Friday, November 15

Read n' Reviewed: Panzers in Berlin 1945 from Panzerwrecks Publishing

"Panzers in Berlin in 1945" from Panzerwrecks has hit our book & hobby shops in a second print run. At just under 400 pages from authors Lee Archer, Mario Lippert & Robert Kraska, it is full of detail, maps, illustrations & photos of one of the most desperate battles in history. We have read the book - see what we thought in our review...

Read n' Reviewed: Panzers in Berlin 1945
Authors: Lee Archer, Mario Lippert, Robert Kraska
Publisher: Panzerwrecks Limited
392 pages
Text in the English Language
Hardback, landscape format.
Dimensions 277mm x 214mm,  x 32mm / Weight: 1,900g
360 unseen photos,16 artworks from Felipe Rodna, 3 Maps 
Includes a separate fold-out map of Berlin in 1945 (48cm X 36.5cm)
ISBN10: 1908032162/ ISBN13: 9781908032164
Price: £54.99
The book is now available again in its 2nd reprint from the Product Link on the Panzerwrecks Website
The latest book from Panzerwrecks arrived on or doorstep a few weeks ago, and we have been carefully pouring through it, reading from stem to stern so we can give you a decent account of what lies inside. The new title is called "Panzers in Berlin 1945" and it is authored by a team of Lee Archer, Mario Lippert, Robert Kraska with the help of illustrations from Phillipe Rodna. Much research, new evidence and assistance from other fellow researchers has brought new insight from the results brought to light by the team examining the period of April - May in the German capital in those dark times. 

This is the first book to my knowledge that covers just German armour at this time and in this city, so the interest will surely be there from the modelling, historical and military historians, so this is for the publishers at least, is a very important book.

The book in its physical form:

Rather a hefty tome at just under two kilograms taken up by a landscape format hardcover book of 392 pages with dimensions of 277mm x 214mm,  x 32mm. That is just over an inch thick - and it is full of texts in English alongside 360 unseen photos (with others in addition that are known to the reader),16 artworks from Felipe Rodna, 3 Maps & a separate fold-out map of Berlin in 1945. 
The cover is a tough but glossy one, and the pages of the book are printed on good quality paper that is not see-through. The text is big enough for me to read (and I am an old modeller). The book also has an added feature of being able to scan with your smartphone the "QR" codes that are littered throughout the publication which give you the scene shown today from Google maps.

Contents of this book:
This book is full of subjects from different parts all around Berlin in the last days of the war in Europe. In a way - the book is made from two different styles, with the first thirty-eight pages mostly in block text describing the units in place at the time, with the remainder of the book mostly made up of some block text, but mostly large-format pictures with interesting text to support them.

The chapters and parts of chapters in the book are:
(Mostly a block text description of the units & the locations that were fighting in Belin at the time in this part of the book)
-SS-Pz.Abt.11, 11.SS.Freiw.Pz.Gren.Div. ‘Nordland’
-Wachregiment ‘Großdeutschland’ Berlin
-I./Pz.Rgt.118, (18.Panzergrenadier-Division)
-Heeres-Sturmartillerie-Brigade 249
-Flak.Abt./ Kdo.St. RF-SS Bgl.-Btl. RF-SS
-Panzerdivision ‘Müncheberg’
-9. Fallschirmjäger-Division
-The end of Pz.Abt.8 (20.Pz.Gren.Div)

(The book breaks into mainly pictures with text that feature these locations at this point)
1.   Seelow – Battle and Retreat
2.   Battle for the Outskirts
3.   Neukölln & Tempelhof
4.   Wannsee
5.   Panzerkompanie (bo) ‘Berlin’
6.   Panzer-Vernichter-Abteilung 1
7.   Wilmersdorf & Schöneberg
8.   Tiergarten
9.   Reichskanzlei
10. Mitte
11. Friedrichstraße Breakout
12. Schönhauser Allee Breakout
13. Spandau Breakout
14. Charlottenburg Bahnhof Scrapyard
15. Friedrichshain Volkspark Exhibition
16. Oddities & Unknown Locations

...As you can see, there is a LOT to cover in this book!

