Waffen SS Armour in Normandy

Waffen SS Armour in Normandy

Norbert Szamveber
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
I looked forward to reviewing this book as it is a topic about which I have a large interest (alongside the battle at Arnhem) as well as potentially getting some ideas for my modelling dioramas. On receiving it I had a quick skim through to gauge the contents and to see if it was going to be a read requiring lots of concentration or whether it was going to be one that was easy to follow. First impressions were that it was going to be both and I wasn't far off the mark.

The book follows two Regiments of the 12th SS Panzer division Hitlerjugend, SS-Panzer Regiment 12 and SS-Panzerjager Abteilung 12, from their formation to the retreat through the Falaise Gap and the end of the Normandy campaign.

The book is quite detailed in some parts, to the extent that it gives not just the names of the officers commanding the various units of the Regiment/Abteilung but also the order of battle and the numbers of vehicles types, down to number and type of weapons (rifles, SMGs, pistols and bayonets) and ammunition count.

The section dealing with SS-Panzer Regiment 12 consists of direct extracts of the Regimental combat reports, lists of knocked-out enemy tanks and vehicles, key German personnel, unit tank and vehicle losses and combat orders. It details the formation and training of the Regiment in 1943 and then into the Normandy campaign, primarily the four different battles for Caen, then the fighting between Caen and Falaise and then finally to the crossing of the Seine after the closure of the Falaise Gap. Due to the following of the campaign via the day to day war diary entries of the 1st and 2nd Abteilungs of the SS-Panzer Regiment 12 one can really get the feel of the attrition and wearing down of the Regiment, and the Division as a whole, from the various tables detailing what losses were incurred and unit strengths. Because of the daily entries of the diaries it can get a little difficult to follow until one gets the hang of it; I kept reading the text of one combat report but then forgot that it dealt with two. This gave it a sense of disjointedness at first but it was fairly easy to get into the swing of it and it made more sense after that.

The second part of the book dealt with SS-Panzerjager Abteilung 12 and this read more like a narrative that one would expect from a more mainstream, "ordinary" historical book. Again it gives details of the formation, training and deployment of the unit from February to July 1944, and then during the fighting between July to August 1944. The text of this section is more of a general telling of the story rather than the daily combat reports of the previous part, and as such I found it flowed more easily.

Though it was less detailed, there was enough to give an overall picture of what the Abteilung got up to through Normandy as well as the grinding down it suffered alongside the other Wehrmacht and SS formations as the Allied superiority in men and materiel became more evident during the campaign.

The final, main part, of the book deals with the effectiveness of the 12th SS-Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend" as a whole in Normandy. It explains that, like much of the German armoured regiments, the Panzer Regiment was not deployed in the normal regimental force due to the terrain in Normandy, and that the usual Kampfgruppe formation of the Eastern Front (Panzer Abteilung, Panzer-Grenadier Battalion, self propelled Panzer-Artillerie-Abteilung and Panzer-Pionier-Kompanie) proved to be ineffectual for the same reason. This, the reader is told, is why the Germans adopted the tactic of using the tanks to support the infantry and fought allied armour as mobile anti-tank reserves. Some of the lessons learned by the German armour as a whole in Normandy was that that the co-operation between armour and artillery was weak and even that which existed between panzers and infantry needed to be improved upon to be more effective. It also accepts that attacks and counter-attacks were not as effective due to the terrain of the region and also that some of the technological advantages enjoyed by the Panther and Tiger tanks of the Division were hampered by it as well.

There are a good number of good photographs throughout the book as well as a several coloured maps and a couple of black and white hand drawn combat action diagrams. The book concludes with several appendices (20) covering topics such as a table of SS ranks, the officers of the two units (including holders of the Knights Cross and recommendations for awards), tactical turret numbers assigned to SS-Panzer Regiment 12, an inventory of weapons of the regiment and the battle casualties of both units. Even the number of Allied aircraft shot down by the panzer regiment is covered.

Overall I found it an interesting book to read, though a little stop-start to begin with, and I think it would definitely appeal to a seriously enthusiastic military history buff. It is full of facts and figures which would prove useful to someone doing research for their own project and some of the photographs have certainly given me food for though about some future modelling dioramas (see Military Modelling thread for future piccies).

I would award 4 Mr. Mushroom heads.

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