27/09/2015 at 08:08 #31669
I’ve managed to get hold of a copy of this finally and I’ve reviewed it here: http://hereticalgaming.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/book-review-normandy-1944-german.html
I was wondering if anyone else had read the book and what they thought of it? I was very interested in his claims that German tank units were the more efficient tank-killers in Normandy (as compared to German AT units).28/09/2015 at 09:30 #31712piers brandParticipant
Its quite an old book now, to be fair to him alot has been written since he wrote the book and he has acknowledged a number of errors that are present.
It still remains the best evaluation of German combat strength in Normandy so far compiled, the few mistakes are often repeats of previous errors and in one case the fault lies with an error on the original returns. Its still the best all in one appraisal of German combat effectiveness and combat return data for the Normandy, and post-campaign period and is a wealth of material for the student of the history of the campaign.
I think you have to use Zetterling’s book as a resource to dip into when reading other things. Its a rather dry book alone, but comes into its own when you require more detail on specific German units of the period. Its certainly a book anyone with an interest in the campaign should own, and when I lectured on our Normandy module on the War Studies course, it was recommended reading for anyone with a passing interest in the German side.
With regards some of his claims, they are all reasonably well accepted with some notes of caution and I think you have to divorce his ‘opinion pieces’ from the second part of the book that contains the unit statistical date and TOEs. I agree with Zetterling on many things, such as the performance of tactical airpower versus frontline combat vehicles, and I disagree with him on other things, though I have the benefit of further research, such as that by my old boss John Buckley in his book ‘British Armour in Normandy’. I also happen to believe that German tank crews, like all tank crews and fighter pilots, over claimed and the German propaganda machine and the Wehrmacht actively allowed this to happen. Otto Carius himself stated that German kill counts were inflated.
I think its hard to give conclusive proof that tanks were the main killers versus anti-tank guns of tanks in Normandy but the raw data from the British Army evaluation teams who went round Normandy seem to suggest this was the case, the problem is though that data for vehicles destroyed by ‘unidentifiable’ means and for tanks hit but subsequently repaired and returned to service, gives us a gap in the statistical data. That said, it does appear on the surface, at least in the British Sector, that German tanks accounted for the higher proportion of tank ‘kills’. It makes sense when we consider that the Germans deployed virtually all their armour to face the British for much of the campaign, and the British conducted operations to actively engage in a battle for attrition between the respective armoured forces, one that the Germans could not hope to win.
Its a campaign that still has a number of ‘myths’ that persist and Zetterlings book tries to punch a few holes in these. His book is important as I think it started a wave of books and historians who took the time to re-evaluate the campaign and his book really started a new wave of far more critical attention being payed to the campaign and a flow of new and revised views on the battle. Once you start looking critically at the various operations and discover the possibilities that things such as Hans von Luck’s single handed defeat of Goodwood might have been a work of more fantasy than reality and that ‘Barkmann’s Corner’ might have never happened, it gives a view that perhaps the history of the Battle for Normandy has alot of myths and secrets still to disprove… I believe Zetterling’s book started us down that road, and to his credit, his work still remains a very useful tool and valid resource.28/09/2015 at 13:18 #31721
Thanks very much for that interesting response.
Its a campaign that still has a number of ‘myths’ that persist and Zetterlings book tries to punch a few holes in these. His book is important as I think it started a wave of books and historians who took the time to re-evaluate the campaign and his book really started a new wave of far more critical attention being payed to the campaign and a flow of new and revised views on the battle.
What are your recommendations of more modern material for further reading?
I also happen to believe that German tank crews, like all tank crews and fighter pilots, over claimed and the German propaganda machine and the Wehrmacht actively allowed this to happen. Otto Carius himself stated that German kill counts were inflated.
Zetterling only uses the claims to establish proportions of kills rather than numbers. Do you think that German AFV crews were encouraged to inflate their kill numbers more than other potential German tank-killers?
I believe Zetterling’s book started us down that road, and to his credit, his work still remains a very useful tool and valid resource.
I wholeheartedly agree with this: a fascinating book.28/09/2015 at 14:45 #31732piers brandParticipant
A starting point I would recommend is ‘British Armour in Normandy’ by John Buckley. John has since authored another book on the topic, but this one is an excellent start at what some called a ‘revisionist’ view of the British campaign when it was published. I helped with the German sources and remember the work he put into the book. For me it remains the academic ‘bible’ on British armour in the campaign, and his follow up work only helps to reinforce his views. Its also a very good read, and although academic in content, it is still readable and entertaining. I am slightly biased, as I knew John and we spent many a fun hour around Normandy every year. That said anyone who I have recommended it too has always come back to me to comment on what an enjoyable and worthwhile book it is. I hope you can find a copy to explore it, I think you’d enjoy it based on your comments above…
I think all German crews (and other nations) inflated their claims both mistakenly and on purpose. There is a group of historians who while questioning Allied sources on the accuracy of the numbers of German vehicles destroyed, have no critical eye when viewing German claims. The Germans are seen as ‘accurate’ and ‘exact’ as they are… well… German.
Of course this is utter fiction. Apart from Otto Carius mentioning the kill claims and their exaggeration, the whole tally system was flawed with various dual counting and shared victories. Then you have the need for these grand scoring aces to feed the German propaganda machine. Yet we know how manipulating they were and yet we still blindly rely on them. I can think of one book on German tank aces that reprints almost verbatim the German Propaganda Ministry version of Villers-Bocage, while wholly ignoring Wittmann’s own after-action report. So I think all claims need to be treated with a pinch of salt. Add to this in the later years of the war, the Germans rarely retook ground and did not often have the opportunity to check kill claims. Plus many abandoned tanks, claimed as kills, were recrewed or repaired.
