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Book Review
Hitler's Tank Killer
Hitler's Tank Killer: Sturmgeschütz at War 1940-1945
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by: Bill Cross [ BILL_C ]

introduction

There are varying theories about why the Sturmgeschütz III or StuG III was the most-produced German AFV in World War 2 (over 10,000 were built by the firms of Alkett and MIAG). There is no argument, however, that the StuG III was Germany’s most-successful tank-killer, knocking out over 20,000 by May, 1945. Originally intended as a mechanized infantry-support gun for the evolving concept of Bewegungskrieg (“mobile warfare,” what came to be known as Blitzkrieg), the StuG III started life in 1936 as part of the artillery. A squat, turret-less superstructure mounted on a Panzer III chassis, the first StuGs were organized into assault gun brigades, and were armed with a low muzzle-velocity 75 mm StuK 37 L/24 gun intended to take out soft-skins and hardened fortified strong points. Only about 50 were produced in time for the Campaign in France of June, 1940.

Everything changed after Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union: not only was the Wehrmacht caught off-guard by the superior design of the KV-1 and T-34 tanks, but they found the Panzer IIIs that were supposed to form the backbone of the tank-to-tank combat quickly slipping into obsolescence. It’s 50mm gun was barely able to handle Soviet armor, and even mounted with a heavier 75mm gun, the tank simply was not up to the challenges of the huge armored conflicts shaping up as the campaign on the Eastern Front dragged on.

The Panzer III chassis, however, proved to be ideal for assault guns. For one thing, the StuG was simpler and cheaper to build than tanks. As the Allied bombing campaign destroyed Germany’s industrial base, shortages of raw materials and finished parts began to limit the amount of materiél the Wehrmacht could get into the field. For example, ball bearing manufacturing located around the city of Schweinfurt (which accounted for almost half of Germany’s production) was a major target of the US 8th Air Force in 1943. Needless to say, ball bearings are essential for turret mechanisms, so fewer are needed in assault guns like the StuG III.

After the start of Barbarossa, the role of the Sturmgeschütz III quickly shifted from infantry support to tank killing. The low-velocity 75 mm StuK 37 L/24 gun was replaced, first by the longer 7.5mm StuK 40 L/43 in the Ausf.F (the first major upgrade of the design), and later in June 1942 with the longer 7.5mm StuK 40 L/48 gun (13 inches longer). This gun was used right through the Ausf.G until the end of the war. The G variant was the most-produced version (including some converted Panzer IIIs) with various modifications intended to improve the design (commander’s cupola, widened superstructure, better interior configuration, additional armor and side skirts). Some changes, though, were forced on manufacturers by the exigencies of war. For example, the shortage of ball bearings referenced above meant the commander’s cupola was welded-on for a time.

Given its popularity among modelers and manufacturers, as well as success as an anti-tank threat, it’s not surprising that a new book has been published by Pen & Sword about the StuG III called Hitler’s Tank Killer: The Sturmgeschütz III at War 1940-1945 by Hans Seidler.

the review

While the title is a little sensationalistic (to my knowledge, Hitler never had any connection to the StuG, unlike with the Tiger tank), this is a terrific modeling resource. In its a 7 ½ x 9 ¾ inch format, the book’s 160 pages featuring over 250 B&W photos feel just about “right” as a stand-alone reference work. The quality of the photos is generally good, though some are quite soft. This is likely due to the use of soldier snapshots, which in many cases aren’t the clearest in the original, and suffer when reproduced. However, the selection of photos is outstanding, with many that could provide the inspiration for builds and dioramas. I was especially intrigued by several showing paired StuG IIIs atop flatcars being transported to the front. The time frame covered is fairly evenly-divided over the course of the entire war, including some photos of wrecked vehicles as Germany’s Götterdämmerung approached. The photos have detailed captions that are filled with interesting information.

The book is organized into four chapters (following a ½ page introduction):

From France to Russia 1940-1942
Ost Front 1942-1943
On the Defensive 1943-1944
The Demise of the Sturmgeschütz 1944-1945

The chapters are interesting and detailed without being overbearing, but suffer from an almost total focus on the Eastern Front (though thankfully the photographs show StuGs in France and elsewhere after the invasion of Normandy). Certainly the invasion of the Soviet Union and the eventual defeat of the Nazi war machine there is the major part of the story in general and specifically for the assault gun, but a little more-balanced discussion in the chapter introductions would have been appreciated.

