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Reference, Osprey Fortress 102, Defense of the Rhine 1944-45

June 26 2011 at 2:17 PM
Frank V. De Sisto  (Login zappa93)
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Fortress 102, Defense of the Rhine 1944-45. By Steve Zaloga, with illustrations by Adam Hook. Soft covers, 7.25 x 9.25-inches, 64-pages. Contains four color and 50 B&W photographs, two line drawings, three tables, seven pages of color art, three full-color maps, index and bibliography. ISBN 978-1-84908-387-4.

Universally, if erroneously, known as the Siegfried Line by the US Army soldiers who assaulted them, Germanys 1944-45 defenses to the west and east of the Rhine River barrier were in fact called West-Stellung, or West Position. A hodge-podge of improvisation, this last-ditch defensive system of fortifications was composed of elements of the pre-war German Westwall and French Maginot Line, to which was added extensive new field fortifications, some new permanent construction and various improvised heavy anti-tank weapons. And of course, there were the ubiquitous Dragons Teeth, waiting there like tombstones for the Allied troops to come calling.

Like so much of Germanys strategic military decisions made in 1944 and 1945, those regarding the defense of the Reich were subject to the capriciousness of Hitler and his cronies. Therefore, aside from having to fight the Allies, the Wehrmacht had to contend with its own national leadership, who thought that adapting prudent defensive measures before it was too late, equated with defeatism. The failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in July of 1944 only hardened his resolve against defeatists, while radically deepening his distrust of his general officers. On top of all this, there were never enough construction laborers to complete the scheme, never enough weapons to equip the fortifications, never enough troops to man the lines, and never enough concrete and steel for the needed new construction. In any event, like so much that could be said of Germanys fortunes towards the end, the phrase, too little, too late, can never be over-used.

So, what do we have in this concise book? To begin with, the author tells of the trials and tribulations, which ensued in getting this thing built. This is no mean feat, as there were so many aspects to the back story (political, logistical, strategic and economic), that tying them together so neatly does the reader a great service.

Then the author gets down to the meat and potatoes stuff (from an ML denizens point of view): the actual technical and physical aspects of the various field-works, permanent works, pre-fabricated mobile works and anti-tank works. There is much written here regarding the various Panzerturm (tank turret) and Pantherturm (Panther turret) fortifications in their various forms, while special mention is made of the weapons that were used to create the so-called PaK-Front. These weapons included the 7.5cm PaK40, 8.8cm FlaK36/37 and 8.8cm PaK43/3, all on either pedestal or field mounts, to include the expedient (Behelfslafette) cruciform mount. To add a bit of spice, Beute (booty; captured) artillery and even the ex-Luftwaffe fighter aircraft 5cm KwK Bordkanone on its crude pedestal mount is given its due.

The various forms of concrete bunker are detailed, with special mention of those installed inside of towns within the defensive zones; the latter are of note because they were cleverly camouflaged to appear as a normal civilian structure. Field-works are given thorough treatment and one segment describes the different versions of Dragons Teeth and explains how they were spaced and sized for maximum effect.

Several tables provide various bits of data, such as:

The number and types of Westwall bunkers in service on November 30, 1944.
The number (requested and actual number deployed, with two different dates), type and source of the anti-tank weapons that made up the PaK-Front.
The number (or length) and types of field-works as of February 25, 1945.

The tables ably assist the reader in absorbing some of the raw data.

Next are the maps, all of which are in color. The first one details the strategic location of the West-Stellung in February of 1945; this map puts the system in relation to the rivers and borders (as well as the front lines at that time) and also details the pre-war Westwall. The second map depicts a battalion-sized section of the defenses, namely Scharnhorst-Stellung, in the Reichswald in February of 1945; this map provides a complete picture, using no less than 20 different symbols to describe the positions various component parts. The final map describes the battles that took place in the fortified town of Steinfeld, Germany on March 20-23, 1945 between its defenders, 905.Volksgrenadier-Division, and the US Armys 14th Armored Division.

The photographic content is excellent. The photos are all specific to the story being told and are not mere filler. In many cases there are several different images of a similar weapon or emplacement, so a great deal of detailed information can be gleaned by the sharp-eyed modeler. Most of the images are of a usable size for viewing detail and many will prove to be great inspiration for diorama or vignette modelers. Reproduction is fine and the captions are detailed and first-rate.

The final segment of the book consists of the various color plates rendered by Mr. Hook. They cover a great deal and often enough, in some detail. We first see s section of Dragons Teeth complete with removable steel barrier; this shows how the teeth were laid out and positioned. Next, is a cutaway of a reinforced-concrete bunker, based on the Regelbau Nr.703, mounting an 8.8cm Pak43/3 from a Jagdpanther; this shows the interior bulkheads, the gun, its mount and the ammo stowage. The third piece of art depicts a Betonfundament Für SKL IIA mit 8.8cm PaK43/3, which is a pedestal mount on a concrete stand, in an open field position. Number four shows a Pantherturm on Holzstand (wooden base); the interior is shown in this cut-away rendering, the turret is of the specially-built type and the base is wood. The fifth piece is a two-page spread showing a trench segment suited to a German infantry section; it has detail inserts that show an underground shelter, MG position and riflemans position. The last piece of art details a bunker erected inside the town of Steinfeld; this is one that was disguised to appear to be a civilian dwelling.

Altogether this is a neat offering. It has appeal over a relatively wide modeling-oriented audience, to include ordnance fanciers, as well as diorama and vignette builders. Those with a redundant PaK40 or a German tank turret (what modeler of German subjects does not have one of those lying around?) will now have a use for them. Anyone who has the recent DML FlaK37 or PaK43/3 mounted on the Behelfslafette in their collection awaiting some inspiration, now has it.

Frank V. De Sisto

Please note that this book was supplied to me direct from the author, who is a personal friend. Nevertheless, I have made every effort to be objective in presenting this report.

Osprey books are available from mail order and retail outlets. They can also be acquired direct through their web site at: www.ospreypublishing.com.

Visit frankdesisto.com.

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