Book Review – David Garden & Kenneth Andrew (Eds), The War Diaries of a Panzer Soldier, Erich Hager with the 17th Panzer Division on the Russian Front, 1941-1945 (Atglen PA/USA: Schiffer Military History, 2010)

David Garden and Kenneth Andrew have done a sterling effort to present, translate and present the diaries that German soldier Erich Hager kept for most of his service on the Eastern Front during the Second World War.

Hager served as a ranker and Unteroffizier [Lance Sergeant] in 39th Panzer Regiment, 17th Panzer Division, throughout the conflict. He worked as a radio operator and instructor for the war and  was involved in 75 tank attacks.

His writings focus mainly on his  day to day material and physical needs; revolving around food, alcohol and women. The diaries are unemotional, unreflective and matter of fact; Hager does not consider the impact of war on himself and neither does he discuss the necessity, justice or wisdom of the fight in Russia.

The diaries reflect the ferocious nature of the war in the east and suggest that Hager’s unit was probably involved in war crimes. For example, on 2 July 1941, his unit received an order that no more POWs ‘can be shot’, suggesting that was practice up until this point.[2]

Symbol of the 17th Panzer Division

However, this order is either reversed or ignored as he records on 29 October 1941, that a damaged tank is captured containing ‘3 officers and a driver inside….All four were shot on the spot.’[3]

He participates in widespread ‘foraging’, in other words, looting and theft from the civilian population. [4]

Lastly, he chronicles actions against the ‘partisans’ whom he regards as ‘quite dangerous people…[that h]ave to be crushed at all costs’.[5] On 21 December 1941, during the German withdrawal from their advanced positions, he wrote that ‘the infantry have suffered the most losses in this retreat. I don’t want to write any more about it. At one place ahead of us 8 partisans were hanged. The Russians had hanged 80 of our soldiers beside the partisans. That what it’s like in the Russia’.[6]

This account is in many ways, unique. Diaries of German combatants translated into English are reasonably rare. This account will be of special interest to those who have an interest in armoured warfare as Hager frequently goes into detail about the technical aspects of his unit, such as the type and number of tanks serving in the regiment. It also contains a large number of very interesting photographs. Lastly, this book is well annotated by Garden and Andrew that help explain the abbreviations and language in the diary but also set the narrative in an accessible historical context.

Notes:

[2] David Garden & Kenneth Andrew (Eds), The War Diaries of a Panzer Soldier, Erich Hager with the 17th Panzer Division on the Russian Front, 1941-1945 (Atglen PA/USA: Schiffer Military History, 2010),, p.36.

[3] Ibid., p.55.

[4] Ibid., pp.35, 37, 38, 44, 45.

[5] Ibid., p.46.

[6] Ibid., p.65.