Authors: Marek Kruk, Radoslaw Szewczyk
This book presents a chronicle of the German Army's 9th Panzer Division in the years between 1940 and 1943. This unit was never distinguished by a sobriquet or an alias. It did not have a coat of arms, so no sophisticated emblems were displayed on its vehicles. Yet noteworthy are the number of military decorations awarded to its personnel. During the Second World War, 56 soldiers were honored with one of the highest military decorations of the Third Reich, The Knights Cross rank of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Einsernen Kreuzes). This number is undoubtedly a testimonial to the effectiveness of this unit. The number of awarded decorations places the 9th Panzer Division in second place among the Wehrmacht's armored divisions, right behind the 4th Panzer Division. Significantly, 56 also exceeds the number of equivalent medals received by the much glorified 1st Panzer Division of the SS "Adolf Hitler's Guards" ("SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler").
The 9th Panzer Division was borne of the 4th Light Division, and this is demonstrated no better than when reviewing the types of vehicles among its ranks. Many of the photos, as well as the color plates included in the book are of the following vehicles:
Panzerkampfwagen IV Sd.Kfz 161 Ausf. D - 1940
Panzerkampfwagen III Sd.Kfz 141 Ausf. F - 1941
Panzerkampfwagen II Sd.Kfz 121 Ausf. C - 1941
Sd.Kfz. 251/1 Ausf. B – 1941
Sd.Kfz. 250/1 - 1941
Sd.Kfz. 222 - 1941
Befehlspanzer III Ausf. E - 1941
Befehlspanzer III Ausf. H - 1942
Panzerkampfwagen III Sd.Kfz 141 Ausf. L – 1943
Schwerer Panzerspahwagen Sd.Kfz. 231- 1943
Panzerkampfwagen IV Sd.Kfz 161 Ausf. H – 1943
Befehlspanzer III Ausf. G - 1943
Befehlspanzer III Ausf. E - 1943
Panzerjager 38(t) Ausf. 7,5cm Pak 40/3 Ausf. H Sd.Ffz. 138 Marder II – 1943
Most of the photos are personal B&W snapshots, probably new and rare (at least to me). The captions describe the vehicles, unit markings, soldier's uniforms, and various accommodations. Where available, locations and dates are provided, but photos many lack such information – most likely due to the likelihood that they were never documented and came from private sources. One pictures a shoebox in an attic suddenly discovered.
The book covers various Wehrmacht offensives along a timeline from the battle of France in 1940 to the division's near-ruin and dissolution on the Russian front in 1943. The chapters include:
Western Offensive (1940) - through Belgium and France. Reading the narrative, I was struck by the slow and difficult progress made by the Germans when they met any kind of organized opposition and accurate French fire – not exactly following the 'Blitzkrieg theme' I have been led to believe for this period.
Operation Fall Marita (1941) - Transferred by train to Romania, the division is then marched through to Bulgaria and west to the Yugoslav border region in preparation for the spring offensive into the Balkans (Yugoslavia and Greece). The division overwhelmed Yugoslav defenses which were set up with artillery and infantry but very little in the way of anti-tank weapons – a common theme early in the war. Again, I was struck by the fact that, when faced with a similar order of battle, the fighting tended to grind to a stalemate until superior equipment was brought to bear.
Operation Barbarossa (1941) - The division returns to Austria for repair and refit in preparation for its participation in the invasion of Russia in June of 1941.
Operation Blau (1942) – The division is re-equipped with heavier armor and preparations are made for a 1942 strategic summer offensive into southern Russia between 28 June and November 1942. Initially, the German offensive sees spectacular gains with a rapid advance into the Caucasus capturing vast areas of land and several oil fields. However, the defeat at Stalingrad forces the division to retreat from the Caucasus for fear of becoming trapped.
Operation Wirbelwind (1943) – The division is pulled out again for R&R and is attached to Army Group Center, with the mission of breaking through the defenses of two Russian armies and conducting an assault eastward and southward towards Kursk. Though initially the 9th's efforts meet with success, the onset of winter, along with furious and bitter clashes, forces a general retreat. While the unit would continue to battle through to 1945, where it officially surrenders to the Allies in the Ruhr pocket, this book ends here.
The entire book is heavily illustrated, with color profiles of the various armored vehicles used by the division (with additional line drawings of same), organizational structure charts, operational maps, and of course a plethora of black and white snapshot photographs of life on the road with the 9th. Many photographs of captured and/or damaged Soviet equipment are included, as well as photos of the soldiers involved.
Appendices are included that cover commanders of the 9th Panzer Division, operational assignments, a glossary of abbreviations used and a list of German military ranks.
'9th Panzer Division' will be a satisfying addition to any bookshelf for those who follow the esoteric goings-on of German armored divisions. The snapshot nature of the photos tends to personalize the men who made up the division, for better or worse. And the narrative is unusually frank, especially in places where the unit is not faring well.
I would like to thank Mushroom Model Publications for providing this book for review, and to Internet Modeler for giving me the opportunity to read it.