Book Review – Otto Carius, Tigers in The Mud (Lanham MD/USA: Stackpole, 2020)

This memoir covers Otto Carius’ times as an officer in panzer units fighting on the Eastern and Western Fronts during the Second World War.

He was born in 1922 in Zweibrücken, near the French border. He originally enlisted in the infantry but was transferred to the panzer corps. He began his war as a loader on a Panzer 38(t) in the 21st Panzer Regiment at the start of Operation Barbarossa. After that, he was commissioned as an officer and in January 1943 was transferred to 502nd Heavy Panzer Battalion that was equipped with the new heavy Tiger tank. He became a platoon commander in the 2nd Company of that unit and his narrative mainly focuses on the actions he fought while in this unit. In 1944, while scouting the terrain for his Tigers, Carius’ was ambushed by Soviet soldiers and evacuated to wounded to hospital. During his convalescence, he was awarded the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross by Heinrich Himmler.  Subsequently he was assigned to the 512th Battalion in the west which was equipped with the massive Jagdtiger tank destroyer.  In April 1945, he was captured by the Americans.

Carius believed that he and his comrades had fought ‘doggedly after everything already appeared to have been lost…Everyone in the east, from the high command down to the lowliest platoon leader, was convinced that the enemy had to be kept from the German border for as long as possible to save as many women and children from the Russians as possible…After all, we didn’t fight for a man or a system. On the contrary, we gave our best and our all for German, and in the process, for ourselves.’[1] Carius had a poor view of the party and SS, turning down Himmler’s offer to join the SS saying that he could not abandon ‘the flag’.[2] He also believed that Hitler ‘did little justice to his title as ‘the greatest commander-in-chief.’’[3]

Carius makes no mention of the involvement of the Wehrmacht in war crimes, the holocaust or the mistreatment of Soviet POWs. There is no direct evidence to suggest that Carius or his units were involved in any war crimes but a reference in Carius’ own account suggest that he may have been involved in expropriating property from Russian peasants. His memoir has one telling passage. At one time, he and his unit were living well and eating a varied and rich diet. He said ‘who even wanted the official meal, when anyone could scavenge for himself to his heart’s content. It should be mentioned that the unit raised a large herd of livestock…As special section was set up for “maintaining” the livestock. Soldiers in Russian captivity later received sentences of twenty-five years for such “crimes”. In any case, we lived luxuriously during that period…We ate all the delicacies on hand. No one knows as well as a soldier how fleeting earthly goods are.’[4] ’. He does not mention where these animals were obtained from or if they were obtained by payment, theft or trade but the fact that their sourcing could have resulted in punishment by the Russians post was suggests that the method of their attainment was probably criminal or used force.

Carius was motivated by three key factors to fight. Firstly, the camaraderie with his comrades. He said there was a ‘selfless comradeship and altruistic commitment that will never let us forget the difficult times at the front…what counted was that [a man] did his duty in the group and that we could depend on him.’[5] Secondly, he fought for Germany and duty.[6] Finally, he fought because of the example of his leaders. For example, ‘Oberst Wengler…was a model of a troop leader…He had a personality that inspired complete confidence his people. They would have gone through hell anytime for their commander. Admirable was his composure, a characteristic that is priceless in critical situations’.[7]

A theme of Carius’ account is that the German fighting man had done ‘did nothing but his duty for four and a half years – properly, bravely and loyally’. The Landser’s reputation had been unfairly tarnished in post-war Germany and this ‘will remain a blemish on our people for all time.’[8] He complained that the as a POW he was treated badly as the all Americans treated him in a negative way because of ‘atrocity propaganda’.[9] Subsequent revelations and historical research about extent and nature of the Wehrmacht’s involvement in war crimes, the holocaust and murder of Soviet POWs makes Carius’ claims rather hollow.[10]

However, his memoir was published in German in 1960 and is typical of many veteran accounts up until the 1990s that pedaled the ‘clean’ Wehrmacht myth, blamed the SS/Hitler/Nazi party for the atrocities and said all soldiers were at heart humble dutiful soldiers doing what they were told.[11]

Much of the memoir is very action orientated but it is difficult to make out what is happening as the maps provided are not that clear. The historical the value of this account lies in Carius’ experience as a panzer commander and his observations on the different tanks such as the Tiger  and Jagdtiger.[12] The book also contains several appendixes of technical and operations reports.



[1] Otto Carius, Tigers in The Mud (Lanham MD/USA: Stackpole, 2020), p.179.

[2] Ibid., p.198.

[3] Ibid., p.200.

[4] Ibid., p.153.

[5] Ibid., pp.67-38.

[6] Ibid., p.31.

[7] Ibid., p.51.

[8] Ibid., p.228.

[9] Ibid., p.226.

[10] See Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann (eds.), Vernichtungskrieg: Verbrechen der Wehrmacht, 1941-1944 (Hamburg: Hamburger Editions, 1995).

[11] See Gottlob Bidermann, In Deadly Combat: A German Soldier’s Memoir of the Eastern Front (Kansas: University of Kansas, 2000), p.43. William Lubbeck, At Leningrad’s Gates (Philadelphia, PA/USA: Casement, 2006), p.157.

[12] Carius, Tigers, pp.117, 207