| Review - ‘Als Panzermann in Afrika and Italien 1942-45’
‘Als Panzermann in Afrika and Italien 1942-45’ by Axel Urbanke
Published by Luftfahrtverlag-Start of Germany
This dual language English/German hardback book is based on the wartime experiences of Hans Becker. He was a highly skilled amateur photographer who served as a clerk in France, North Africa and Italy. After an unhappy spell on occupation duties he volunteered for active service and was transferred to Africa, where he joined 8.Pz.Rgt in time to participate in the battles at El Alamein. Wounded in the retreat near Tripoli, Becker was evacuated to hospital in Germany before being assigned to s.Pz.Abt. 508 during its formation. He remained with the battalion until war’s end.
After training in France, s.Pz.Abt. 508 was sent via rail to Italy to counter the Allied threat, in particular the Anzio landings. Becker’s skill with the camera was recognised by the invitation to record life in the battalion for its war diary.
The book is based on his personal diaries, letters and most importantly photographs, including rare colour images, which provide a fascinating insight to the units in which he served. His photos cover a variety of aspects of life in the military, not just equipment. The vehicles shown are mostly German but include Italian and captured British items. Some photos from other sources are also included.
Paper quality is good and photos are reproduced to a consistently high standard. There are approx. 246 pages, of which just over half deal with his time in s.Pz.Abt. 508. I counted a total of 251 period photographs, of which 36 are in colour. Tigers feature in 45 photos of which 25 are new to me, including images with 3-digit turret numbers of ‘111’, ‘112’ and ‘113’.
Urbanke resolves the question of where the series of workshop photos showing large factory-type buildings was taken.
He identifies that a caption on this gallery Tiger that it was destroyed on 05 Mar 1943 when its own explosive charge was detonated following a hit, is inconsistent with the popular notion of it being Lt Kuester's mount knocked out at Isola Bella on 29 Feb 1944.
A series of photos showing Tigers loading at Mailly-le-Camp is captioned as belonging to 1.Kp but one of the Tigers bears a distinctive scar to its Zimmerit seen on a 2.Kp member near Anzio.
At 56 Euros + shipping this is not a cheap book but the research is good and captions are to a high standard. The photo content makes it a worthwhile purchase for the Tiger enthusiast.
I have no connection with the author, but note that our old friend Rob Fraser is one of the book’s contributors. The review copy was purchased out of my own pocket.