This book is an English translation of a memoir serialised as Panzerdammerung (‘Panzer Twighlight’) shortly after it was written in July 1948. The author describes in the introduction that some press critics have deemed it “needlessly controversial”, “too provocative” or even “too violent” whereas those who were there on the Eastern Front, in the panzers, acknowledge it as accurate.
So, finally, after many fictionalised pseudo-memoirs such as the work of Sven Hassel, Leo Kessler, and Heinz Konsalik we finally have an accurate memoir of a tankman on the Eastern Front.
Or do we?
A book about panzers written by a man named Faust. Panzer, Faust. Ooooooookay.
There have been a rash of old WWII memoirs ‘discovered’ by family in dusty attics or cellars across Germany, and then rushed to publication to make money or influence politics. Mostly they are frauds. Probably the best example is Anne Frank’s diary, written after the war by her dad in a biro pen that hadn’t even been invented while she was still alive . Now that I’ve read Tiger Tracks I can very safely state this is a work of fiction.
I googled and was amused to see Google’s summary sidebar for Wolfgang Faust said he was born in 1944 and died in 1993, making him minus-one years old when the events of the book occurred . There are no pages I could find talking about this book before 2015, and nothing in German. I also found a few other blogposts asking “is this memoir true?” before inevitably concluding it isn’t. And I’m not surprised.
Tiger Tracks begins with the German army in retreat from the Reds in October 1943. Faust is the driver of a new Tiger tank, “sixty tonnes of the Reich’s finest metal” and his twenty-tank battle group has orders to take a ridge full of Soviet defensive emplacements. Thus begins a solid action sequence described with precision and flair. At no point is any of it confusing: who is fighting, why, when, and how. It’s clear action writing. The panzers take the heights and cover the left flank of an unsuccessful attack by the Army centre. That’s the last forward move of the book before full retreat.
Like most WWII memoirs, the side the writer is on seem to be awfully skilled, frequently overcoming daunting numerical and material disadvantages through pluck and luck. Funny that.
As the Soviet position was rolled up, the tank crew comes into possession of a young female radio operator as a prisoner who they throw into the back of a half-track. This sets up a sub-plot by which the Reds launch a number of counter-attacks to either kill or rescue her. It’s never clear why. The Germans think she must have important intel on Soviet signals and encryption, whereas the woman claims to be a nobody and then latter the mistress of a high-ranking General. The first such attack happens during a retreat through thick forest when the treeline becomes alive with partisans.
The rest of this short book as a chronicle of the single retreat, the objective being to reform at a river and then defend the only bridge on the Eastern side until reinforcements arrive and they can cross to the Western bank, blowing the bridge behind them. Unlike Heinz Konsalik, there are no multiple weaving character arcs, and unlike Sven Hassel there is no dreamlike blurring of different battles or time spent in R&R. This book is a simple, detailed narrative of a single action exclusively from the author’s first-person view.
And what a first person view it is!
This guy is a Tiger driver and thus his entire battle view is from a narrow viewing slot. Have a look. Pretty restrictive no? Anyone looking out the hatch in this story gets their heads blown off – literally – so Faust is pretty clear that he keeps his head indoors. Yet he’s able to witness scenes such as this:
“I didn’t even feel their bodies being crushed and chewed by the tracks – there wasn’t even a jolt as we ran them down in clusters. Human flesh was too soft to withstand these forces, too frail to even register on my dials. I saw three of the Ivans try to run, in front of my vision slit, until the square hull front covered them up and only a dismembered leg in its felt boot tumbled up onto our glacis. I span and crushed the enemies down, with Kurt beside me blasting now on his MG34 at any who jumped clear – and together, we defended that corner of Russia on behalf of the Reich.”
Now I think that’s pretty good genre writing but it’s rather embellished with details I doubt he could’ve seen. A few pages later he describes the Ivan infantry managing to get a molotov cocktail into the engine grill of a fellow Tiger, lighting up the interior:
“The Tiger’s other hatches opened as the crew began to evacuate before their fuel exploded. Of the five men who exited, four were immediately cut down by Red small arms fire. The fifth fell onto the burning grilles, and lay there thrashing in the flames as the gasoline took hold below him.
I looked to see where those murderous bullets came from. I saw, on the T34 that was knocked out on the very edge of the anti-tank ditch, one of the Russian tank crew, still in his ribbed helmet, crouching behind the turret with its slumped gun barrel, aiming a machine pistol over the turret roof.”
Just try visually reconstructing that scene, and the likely distances involved. Now imagine how you’d see that through the vision slit above. I don’t buy it.
Anyway, don’t misunderstand me. As a work of fiction I quite enjoyed this tale. It moves along at a brisk pace, there’s no pointless padding or sub-plots, and the action is clearly written. What it also did was made me start wondering if I should get into playing Panzer Tactics again. I did once try it on the Nintendo DS, expecting it to be as accessible as Advance Wars but gave up when the tutorial confused me. Now I’m wondering.
I’d quite like to be a Panzer General. It sounds ace.
If you’d like to read a memoir about a European heading East to take down a long line of Russians you might just want to start at Balls Deep and keep reading.
 Sigh, can’t go anywhere without encountering Jew lies
 Assuming they did occur. One way false memoirs disguise themselves is to not give specific names or dates of battles, thus military historians can’t check up with the massive amount of battle orders and communiques which would allow them to corroborate the details.