- Wolfgang Schneider
As the title suggests, it’s the last of three (and the only one reviewed) and, as the Foreword makes clear, it ‘focuses on all aspects of the operation and tactical-technical handling of the tank’. This is a masterly piece of understatement since, cards on the table right from the start, this is a truly excellent example of how to combine extreme detail with original material and produce a readable and accessible result, consistently, and for over 500 pages. The book is a thoroughly professional study and successfully avoids any flirtation with Panzer porn and any danger of lionizing the Waffen SS and becoming a sacred text for Stormfront.
The author is a former Oberst in the Bundeswehr who retired after over 40 years in the army where he was, among other things, deputy commander of a Panzerbrigade and responsible for combat development, procurement and doctrine. This probably goes a long way to explaining how he’s able to deploy so much detail without getting lost in the weeds.
The book is laid out in five main sections, with an annex, and these sections cover the establishment and structure of Tiger units, training, operating the Tiger, deployment and tactics. Each section is then broken down into a series of very readable subsections supported by very clear diagrams and illustrations. To top it all off, there are also more than 1,200 photographs, many of which were completely unfamiliar to this reviewer despite over forty years of reading military history, and all of which were well captioned if not referenced to a truly terrifying degree. For example, one photo on page 412 bears the legend: “The tanks themselves often had to take wounded to the first aid stations – as in this picture of the ‘505’ taken on 27 December 1943”. This is by no means unique. As if that wasn’t enough, at the back, there are a series of amendments to Volumes I and II where original captions were wrong or more information has been unearthed. There is a meticulousness to this work that verges on mania but the result is a tour de force of unimpeachable intellectual rigour.
Tigers in Combat III redefines the meaning of exhaustive and there is far more detail than most readers will ever want, however, if you really do want to know how many Ordonnanzoffiziers there were in a Tiger Company and what their personal weapon was, this book can tell you, along with which vehicle they drove and how numbers and organisation changed as the war progressed. For those who don’t wish to become the Tiger subject matter expert for the pub quiz team, it is possible to dive in as deeply, or not, as the reader wishes; the pictures alone tell a remarkable story, and it’s probably right at this point to give a name check to Derik Hammond, who has done a superb job of translating the work into English without compromising the integrity of the original or the fluency of the result.
The only adverse aspect to Tigers in Combat is the price shock. At £69.95 it’s not priced for the casual reader but it will have huge appeal for the serious enthusiast, for former tank soldiers from whatever army and for anyone who combines a love of armoured vehicles or military history with access to a healthy bank account. The photos of Panzersoldaten wrestling with their mechanical monsters in the mud of familiar German training areas will also bring a wry smile to the Chieftain generation, as will pictures of spectacular boggings and the results of driver error and poor ground appreciation. Finally, quite apart from its subject matter, this book is also worth a look for anybody working in an area of complex or detailed technical authorship wanting a first class example of how to breathe air and accessibility into very dense material. The layout of this book is excellent and this reviewer cannot remember seeing a better example of how to do it. The design team deserve great credit for the final product.
This is not a book for the daily commute, though using it as such would save on gym membership, and you’ll probably need a bookshelf hewn from living rock to house all three volumes safely. However, thanks to Wolfgang Schneider, within these pages is probably all there is to be known about the Tiger tank and, certainly as far as Volume III is concerned, it is a remarkable work of scholarship, a sound and definitive reference, and a very fun read.
Five mushroom heads because I'm not allowed to award six.