Book Review – Hans Schäufler, Panzers on the Vistula (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2018).

Hans Schäufler was a signals officer and second lieutenant in 35th Panzer Regiment, 4th Panzer Division, on the Eastern Front. His account covers his experience of the war from January to May, 1945. He took part in the German retreat from Latvia to East Prussia and was trapped in Danzig when the city fell to the Red Army. His account also covers armoured clashes with Soviet tanks, his experience as an infantryman in the doomed defence of Danzig and his escape across the Baltic to surrender to the British.

His account is fascinating as it details the slow but inevitable collapse of the German forces as they come under Soviet attack. On one side are soldiers that have given up, some desert while others stand in the way of Schäufler’s and his men as they move to fight the Russians calling them ‘stupid fools!’ for ‘prolonging the war.’[1] Others like Schäufler fight on. They know the war is lost but fight on motivated by the desire not to ‘abandon the civilian population to the capriciousness of the Red Army’ and a strong bond of camaraderie.[2]

Schäufler’s account was published in German in 1991 as Panzer an der Weichsel – Soldaten der letzten Stunde and translated into English for this edition. He portrays his struggle and his colleagues’ actions as one of honour trying to save the ‘2 million [people] from East and West Prussia..form the vengeance of the Red Army stirred up by Soviet demagogues’.[3] Hitler had, by 1945, made the front in the East considerably weaker by a ‘complete misjudgement of the situation’, sending ‘strong armoured units to Hungry’.[4] Nazi party officials were cowardly deserters who left the population to face the Red Army alone and stole fuel from army tanks to make their escape.[5] The incompetence of political leaders and spinelessness of party officials is contrasted by the honourable and dutiful Wehrmacht fighting in a desperate situation. 

Overall, this is a useful account. It gives a ‘bottom-up’ view of a company grade officer and focuses on a period of months. It gives the impression of chaos, despair and desperation that characterised the final days of the Third Reich. However, the memoir could have benefitted from some contextual background. In particular, some biographical information on Schäufler would have been useful including what he did from 1940 to 1944 and after the war. Also useful would have been annotations in the text and historical verification of Schäufler’s claims. Without background knowledge, the text can be rather difficult to navigate. The account has a few other minor factual errors that other reviewers have pointed out.[6] 



[1] Hans Schäufler, Panzers on the Vistula (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2018), p.10.

[2] Ibid., pp.59, 60, 72, 20.

[3] Ibid., Preface, p.5.

[4] Ibid., Preface.

[5] Ibid., pp.37, 11.

[6] See Timothy Heck, ‘Review of Panzers on the Vistula: Retreat and Rout in East Prussia 1945 by Hans Schäufler (trans. Tony Le Tissier)’, British Journal for Military History, 6.1 (2020), pp. 97-99.