I have just struggled to a finish with reading a strange ebook, which is all about the wartime experiences of a Canadian – German who spent time as a tank driver and gunner on the Eastern Front between 1944 and 1945 in the German Army.
This ebook written by Bruno Friesen, the title of which gives you an idea of the style of this ebook (Panzer Gunner: From My Native Canada to the German Ostfront and Back. In Action with 25th Panzer Regiment, 7th Panzer Division 1944-45) makes very heavy reading I found, but if you want to know exactly how to drive a Panzer Mk IV or be the Gunner in a Jagdpanzer IV in excessively fine detail, then this is the ebook for you.
He sort of swoops through a range of writings styles in this ebook, from deadly serious almost handbook style (spending a whole chapter going into great detail about exactly how to aim, range, fire and hit things with a tank cannon) to relatively small sections dealing with the daily life of a tank crew in the last phases of the war, with all the four letter words and silly games that soldiers the world over have always played. So it is a very uneven book in my view.
Want to drive a tank?
As I said, he gives us very exact information on just about every aspect of working with a tank, how to change gears, how to use the radio and internal communication system, how the machine guns works, the exact duties of each member of the crew and so on. So if you are looking for a handy instruction manual on how to work either the Panzer MK IV or Jadgpanzer IV, with this ebook in your hand you will be able to very quickly declare war on anyone – assuming you happen to own a working example of either of these tanks.
On the actual morality of a Canadian citizen fighting for the German army he is totally silent, and shows absolutely no emotions over the killing that obviously he was actively involved in, both Russian and German deaths seem to have left him completely cold. Rather odd.
It is a curious mix of a regimental history and in small spasms a personal account of what he experienced, but at no time could I identify with him in his war.
He managed to keep a lot of interesting documents from this period in his life, so we can see his tank driving license, his discharge papers, his army pay book, no end of photos of him and his various tanks, and he has included the necessary appendixes which go into even more technical detail about those vehicles. So as a reference work this ebook is well worth buying (if the period and vehicles are what interests you obviously), but as a personal account of one man’s war, no, not worth buying I would say.
Here is the description at Amazon of this ebook.
“There are few memoirs available of German Panzer crews that focus on the climactic last 12 months of the war on the Eastern Front, 1944-45. What makes Bruno Friesen’s account virtually unique is his family background: his parents came from a German-speaking Mennonite community in Ukraine, and were to all intents and purposes culturally German. To make matters even more complex, 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 Bremerhaven in Germany. He barely spoke German, and had never been to Germany, nevertheless his father envisaged that a better life awaited them in the Third Reich. Needless to say, Bruno became caught up in the Second World War, and in 1942 was drafted into the Wehrmacht. The author provides a full account of his family background, and how, through these unusual circumstances, he found himself a Canadian-born German soldier. The bulk of the book is a detailed account of the author’s training, and his subsequent service with 25th Panzer Regiment, part of 7th Panzer Division. As the title suggests, Bruno Friesen served as a gunner aboard, initially, Panzer IVs, before crewing the lesser-known Jagdpanzer IV tank hunter. The author provides a fantastic amount of information about these two vehicles, and how the crews actually fought in battle with them. This kind of ‘hands-on’ detail has almost never been available before, particularly such extensive information concerning the characteristics and combat performance of the Jagdpanzer IV. Apart from providing a large fund of information about specific German tanks and their combat performance, the author writes in great detail about the combat the experienced on the Eastern Front, including tank battles in Rumania, spring 1944, Lithuania in the summer of 1944, and West Prussia during early 1945. If one wants to know how German tank crews fought the Soviets in the last year of the war, then this book provides an outstanding account, containing material simply not found elsewhere. The author closes his account by reflecting on his post-war efforts to return to Canada, which eventually succeeded in 1950, and his subsequent life there. This book is not just a critique of armored fighting vehicles and tank warfare, it is above all a very human story, told in a lively, conversational and fluid manner, and is a remarkable contribution to the literature of the Second World War“.
So, there you have it…. A useful resource for those interested in the mechanics and tactics (at a small unit level) of German Tank warfare, but not much use for anyone who want to know what it was like to be involved in that war at that time and place.
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If you read this ebook, do please come back and let us know how you found it. Interesting, dull, fun or what?