M3 Medium Tank vs Panzer III
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 10 Jul 2008
Full Title: M3 Medium Tank vs Panzer III: Kasserine Pass 1943
Right from the start, M3 Medium Tank vs Panzer III grabbed my attention. Immediately, I see value in the author Gordon Rottman's approach, presenting this book as a combination of a brief on each tank, a run down of the Desert War up until the Kasserine Pass battle, and, similar to other Osprey titles, a nice collection of photographs.
To prevent the book becoming just another narrative of the Battle of Kasserine Pass, Rottman introduced two tankers, one American and one German, as the "cast of characters" of sorts. US Army Technician 5th Grade Paul Kirby, a nom de guerre due to his wish for anonymity, shared his experience of the battle as a 75-mm gunner in the unconventionally shaped M3 tank; his tank fired her guns at Kasserine Pass and was eventually knocked out after an exchange of shells. German Army Panzeroberschütze Baldur Köhler, a Panzer III tank radio operator who refused to think of himself as a part of a major battle and instead just a soldier who was just doing his duty, also shared valuable insight on the battle as well as the daily life a German Panzer crew; he recalled seeing charred American tanks and strewn bodies after the battle. While there were certainly plenty of books that would serve as better technical guides to the tanks, the inclusion of Kirby and Köhler's experiences added a touch of life to the otherwise lifeless armored machines that some of the other books failed to achieve; the experiences of Kirby and Köhler added a touch of intimacy to the otherwise impersonal battle.
What I found lacking, however, was actual tank combat and battlefield tactics. Rottman mentioned that "[w]hat it really came down to was the skills of the crew and small unit commanders and who was the quickest" as the deciding factors of any duel between the M3 and the Panzer III tanks; however, although he did discuss some items regarding marching formations and tank ambushes, I felt that there was not enough support for such an argument. Perhaps the size limitation of the book restricted him from diving too deep into this topic, but even with this in mind, I still wished for just a bit more about doctrine, field experience using various rounds, and battlefield communications. Each crew's quick thinking and the display of skill decided the outcome of the battle, but I found only minimal evidence in the book suggesting so.
Of the outstanding photographs in the book, the one I enjoyed the most was the photograph on page 56 showing the interior of a British M3 Grant tank with the driver in his seat. Somehow, looking at that picture after the cut-away diagrams of the M3 tank, I could imagine myself being in one such tank, with the armored hatch closed, driving the tank into optimal firing position nearly blind, trusting the abilities of my tank commander to steer me and the gunner-loader team to extend the power of the very armor I was piloting. This picture was definitely worth a thousand words to me.
M3 Medium Tank vs Panzer III was by no means a great book on armor and armor warfare, however, the first-person perspectives offered by Kirby and Köhler put this book on my recommended books list. These personal experiences definitely stirred some interest for me to research more on the design, evolution, and field performance of each of the two tanks.
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Chiang Kaishek, 31 Jul 1937