Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Review: PANZER PLATOON #2 - INVADE RUSSIA! by Gunther Lutz

The second in this six-volume series kicks off a short time after the invasion of Russia by the German army in the summer of 1941. Rather than their lightweight Panzer II, this time Micki Boden and his crew are operating a Panzer III, one of the mid-war models with a short-barreled 50mm anti-tank gun. The extra crew members are characters we were introduced to in the first book, as coming from one of the other Panzer IIs in Boden's platoon.

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).


FreeLiverFree said...

This is another thing way of making a person sympathize with a German soldier (aside from making clear he's not a Nazi) put him on the Russian front. Stalin was just as bad as Hitler. He actually killed more people than Hitler, though I imagine that was because he won and Hitler lost. If the Nazi's had won (don' ask me how) they were planning to enslave and/or exterminate the Slavic race.

Jack Badelaire said...

Just wait until next week, when I review BLOOD & ICE. Probably one of the grimmest books I've read since I stopped reading Warhammer 40K media tie-in novels.

Charles Gramlich said...

Glad to hear there are some good battles.

Joe Halder said...

I am a big fan of war/military pulp fiction and have a big collection of these types of books. I picked up the first Panzer Platoon and did not like it. The reason being was the way the story was being told, with the little vignettes instead of one over all story line. The series cover art for the books was pretty good though. Like yourself I have not been successful in finding out who Gunter Lutz is, at first I thought he was Charles Whiting but the writing styles are very different.

Jack Badelaire said...

I've now read five of the six Panzer Platoon books, and although I'll address this more in upcoming reviews, I find my biggest problem is the lack of "epic-ness" in all of them. The fifth book, DEATH RIDE, covers the battle of Kursk, the biggest tank battle in history, but the story itself has almost NOTHING to do with "the biggest tank battle in history", and instead goes off on a jaunt. A real letdown, actually. This series had the potential for some AWESOME tank battles, but very rarely delivers (the very un-epic Battle of Arras in the first book was a prime example of this syndrome early on...).