In addition, there are four appendices:

Camouflage and Zimmerit
Typical Assault Gun Unit November 1942
Standard StuG.III Variants
Sturmgeschütz Units of the Waffen SS

The appendix on camouflage struck me as quite singular, as Seidler makes two extraordinary claims: first, that the StuGs in the France campaign were painted only gray. Many experts today argue that the official scheme of brown & gray adopted prior to the outbreak of the war was used during the French campaign. More surprising, though, is his assertion that by Spring of 1942, crews on the Eastern Front were using pre-war dark brown and dark green paint. The use of Reichswehr camouflage colors on the Eastern Front is certainly news to me, and I’d be interested what evidence Seidler has for it. If true, it will open up a huge debate just at the point modelers were accepting the progression from pre-war tri-tonal camouflage to brown & gray to all gray and finally to a base of Dunkelgelb.

In addition, he claims that armored vehicles in the Crimea and Caucasus were painted in the “tropical” colors RAL 8000, 7008 and 8017 used in North Africa. I have seen mention of Tiger tanks intended for the Afrika Korps that were detoured to the Eastern Front, but never that tanks there were deliberately painted in a Tropen camo scheme. Again, if true, I’d like to see some references for this claim, as the book has no bibliography or notes.

One interesting side-note to the chapter is his explanation for the wide variation in color schemes evident in the few color images that survive. Usually this is chalked up to technical limitations of the film stock or the degradation of the colors from the long passage of time. Seidler argues it was the poor quality of the Dunkelgelb RAL 7028 paste supplied to crews in the field. The paint tended to wash off in heavy rains, so the men tried various remedies for fixing its color, including mixing it with fuel, old oil and even other paints. It’s certainly an intriguing argument, and one that should send paint manufacturers running for their antacids and a stiff drink.

The section on StuG III variants has excellent details, including measurements, number of vehicles produced, production run, etc. The sections on unit make-up and StuGs of the Waffen SS will be helpful to those who want to recreate vehicles from specific units.

I don’t want to sound picky, but the book could have used a little better editing. Some sentences are a bit mangled grammatically, and a few hints like KW instead of KV for the Soviet tank designation lead me to believe the text started out in German, though I could not find any record of a German-language edition. In any case, the problems aren’t fatal so much as annoying. And they don’t prevent the reader from enjoying the good scholarship involved nor the excellent photograph selection.

conclusion

Since the Sturmgeschütz III is such an important vehicle, both historically and among modelers and kit manufacturers, this is an excellent reference work for understanding the various versions of the StuG III and seeing how they looked in the field. It’s no substitute for a detailing book, and has no color profiles or other “canned” solutions for camouflage or decaling schemes. However, is no substitute for a detailing reference like Squadron’s Walk Around: Sturmgeschütz III Ausf. G, as there are no close-up photos or interiors of surviving StuGs. The book lacks color plates showing sample vehicles; that’s not a knock on the result at all, just that some modelers prefer a single book that does it all.

For the price ($25) this is a very useful and enjoyable reference for one of the more important Wehrmacht vehicles.
SUMMARY
Highs: Rich selection of historical photos, many in action and offering ideas for dioramas and builds. Good price for what you get.
Lows: Not enough information about the StuG III in other theaters of war, including France & Italy.
Verdict: Highly-recommended.
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: 9781848841741
  Suggested Retail: $24.95/£14.99
  PUBLISHED: Oct 15, 2010
  NATIONALITY: Germany
NETWORK-WIDE AVERAGE RATINGS
  THIS REVIEWER: 90.08%
  MAKER/PUBLISHER: 93.65%

Our Thanks to Casemate Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Bill Cross (bill_c)
FROM: NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES

Self-proclaimed rivet counter who gleefully builds tanks, planes and has three subs in the stash.

Copyright ©2017 text by Bill Cross [ BILL_C ]. All rights reserved.


