Monday, August 10, 2015
Book Review: PANZER PLATOON #2 - INVADE RUSSIA! by Gunther Lutz
Like the first book in the series (and most of the books, as I've now read the first four of the six as of this review), there is no real overarching plot to each book. Rather, the novels are a series of vignettes tightly tied together, providing a good representation of whatever is occurring in that theater of operation at the time. In this case, Boden and his crew are involved in Operation Barbarossa, during the operation's heyday from summer to fall of 1941, before the brutal winter sets in and the German advance is stopped.
For the most part, Boden and his panzer crew encounter relatively little resistance from the Russians, and their biggest problems are the over-stretched supply lines, coupled with a new platoon commander who proves to be a constant nuisance to Boden and the rest of the platoon. This new commander isn't a veteran of the '39 or '40 campaigns, and so lacks the necessary combat experience to lead a platoon, especially as the panzers wander further and further afield. This becomes especially problematic when one of Boden's crew is injured, and they have to seek medical aid from a local Russian doctor. Food also becomes an issue, as they've ranged so far ahead that the "goulash cannon" (field food service units) are nowhere to be found and they must forage locally for their rations.
Throughout the book, there are many hints as to how the entire Russian campaign is a bad, bad idea. Early on, Boden's crew discovers an intact panzer...but the five-man crew is dead, each man decapitated, their bodies left in their proper positions inside the tank, their heads put on display outside the hamlet where they parked, probably to also forage or rest for the night. This gruesome display puts Boden's men on edge, because it hints at the savagery the Russians are capable of, and how tenacious a foe they can be if given a chance. Later on in the book, Boden joins in defending a position against a Russian counter-attack, one that is bolstered by the deadly Russian T-34 medium tank. The T-34 outclasses the Panzer III of the time in almost every respect - main gun, armor, and mobility - and they're the boogeymen of the Russian battlefield. The climax of the book is a tank duel between Boden and the rest of his platoon against several T-34s in an abandoned factory, and it is a tense, exciting scene where clever tactics and luck face off against far superior Russian tank design.
This book is definitely an excellent sequel to BLITZKRIEG, and gives the reader what they really wanted from a series called "Panzer Platoon" - battles between tanks which are roughly equivalent to each other. The action is well-written and shows how careful and analytical a panzer commander needs to be in order to survive on the battlefield, and as mentioned, this book does a great job at hinting towards the horrors of the "Ostfront" (which we see in full force in the next volume, BLOOD & ICE).