The Map:

Included in the book also is a really great addition of a separate large map. This separate fold-out map of Berlin in 1945  is 48cm wide by X 36.5cm high and details the places in the city that the book is showing or talking about. little locations on the map show us the tanks, dug ins, flak towers and all other weapons and weapon graveyards shown throughout the book so you can easier orientate yourself. The fact that this is a separate map has already won me over- no flicking back and forth through the book is a real win as far as I am concerned, and folded up it sits seamlessly inside the book. There are also QR codes throughout the book that better show the locations on the map, but I will show you these throughout the book and how they work a little later.
I will now walk you through the book chapter and section by section, anything else only really skims over the surface of what is presented here to the reader.

First up, a short, two-page acknowledgement and introduction to the book are presented to the reader. The acknowledgements are varied with some figures in the top of this field included as sources whether in information or pictures. The introduction gives us a brief synopsis, and covers the book's conception and genesis through how it morphed into the 392-page monster it is now is afforded to the reader, it sets us up to understand what lies ahead of us.

In a short splash before we get into the book proper, pages 6-11 give us a soft landing into the book, they feature pages with large pictures and supporting captions of an exercise by the Volkssturm in the streets in preparation for the fighting that was to come, fitting really before the book really gets into a rhythm. The Panzer I's have been converted to look like Shermans and Panzerjäger so the defenders and practice fighting against them with anti-tank weapons. 

Illustrations from Phillipe Rodna
A feature of these books which has not been pointed out as of yet are the sixteen colour artworks in the book from the talented artist Felipe Rodna. These are added to the photographs to provide the reader with a touch of relatability in filling the black and white images with colour. This provides modellers especially with a greater understanding and reference of the colours of these vehicles, and it makes the scene a little more accessible to those who need to understand the scene a little better than they could from black and white photographs. An excellent addition to this book and invaluable to a lot of folks out there.
A divergence in form:
We turn from pictures with text to twenty-five pages of block text next. This section of the book talks of each of the German units that were fighting in and around Berlin at the time or April and May in 1945. 

Included in this section as nine unit's movements, organization and operations discussed in short passages of between three and five pages each. Covered are the SS-Pz.Abt.11, 11.SS.Freiw.Pz.Gren.Div. ‘Nordland’, Wachregiment ‘Großdeutschland’ Berlin, the Ist./Pz.Rgt.118, (18.Panzergrenadier-Division), the Heeres-Sturmartillerie-Brigade 249, the Flak.Abt./ Kdo.St. RF-SS Bgl.-Btl. RF-SS,  No# II./Pz.Rgt.2, Panzerdivision ‘Müncheberg’, s.H.Pz.Jg.Kp.614 and lastly the 9th Fallschirmjäger-Division.

The text gives us a little of the preparations, fighting and often their destruction, capture or if lucky, the breakout of some of these unit's soldiers. Especially interesting to this reader are the personal accounts of the actions of the soldiers who fought in these engagements, an account of a break out by one of the members of the 2/Pz Rgt.118 as they fought to leave through a tight corridor while being bombarded from all sides by the enemy almost upon them, escape, and then capture after what was thought to be safety is just one example of these excellent stories from first hand accounts.

Included in this section also is some interesting information on the last of schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 503 (503rd Heavy Tank Battalion) elements that had found their way to Berlin and their surviving Tiger II's is included here also and of note to many readers. You can see in the pictures below even the crew members of each of the surviving Tigers is named, along with the date, location and the vehicle's fate.

