The action in the book is almost exclusively set on the Eastern Front facing the Russians (referred to as 'Ivan' throughout), although in the latter chapters he is posted to the west facing the Americans. Much of the action is described in a very matter of fact way which is both refreshingly clear but also on occasion frustratingly lacking in detail. Some scenes for instance are described almost like an After Action Report so while this is a very informative book the reader doesn't get the full experience of the sights, sounds, smells like one does in other biographies. Having said that one of the best chapters 'Portrait of the Tiger' does reveal the physical discomforts and difficulties of fighting in the Panzer VI.
Throughout the book Carius makes it clear that he feels the ordinary German soldier has been treated badly in the post war period. To some extent he is right, in that it has long been popular to portray every German soldier as a warmongering Jew hating Nazi. The truth is that many regular German soldiers were not fighting for Hitler or for National Socialism but because their country asked then to fight and they saw it as their duty to respond to that call. In that respect they were no different from the soldiers of other nations who fight for their country not the politics that have resulted in the war. Several times Carius states that at the front an individual soldiers politics or religion were irrelevant and all that really mattered was comradeship and fellowship which is probably a sentiment that most veterans can understand.
|Receiving the Oak-leaves to his Knights Cross from Himmler|
I'm not sure that Carius was sympathetic to the regime as he candidly acknowledges Graf von Stauffenberg who attempted to assassinate Hitler as a hero because he was willing to die for his belief that Germany needed to be saved from destruction by its own leaders. However he is also scathing of the other plotters because they did not act sooner to eliminate Hitler. Carius also describes potential saboteurs and informants as traitors without seeming to realise that these people also risked their lives (and those of their families) by their actions. Overall the reader gets a very mixed message on the political alignment of the author. Maybe this is deliberate as he was initially writing for an audience of his military peers and politics was deemed irrelevant to the front-line soldier whose main priorities usually focused on survival.
Carius takes great pains to acknowledge the work of maintenance crews in keeping his Tigers running and combat ready. Problems with running gear, broken tracks and final drives are mentioned regularly. Although the Armour of the Tiger made it a formidable opponent its was far from invulnerable. On one occasion the commanders cupola of Carius' tank was shot clean off by a lucky shot from a Russian Assault Gun - only the fact that he was ducked down getting his cigarette lit by another crew member saved his life! The tiger was also vulnerable to HE and Mortar rounds which could send shrapnel through the engine deck into key components such as the radiators. Handling of the tank was also key to the vehicles endurance. On several occasions Carius describes hasty or green drivers throwing tracks by reversing or turning too quickly.
So is this a good book? Yes and no. The translation could have been better and Carius' matter of fact narrative style was hard to read at times. But it is still an incredible story of the epic struggle between the Germans and Russians. Carius himself was undoubtedly a brave soldier earning the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class, the Knights Cross and Oak-leaves to the Knights Cross. He was also wounded several times eventually being awarded the Wound Badge in Gold and the Panzer Battle Badge in Silver for 100 Assaults. His loyalty to his comrades comes through clearly in his words and while I have some misgivings about his stance on the war one has to remember this book was originally written for fellow veterans of the 502nd Panzer Battalion not for a wider audience.