PANZER GUNNER: FROM MY NATIVE CANADA TO THE GERMAN OSTFRONT AND BACK, IN ACTION WITH 25THTH PANZER REGIMENT, 7 PANZER DIVISION 1944-45 by Bruno Friesen. Helion, 2008.

Imagine you were were a teenage boy in 1930’s Canada, a vast land with a sparse population and a decidedly North American view of the world. Food is plentiful, jobs are good, natural resources are abundant…but then, one day, your dad moves back to his native land and you have no choice but to go with him.

To Germany.

Nazi Germany on the verge of going to war.

You are immediately enrolled in school, which is hard because you don’t speak German. And Nazi Germany is not a free country like Canada, where you may go almost anywhere you wish, whenever you wish and do whatever you wish once you get there. In Nazi Germany you do what you are told.

So when war comes, when Nazi Germany attacks countries that did not threaten it, you suddenly find yourself learning how to aim weapons at people who have never done anything to you. Such is the situation Friesen found himself in during World War II.

This fascinating book is an inside look at life inside of a German AFV, Armored Fighting Vehicle, fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front. In his case, the AFV was first a Mark IV tank, then a tank-destroyer. For the hard-core buff there is a wealth of material here on how you actually aimed the main battery on an AFV, the algorithms involved and the targeting procedures; if you aren’t a buff it tends to slow down the narrative a bit, but the action scenes are priceless.

There are very few books from the German side with the immediacy and poignancy of this book, and it is highly recommended for anyone who wants a closer look at life inside a panzer.

Book Description from the Publisher: There are few memoirs available of German Panzer crews that focus on the climactic last 12 months of the war on the Eastern Front, 1944-45. What makes Bruno Friesen’s account virtually unique is his family background: his parents came from a German-speaking Mennonite community in Ukraine, and were to all intents and purposes culturally German. To make matters even more complex, in 1924 his parents left the Ukraine for Canada, where Bruno was born. In March 1939 he and his brother Oscar found themselves on a ship bound for Bremerhaven in Germany. He barely spoke German, and had never been to Germany, nevertheless his father envisaged that a better life awaited them in the Third Reich. Needless to say, Bruno became caught up in the Second World War, and in 1942 was drafted into the Wehrmacht. The author provides a full account of his family background, and how, through these unusual circumstances, he found himself a Canadian-born German soldier. The bulk of the book is a detailed account of the author’s training, and his subsequent service with 25th Panzer Regiment, part of 7th Panzer Division. As the title suggests, Bruno Friesen served as a gunner aboard, initially, Panzer IVs, before crewing the lesser-known Jagdpanzer IV tank hunter. The author provides a fantastic amount of information about these two vehicles, and how the crews actually fought in battle with them. This kind of ‘hands-on’ detail has almost never been available before, particularly such extensive information concerning the characteristics and combat performance of the Jagdpanzer IV. Apart from providing a large fund of information about specific German tanks and their combat performance, the author writes in great detail about the combat the experienced on the Eastern Front, including tank battles in Rumania, spring 1944, Lithuania in the summer of 1944, and West Prussia during early 1945. If one wants to know how German tank crews fought the Soviets in the last year of the war, then this book provides an outstanding account, containing material simply not found elsewhere. The author closes his account by reflecting on his post-war efforts to return to Canada, which eventually succeeded in 1950, and his subsequent life there. This book is not just a critique of armored fighting vehicles and tank warfare, it is above all a very human story, told in a lively, conversational and fluid manner, and is a remarkable contribution to the literature of the Second World War.