Panzer Operations

Panzer Operations
Herman Hoth
5 Mushroom Heads
Herman Hoth commanded Panzer Group 3 during Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Along with Panzer Group 2, (commanded by Heinz Guderian) he was part of the astonishingly successful advance from Eastern Poland to the outskirts of Moscow, on the way outflanking and destroying much – but crucially, not all – of the Red Army. His Panzer Group contained between 4 and 7 panzer divisions, plus the same again of infantry divisions. At that time a Panzer division contained one Panzer Regiment of three battalions – thus Hoth’s command was some four or five times the combat strength of the current British Army.

Hoth survived the war, was found guilty of war crimes and spent some time in jail. This book arose from the advent of tactical nuclear weapons and the assimilation of the Bundeswehr into NATO -where it faced the (to Germans) familiar problem of an armoured hoard poised to the east. Hoth’s book was one of several produced by Wehrmacht commanders for the benefit of the Bundeswehr and her allies.

To that extent, it reads at times more like a pamphlet with his thoughts on how to command, use tanks and the like appearing as separate asides. Unsurprisingly it is clear, direct and logical. There are also interesting comments on the complex relationships between Hitler, OKW and OKH and analysis of what the key decisions and errors were. The appendices include actual operational orders, but (unlike Guderian’s book Panzer Leader) this is not a memoir - it is a masterclass in what happened and how to command armour. For that reason alone it should be bought and read by anyone who thinks they know about tanks, command or staff work as well as those with an interest in military history.

There are a few gripes. The maps are the original German ones, complete with German spellings of Russian names. They are also crowded and poorly printed, which is tiresome and inexcusable. The translation is at times clunky, for example “7 Panzer Division partook of the battle” and the tone of the book can sometimes be a little didactic. And of course the Corps identifications use Roman numerals, so be prepared to expend some effort in differentiating XXXIX from LVII and LVI.

The simple fact is that this is a frank and readable account of one of the defining campaigns of history by someone who not only was there but led it. IF you are reading this review to the bottom you should read the book. 5 out of 5.

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