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Comments

Yep, And the picture is "modified" Link: LINK
OCT 26, 2010 - 02:28 AM
Nico, your photo won't load on my computer. Bill P. you are of course correct: the photographic evidence shows that Tropen camo was present in Russia. Whether it was a diversion from N. Africa or intended for the Steppes is as yet in dispute until someone comes up with documentation. But it's perfectly fine to have Afrika Korps colors on a Russian-front vehicle, and I did not want to imply otherwise. Thanks for pointing that out.
OCT 26, 2010 - 01:10 PM
Weird, that link worked ok for me. How's this one? --Pic-- Same photo, different scan.
OCT 26, 2010 - 02:31 PM
It`s quite funny, that if they use a picture of a finnish stug on the front cover, they don`t mention anything about finnish stugs and the picture ”cleaner” version. I mean if they think that the book can be use as a reference that`s quite bad advertisement. Finnish swastika has nothing to do with the nazis. Finnish army started use it in 1918.
OCT 27, 2010 - 02:40 AM
Thanks for pointing that out. The book is devoted to the German StuGs and only mentions the Bulgarians in passing. I agree that a mention of the Finns and using that photo inside would be preferable to simply PhotoShopping it this way, but I'm sure the book's designer was concerned that buyers would be confused by the weird Finnish swastika.
OCT 27, 2010 - 12:53 PM
Well, I agree. Just for me, as a finn, it`s just funny to see a quite a familiar foto of finnish stugs under a heading "Hitler`s tank killers" and without markings. But I think that the review was very interesting and I think that the book is worth of buying. I didn`t know that also the germans used concrete armor with their stugs (image 7) More information if you are interested about finnish stugs : LINK And after all, this was the reason why I log in this site.
OCT 27, 2010 - 05:03 PM
Welcome to Armorama and thanks for sharing that! I encourage someone to build a Finnish StuG. I know of at least one after-market accessory maker that has stuff for one (can't remember who it is, though, LOL!).
OCT 30, 2010 - 11:08 AM
Welcome to Armorama and thanks for sharing that! I encourage someone to build a Finnish StuG. I know of at least one after-market accessory maker that has stuff for one (can't remember who it is, though, LOL!).[/quote] JS-Models makes several resin sets for Finnish Stugs: rear stowage box, a detail set (including correct C-shaped towing hooks, 2 styles of fender suppors, etc), and zimmerit tools for the second-batch stugs. Wiking-models (currently under the name of Combat Accessories, IIRC) has a white metal DT machine. Good stuff. Echelon has a great-looking decal sheet for Finnish Stugs. There's others as well. I'm aware of at least ATAK having a Finnish Stug Conversion set, but as I'm not familiar with that, I can't comment on it. Tamiya is soon rereleasing their mid-1990's Stug kit as a Finnish version, inlcuding new decals and a newly tooled sprue with Finnish modification parts. --Click-- If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time one of the big mainstream manufacturers is releasing an armor kit of a Finnish subject. My hat is off to the Big T. However, the base kit being the same as before, creating a bit of a dilemma over selecting a kit. While this upcoming Tamiya release has the Finnish modification parts (and a commander figure!) as well as markings right in the box, it needs the fighting compartment roof modified (rivets replaced with flush-sitting screws) and the fender supports changed to be more accurate. There could have been a few more small issues I don't recall right now, but those two are the major ones. Dragon's "Early" Stug III kit (#6320) on the other hand has the correct screw-attached roof and fender supports, but needs all the aftermarket stuff to make it Finnish. To my knowledge, the schürzen-equipped kit (#6365) is identical to the first release except for the addition of the schürzen. Some might also like the individual-link tracks in the Dragon kit. Edit: Oh, worry not, I got a Stug in my stash with the sole intention of "Finnishing" it. That went just according to the Murphy's laws concerning modeling, I got the Dragon kit plus all the needed aftermarket bells and whistles, decals, and what-have-you for a while already, and then comes that Tamiya re-boxing.
OCT 31, 2010 - 12:37 PM
Of course Eetu! This is also the cover picture for the book on Lagus Sturmi´s. Cheers
NOV 08, 2010 - 02:24 PM
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