Reviews

Scouts Out

From the World War 2 book review website Stone and Stone, where the book was listed as “recommended reading”:

Edwards, Robert with Michael H. Pruett and Michael Olive. Scouts Out: A History of German Armored Reconnaissance Units in World War II. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2013

ISBN 978-0-8117-1311-5
x + 518 pagesForeword; Technical Notes; photos; maps; TOEs; vehicle plans; tables; charts; organigrams; documents; sidebars; Ranks; Notes; Bibliography; Acknowledgments

After all these years, the extent and level of interest in the German armed forces of World War II never ceases to amaze. For whatever reason, books about the Wehrmacht continue to proliferate, and they tend to sell better than books about the military forces of any other nation during the war years. Sometimes the nature of these publications, and the fascination with them, can rise to what author John Ellis called “an unhealthy fetishism.”
Fortunately, that’s not the case with Scouts Out.
Robert Edwards has produced a straight-ahead explication of every military aspect of German armored recon forces before and during WWII without a whiff of glorification.
He begins with about 65 pages detailing the genesis and evolution of the mobile recon arm. This commences in the interwar years with much information about the emergence of vehicles, doctrine, training, and unit organization. As he does throughout the book, the author includes a multitude of photographs plus extracts from period documents and other side notes. Here’s part of what Edwards writes about doctrine:

   In general, direct combat was to be avoided, unless it was to eliminate the enemy’s reconnaissance patrols or the effort expended did not jeopardize the over-all requirements of the reconnaissance mission. In cases where the reconnaissance battalion was moving against an enemy occupying a piece of terrain, envelopment was the preferred method of attack or movement. Tn such cases, the manual stressed that armored cars were especially well suited for deep flanking movements. Whenever an attack had to be conducted against enemy forces occupying a line, in order to break through to gain freedom of maneuver to continue the reconnaissance effort, the forces were to be concentrated against a specific weak point. In such instances, they were to be reinforced with additional forces. As a practical matter, this reinforcement—whether through engineer, artillery, armored forces, or a combination of all three—was soon habitual in actual combat zones.
When the battalion was forced to defend, it was to attempt to find a fighting position where it could force the enemy to attack along a narrow front. In addition, the “flanks of the reconnaissance battalion have to be secure through the terrain or other forces. It is generally recommended that a mobile reserve is formed. The reserve can be committed in defending against an enemy envelopment, in interdicting an enemy force that has penetrated into the main battle area or in tossing back an enemy force in an immediate counterattack.”
The deliberate defense was the least preferred type of combat operation of the battalion. On the other hand, economy-of-force missions, in which the battalion had to guard, screen, or delay against an enemy force, was an easier task, since the battalion had the requisite speed to successfully disengage, as needed.

Next comes about 75 pages devoted to organization. These pages also begin with the early years of the force and provide considerable detail about recon units in various combat arms through the end of the war. Much of the information is presented in very attractive organigrams with artful thumbnails of vehicles and equipment. The author also teaches a crash course in German tactical symbols with much of the info and accompanying icons coming from Leo Niehorster’s website.

   As with the motorized infantry divisions, the armored divisions had organic reconnaissance assets assigned to their peacetime organization. These actually consisted of two battalion-level assets, the reconnaissance battalions and the motorcycle infantry battalions. Although not intended to be additional reconnaissance forces, the Kradschutzen were quickly used in essentially that role when they habitually cross-attached forces with the reconnaissance battalion during offensive operations and pursuits. In addition, each tank regiment had a light tank platoon in its headquarters, as did each of the tank battalions, and these were often employed to act as battlefield/tactical reconnaissance. Within the divisional motorized infantry regiment, there was also a motorcycle infantry company in each battalion. Furthermore, one source places an armored car platoon of four Sd.Kfz. 221’s and four Sd.Kfz. 222’s in the divisional headquarters of the first three armored divisions that had been established (1, 2, and 3).
As with all formations of the army, the armored divisions were in a constant state of flux organizationally because of a number of factors. The army was constantly expanding and there were never enough resources to field the force in the way it was envisioned. The armored forces in particular were subject to this dilemma, since they were also new and their theory and doctrine had not been tested on the battlefield to any significant degree before. Correspondingly, no two armored divisions were organizationally exactly the same at the start of hostilities in September 1939.

