"Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

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David C. Clarke
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"Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by David C. Clarke » 13 Mar 2008 04:19

Hi Guys and Ladies, I'm currently reading Bruno Friesen's "Panzer Gunner : From My Native Canada to the German Ostfront And Back. In Action with 25th Panzer Regiment, 7th Panzer Division 1944-45."

Herr Friesen served on both the Panzer IV and the Jagdpanzer IV, so this book promised to be a treat, if only because accounts by crew members of a Jagdpanzer IV are very rare in English.

My first impression was that this book was a fake, until I studied it more and began to understand the author's methodology. Call it natural cynicism on the part of the Commissar, but the book didn't, at first, ring true because its technical descriptions of the tanks involved--including the T-34--were simply too detailed, but less personalized than one might expect in a war memoir (and the ads for this book asserted that the descriptions of a crewman fighting in a Pz.IV and Jagdpanzer IV were a major selling point for the book).

What initially caused my doubts seem to have been my own initial misunderstanding of the author's technique. The author seeks to integrate his own personal experiences with a great deal of research done after the war.

My observation is that the author's own experiences, given all of the time that has passed since the events he describes, doesn't seem to add up to 200+ pages of text. And Herr Freisen makes it clear, very early on, that he intends to explain German terms, including slang, immediately in his text to prevent mis-understandings, while mixing into the book technical descriptions and specifications learned over the years from his private research.

The end result, IMHO, is a book that has merit not just as a war-time memoir but as a faithful explanation of the tank types encountered in Prussia in 1945.

Don't get me wrong--I've read better memoirs (and far worse!) and I've read better descriptions of the tanks involved (and much less accurate ones!). Still, overall, this book is an interesting and commendable blend, if you read it while remembering the author's stated intentions and his particular style of writing!

So, after approaching the book with much good intentions and then feeling that it didn't live up to my anticipations, I have to reach the cautious verdict that this is a book well worth reading if you are interested in the end on the Ostfront in 1945.

I hope this review makes some sense and I truly don't want to put anyone off from buying the book, but I feel it my honest duty to make a potential buyer aware of its limitations. Of course, I've been around for quite some time and have read a massive amount of literature on Panzers in the 25 or so years I've participated in our mutual hobby. You should consider that anything in this review that might be regarded as a criticism of the book is written by me from strictly my own, somewhat jaded, perspective.

The book is not unreasonably priced and my honest opinion is that, when all is said and done, it is a worthy addition to my library and that of anyone interested in Panzers, particularly those who are just beginning to expand their written materials on Panzers. As I mentioned earlier, accounts by crew members of Jagdpanzer IVs just don't appear in print every day!

Bestens,
~D, the EviL

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Michael Emrys
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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by Michael Emrys » 13 Mar 2008 12:24

Thanks for the review, David. I am left wondering about one thing: How did a Canadian end up in the Wehrmacht? That ought to be something of a tale in its own right.

Michael

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by Kunikov » 13 Mar 2008 16:49

Thanks for the insights David, I have the book and am planning on reading it at some point soon. Your initial thoughts reminded me of another book entitled "Directive 19" which I have heard, and you can see on amazon through people's comments on reviews, that it seems to be a fake. The same author also has a veteran memoir out, I'm not sure what to make of it yet but I do have both books...just have to find the time to get to them...

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by David C. Clarke » 14 Mar 2008 01:51

Hi Kunikov :D ! Long time my friend! Although I was eventually convinced by this book, I'd venture to say that fake memoirs will be more of a problem in the future. Any half-way decent writer, with the resources of the internet behind him or her can now write a WWII "memoir" simply because of the wide dissemination of information that wasn't commonly available 10 years ago. If you think Guy Sajer had problems, just wait and see what the next few uears bring in an increasingly lucrative market for such memoirs.

Hi Michael, from the book's dustcover:
"...his parents came from a German-speaking Mennonite community in Uraine....in 1924 his parents left the Ukraine for Canada, where Bruno was born. In March 1939, he and his brother Oscar found themselves on a ship bound for Bremenhaven in Germany...his father envisaged that a better life awaited them in the Third Reich."

Interesting, yes?

