Panzer Commander, The Memoirs of Colonel Hans Von Luck is the most recently the most rewarding reading that comes to my mind. Luck quickly covers his child hood and provides a quick history of his family. Luck came from an old Prussian family that traces its heritage back to the times of the Teutonic wars. Lucks father fought at the battle of Jutland during The Great War, historically the largest naval battle ever. He joined the Wehrmacht (German army) and become an officer in the Cavalry but was transferred to a Panzer battalion.
Von Luck takes a very neutral attitude to Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party coming to power. Being a professional soldier he would do his duty for Germany no matter the circumstances. Being in command of an armored recognizance battalion Von Luck spearheaded the Blitzkrieg (German for Lighting War) in Poland then France under and Belgium under Erwin Rommel. He then fought to within two hundred miles of Moscow before being transferred to the North African front at Rommel’s Request. Interestingly the Wehrmarcht showing signs of stress provided to no transport back to Germany. He drove the nearly two thousand miles back to Berlin in the Russian winter with the top down on his Mercedes convertible, his aid sat in the back seat with a machine gun waiting for Russian fighter bombers to attack them.
In North Africa he spent the majority of his time skirmishing against a British armored reconnaissance unit, he called it the fare war. The German and British reconnaissance units talked over radio every night, they even agreed to discontinue hostilities at sunset. When a solider or vehicle would turn up missing they would call one another asking if they had killed them today. Von Luck left North Africa before the surrender; he was sent by Rommel back to Germany to visit Adolf Hitler at his Bavarian retreat. Luck mission was to convince Hitler of a German “Dunkirk” named so after the incredible evacuation of the majority of the English expeditionary force and the surviving Belgian and French troops from the French coast to England. Hitler agreed to late and the majority of the Africa Corps was captured.
Von Luck was eventually assigned to Normandy to prepare a possible allied invasion, even though the Germans believed Normandy was an unlikely target. The beginning of June Von Lucks immediate superior persuaded him to go on leave in Paris. When he was no longer able to connect his battalion on radio on the morning of June 6th 1944 he drove back up to Normandy to discover that he had lost over half his force strength to allied heavy bombing and that his remaining half was heavily engaged with English paratroopers. The men he had left in command had also been persuaded to take leave in Paris. His superiors including Rommel were home in Germany. Von Luck didn’t say it but a suspect a conspiracy by the Wehrmarcht high command to ensure the success of the Allied landing had occurred – and so did the Nazis, many high ranking men met there ends in short time including Rommel the “Desert Fox”.
D-Day plus a couple of days, luck was reconnoitering with his convertible Mercedes and came upon an English Heavy Armor column, in panic he turned around to head back to his field command post. Not a hundred yards away returning a different way then he had come he discovered a Luftwaffe (German Air Force) High Altitude Anti-Aircraft battery of four 88mm artillery carefully camouflaged in a thickly wooded area. He ordered them to attack on a rise above the British tanks, they refused. He gave them the option of winning a medal or being shot by his now drawn pistol (getting shot, let alone by a cornel isn’t a good thing). Later in the day he returned to check on the status of the British tanks, he was horrified by what he had found. He was greeted by an elated and very proud Anti-Aircraft crew who had killed at least fifty British tanks without suffering any casualties, they had positioned themselves on the suggested rise but in deep grass, they British were unable to identify where the fire was coming from.
Four hundred percent casualties and six months later Von Lucks unit was transferred from the western front to slow the Russian advance. In the final weeks of the war he was promoted twice and captured in a Russian envelopment. He spent the next five years in a Gulag in the caucuses with Russian prisoners guilty of committing “Economic Crimes” against the people of the Soviet Union, The Russians felt them no better than the Germans who had been captured. His prison group was released in 1949 under American pressure to repatriate German Prisoners of War.
After he was released Von luck was employed by the British war college and the Swedish military academy to a course for cadets about fighting vastly superior forces, his lesson included a tour of the Normandy country side. Like I stated in the introduction, Von Lucks memoir has been one of my most rewarding reads, I would also like to add that I found Von Luck very insightful. The Panzer Commander is one of the few books that I would recommend reading.
Copyright © 2007 by Steven A Bergstrom