Monday 15 April 2019

Book Review: German Self-Propelled Artillery Guns of the Second World War

Artillery in general is often left by the wayside in discussions of armoured tank-on-tank clashes, but the importance of artillery in warfare cannot be overstated. The history of German mechanized artillery is interesting in two ways. One is from the technical point of view, an exploration of evolution from howitzers rolled up on hastily cobbled together riveted boxes on tracks to specialized multi-purpose tracked chassis developed specifically for the role. The other is the quick reaction to a doctrinal need, the requirement to supply quickly moving tank and mechanized infantry units with artillery that did not have to rely on slow and vulnerable horses. Craig Moore's book German Self-Propelled Artillery Guns of the Second World War offers a look at this fascinating and often overlooked facet of WWII armoured warfare.

The book starts with a handy list of German military terms. The majority of these would be familiar to any seasoned military history enthusiast, but this is a useful reference for a casual fan. A quick history of the German artillery branch and a description of what artillery actually does on the battlefield follow. Again, this is aimed at a more intermediate level of knowledge, but hardcore historians need not worry, after only a few pages the author gets to the data and information you came here for. 

Instead of jumping straight to the topic of the book, Moore presents a short description of a number of German artillery pieces. This makes sense: since these guns were often installed on self propelled mounts with few changes, if any, and several chassis shared the same cannon. Covering them up front makes this information easy to refer to without getting lost between details on the vehicles themselves, and there is definitely a lot of information here. The section for each artillery piece is accompanied by a colour photograph of the gun itself, taken at museums all over the world, a brief history, and technical data, including the types of shells that could be fired and what propellant charges were used. Perhaps to highlight the importance of mechanization, each description lists the number of horses used to tow the weapon and the number of men used to care for them. Surprisingly, not every gun mentioned in the book is covered in this section. Data on the 12.2 cm FK (r) (German designation for the Soviet M-30 122 mm mod. 1938 howitzer) is only given in the relevant section of the main body of the book.

Technical data is presented in both metric and imperial units. 

After the guns are covered, we get to the meat and potatoes of the book: the self propelled artillery itself. Each SPG has a brief description of the history of its creation and production, technical details of the chassis, mount, and gun, and an operational history of the vehicle. These sections are not consistently named from vehicle to vehicle, but the information is organized logically. Also included is a list of surviving vehicles of each type. Sadly, there are no photos in this part of the book, but colour profiles by David Bocquelet of Tanks Encyclopedia fame are included. Most images depict existing vehicles, while some are admittedly fictional. A large variety of vehicles are covered, from mass produced SPGs like the Grille to rare vehicles like the Hummel-Wespe, and even one-offs like the 15-cm sIG 33 L/11 (Sf) auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. H.

Even though the names of many of these vehicles are unwieldy (15-cm sIG 33 (Sf) auf Fahrgestell
Panzerkampfwagen II doesn't roll off the tongue), the author does not perpetuate the use of snappy nicknames given after the war. In fact, an effort is made to point out commonly used names that are incorrect. Unlike some authors, which strive to include as much information in their books as possible, regardless of its validity, Moore clearly states if any information included in the book is contested.

The book is a good overview of Germany's self propelled field artillery, but this is also its weakness. Due to covering a very wide topic, there are no deep dives into the history or operation of any specific vehicle. There are also a number of small errors (for instance, the author confuses centimeters and millimeters a few times, and the Vickers Mk.VI is mistakenly called Vickers Mk.IV at least twice), but they do not detract very much from the information contained in the book. 

I would recommend this book for military history enthusiasts who are looking for an introduction to German self propelled artillery. German Self-Propelled Artillery Guns of the Second World War provides a good foundation for further exploration of this topic, offering plenty of information without perpetuating any old myths that can set a newcomer in the wrong direction. Even seasoned military history pros will find something new in this book.

This review was based on a prerelease PDF copy of the book provided by Fonthill Media. 

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