Contributor: Thomas Houlihan
Review Date: 5 Apr 2007
Full title: Sledgehammers, Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II
This book is not a battle history, although it does describe several battles involving the Tigers. Instead, the book focuses more on German armor doctrine, and how the Tigers, both the Tiger I and the later Tiger II, were supposed to have been incorporated into it.
The first two chapters cover heavy tank battalions in general. Background and essays on these battalions, from countries other than Germany are discussed. Also, so the reader can better understand the author’s approach, he explains a little about how he wrote the book, how to overcome misconceptions, and understand different levels of warfare. This is followed in Chapter 2 by an actual introduction to the Heavy Tank Battalion. Subjects such as doctrine, organization, equipment and personnel, and tactics are discussed here.
The rest of the story has been broken down by the author not by calendar or campaign, but more by growth and development of the Heavy Tank Battalions. He begins with Army Group North’s Tigers, moves to Tunisia, the back to Russia with Army Group Don. It was these campaigns that helped mold the Tiger battalions. It is easy to see how different commanders could have such an impact on the effectiveness of this weapons system. This chapter closes with changes incorporated leading up to and including the battle of Kursk.
The next chapter deals with the "Strategic Defensive," and the Tigers seem to be moving backwards more than forwards here. It is during these retreats that so many Tigers were lost, when they were unable to be recovered by the maintenance platoons. In Italy, we also find what an important factor terrain is, when the Tiger crews found out how debilitating winding mountain roads were to their mounts. The failure to develop adequate recovery equipment to handle the weight of the Tiger is one of the contributing factors to the number of losses.
The last year of the war goes into battles where a small number of Tigers was able to inflict great losses on their enemies, ultimately to no avail. After a look at Operation Bagration, the reader once again goes back to Heavy Tank Battalion 502, and their actions around Dünaburg. Examinations of Tiger combat in Normandy and Poland rounds out this chapter.
The last chapter of combat looks at "The Final Battles," battles that most of us have read about. Hungary, Wacht am Rhein, and the Vistula, are examined from the Tiger perspective.
The final chapter, entitled "Assessment and Conclusion" goes well into just that. This is almost the whole point of the book. Did the Tigers accomplish their missions? Did commanders follow doctrine, or where Tigers used merely to shore up morale? A very interesting tool the author uses here is statistics. Charts on Tiger kill ratios and losses are rather interesting.
There are two other parts of this book that will be of interest to anyone interested in WWII armor. One is an analysis of the heavy tank doctrines of the USSR, UK, US, and France. The other consists of the Forward and Epilogue. The forward is written by one of the most well-known Tiger commanders, Otto Carius. Reading his words is a very good way to start this book. At the other end, the epilogue contains writings from two Tiger killers, a Russian and an American.
The book contains a number of photographs of some of the major tank types discussed in the book. Over thirty maps aid the reader in following the various battles.
While I have made every effort to be objective in this review, it is only fair to point out that I am personally associated with the publisher, and that I made the maps for this book. When I began to work on the maps, I had the unedited version of the manuscript, but I was impressed with it even then.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939