Cover of Achtung - Panzer!

Achtung - Panzer!
Major-General Heinz Guderian
Translated by Christopher Duffy, edited by Paul Harris and Michael Boxall
220 pages including index
Published in 1937

If you have anything of an interest in World war II, you'll probably recognise Guderian as one of Germany's panzer generals amd the founder of the panzertruppen. The early successes of the Wehrmacht's blitzkrieg into Poland, France and later Russia were in large part due to him.

In 1937 he wrote Achtung Panzer! in which he set out his theories regarding tank warfare, building on the work of earlier armour pioneers in England and France. This version, published in 1992, is the first English translation. The original text is left intact, though ample footnotes have been provided, as well as an introduction by the editors which places the main text in its historical context.

Guderian starts by analysing why in 1914 the German offensive bogged down in positional or trench warfare and how once trenches were in place, the infantry was nearly powerless to break through. He continues by showing how both artillery and gas warfare were also inadequate to break a stalemate. Gas was too unreliable to be very effective and depended for the greater part of its effectiveness on surprise and the unpreparedness of the defenders. After the first few uses, these advantages were lost. Artillery supposedly would destroy or hamper the enemies defences enough to let the infantry break through, but in practise made it often impossible for them to move as it turned the battlefield into one big cratered mudfield.

So, having established that existing weapons were inadequate to break the stalemate, he then turns his attention tot he birth and subsequent development of the tank. Tanks were of course invented in England, with France following fast behind it. Guderian both looks at the development of the tanks themselves as well as the tactics the allies came up with as to their deployment. He points out where they went wrong as well as what they got right, according to his theories.

In Guderian's view, tanks should be used en masse, not piecemeal. They should be able to break through the enemy lines quickly, with the infantry following closely behind, giving the enemy no chance to recover and reestablish a new line of defence. (Which is of course the doctrine of blitzkrieg in a nutshell.) When tanks are used in small numbers, as supporting arms of the infantry they lose their effectiveness, as Guderian shows with various examples of such actions from the Great War.

After having described the first mass uses of tanks during the last stage of the war, crediting them with the defeat of the German army, he moves on to postwar developments in tank warfare, technical and tactical, as well as looking at defences against tanks.

Having now set out the theory, Guderian then focuses on the development of the tank army in Germany, showing the history of the German motorised forces after the Great War, then describing the current structure of the tank corps, as well as life in the panzer forces. Tactics the panzer forces should use are laid out in the last two chapters, with Guderian once again going back to the Great War, describing the only two tank battles that happened during the war.

Guderian wrote this book as propaganda, to argue his vision for how the German army should develop. As such it was wildly succesful, laying the foundations for the blitzkrieg campaigns in Poland, the Low Countries and France the German army would undertake so succesfully in the next war. Even though the theories laid out in Achtung - Panzer! are now standard army tactics, familiar to anybody interested in modern warfare, this does not mean the book is now only an historical curiosity. It is just because when Guderian wrote Achtung - Panzer! that his theories of tank warfare were still controversial and not the accepted wisdom it is today this is such a good book to learn from. Guderian after all had to state his case clearly, had to show exactly how he came to this conclusions to be able to convince his readers. Recommended.

HTML 4.0 Checked!

Webpage created 12-08-2002, last updated 10-09-2002
Comments? Mail them to