An anecdote included in M. Doubler’s book ‘Closing with the Enemy’ (and if you want to read the only well researched appraisal of US Army combat effectiveness in the ETO buy it. It is a superb book, written by a US Army colonel and it pulls no punches and blasts away any shred of flag waving, chest thumping Americana and gives a warts and all view of the US Army from 1944 to 1945 showing how unprepared and poor they could be at times, but also showing how they overcame and out-fought the enemy by the end. It blasts away plenty of myths…) describes an event related by a US armoured officer in Normandy.
He recounts leading an advance down a road, and rounding a bend to be confronted by a Panther on the road. His gunner quickly fires off a round, that hits, he halts the rest of the column out of view behind the bend, and darts his own tank, straight ahead and off the road. When he stops, he observes the Panther and can see that it is a burnt out wreck, knocked out previously. As its no threat, he calls the rest of the coloumn to advance round the corner and to pull off into the field he is now in. As tanks rumble in, every now and then the retort of a tank gun can be heard, as jittery crews fire into the Panther wreck. Later that evening he notes that according to his men, they have knocked out 8 Panthers during the day… His point is that its exceedingly hard to judge such things in moments of stress.
Im not sure German tank crews were encouraged to inflate claims, but given the emphasis on it in the German forces, and the celebrity nature of those who achieved lofty heights, not to mention those units whose kill tallies became sources of pride too… Would you check to hard to see if the numbers are accurate? The Nazi regime was a cult of personality, and these new age ‘Knights’, along with Fighter Pilots and Sub commanders, became celebrities for the home front. I think we have to treat any numbers in relation to that with a grain of salt… or maybe a good handful at times. Given tankers were the defacto ‘land aces’ and so much more glamourous than infantry, its not hard to imagine claims being jazzed up… I can only think of one ‘Anti-Tank Gun’ ace that gets any real attention, and thats Schrijnen, the Belgian SS Knights Cross Winner who took out 11 Russian tanks in one engagement.
Given the award was in March 1944, one does have to wonder if it was partly to reaffirm how hard these foreign nationals were fighting with an allied invasion of europe getting closer. But thats not too take away from Schrijen, his actions of that day were truly remarkable,12/11/2016 at 09:46 #52293
Its quite an old book now, to be fair to him alot has been written since he wrote the book and he has acknowledged a number of errors that are present. It still remains the best evaluation of German combat strength in Normandy so far compiled, the few mistakes are often repeats of previous errors and in one case the fault lies with an error on the original returns. Its still the best all in one appraisal of German combat effectiveness and combat return data for the Normandy, and post-campaign period and is a wealth of material for the student of the history of the campaign.
Sorry, I missed asking about this the first time around:
Which errors has Zetterling acknowledged?
Which errors were repeats of previous errors?
And which original return had the fault in it?
Thanks12/11/2016 at 19:05 #52305Jemima FawrParticipant
Agreed 100% with Piers and can’t really add anything to his excellent assessment.
Re Errors: A lot were simply in the original source documents – mainly German strength return diagrams. Either because the original compiler simply made a mistake or because some GOCs were trying to keep equipment (particularly AFVs) ‘off the books’.
For example, the 21st Panzer Division orbat has a few errors (repeated in almost all books on 21 PD) due to a few errors in the original organisational diagram. For example, in Stug-Abteilung 200, the ratio of 75mm to 105mm vehicles is the wrong way round, showing 6x 105mm to 4x 75mm in each company. An after-action report by Major Becker, the unit CO, clearly shows the reverse ratio, as well as the organisation – two platoons of 3x 75mm and one of 4x 105mm.
In the 125th and 192nd Panzer-Grenadier Regiments, no non-SP mortars are shown, though Hans Von Luck’s writings show that there were actually a pair of ex-French 81mm mortars in each company. There are also no SP mortars mentioned for the Heavy (4th & 8th) Companies, though Lt Hans Hoeller, who commanded a platoon in 8th/192nd, describes each Heavy Company having a platoon of 3x SP multi-barrelled mortars. When you add the totals up, it actually matches the total number built, so the evidence is strong for this being the case.
Panzer Regiment 22 shows French ‘panzers’ still on the books. While correct from an administrative point of view, they were actually on a train on their way to Hungary, while the crews were in Mailly-le-Camp, training on PzIVs. Similarly, the three Tiger Is shown with Panzer-Lehr were actually in Germany, while the Tiger IIs were sitting in a railyard near Rennes.
In 716th Infantry Division, the artillery is shown as 100% towed. However, the memoir of one of the battery commanders shows that his battery was actually equipped with four SP 150mm pieces.
711th Infantry Division had a few captured tanks (a couple of R35s, at least one B2 and possibly a Churchill III) assigned to its anti-tank battalion, though these were kept off the books and don’t therefore appear in Zetterling.
My wargames blog: http://www.jemimafawr.co.uk/13/11/2016 at 09:06 #52320Fredd BloggsParticipant
Not read Zetterling, so perhaps I should, I have read Buckley, and found his work excellent on reappraising what and how things were done, as well as where and when lessons were learnt for the British and Canadians.
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