i "Tygrysy" w bitwie na Luku Kurskim 1943 (Panthers and Tigers in
the Kursk Bulge 1943)
By Maksym Kolomyjec and Janusz Ledwoch
Wydawnictwo Militaria, 2004
reviewed by Scott Taylor
There is an unmistakable aura around the German "big cats," the Tiger and Panther tanks. Similarly, the titanic clash of armour during the battle of Kursk in July 1943 occupies a special place in the history of tank warfare. This book, part of the Militaria series of softcover reference books from Poland, covers the intersection of those two aspects of military history: the participation of German Tiger and Panther units in the Kursk battles. In particular, the book focuses on the Panthers of the 51st and 52nd Panzer Abteilung, 39th Panzer Regiment (including 51st Panzer Abteilung after it was absorbed into the Panzer Regiment of Panzergrenadier Division Grossdeutschland) and the Tigers of Panzergrenadier Division Grossdeutschland, 503rd and 505th Schwerepanzer Abteilung, and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd SS-Panzergrenadier Divisions during the Kursk battle and immediately thereafter.
The book itself is softcover, printed on glossy paper with very clear photo reproduction. Unlike earlier titles in the series, this book has full dual-language English and Polish text; there are some translation errors and some "interesting" language in the English text, but nothing that is serious. As a sidebar, it appears that the Polish language version is itself a translation of a Russian book published in 2001. Approximately 2/3 of the book is devoted to the Panther, while the last 1/3 covers the Tiger. Of course, there are many books devoted to the Tiger tank in combat (notably Wolfgang Schneider's massive volumes), so I welcomed the more in-depth coverage of the Panther's combat debut.
The text gives some glimpses into the ferocious fighting that these vehicles took part in; I found the first-hand accounts in the Panther section particularly interesting. One of the most intriguing parts of the entire book is a Soviet assessment of the Panther based on analysis of 31 wrecks inspected on the battlefield. This assessment includes the turret numbers of each vehicle, the number, calibre, and location of hits that they received, and type of damage that the vehicle suffered.
The real "meat" of the book, however, consists of the superb photos, many of which I had not seen before. Panthers from every company of the two Panzer Abteilung, as well as the headquarters units, are covered in depth. There are also many photos, sometimes multiple shots of the same vehicles from different periods and angles, of captured or destroyed vehicles taken by Soviet photographers. These provide great inspiration for dioramas and excellent documentation of the various equipment configurations of early Panthers.
Coverage of the Tiger is slimmer, although tanks from all of the units are featured and a number of interesting, unusual vehicles are shown. Sadly, there is only a single photo of a Tiger in Soviet hands - I would have liked to see more Soviet battlefield photos of captured or destroyed Tigers.
The colour plates included in the book are, by and large, excellent, and show very well the range of camouflage and markings that these vehicles carried. In particular, the extensive documentation of the different camouflage marking styles of each of the companies within Panzer Abteilung 51 and 52 (except 6th company, for some reason?) gives one a very clear picture of these units. A 1/35 scale four-view colour illustration of one Panther is also featured. The illustrations showing the various panther markings adopted by the two Panzer Abteilung are great - now if only an aftermarket decal company would release a set of these markings for the DML kit? Tiger coverage is not nearly as comprehensive, but is still very useful. A couple of minor quibbles with the artist's interpretations, however: the cover illustration of 1313 from 1st SS-Panzergrenadier Division shows quite a different camouflage pattern on the hull side form that shown in the photo on page 85, while 321 from 505th Schwerepanzer Abteilung (an interesting vehicle with barbed wire put on the hull sides to keep Soviet infantry off) is illustrated with zimmerit - a definite "no-go" for a Tiger in July 1943!
Supplementing the superb photos and colour plates are a number of line illustrations, including 1/35 scale plans of both the Panther Ausf D and the Tiger I (March-April 1943 production). One note on these plans: the Panther D front view has been mirrored! Otherwise, the plans seem very good. Orders of battle for each of the units listed, including turret numbers and, where known, commander's names, are also very useful.
Overall, I highly recommend this book, particularly for the excellent coverage of the Panther's inauspicious combat debut. A very worthwhile (and relatively inexpensive) book for anybody interested in armour battles on the Eastern Front or the German big cats, and definitely worth having if you have a DML Panther D or any of the available Kursk Tiger Is on your to-do list.
100 pages, hundreds of B&W photos, 12 pages of colour paintings including covers
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