Book Review: Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck

I just recently finished reading Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck (last night), I don’t know why but for some reason I am on a war memoir kick right now and digging through my library and re-reading all the war memoirs I have.   Colonel Luck’s memoir is very interesting, he had a very interesting career in both the Reichswehr and Wehrmacht in the years preceding and during World War II.

Colonel Luck opened the war in Poland and fought on all the major fronts of the war to include the invasion of Russia, the Western Desert, and D-day before ending the war once again in the east where he was captured by the Russians and spent five years in a POW camp before being released.

I have read several memoirs of German soldiers from World War II and all have a different take when squaring the circle of fighting for the Third Reich and talking about responsibility for the Holocaust.   Colonel Luck is no different in this regard; he acknowledges that he knew of the concentration camps such as Sachsenhausen and Dachau that were public knowledge.   Indeed, he tried to help get his wartime fiance’s father released from Sachsenhausen to no avail.   He acknowledges that he knew of some of what went on on the eastern front.   He denies any knowledge of the extermination camps until after the war was over, and I tend to believe him.   One thing that comes out repeatedly when talking to the average wartime German is the way in which the regime kept them in the dark about the extent of the Nazi killings of Jews and other groups.

Overall, this is an excellent account of German command of panzer and reconnaissance troops in World War II.   Colonel Luck’s experiences fighting on every front of the war make this a rich book that any student of the war who wants to understand what happened on a tactical level should read.   This account talks about not only combat but the frequent lulls in between combat that make up such a vast part of the experience of soldiering in any war.   The old saw says that combat is 90% boredom and 10% stark, raving terror and the German experience in World War II was no different.   This book brings that out and puts a personal face on the average German soldier.   It helps a person to realize that despite the regime they fought for, German soldiers of World War II were essentially not much different from their opponents.   They were just ordinary people trying to do what they thought was right.   I found his account of Russian captivity and what he did after the war to be just as informative as that of his wartime experiences.

This is an excellent book, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants a view inside the wartime Wehrmacht.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck”

  1. If you can, I suggest that you watch the Thames TV series ‘The World at War’; (the rights are now owned by Fremantle) made in the 1970’s it interviewed lots of Germans including 1 (whose name I have forgotten), who states that he was glad when he was conscripted, as he no longer had to try to work out the truth behind Goebbels’s propaganda as in the army (Wehrmacht), there was no information, radio, papers etc. at the front. When in rest camps the only source was the High Command; it was only when stationed in France and other western countries was it possible to pick up the BBC as well as the English grey & black propaganda put out by the likes of Sefton Delmar, on the military short wave sets. It was also possible to get hold of the ‘black’ newspapers, etc. dropped by the RAF (but God help you if you were caught).

  2. I just read this book too over the summer and it was a great read. The one aspect of his “excuse/justification” for the average soldier going along with the Reich’s war was because they didn’t fully know about the extent of the extermination camps, etc. I buy this and for the most part believe Von Luck but what I can’t get my head wrapped around was…what the hell dogma did they buy into to justify that it was ok to invade Poland and France and North Africa and Austria and oh what the heck why not Russia and Britain too. Did the average soldier not find this a bit much in and of itself? If you went with this line of thinking then heck, the U.S. should invade Mexico and Canada and while we’re at it head on down to South America and take that over too. I’ve yet to find any good literature that adequately answers this predicament as to why the average German felt invading and conquering all of Europe was ok.

    • I don’t know that the average soldier really analyzed the why’s and possibly morality of invading other countries. If they did they probably thought it was no more than a continuation of traditional Great Power politics, which in way, it was. That may not be the best answer but it is what I come up with off the top of my head.

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