nor denigrate war and it is not a justification for what occurred during those tumultuous years. What it does do is provide short snippets that relate the reminisces  of a soldier within a squad or a platoon of events that were memorable to him. The stories are exciting, tragic, funny, ridiculous or surreal, but all are honest and genuine. Whether relating the experiences of a young Oberwachmeister finding himself having to fight off wolves from the back of a Russian panje wagon while on patrol in the dead of winter, a Gefreiter telling of a hopeless panzer crew and their disastrous training display in front of the divisional commander or of the Oberstleutnant operations officer of the 16 Panzer Division recreating the daily logs of the unit that were destroyed following its surrender at Stalingrad from memory following 13 years of captivity, these stories resonate with life. When looking at themes that may be found throughout the book, I noted that regardless of the nature of the story been recounted, the underlying loyalty and comradeship between the landser never wavered and was always viewed as a source of strength and courage.

The quality of the book itself is good however, the photo's are of a lower production value. One can certainly see the changes and the consistency in the recollections as the chapters flow from the initial invasion in 1941 through to the disintegration and chaos of the last months of the war. Overall, I would highly recommend this work as a critical testament to the drama, farce and terror faced and overcome by soldiers of any nation but, in this particular case, Germany.

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