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The War File - Tanks!: Steel Tigers

Title: The War File - Tanks!: Steel Tigers
Published: 2004
Publisher: Cromwell
Play time: 48 minutes

The documentary "The War File - Tanks! Steel Tigers' offers a detailed picture of the origins, development and deployment of German tanks between 1933 (Adolf Hitler as Chancellor) and 1945. The documentary zooms in on the most important German tanks, such as the armoured combat vehicles; Panzerkampfwagen I, II, III and IV, which were used by the German army during the first years of the war. Hitler ensured that mechanization of the German army was speeded up, placed great emphasis on tank development and stimulated the design and deployment of increasingly powerful tank armaments.

It can be seen that the light Panzerkampfwagen I/PzKpfw I (tank I) was one of the most important tanks of Hitler-Germany in the period 1939-1940. The light Panzerkampfwagen II/PzKpfw II was also used in relatively large numbers at the time. The development of powerful heavy tanks was initiated in the thirties, but was accelerated by events at the front (especially the Eastern Front was a very important impulse for the development of heavy tanks). The tanks are discussed with the help of black and white images and (dated) computer animations.

To gain experience with tanks, Spain was a suitable test site. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) Hitler-Germany used light tanks and supported the Franco regime. Because the light armour of Panzerkampfwagen I (0.59 inch) and II (0,7874 in to 1,18in) was not or hardly able to stop grenades from enemy (Republican) anti-tank weapons, the German tank units put more emphasis on the development of medium-heavy tanks such as the Panzerkampfwagen III and IV. Both tanks are extensively covered in the documentary where it is stated that the Panzer III was meant to destroy enemy tanks and the Panzer IV/PzKpfw IV was meant, to destroy infantry and lightly armoured targets or houses, with high explosive ammunition. The short 75 mm 2.9 in) 'Stummel' artillery of the Panzer IV (early production versions such as the A and C), could fire a highly effective high explosive grenade. Antitank ammunition was available, but was not very suitable due to the low muzzle velocity of the shells to pierce armor. Experience in France in 1940 and later on the Eastern Front from June 1941 confirmed that the Panzerkampfwagen IV had to be improved to cope with threats in the form of new enemy tanks. The Soviet T-34 and KV tanks were the stimulus for the development of a longer and more powerful 75mm (2.9") gun.

The documentary zooms in on those facts and states that the T-34 tank and the heavy KV-1 tank have stimulated the development of new guns (Panzerkampfwagen IV), the acceleration of the production and deployment of heavy tanks (Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger / PzKpfw VI Tiger) in addition to medium-heavy tanks (Panzerkampfwagen V Panther / PzKpfw V Panther). Existing German anti-tank weapons such as the 20mm (0.59") fast-fire gun, the 37mm (1.45") anti-tank gun (3.7cm Pack 35/36) or the 50mm (1.96") anti-tank gun, could not do much against the thick, slanted armour of the T-34 tank and the straight shaped armour of the KV. Shells simply bounced off. The German soldiers started improvising ways to eliminate those Soviet weapons. In 1942 the development of the first German heavy tank, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger, was completed. At the time, the Germans had a means to eliminate the aforementioned Soviet tanks from a great distance. The 88 mm cannon of the Tiger tank was deadly up to a distance of 3 kilometres 1.86 miles).

The film also zooms in on the most important (western) allied opponents of the Germans: M3 'Lee', M4 'Sherman', Crusader, Cromwell and Matilda II (North Africa). Especially the M3 and the M4 medium-heavy tanks were feared by German troops. The introduction of the Panzerkampfwagen IV with the longer and more powerful 75mm (2.95") gun (Mark IV 'Special'), partly (apart from production criteria) put an end to the Allied tank dominance and the quality of M4 Sherman tanks. German tanks and tank hunters became increasingly larger, heavier and equipped with more powerful armaments during the war. This emphasis on quality had major drawbacks: the German industry was increasingly burdened with producing high-quality (expensive) tanks. Although the Tiger tank could eliminate any allied tank from a long distance, the production costs of a Tiger were much higher than the production costs of medium-heavy German tanks such as the Panzerkampfwagen IV/PzKpfw IV and the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther. Hitler and his army top (apart from experts such as General Heinz Guderian) hardly learned from the fact that, under the right circumstances, quantity can ultimately defeat quality.

The documentary sketches this background and ends with information about the heaviest German tanks such as the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. B Tiger II / PzKpfw VIb Königstiger and the colossal tank hunter Jagdtiger. The Tiger II was the heaviest produced tank of Hitler-Germany ( 154,323 lbs) and was able to destroy the strongest Soviet (heavy tank-IS-series) and American tanks such as the M26 Pershing up to a long distance (1.24 to 1.86 miles). Hitler's megalomaniacal character (bigger, heavier and more expensive is better) is also reflected in his involvement with tanks. This had a negative effect on the outcome of the war for Hitler-Germany. The 'tidal wave' of allied tanks was simply unstoppable with a handful of high-quality German tanks. The Tiger II was so heavy (28.660 lbs heavier than the Tiger I) that many bridges could not handle the weight of the vehicle. In addition, the vehicle used a lot of fuel (which was very scarce in the last months of the war).

All in all, the documentary is very interesting and informative because it gives a complete overview of the rise, deployment and fall of the German tank weapon. This historical awareness contributes to a better understanding of the defeat of Hitler Germany.

Rating: (Very good)


Translated by:
Fernando Lynch
Article by:
Ruben Krutzen
Published on:
Last edit on: