As much as we all love to build good kits, having good references makes for better kit-building. As useful as collections of period photos of AFVs in action are, it’s good to have books that impart to us a deeper understanding of the process that turns design concepts into actual vehicles, including how those designs evolve over time and after trial in the field.
But mostly, it’s a good thing to have comprehensive books on your shelf that bring together the research and insight of real experts on the subject. One of the titans of World War II German vehicle historical research, Walter J. Spielberger, wrote or co-authored a number of seminal works, including Halftracked Vehicles of the German Army, 1909-1945.
Germany’s halftracks were a major contributor to its success in Bewegungskrieg or “mobile warfare” (popularly known as “Blitzkrieg”). Yet the half-track had a somewhat ignominious start in the German army during the First World War. None of the various designs attempted actually entered service, and so development was left until the intervening years. A combination of better engines and a design breakthrough (lubricated steel tracks with rubber track pads) gave vehicles the right combination of speed and off-road maneuverability. Eventually the Wehrmacht deployed a complex array of half-tracked vehicles with very specific tasks and work loads. Spielberger’s book gives us both an overview of the process, and a specialist’s eye on the results.
Published in a dust jacket-less hardcover of 175 pages, the book is part of Schiffer Military History’s “Spielberger German Armor and Military Vehicle Series” that includes such classics as Tigers I & II and Their Variants, Sturmgeschütz & Its Variants and Panther & Its Variants.
Originally published in German, the translation by Dr. Edward Force, is crisp and generally accurate without being especially easy-to-read. But the occasional tortuous syntax doesn’t get in the way of a really thorough treatment of the topic. The story begins with the early years, and gradually moves on to virtually every design ever contemplated by Germany’s armaments industry. None of the sections is exhaustive, so you shouldn’t buy the book if you’re looking for a single reference source on any one vehicle. The only exception is perhaps the treatment of the Sd.Kfz.251. As the most-produced German AFV during the war, it’s only appropriate that Spielberger gives us a thorough look at its design and roll-out in four basic versions (A-D).
The photographs are for the most part sharp and highly-detailed. Half-tracks in the field aren’t the focus of the narrative, so the photos for the most part are of prototypes or factory-new vehicles. In some instances, photos have numbers with detailed captions identifying the items in the picture, such as scissors-scopes, storage areas and dashboard controls. The book’s heavy glossy paper means that photos reproduce better than many hobby-related reference works. The details really pop, with none of the muddy, overly-contrasty B&W pictures you'll find in cheaper books.
While there are four pages of color illustrations by Hilary Doyle, they're almost beside the point, since they only include a handful of vehicles, and none of the paint schemes is identified. “Paper panzer” geeks will enjoy the sections on prototype vehicles that were never built, and perhaps find inspiration for scratch-built options.
At roughly $50, this isn’t an easy purchase, and it doesn’t have the scads of "walk around-type" photos that would make it a good workbench companion as you build specific kits. But if you’re serious about knowing German half-tracks as I am, this is a must-have item.
Highs: Meticulous research from a titan of German AFV historical study.Lows: Not the best English translation at times. The emphasis on design and development means fewer photos of vehicles serving in combat.Verdict: A must-have for anyone serious about German half-tracks.