The first of the chapters of photo essays in the usual style of the "Panzerwrecks" books begins on page 39 with "Seelow – Battle and Retreat". We have five pages of pictures and text, along with a table from the Strausberg Road Construction Office showing the locations of wrecked tanks - (some of them unidentified, they must have been in a state) that were to be towed, cut-up or demolished to free up the local roads around Berlin. We see in picture and text form some pictures of knocked out Panthers, a Tiger I & Jagdpanzer IV after the war, as a source of a picture or an actual souvenir.

The "Battle for the Outskirts" feature is four only 
pages long, but it shows us a Tiger I - shot in 1946 as a backdrop to a picture of some demonstrators, along with another of Panzer-Division Müncheberg's Tiger I's. A disabled and then stripped for parts Sd.Kfz.251 halftrack from a few angles and an interior picture. This has been clearly picked over for parts and scrap already in October of 1945.

The vehicles around "Neukölln & Tempelhof" are next, with a six-page section that begins with a block text section explaining the tactical situation and which units were in place in the area on the 24th of April 1945 and afterwards. Interesting notes about the conditions of the troops about to defend the airfield and a first-hand 
report from a Russian Lieutenant Colonel who was attacking the filed. The text also describes the Russian attack on Neukölln and the efforts of the Tiger II's sent as fire brigades to stem the Russian push.

Photos of wrecked Jagdpanzer IV's, a Möbelwagen ("Moving Van"), the dug-in 88's, workers preparing the airfield walking past a Panzer II turret and wrecked German and Soviet vehicles taken after the war are included, with interesting text to describe their circumstances.

The actions around the heavily forested island area of Wannsee are next over fifteen pages. We begin with a timeline of the defence of the island starting on the 24th of April until the 3rd May 1945 with the defeat and surrender after a catastrophic attempted breakout by soldiers and civilians. A small map with the wrecked tanks on the island showing the positions of the last defending vehicles. A chilling report of a Pz.IV commander of his vehicle being knocked out by a suspected friendly fire incident and the carnage afforded to his crew focuses the mind, while pictures of the defending tanks and Jagdpanzers of the island.

Most of the pictures we see in this section come from American personnel who were stationed in the sector of Berlin after the war, and mostly in the winter of 45/46. Panzer IV's and Jagdpanzers, but also a Hummel and several soft-skins and half-tracks. These are captured in images and described in the text describing mostly where and the particulars of each vehicle are pointed out as we read.

The picture below is from the Panzerkompanie (bo) ‘Berlin’ chapter. This is a section of forty-three pages, the largest of the book as of yet. A description of the Panzerkompanie's duties in using bodenständig or immobile tanks, stripped of running gear and all extras, that were placed around tactical defensive points around Berlin in Templehoff, Pankow, Prenzlauer Berg and Moabit. We learn a little of the tank's actions and deployments in these areas before again, the book breaks into the picture-to-a-page format detailing these Panthers and Panzers with the revealing text to support photo.

This chapter includes dug in Panthers and Panzers before and after the action, and even vehicles dug up many years after the war, it is the largest and most comprehensive study of these dug in "bo" tanks that I have seen, not only before, during but long after the fight for Berlin as we see the remains of some of these tanks as they were being exhumed, stored or cut up for scrap. These photographs and text (including first-hand stories of civilians drawn near to these emplacements while trying to survive) that informs the reader of the life and death struggle for this city by the people as well as the vehicles.

The use of QR codes in this book

Another innovative feature from the team is the use of "QR" codes in the book. These bar codes can be scanned by most android and apple phones, I know that in my android phone the Google assistant simply scans it for me. (a quick search on google will tell you more about your own phone) Once the bar-code is scanned in through the camera you can see the view on your phone as it looks now in the current day. This simple but amazing technology helps historians find these places and the reader better relate these places as they are now to what they were then.

Once scanned the results side by sideshow what was, and what is now - some of the original buildings are still there, if just in a facade - amazing! A novel addition to the book, and these are spread right throughout this tome, you will see more in my pictures in this review for comparison.