Bestens,
David

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by Kunikov » 14 Mar 2008 02:06

David, it's been a while :) I haven't seen you around this forum for quite some time! You might be right, I think a fictional memoir marketed as such might still make a few sales, in fact I'd think it'd make better sales than a real memoir :lol:

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by Michael Emrys » 14 Mar 2008 06:38

David C. Clarke wrote:Hi Michael, from the book's dustcover:
"...his parents came from a German-speaking Mennonite community in Uraine....in 1924 his parents left the Ukraine for Canada, where Bruno was born. In March 1939, he and his brother Oscar found themselves on a ship bound for Bremenhaven in Germany...his father envisaged that a better life awaited them in the Third Reich."

Interesting, yes?
Definitely. I presume that having arrived in Germany he was almost immediately taken into the Wehrmacht? I wonder how eager he was to serve. Does he say whether his brother also survived the war?

Michael

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by David C. Clarke » 14 Mar 2008 07:05

Apparently he was drafted in 1942, Michael. I gave the book a quick read, concentrating on the armor stuff, so I must have missed what he wrote about his brother. But, I intend to really sit down with this one and give it a serious going over. The only reason I posted this review was to warn folks that he has an unusual style that might be mistaken--as I did--as being less than truthful.

Just for the record. The very best WWII memoir by a Panzer trooper I've read coincidently concerns another 7th Panzer soldat who crewed Panzer IVs and Panzerjager IVs. That was written by Johann Huber and I was only able to read it thanks to my good friend Prit Buttar, as it is not yet available in English. Not to demean Herr Friesen, but in all honsety, Huber's book is a few light years ahead of "Panzer Gunner" and it may be that reading Huber first spoiled my appreciation of Freisen.

Bestens,
David

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by Username » 30 Mar 2008 17:35

I just recieved the book yesterday. It does have an odd style of writing that gets tedious. You start to understand the author after awhile. I am mostly interested in technical details from a book like this.

The author on pgs. 72-73 seems to state that the turret gunner could not be bothered with using his turret MG while the main gun was using AP rounds.

The author describes very short ranged encounters against Soviet armor with tank riders. In fact, throughout the book, very close actions are described. In any case, using the turret MG to quickly hose the target tank at 200 meters would remove the tank riders and give the gunner the range for the AP39. This was a common tactic in other armies. Evidently not for the Panzer IV. Since the MG muzzle velocity and AP39 velocity are so close, why would they not use the same scale? Evidently, the author is correct according to Preliminary Report No. 15 Chobham school. The HE and MG (one has a muzzle velocity of 450 m/sec and the other 755 m/sec, respectively) shared a part of the gunsight perhaps, but they did not correspond?

At one point, against a fuel depot at 1500 meters, he states they never fired at over 1000 meters before! This could be driven by the lay of the land but some training at this range must have happened. The author states that hitting a door or window at 1000 meters (HE) was the sign of an accurate Panzer IV gun.

There are some nice details that must be true. The Panzer IV crew also used to turn the hull at an angle to enemy fire. This would then give extra hull protection since the armor is thus 'sloped' to incoming fire. The hull crewmen would not like this since that meant the main gun would be over one or the other man's hatch. The turret would have to face the enemy and fire somewhat 'over-the-side' (slightly). If the Panzer IV was 'bombed-up' full of ammo, the driver and radio operator could not egress back out of thier seats and come out the turret (ammo in the way). Panzer Politics it seems. I suppose the driver and radio operator would feed these rounds as soon as possible back up to the loader.

Some anecdotes such as the 'killer-batteries' required me to re-read the passage. This book could have used some further editing.

Some nice details on gunnery are revealed. Panzers would turn off the engine to reduce vibration when making longer ranged shots. The electrical firing mechanism was an advantage when firing at moving targets (no delay). The author claims that both AP and HE would be fired at antitank guns (alternate). The AP's purpose would be the precision destruction of the ATG. HE was fired exclusively when the ATG was not pin-pointed. Makes sense. But this would mean switching the sight to the correct reticle position. Somewhat contradicts the thing about the MG. Oh well.

I have only 'skim-read' the book. I intend to go back and read all the non-war related items. I have not read the jagdpanzer IV section yet.

