The Nazi propaganda machine was amazing: so effective was Joseph Goebbels and his minions in promoting the Might of the German Armed Forces that even today, many of us are ignorant of the role that Hitler's allies played in WW2, especially the invasion of the Soviet Union. Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Finland and Italy sent millions of soldiers off to the meat grinder of the Eastern Front, with nearly a quarter of a million Romanians, Hungarians and Italians killed in action there. Another 450,000 perished in captivity (out of over 1 million POWs from the three countries). Slovakia, Bulgaria, Finland and Croatia paid a similar price in blood for supporting the true Evil Empire.
Yet few films showing Romanian or Hungarian soldiers and tanks turn up on the Military Channel's endless programming about the war, and films like "Sunflower" (about an Italian soldier who stays on in Russia after the war) are a rarity.
Not only did the Nazis play down the role of their allies during the fighting, they also refused to provide them with modern equipment. Like most countries in the 1930s, tank design and production in Eastern Europe made little progress over the hulking, slow infantry support gun platforms developed at the end of the First World War, or lightly-gunned, lightly-armored "reconnaissance" tanks intended to be the vanguard of "mechanized" fast units. What good equipment many of the allies had, they purchased from Germany, limiting their ability to form large armor formations. Still, these tankers fought bravely and did their best with inferior equipment.
Germany's refusal to help upgrade their allies' tanks led to predictable consequences: for example, when the Soviets counterattacked at Stalingrad, they deployed a fatal pincer movement around the besieged city by rolling up the 2nd Hungarian Army guarding von Paulus's left flank, and the 7th Romanian Army on his right, rather than attack the city head-on. The German Sixth Army was surrounded, and was lost in what many historians consider Germany's most-crushing military defeat in WW2.
Interest in the AFVs of the German allies on the Eastern Front has peaked recently following the release of several kits and figures, especially Bronco's Zrinyi 105mm assault gun
reviewed by my esteemed colleague. Darren Baker. And now tank historian Steven J. Zaloga has written a nifty little book on the various tanks and assault guns employed by Hitler's allies.
The usual Osprey format is followed, and contains chapters on:
Further Reading (and an Index)
The book (as shown above) is divided into sections by nationality, and each country has a different story to tell. While Finland had a punchy mixture of captured Russian vehicles and 30 StuG III Gs purchased from Germany, the Hungarians for the most part struggled with obsolete or obsolescent vehicles like the Toldi I & II. The Romanian R-2C was just one of several vehicles from various countries that had been designed during the interwar period, and which were already outgunned and obsolete by the time they made it into production, especially against top tanks like the Soviet T-34.
Zaloga does a nice job of juggling the various nationalities, keeping the narrative interesting with crisp prose and informative details. I did not know, for example, that Romania provided the most men of all Germany's Eastern Front allies, though its army was among the worst-equipped. The solution to the weakness of Germany's allies would have been to equip them with at least second-tier German armor, but a surprisingly mercantile outlook prevented that from happening in most cases: Germany wanted cash and its allies were often cash-strapped. And with the exception of Czechoslovakia (whose Skoda works perfected the excellent Pz. 38(t), Germany's co-combatants lacked a robust armaments industry capable of developing a truly effect modern tank.
The book has abundant B&W photos of historical vehicles, as well as color illustrations that include camouflage patterns from units less well-known than the usual German suspects. This should make it a must-have for anyone who is interested in Eastern armor. And since the Romanians, for example, purchased a goodly bit of equipment from the French, there are some opportunities for modeling Tamiya's UE tractor in a different environment entirely.
I'm really happy to see both the new AFVs representing other nationalities, as well as this book. We probably know more about the Tiger and Panther tanks than we'll ever need in several lifetimes, while tanks that were at the center of the cauldron that was the Eastern Front have up to now gone mostly unnoticed by the hobby. It's also a very interesting read that will fill in some crucial blanks in most modelers' knowledge about the armies of Eastern Europe at the start of the Second World War. That's definitely a good thing.