- Anthony Tucker-Jones
The German Army had developed tank warfare to a much greater extent than other nations. One of their main advantages was that they were all equipped with radios; which is why they could so easily out-manoeuvre the French tank forces that, at the time, possessed superior vehicles, but without radios.
Problems began to emerge when targeted Allied bombing raids on German tank-production facilities caused huge gaps in the manufacturing process of Panzer IVs, Tigers and Panthers. Coupled with the huge expense of such tanks and the shortage of suitable materials caused by Allied embargoes and sabotage, the Germans turned to installing their guns on chassis without turrets. Such assault guns and tank destroyers, while being far simpler and cheaper to construct than tanks with rotating turrets, only had lateral swivel movements of around 25 cms in either direction; with some of them being even more restricted (8 cms left and 11 cms right). That left them vulnerable to attacks from the side and that problem remained for the rest of the war as a trade-off for their mobility in the assault-gun role, or as tank destroyers.
A further problem dogging the deployment of assault guns and tank destroyers was that the crews weren’t part of the panzer army but artillery gunners, which inevitably caused much confusion in the chain of command at a strategic and tactical level. In addition, General Heinz Gudarian, the German tank-warfare expert, lamented the diversion of production away from tanks and roughly calculated that something like 3,000 Tiger tanks could have been produced with the materials used. However, towards the end of the war, that was no longer valid, for the Germans used anything they could get their hands on, particularly on the eastern front, and often married up captured Soviet artillery pieces with Czech light-tank chassis to at least produce something that could move and shoot. Tank destroyers in particular were urgently needed against the advancing Soviet troops in their excellent T-34s and a lot of manufacturing facilities were closed to the Germans when Czechoslovakia was taken by the Soviets. However, by then the war was virtually over and the assault guns and tank destroyers were deployed more and more in a defensive capacity. Just how desperate the situation was on the eastern front can be gleaned from the fact that the Soviet Union finished the war with more tanks (around 22,000) than all the other nations combined.
After some initial successes on the western front, the Allies very quickly developed effective tactics to radically reduce the effects of the assault guns and tank destroyers used there. And very soon they were also reduced to mainly defensive and rear-guard tactics as the Allies pressed westwards.
All in all, an immensely interesting book with a profusion of pictures illustrating just about every type of assault gun and tank destroyer the Germans deployed. The text is a treasure of incredible details that will appeal to the dedicated “kit spotters” but also to others with more than a passing interest in tank warfare. A highly recommendable book.