There is a lack of combat photos or even posed photos of the author with Panzers in the book.
Last edited by Username on 01 Apr 2008 00:36, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by Michael Emrys » 31 Mar 2008 01:26

Username wrote:Since the MG muzzle velocity and AP39 velocity are so close, why would they not use the same scale? Evidently, the author is correct according to Preliminary Report No. 15 Chobham school. The HE and MG (one has a muzzle velocity of 450 m/sec and the other 800 m/sec) shared a part of the gunsight.
The MG might have had the same velocity leaving the muzzle as the AP round, but it would not have retained that velocity as well downrange. Ergo, it would have had markedly different ballistics. Although the HE round was initially slower, its trajectory might have more closely resembled the MG's. At least, that would be my conjecture.

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by Username » 31 Mar 2008 03:04

http://www.geocities.com/desertfox1891/ ... anther.htm

(go to Characteristics page)

The reticle for the Panther shows that the Panther HE and sMG had similar trajectory. That is, the range for each was very similar and so was the muzzle velocity. Of course, the MG would run out of steam under a 1000-1200 meters or so. But out to 800 meters or so, I would expect the beaten zone to correspond to the actual landing spot for the HE rounds. The Panther HE (700 m/sec) and sMG (755 m/sec) so it was reasonable. The Panzer IV Sprgr. Kw. K. (34) had a muzzle velocity of 550 m/sec. Its AP39 was 750 m/sec. Almost the same as the MG34!


Note that the AP types for the Panther did not really share a scale. They were on the same 'clock-side' but really defined different characteristices (pardon the engineering word).
Last edited by Username on 02 Apr 2008 05:55, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by Username » 31 Mar 2008 04:03

One thing that is driven home in the book is the calculation of range and lead. The usual 'Fibel' stuff.

But I have read of many accounts where German units would just use 'zone' settings. Each zone is covered by the flat part of the projectiles travel. So zone '1' would hit nearly anything between 0-400 meters, Zone'2' would hit anything between 400-600 meters, etc. Lead would be handled from just estimated speed and angle.

A gunner would then have the settings (example: zone 1 is really just setting the range to 200 meters..) in his memory and the TC would call out the threat, location, and zone.

The 75mmL70 (used in panzerjagerIV) could certainly have used this approach.

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by mlespaul » 11 Apr 2008 18:04

On most, if not all, TZF's that did not list MG scale separately, the Co-axial MG used the main cannon's HE scale on the field of view's reticle.

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Re: "Panzer Gunner"--An Odd Book...

Post by Michael Dorosh » 30 May 2013 04:03

Going to necropost, apologies in advance, but there is not a lot on the web about this book.

I think the misgivings expressed above about the technical details with which the author has written are misplaced. The author states very clearly that he looked up details long after the war, as well as researched and wrote in conjunction with experts at the Canadian War Museum, to 'augment' his memory.

I was not interested so much in the technical details of how the gunsight works so much as the social history aspects - and from that perspective, the book certainly rings true. The veracity of the story is unquestionable - small details such as the Meldetasche (reporting pouch) of the Hauptfeldwebel are mentioned in passing, and the book is rich in detail with explanations of soldier's jargon and day to day slices of life - with the added bonus of translating German terms to English. Despite the number of very good personal memoirs and biographies/autobiographies, I've yet to see one that went into this level of detail on such subjects as German basic training.

The technical discussions - which the author states freely are quoted often verbatim from period technical and instructional or training manuals - are icing on the cake for anyone wanting a period reference, but should not be taken to be the meat of the story. It is, at the end of the day, a memoir. The detailed account of his visit to the Italian house-of-ill-repute is probably far more noteworthy for its attention to detail and its uniqueness among German accounts of the war, which are often long on heroic self-sacrifice and short on verisimilitude. Franz Kurowski's histories certainly fit in the latter category, as does much of the J.J. Fedorowicz stable. This book is thankfully, and very notably, nothing like that.

The memoir actually reads a lot like Rudi Salvermoser's memoirs, if anyone remembers reading them online. He was the Grossdeutschland veteran who had his story published online (FELDGRAU link). He also had his story published by a GD re-enactment group newsletter; I have copies somewhere in my personal collection. The tone and general style are very similar - not surprisingly, given the similarity of their circumstances and wartime employment.

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