The chapter on armored reconnaissance vehicles covers approximately 100 pages. This is one of the meatiest sections of the book. In it, Edwards deals with a multiplicity of models of assorted types starting with the earliest pre-war experiments and ending with the most advanced wartime developments. The chapter includes armored cars (with armament ranging from a single light machine gun to a 7.5cm main gun), half-tracks, fully tracked recon vehicles, and unarmored vehicles such as motorcycles and schwimmwagens. For each model, the book provides nicely executed line drawings (with side view, top view, front view, and rear view) as well as a table containing specs like crew, armament, speed, range, communications equipment, production run, and other notes. And of course the chapter includes many, many photos illustrating vehicles common and rare.
The fourth chapter might be of least interest to most readers, focusing on uniforms, insignia, and ephemera over the span of forty pages. This chapter includes a significant collection of color plates including wartime stills, video captures, and contemporary photos of collector items. Some of the captions delve into minutiae. For example, “Of particular interest is the image above of the scout riding on the Panhard armored car. His black cap appears to be piped in copper brown, thus making it among the rarest pieces of headgear produced. While it cannot be verified with certainty, it appears that the Kradschutze on the left is also wearing copper-brown-piped shoulder straps.”
The next chapter, “Major Reconnaissance Formations,” proves to be the heart of the book, extending for well over 200 pages. Here’s the introduction to the chapter:

   This chapter provides an overview of the major reconnaissance formations assigned to brigades and divisions of the German Army, the Waffen-SS, and the Luftwaffe. It is broken down numerically by major formation. Needless to say, the earliest and longest-serving divisions and brigades will receive the most treatment since documentary materials concerning the formations tends to become less detailed as the war progressed — partly because of lack of time or personnel to prepare the records that were so meticulously maintained in the early war years, partly because many daily logs for echelons below field army were partially or completely lost for the years 1943-45. As a result, data are sometimes needed from first-hand accounts or published unit histories, which frequently also suffer from the lack of solid documentary background material.
The capsule histories will attempt to capture, where possible, the designations and organizations of the major reconnaissance formations of the superior commands, the commanders, the recipients of high decorations (while in the formation), any anomalies in structure, and specific notes for information that is not related elsewhere.

The chapter separates the Heer, SS, and Luftwaffe. Within those sections, each major formation (usually divisions) that fielded armored recon troops is listed in numerical order, beginning with 1st Leichte Division. For each division, the first line specifies the campaigns in which the formation participated, then identifies each recon unit serving in that division. Given the way divisions were constantly being reorganized and recon units were constantly being redesignated and shuffled, most divisions list multiple subordinate recon HQs.
For each recon unit, the following data is typically displayed:

  • Unit ID
  • Date activated
  • Identity of antecedent formation
  • ID of corresponding Replacement Army detachment
  • Subsequent redesignations, transfers, and/or deactivation of the unit
  • Organization of the unit (often shown for multiple dates)
  • Name and dates served for each commander of the unit
  • Notes
  • Awards issued to personnel (including name, rank, and date)

Here’s an example of the data presented for a division with only one recon unit during its existence:

10. PANZERGRENADIER-DIVISIONCampaigns: Soviet Union

Reconnaissance Formations:

Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 110

Activated: 1 April 1943

Antecedent Formation: Kradschützen-Bataillon 40

Replacement Detachment: Unknown

Deactivation: 8 May 1945

Organization: 1943-44: Headquarters, 1st Armored Scout Company, 2nd Motorcycle Infantry Company, 3rd Motorcycle Infantry Company, 4th Motorcycle Infantry Company, and 5th Company (heavy). December 1944: Headquarters, 1st Armored Reconnaissance Company (VW), 2nd Armored Reconnaissance Company (VW), 3rd Armored Reconnaissance Company (VW), and 4th Company (heavy) (motorized). March 1945: Headquarters, Armored Car Platoon, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Company (VW), 7.5cm Cannon Platoon (half-track), 2nd Antitank Company (towed)