Another large section of the book is next. It features twenty-six pages of the largest study I have ever seen of the diminutive Borgward B IV
Panzerjäger's of Panzer-Vernichter-Abteilung 1. The Ladungslegers were converted to tank hunters with six rocket launchers mounted to the side of the driver - tiny but deadly if they could get close enough and as you can see by the often destroyed vehicles in this chapter if the driver and gunner were brave enough. Block text at the start of this chapter describes the training and actions of these B IV's, while we see the large photographs and text accompaniment showing various vehicles in different states with various owners during and after the battle.

The authors not only point out the differences in the models of this particular vehicle but many other details you may have missed (including the had of a dead crewman reaching out of a destroyed vehicle). We see these vehicles in several well-known locations including in front of the Reichstag and the Unter den Linden, again the QR codes help where, while a coloured illustration brings one of the well-known photos (have I seen this before?) B IV's.

It seems the more you get into these pages the larger the chapters and more information comes to light, with thirty pages of text and large photographs covering the Wilmersdorf & Schöneberg in the southeastern areas of the city. A brief block text introduction describes the fighting from the 26th of April through to the 1st of May 1945. We read of the Soviet push through to the Reichstag, of the fist-hand account of a Volkssturm soldier fighting in that sector and a very handy map of all of the documented German machinery left in this sector from a British source - only problem being the map these were notated on was never identified...

This has to be about the most varied chapter in the types of different vehicles documented in pictures and text. Panzer IV's of several types, Flakpanzer IV "Wirbelwind', StuG III, half-tracks towing big 21 cm Mörser 18 guns, drilling half-tracks, Schwerer Panzerspähwagen, a Hetzer, Panthers and three pictures of the very well known Tiger II "311" from the battle. All of these vehicles have their own interesting points brought to light with the informative text attached to them.

We head north next to the Tiergarten sector, with its forested parks, landmarks and strategic (for the Russians anyway) Reichstag, surrounded by the operational and wrecked German vehicles again shown over fifty-six pages - again the chapters increasing in volume as we delve deeper into the book. Block text as an introduction is supplied to set the scene from the authors as well as in an interview of a German Paratrooper by Cornelius Ryan, as well as an account by an SS Obersturmführer who describes the last days of the Reich and the decisions he made in those tumultuous last days.

We also have another list of German vehicles & machines from the British, and again although there is no map to hold against the reference known to even the authors it shows the nature of types in the sector. Photos like the one below of this "Müncheberg" Tiger I outside the Brandenburg Gate are so interesting to this reader as he has stood on that exact spot while visiting the city.

There are three more excellent colour illustration comparisons from Mr Rodna in this chapter, a Munitionspanzer / Befelhspanzer IV and Tiger II (#101) again making my modelling senses tingle with inspiration. Not to mention the number of different vehicles captured in photos, adding to the aforementioned types, we have so many different types of half-tracks including 7.5cm Pak and Flak gun Sd.Kfz's, Pakwagens, field guns, Hetzers, StuG III's & IV's, Munition carrying Panzer IV's, A series of shots of a Tiger I from different dates, some of the last Panthers (with the "F" model hulls) and even a Würzburg radar (!). 

Many of these pictures are taken after the war in the vehicle dumping ground of the Tiergarten. A few colour photos are in the book like the one below are also to be found throughout the pages - they are a great addition to the black and white stock that is 99% of the tome.

The inner-city surrounds of the command centre Reichskanzlei building are next examined in ten pages of text and large photographs. Amongst the usual StuG II's and other German softskins, the interesting light armoured cars are littering the building's courtyard like this Schupo-Sonderwagen Benz/21 in a few photographs. This is accompanied by another illustration from Mr Rodna who shows us the burnt-out vehicle's features, something that might have been lost to the casual observer merely looking at the black and white photo.

