Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Book Review: Panzer IV

 

As a military history writer, it is hard to strike a balance between the two sides of a tank's history. Many opt to focus exclusively on the technical specifications of a tank, judging its effectiveness and evaluating its legacy via a measure of kilograms or centimeters divorced entirely from any kind of context. Others lean towards the description of military operations only and gloss over any technical aspects of the tanks involved or how well they were suited for the tasks they carried out. Publications that attempt to cover both aspects often result in abrupt switches from one to the other without any meaningful link between the two. The simply named Panzer IV by Thomas Anderson stands in contrast to these works, masterfully weaving together the combat experience of the Pz.Kpfw.IV tanks and the technical changes introduced into the design in response to lessons learned in battle.

The introduction makes it clear what kind of book Panzer IV is meant to be. It is not a technical deep dive (as the author points out, Jentz and Spielberger adequately cover this topic), nor is it a thorough combat history of the tank. The use of the tank in combat is discussed, sometimes down to individual actions, but only as an illustration of the tank's design features or usage specifics. No effort is made to pull any punches, as Anderson describes both the tank's advantages and drawbacks both in his own words and in the words of German officers. Many translated excerpts from production documentation and after action reports are provided.

The book begins with a brief history of the German tank forces and the difficult road that had to be travelled in order to arrive at even the first Pz.Kpfw.IV model. From there, Anderson describes the tank's performance in the invasion of Poland (Fall Weiss) and France (Fall Gelb), then how those lessons were applied to tanks that would fight in North Africa, the Balkans, and the USSR in 1941. A separate chapter is dedicated to the development of the long-barreled 75 mm KwK 40 and how the introduction of this gun propelled the Pz.Kpfw.IV from the role of a support tank to Germany's most powerful medium tank in 1942. In 1943 the tank's position shifts, and Anderson talks in detail about how the Pz.Kpfw.IV now has to compete not only with foreign medium tanks for supremacy on the battlefield, but also the German Panther for the role of the Panzerwaffe's main medium tank. The book concludes with a description of the tank's performance in 1944-45, when the declining quality of German tank crews and design simplifications required to produce the tank in sufficient numbers sapped its combat effectiveness. 

A short description of specialist vehicles on the Pz.Kpfw.IV chassis is provided, but these are not the focus of the book. Similarly, although vehicles such as the Pz.Kpfw.III, Panther, Tiger, T-34, and Sherman are all mentioned, Anderson keeps on topic and never fails to tie the history and characteristics of these other vehicles into his main narrative.

Nothing in Anderson's book was a surprise to me, but the high level of detail in his writing gave a lot of insight into specific aspects of the tank's development and usage. Even if one is already a master of the Pz.Kpfw.IV, the book has much to offer with documents translated from German and a plethora of photos of every Pz.Kpfw.IV variant imaginable. I was provided with a PDF copy of Panzer IV, but I have no doubt that the printed edition does these high resolution images justice, with many presented as two-page spreads. 

The book's bibliography refers to primary sources, and excerpts from many documents are provided, but unfortunately there are no footnotes included. Another of the book's very few weaknesses is that there are a number of incorrect statements made about the characteristics of various Soviet tanks, but this in no way detracts from the fact that this is an excellent source of information on the Pz.Kpfw.IV.

I would heartily recommend Panzer IV by Thomas Anderson to any fan of military history. The introduction gives enough background knowledge to form a solid foundation for a tank history beginner and dives deep enough into the history of the Pz.Kpfw.IV tank to be a worthwhile purchase even for military history experts. 

This review is based on a PDF copy provided by Osprey Publishing.

Panzer IV will be available for purchase on January 21st, 2021.

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