Commanders: Major Mayer (14 June-29 September 1943); Oberleutnant Naser (acting) (29 September-9 October 1943); Hauptmann/Major von Massow (9 October 1943-5 January 1944); Hauptmann Naser (acting) (5 January-May 1944); Major von Massow (July-August 1944); Hauptmann Stephan (acting) (August 1944); Oberleutnant Heppner (acting) (September-November 1944); Rittmeister Konrad (November 1944-May 1945)

Notes: On 16 January 1944, 3rd and 5th Companies temporarily disbanded, with 3rd Company being reformed on 16 March ]944. Battalion decimated in August 1944, undergoing battlefield reconstitution in October 1944. Effectively wiped out again in January 1945. Consolidated with Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung Steinberg, which had previously been attached to Panzer-Brigade 103. In March, the armored car company the division had established in the meantime was reassigned to Panzer-Division Müncheberg as its armored car company.

Awards: Knight’s Cross: Oberfeldwebel Pollner, 3./Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 110 (3 November 1944). Honor Roll (Clasp): Feldwebel Deiler, 2./Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 110 (15 February 1945). German Cross in Gold: Hauptmann Butterich, 3./Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 110 (24 April 1944); Feldwebel Deiler, 2./Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 110 (8 June 1944); Major Mayer, Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 110 (7 October 1943); Hauptmann Naser, 2./Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 110 (2 July 1944); Oberfeldwebel Rainer, 4./Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 110 (24 August 1943); Leutnant Schulze, 1./Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung (1 December 1943); Feldwebel Triltsch, 4./Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 110 (1 December 1943)

The unit listings are packed with information (many considerably longer than the example above), and we have only one quibble. Because the recon units are listed according to the formations in which they served, and because the book contains no index (we’re not picking on Mr. Edwards; we always complain whenever a book lacks an index), short of thumbing through a chapter of 200+ pages it’s impossible to locate the history of any given recon unit unless the reader already knows to what formation(s) it was subordinated. This isn’t as easy as simply assuming Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 88 must have served with a division numbered “88,” because that’s not always the case. But it’s only a minor annoyance.
It should be emphasized that in addition to all the detailed information presented in text, tables, diagrams, etc, the book is absolutely packed from front to back with hundreds of photos of German scouts and their vehicles. The stills include peacetime, training, action, posed shots, group photos, individual portraits, and many snapshots at the front, all thoughtfully captioned. It’s a sign of the author’s expertise and devotion to his work that he has assembled so many excellent photos to accompany such a rich and informative history.
Scouts Out contains everything you ever wanted to know about Wehrmacht armored recon forces in WWII, plus a ton of interesting information you never even realized you wanted to know, all handsomely illustrated. For anyone with any level of fascination regarding German armed forces, this book will reveal much and clarify much, with hard data as well as striking images.
Recommended.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Stackpole Books.
Thanks to Stackpole for providing this review copy.

 

 

Tip of the Spear

“After the success of Scouts Out, Edwards and his team continue their labor of love with a second well-researched, well-written, well-illustrated volume about German armored reconnaissance forces.” — Stone & Stone

“Happy to be the first to put in a review for Bob Edward’s latest book!! As with its predecessor, Scouts Out!, Bob has again provided an excellent and in-depth perspective on German armored reconnaissance forces that is second to none. From organization and equipment to first hand battlefield accounts, the book offers and delivers in a unique way. Every chapter is superb, however in researching and documenting the organizations and equipment, as he has in words and pictures, Bob has, in particular, provided an outstanding reference for collectors and historians. Such information often gives insights to historical accounts of battles or enlightens what is seen in surviving photographs. The book also presents some of the rarest wartime color photos ever seen. This is a reference book, a collector’s guide and entertaining novel all in one book. Congratulations Bob! as well as to Mike Pruett and Mike Olive, without whose help the content and final product would seem not to have been possible.” — Scott Pritchett, author of numerous books on the German military, on Amazon.com.

 

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