Friedrichstraße (Frederick Street) around the areas of Mitte is next discussed in a chapter of eighteen pages. The formula of a block text overview (covering the time from the 27th of April to the 2nd of May) is used again here and again, it works very effectively. A first-hand account of the fighting in the area by one of the German defenders of the sector is a great inclusion, telling of Soviet heavy weapons against the defender's small arms, losses to snipers from both sides at long distance and house to house fighting along with attempted break out, wounding and capture are retold. 

Features like this recollection that are dispersed throughout the book bring so much of the atmosphere and bitter truth of those days home to the reader. Pictures in the chapter range from a Panther (with an interesting tale of children shooting a live round from it after the war) half-tracks, 88's and various soft-skins including a Schwimmwagen are shown often in sequences over time and often with QR codes to locate the positions today.

Continuing on from the last chapter we learn more of the Friedrichstraße breakout over twenty-nine pages of pictures and text, two of these as block text, with a map of the multitude of wrecks left after the attempted breakout on Friedrichstraße. This map is very handy to better locate yourself while reading about and looking at the pictures and text laden with details of the lucky breakout by some (and failure to break out by others) to the north.
The street is seen littered with corpses, blown apart soft-skins and half-tracks along with some still partially recognizable Stug III's, some in a series showing states of disrepair as time and life goes on after the war around them.

A large route out of Berlin to the North is Schönhauser Allee, and the story of the breakout in that direction is told first in block text (including a claim of Berliners taking up arms against their own soldiers) then from a first-hand account of a 9th Fallschirmjäger, with the addition of a map of the Allee with a numbered key showing which vehicles were left and where sets the scene. Not all of the photographs in this section are the larger format ones (although there are still many including a series of Tiger II "314"), but they still document the varied armour involved and the authors do their best to flesh out the details that even a knowledgeable reader might well easily miss.

The breakout by the 18 Panzerdivision,  11th SS & two Tiger II's of  s.SS Pz Abt. 503 along with numerous civilians in tow towards the Spandau area in the West of  Berlin is the subject of the next chapter. The authors describe the situation first, with a list from the British of the wreckage found around Spandau, many of these shown over the next dozen pages. Small AA and larger 88mm guns, Half-tracks the "headless" Tiger II of Oskar Schafer and some great pictures of Panther II are shown in a series of close-up photos which allows the reader to get a really good look at the vehicle. The additional artwork of one of the photos is again a great source of interpretation and inspiration for the reader.

The Charlottenburg Bahnhof Scrapyard is the subject of the next chapter. Twenty-five pages of photos are introduced by five pages from the authors in which they describe in both block text and lists of the agreement of the British forces in the sector to break down the one hundred and sixty-five wrecks collected at the collection point. Minutes of the meeting in which the involved parties planned to de-mob and then break-up these vehicles is transcribed showing what was needed to complete the task and each parties' priorities during the operation.

Like the previous chapter, this one is not so much about fighting rather than the aftermath of the battles, but it still provides the reader with some great images and text of these vehicles and their dispositions. Along with the Tiger II ("314" which we saw earlier in the book and now in a series of shots), there are Panzer IV's plus many photos of Panthers, Marder II's and T-34's amongst many in the large scrapyard which we see from an elevated shot right at the end of the chapter.

A display of some surviving German war prizes was held at the outdoor Friedrichshain Volkspark Exhibition. Ten pages of photos and captions in this penultimate chapter lay out some of the vehicles on display. You can see that many of the photos were taken by visitors to the museum, several of them by a single photographer and featuring US, British and Russian soldiers in the frames, sharing them with all of the major types, Panzer IV, StuG III, Jagdpanzer IV, Panthers, Tiger I and Tiger II's.

A weird chapter but still very interesting to the reader is the last main section of the book. This one features the oddities & unknown locations of the vehicles photographed in the city over twenty-four pages. From the tiniest TKS-NKM tankette (that is even dwarfed by a small Polish 7TP) to a rare PZ IV Kugelblitz, British MK IV's (from WWI that had an extraordinary journey to end up back in Berlin!) along with a Kettenkrad, several Half-tracks of different variations, these are just a few of the interesting stories here. An action of some "Goliaths" and anti-tank guns against Soviet T-34s is recreated in a first-hand account from a Hitlerjugend soldier at the end of the book proper which ties in with the oddities theme of this chapter.

