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PANZER III vs T-34 Eastern Front 1941

ISBN Number: 978-1-4728-6093-4 Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Published: Thursday, June 27, 2024 Retail Price: $23.00
Reviewed By: Joseph McDaniel


Eastern Front 1941

This title, number 136, is the most recent in the Osprey Duel Series, and like the other ones that I've read, packs a lot of information into 80 pages. Most AMPS armor modelers have built kits representing various combatants of the Eastern Front, or the Great Patriotic War as the Russians still refer to it. Two of the more iconic AFVs are the Panzer III and of course, the T-34.

The author, Peter Samsonov, has written or co-authored at least five other books about AFVs which fought on the Eastern Front, and also runs the Tank Archives blog, which has a large number of World War II documents and photos that should prove of interest to anyone interested in armored warfare.

Contents of this 80-page softcover book are

  • Introduction
  • Chronology
  • Design and Development
  • Technical Specifications
  • The Combatants
  • The Strategic Situation
  • Combat
  • Statistics and Analysis
  • Aftermath
  • Bibliography
  • Index

In the introduction, Mr. Samsonov provides a concise review of German and Soviet efforts to develop their respective armored forces, what each side knew or thought it knew about the other side's state of armor development, and the first months of the war as fought by the Panzer III and T-34.

The one-page Chronology chapter provides a timeline from 1934 to 1941 of Panzer III and T-34 development and production. 

Design and Development chapter describes in four pages how the Panzer III design and development progressed from the Ausf. A to the Ausf. J, with photos and full color, four- view drawings of the Ausf. E and Ausf. J.

The T-34 is similarly covered in five pages, with photos and full color, four-view drawings of an Early-Production T-34 and Later-Production T-34. This section provides details on changes to vehicle weight, suspension, armor thickness and type, armaments, communications, etc.

The Technical Specifications chapter covers in great detail both tanks' internal layout, to include transmission, engine, crew positions, weapons, ammunition storage, firepower and armour, mobility, vision and communications, along with photos and drawings. The author points out that one of the greatest advantages of the PzKpfw III was not its gun or armour, but having a commander who did not also have to perform the gunner's duties, as in the T-34, thus enabling the PzKpfw commander the ability to survey the battlefield while not also having to man the main gun. On most other points, the T-34 excelled: superior fuel economy and power of the diesel engine, ability to traverse terrain with its wide tracks that would have left the Panzer III stuck, the better armour, and the superior main gun that could penetrate any German armour at longer ranges than the PzKpfw III's 5cm gun.

The Combatants chapter first describes the German Armour Organization and how it changed from 1935 to the start of Operation Barbarossa, addressing supporting elements, types and numbers of vehicles in a typical Panzer division. This is followed by a brief description of the training of a German Tank Crewman, depending on his particular assignment. An example of a typical Panzer crewman, Ludwig Bauer, follows him from his initial training through assignments to a PzKpfw II, PzKpfw III, PzKpfw IV, and Stug III.

Soviet Armour Organization describes the evolution of the Red Army's tank divisions, listing numbers and types of vehicles assigned, with emphasis on the staffing problems - there simply were not enough qualified men to fill out the ranks. The section on the Soviet Tank Crewman describes how the typical Red Army tank crewman was conscripted and trained, whether a radioman or gunner, or commander like Dmitry Fedorovich Lavrinenko, also pictured in the above picture with his crew.

The Strategic Situation chapter describes the types and numbers of tanks on both sides, to include already obsolescent ones such as the PzKpfw I and T-26, with a map showing major unit deployments on the eve of Operation Barbarossa.

The Combat chapter describes the start of Operation Barbarossa on 21 June 1941, and how chaos reigned on the Soviet side of the border, as Red Army commanders spent valuable hours on wild-goose chases. One example given describes how the Soviet 6th Mechanized Corps spent ten hours deploying to Bielsk, taking considerable losses to German air attacks, only to discover that there were no German forces at Bielsk. New orders sent the Corps to intercept the enemy between Grodno and Sokolka, but no enemy forces were there, either. Suffering under continuous air attack, down to one-quarter load of fuel and out of ammunition, the 6th Mechanized Corps dissolved under constant attack.

Sub-units of the 8th Mechanized Corps suffered similar fates, partly due to traveling over 495 kilometers from one supposed enemy sighting to another, without ever actually engaging the enemy. The failure to perform required maintenance and provide crew rest, led to half the tanks being abandoned on the road.

The section Border Battles describes the experience of the Soviet 10th Tank Division against the German 11. Panzer Division at Radekhiv, where the German's well-planned ambush did not succeed because the T-34s and KV-1s shrugged off the German's fire. The Soviet return fire was wreaking havoc on the German PzKpfw III and PzKpfw IV tanks, until German 8.8cm anti-aircraft guns engaged them. This section has a two-page centerfold of a T--34 ramming a PzKpfw III Ausf. E, probably due to a lack of ammunition, which was a real problem for Red Army tank forces during the early stages of the Great Patriotic War.

Weathering the Typhoon describes how the the Soviet General Staff, having reviewed the experience passed on by surviving Red Army tankers, dissolved Mechanized Corps, first into divisions, then into brigades, which proved to be just in time to fend off the Germans' renewed assault on Moscow in Operation Typhoon. This is a nicely detailed description of the major combatants and unit compositions, opposing side strategies, and how the combat developed.

The Chapter Statistics and Analysis describes Soviet and German tank losses during this initial period of the war, how each side developed tactics to fight the other side, along with drawings showing the recommended target areas on the T-34 and PzKpfw III.

The final chapter, Aftermath, provides a recap of the success of the T-34 once units were reorganized and tankers trained in sufficient numbers, along with improvements to the tank, leading up to the T-34-85. Although the Germans upgunned the PzKpfw III to the longer 5cm gun, that proved to be insufficient; this lead to the PzKpfw IV with the longer 7.5cm gun replacing the PzKpfw III. The PzKpfw III's received spaced armour along with Schurzen side armour in an effort to defeat the T-34's 76mm gun, but proved only partially successful. The author's conclusion is "the encounters with the T-34 in the summer of 1941 marked the beginning of the end for the PzKpfw III. Production of the PzKpfw III tapered off and ceased in August 1943, although existing tanks and special vehicles built on their chassis continued to fight until the end of the Great Patriotic War."

The Bibliography is three pages long, and lists several documents by number and transliterated title from the Russian State Economics Archive, Russian State Military Archive, and Central Archive of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. There are three German-language documents listed, along with Canadian Military and Digital History Archive documents. This is followed by 26 publications in Russian, German, and English covering the T-34, Soviet Tank Aces, Panzer Legions, Handbook on German Forces, etc. A wealth of sources for the serious T-34 or PzKpfw III historian and modeler. This is followed by 21 websites, all but one in Russian and hosted in Russia, which provide additional information on the T-34, German tanks, the tank ace Lavrinenko, and other aspects of the war.

The final page is the Index, which also lists photos, a nice touch.

PROS: The book is logically laid-out, provides an even-handed evaluation of both combatants, supported by a number of color drawings and mostly black and white photos. The bibliography is much longer than normally provided in these Osprey Duel books, and I look forward to checking them out.

CONS: Nothing significant; for those who do not read German or Russian, translations of publication titles and websites would be nice.

Highly Recommended for Beginner to Advanced builders interested in the Panzer III or T-34; there are several photos and drawings that should inspire a vignette or diorama.

Thanks goes out to Osprey Publishing for this review sample.

Reviewed by Joseph "Mac" McDaniel


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