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Jentz, Thomas L. Tank Combat in North Africa: The Opening Rounds: Operations Sonnenblume, Brevity, Skorpion, and Battleaxe, February 1941 - June 1941. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1998.
Introduction; photos; charts; orders of battle; maps.
Appendices: Technical specifications of Axis and Allied tanks; German units transported to Tripoli (with convoy number, date, name of unit); German units transported by air to Libya; Recommended Books; Glossary of German Military Terms
Thomas Jentz has made his name in recent years as an expert on German tanks with a series of titles including the two Panzertruppen volumes, Germany's Panther Tank, Germany's Tiger Tanks: Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, and Germany's Tiger Tanks: VK45.02 to Tiger II: Design, Production & Modifications .
This, he tells us, was his first book on his first love -- North Africa -- but failed to sell when he offered it to publishers in 1972. Fortunately, it's finally available and further enhanced with an additional 25 years of research.
As might be expected from Jentz, this is unabashedly a tank book. This is decidedly not a general history of the campaign. And, while a certain amount of data is presented on artillery and even machine guns ("Only soft core (Ball) ammunition was issued to the British tanks for their 0.303-inch Vickers and 7.92 mm Besa machineguns. Therefore, these lighter machineguns could not be used to penetrate the gun shields of the enemy antitank guns and artillery pieces."), this is not a broad "weapons book", but a thorough analysis of tanks and tank vs. tank operations.
The opening chapters explore the tank forces of the British, Germans, and Italians in considerable detail and examine the intricacies of "guns against tanks". After describing all the steel, Jentz discusses the tactics of small armored units including TO&E data and sketches of tactical formations. The remaining 60% of the book is devoted to a careful, almost tank-by-tank description of the opening panzer battles in the desert.
While Jentz has written a fair proportion of the material himself, the bulk of the book comes from archival sources from both Axis and Allies. The documents are liberally quoted, mostly verbatim, sometimes in edited and abridged fashion: British Major Gordon-Hall on a fact-finding mission to the Middle East on the effects of Italian weapons vs. British tanks; the British "Military Training Pamphlet No. 41, The Armoured Regiment"; the German "Guidelines for Commanding and Employing the Panzer-Regiment and Panzer-Abteilung in Combat"; the war diaries of various units; personal accounts from participants; after-action reports; etc. Taken together, these provide a picture of how the tanks moved and fought and how well they performed in various combat situations and on the march.
It wasn't until 22 February 1941 that the 6th R.T.R. arrived in Tobruk harbor without vehicles or tanks. They were sent forward to Beda Fomm to be outfitted with the serviceable M13 tanks that had been abandoned by the Italians. On 28 February, A Squadron personnel moved forward to Beda Fomm. On 4 March, B Squadron personnel left to move forward to Beda Fomm and arrived on 6 March. A Squadron had received their M13 tanks at Beda Fomm and held a trial shoot on 7 March. On 12 March, Headquarters and C Squadron of the 6th R.T.R. also arrived at Beda Fomm to equip with Italian tanks.
The whole is nicely illustrated with dozens of photographs mostly selected to illuminate details discussed in the text: spare track sections added for extra protection; jerrycans carried on the hull during marches; scissors periscopes; captured tanks put back into service against their original owners; details of hits and resultant damage from various guns against various parts of different tanks. The appendices contain a lengthy compilation of tabular data quantifying almost every possible technical specification for German, British, and Italian tanks in the desert during the first half of 1941.
Highly recommended to tank buffs and Western Desert enthusiasts alike. However, a couple of minor caveats and then a few suggestions.
It's not meant as a criticism to say that an unfortunate aspect of this otherwise commendable book is the somewhat disjointed nature of the presentation. While packed with valuable information from original archival sources, the material unavoidably contains some gaps: partly because this is mostly limited to tank actions and takes a very tactical approach to those engagements, it is sometimes possible to lose sight of the forest while examining each tree so closely; similarly, the incredible amount of contemporary evidence and firsthand knowledge delivered here is tempered only by its unavailability at such a scale from both sides for every engagement in the desert. (Missing and unavailable documents seem to be an inevitable frustration for authors assembling this kind of book. See, for example, George Nafziger's The Afrika Korps: An Organizational History.)
Likewise, these suggestions are meant not as criticisms but as suggestions for enhancing the next two volumes of the series:
(1) It might be possible to facilitate visual recognition of extended quotations from archival material (as opposed to Jentz's own text) by more consistent and distinctive typographical convention. A different typeface? Smaller font size? Light tinting behind the text?
(2) It might be possible to ensure identification (some of which is missing in this volume) of the source of each archival quotation used in the text.
(3) In a series which seems to be going a long way toward meeting its stated goal of presenting the most accurate and complete information possible "obtained only from primary sources," at least one of the volumes should contain a comprehensive bibliography of all the documents consulted and/or quoted (as opposed to the very brief list of secondary sources in "Recommended Books".)
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Schiffer.
Thanks to Schiffer for providing this review copy.
Reviewed 19 April 1998
Copyright © 1998 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone
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