Series: DUEL # 37
By David R. Higgins
Illustrators: Peter Dennis and Jim Laurier
Years ago I read an account of a Soviet tank assault against the Seelow Heights outside of Berlin. A single Tiger II commanded the ridge overlooking the plain the Red Army advanced over. Like Horatius at the bridge, the Tiger crew stood their ground, absorbed blow after blow, stopped the enemy attack, fired until their last round, and only retreated when their ammunition resupply was stopped by artillery. That Tiger II left over 100 burning Soviet tanks blocking the avenue of advance.
In another book about Soviet heavy tanks I read that the 122mm gun of the Stalin tank was tested against a captured Panther. The AP round penetrated the glacis, drilled through the bulkheads and engine, exited the rear plate, completely ruining the Panther’s day. With those memories I could not wait to read KING TIGER vs. IS-2 and started it as soon as it arrived.
King I Tiger vs. IS-2 Operation Solstice 1945 is presented to you through 80 pages in 10 chapters and an index:
3. Design and development
4. Technical specifications
5. The strategic situation
6. The combatants
7. The action
8. Statistics and analysis
9. The aftermath
Author David R. Higgins brings to us a wealth of historical, tactical, doctrinal, technical, organizational, and archival information about the ultimate armor adversaries of World War Two. It specifically chronicles Operation Sonnenwende (“Solstice”), the 1945 winter German attempt to stymie the Red Army advance through Pomerania. The book is very well organized and consists of many photographs, illustrations, informational sidebars, and profiles of two key commanders of the battle.
The IS-2 was an evolution of the KV series of Soviet heavy tanks intended for breakthrough roles in the face of increasingly formidable panzers. The Tiger II was a revolutionary design utilizing battlefield lessons. The design theories are very different. The Tiger II was an armored sniper, the IS-2 was a nimble wielder of a maul. While the Tiger’s frontal armor was practically impenetrable at normal combat ranges, the physics of a 122mm round impact would ruin the panzer’s day; small fast moving flakes of armor called spall demonstrated Newton’s Law inside the Tiger, sometimes with catastrophic results.
The book opened my eyes on a few subjects. The mighty IS-2 only carried eight rounds of BR-471 APHE (Armor-piercing High Explosive) anti-tank ammunition in its paltry 28 round capacity. The Soviet crew consisted of two officers and two NCOs. And despite the general mechanical deficiencies of the Tiger, they could occasionally move great distances on their own, fight, and return to base. Additional interesting trivia is that in 1943 NKO offered a bounty to Soviet soldiers who destroyed a panzer.
Mr. Higgins is very detailed with topics:
• Armor plate forging and the resulting antiballistic strength is compared between the Germans and Russians
• Development of the cannons.
• Unit strengths and losses
This book is engaging and I found it to be a worthwhile read. However, I was expecting some combat reports and tank vs. tank battle narratives. There are none. The majority of this book is a history of Sonnenwende. That King Tigers and IS-2s were the star players seem to be a side note. There are no accounts of tankers shooting it out with the enemy. No personal experiences of shells bouncing off armor, of spall showering the inside of the vehicle. Possibly this is due to the losses amongst the tankers – few Red Army tankers survived their encounter with a Tiger II, and few Tiger crews survived Soviet captivity.
I am glad to have a book that compares the King Tiger to the IS-2, which this book does, but I do not consider this a duel. It is more a story of the strengths and weaknesses of two specific tank types that happened to be in a particular operation in the closing months of World War Two.
Photographs and Illustrations:
Within the pages is a great deal of photographic support for this work. Although most are black and white, several are color photographs of the interior of a preserved King Tiger. Of the black and white photographs, many are staged and thus studio quality; the rest range from good amateur photos to low quality frames. All the same they convey the subject matter well.
Also enriching the book is a centerfold painting of Red tanks and infantry assaulting a ridge defended by a King Tiger. Computer graphics created profiles of the Tiger and Stalin, turret interiors and main gun ammunition, gunsight views, and tactical diagrams. Several maps help orient the reader to the strategic and tactical situations.
Interesting - a fair assessment of this book. Indeed, all of the Duel series that I have read have been fascinating and this title is no exception. It has opened my eyes to facts unknown about these two antagonists. I would like to have accounts from tankers, or at least some after action reports.
The illustrations are outstanding and the battle scene is dramatic. Historians and modelers will appreciate the photographs. I recommend this book.
Highs: Authoritatively researched, documented, and presented. An excellent selection of illustrations and photographs.Lows: I really do not find the presentation to convey a “duel” story.Verdict: Students of King Tigers and IS-2 Stalin tanks should find this title interesting.
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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR) FROM: TENNESSEE, UNITED STATES
I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art.
My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling!
My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...