The book consists of nine chapters, a bibliography and an index, spanning a total of 80 pages.
It's full of both photographs and computer generated illustrations. The photographs total 47, and while most were familiar, a few were new to me. The computer generated illustrations are a nice touch and they include: (1) Panther and Sherman Specifications showing front, side, and rear views of both tanks (including dimensions); (2) Cut-away interior views of both turrets; (3) see-through illustrations showing the crew members in their positions in both tanks; and (4) Panther and Sherman gun sight views that include a brief but informative discussion of the technical aspects of how the respective gunners would sight their targets.
There are also four statistical tables: (1) Tank Gun Anti-armor Performance; (2) Panther Tank/Personnel Status in Panther Units, Autumn 1944; (3) Sherman Tank Strength U.S. Army 12th Army Group; and (4) U.S. First Army Sherman Tank Strength/Losses, Autumn 1944.
Finally, there are two maps: a large scale map providing an overall view of the Battle of the Bulge, and an overhead view of a small skirmish between platoon-sized units during the Battle of the Bulge.
In the two-page “Chronology,” Mr. Zaloga provides a single timetable tracking the development and deployment of both the Panther and the Sherman. This nicely leads into the next two chapters which examine the design, development and then the technical aspects of both tanks. With regard to the development of the Panther, I found most interesting Mr. Zaloga’s recounting of the lackadaisical German approach to mass-production, the German efforts to overcome the Panther’s poor mechanical performance, and the impact of the Allied strategic bombing campaign on Panther production. As for the Sherman, Mr. Zaloga goes into a brief history of the U.S. Army’s armor and anti-tank doctrines and their impact on the design and development of the Sherman. Naturally, since this book is about the M4A3(76) Sherman, Mr. Zaloga provides a more detailed (but still brief) examination of the development of the 76mm armed versions of the Sherman. Here, Mr. Zaloga recounts the U.S. Army’s decision to cut 15 inches off the length of the 76mm gun (reducing its anti-armor performance by 10 percent) to address balance issues created when the gun was installed in the Sherman’s turret rather than find a way to rebalance the turret.
In the “Technical Specifications” chapter, Mr. Zaloga discusses the armor, mechanical performance, weaponry, and ammunition of both tanks. Here, while noting the undeniable superiority of the Panther’s armament and armor when compared with the Sherman, Mr. Zaloga also addresses the often overlooked poor mechanical performance of the Panther. Mr. Zaloga correctly points out the Panther’s superior gun and armor matter nought if the tank cannot get to the battlefield or quickly breaks down once it does. Mr. Zaloga also addresses the Sherman’s reputation as a firetrap due, not to the fact it was gasoline powered, but to the method in which its ammunition was stored. Finally, Mr. Zaloga points out those areas where the Sherman outshined the Panther, including mechanical reliability, secondary weapons, and turret traverse speed.
The next chapter is titled “The Combatants.” Here, Mr. Zaloga examines several topics, including the differing attitudes toward tank aces, the physical positions and equipment of the various crew members, the training of the crews, and unit organizations. Most interesting to me was the discussion of the impact of war casualties and declining fuel supplies on the quality of German tank crews.
The next two chapters, “The Strategic Situation” and “Combat,” finally reach the “duel” part of the book. As the name implies, “The Strategic Situation” chapter provides a very brief look at the situation on the Western Front in the fall of the 1944 as well as the planning for the German counter offensive. The “Combat” chapter examines the actual fighting during the Battle of the Bulge, and while the topic of the book is Panthers versus Shermans, descriptions of actual combat between them is very sparse to say the least. This chapter is divided into four sections. First is “Panther Graveyard: Krinkelt-Rocherath. This section recounts the famous fight in and around the twin villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath and the impact of that struggle on the German timetable. This section lacks any specific details of the actual fighting. For the interested reader, these details are available in William Cavanaugh’s excellent The Battle East of Elsenborn & the Twin Villages, which is referenced in Mr. Zaloga’s Bibliography. Next comes “Breakthrough Toward Bastogne” which is a very brief overview of the German effort to break through the American lines and seize the important crossroads town of Bastogne. Once again, a reader interested in a detailed account of this early phase of the Bulge would be better served checking into John C. McManus’s superb Alamo in the Ardennes. Next up is “Hard Ground, Angry Skies.” This section provides a broad overview of the fighting between the U.S. 3rd Armored Division and the German 2nd and 116th Panzer Divisions around Manhay, Grandmenil, Hotton, and Soy. In “Duel at Freyneux: Christmas Eve 1944,” Mr. Zaloga actually details a platoon-sized engagement between Shermans and Panthers. The inclusion of an overhead map greatly assists the reader in understanding what happened. This section also contains a very nice two-page print of the initial approach of the Panthers toward the village of Freyneux. In my opinion, this section is the highlight of the book and it encompasses a mere six pages (excluding the two page print). Finally, the chapter concludes with “Race to Nowhere,” a brief overview of the blunting of the German attack short of the Meuse River and the launching of the U.S. 3rd Army’s counter attack toward Bastogne.
There is a “Statistics and Analysis” chapter. I must admit, my eyes and brain glaze over whenever I am presented with statistical analysis of anything. Finally, comes the “Conclusion.” Here, Mr. Zaloga concludes the Panther was a failure and unable to significantly impact the course of the war due, not so much to the qualities of the tank itself, but to factors such as production and fuel shortages, declining quality of German tank crews, and poor decision making by the German command which resulted in futile offensives at Avranches, Lorraine, and the Ardennes. Mr. Zaloga then concludes the Sherman was a tactical success because it operated as “part of a well-trained combined arms team fighting alongside determined infantry and supported by superb field artillery and ample tactical air support operating within the context of more sober tactical decision-making.” It would be difficult to say it any better.
I bought this book because I think Mr. Zaloga is both an outstanding AFV historian as well as a talented modeler. However, I finished reading this book thinking “Is that all there is?” That thought comes not because the content is inaccurate or poorly presented, because that definitely is not the case, but because I think the concept of the Duel series itself is flawed. This series attempts to tackle too many subjects in a single, short book and ends up shorting something. In this case, I think the examination of actual fighting between Shermans and Panthers lost out. Keeping the concept and limitation of the Duel series in mind, I rate the book as 9 out of 10.
Highs: Mr. Zaloga is a very knowledgeable historian and modeler. Good platoon level history in the dual section.Lows: The book tries to 'be' to much and cover to many topics.Verdict: Overall a decent book. A bit light on details.