The Appendix features several interesting facts one might want to look into before they finish reading the book. Tables showing German armoured vehicle strengths around April 1945, block text describing the work undertaken by the three main repairs and tank-building factories of the time before the battle (Anklett, Krupp - Druckermüller & Daimler Werke 40 are featured). There is also a report about the tank development of several interesting vehicles by the US Ordinance department about the works at Daimler Benz during the war. 

Reports on the work and development of the "Schmal" Panther turret, cast iron Panther hulls, the differences between Panther F and G models, the Kugelblitz AA tank, the development of the Leopard light tank and the Maus are shown here and they will be of great interest to many readers out there I am sure.

Colour and black and white photos of the Panther assembly line and Daimler Werk 40 are also intriguing, as are some amazing photos of the demolished bridge at Wittenberge where crews drove their Panthers and StuG III's off the bridge - incredible images here.

We end the book with an index (very important in a book as big as this) and a bibliography.

So.... is it any good?

If you have been reading this far into this already too-long review you might understand just how much work from the publishers, authors and artists on this book. The research and time it must have taken to write a tome like this, to collect and present the best images, first-hand accounts, map information and to weed out the facts from fiction in a battle that took place over 70 years ago in the most extreme circumstances. It is hard to get my head around the effort it must have taken.

The artwork from Phillipe Rodna is also to be spoken about, it is the best in this genre of books and very inspiring to the modeller. The handy map that is separate from the book so you can locate where the text and images without flicking back and forth, the inclusion of QR codes which place you in the same spot in the present day and the excellent quality feel of the book and its presentation. So much thought has gone into the book and what has come out of it is one of if not the best books I have read from this publisher's long list of titles, it is that high praise indeed.

The book has now reached it's second print run and is again available to purchase - I would get in there fast if I were you.

Adam Norenberg

Thanks to Panzerwrecks for sending this book to us to read and review. It is now again available to order on the second print run from the Product Link on the Panzerwrecks Website 

I have included a list of the vehicles in this book that I have taken from the Panzerwrecks website. This shows all of, and the variety of vehicles shown in this tome, pretty impressive!

Vehicle List:
Tiger I
Tiger II
Panther Ausf.D
Panther Ausf.A
Panther Ausf.G
Panther Ausf.G (infra-red)
Panther Ausf.G with Ausf.F hull
Bodenständig Panther
Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.J
Bodenständig Pz.Kpfw.IV
Flakpanzer ‘Wirbelwind’
Flakpanzer ‘Möbelwagen’
Flakpanzer ‘Kugelblitz’
Munitionspanzer IV
Versuchs-leichte Panzerjäger IV
Panzer IV/70(V)
Munitions/Befehls StuG IV
Sturmgeschütz III Ausf.G
Sturmhaubitze 42
Jagdpanzer 38
Marder II
Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.A
Pz.Kpfw.I als Sherman
Pz.Kpfw.I mit 7.5cm StuK40
B IV Munitionsschlepper
B IV Panzerjäger
Sd.Kfz.251/1 ‘Falke’
Sd.Kfz.251/9 als ‘Stuka zu Fuß’
Sd.Kfz.251 ungepanzerte
Sd.Kfz.250/3 or 5
Ford V3000 Maultier
Sd.Kfz.11/1 für 2cm Flak 38
Sd.Kfz.9 mit Abstützsporn
Schwerer Wehrmachtsschlepper
Schupo-Sonderwagen Benz/21
Wilton-Fjoord Armoured Car
Mk V Hermaphrodite
Gep. Mannschaftwagen Brit
Streckenschutzzug ‘Berlin’