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DAY OF THE PANZER: A Story of American Heroism and Sacrifice in Southern France [Hardcover]

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Item description for DAY OF THE PANZER: A Story of American Heroism and Sacrifice in Southern France by Jeff Danby...

This is a rarely detailed "you are there" account of World War II combat, describing a brief but bloody tank/infantry action in August 1944. Based on six years of research-drawing from interviews, primary documents, and visits to the battlefield-"The Day of the Panzer" transports the reader into the ranks of L Company, 15th Regiment, Third Infantry Division, and its supporting M4s of the 756th Tank Battalion as they grapple head-on with the Wehrmacht.

L Company was nearly wiped out during the bloody Anzio breakout of May 1944. Under the fiery leadership of Captain James "Red" Coles, the unit was rebuilt and molded into a tough, colorful bunch in preparation for "Operation Dragoon." On August 15, 1944, they hit the beaches in southern France, joined by the tank crews of 2nd Lt. Andrew Orient's 3rd Platoon, all veterans of Cassino.

After overcoming pockets of resistance along the coast, the tanks and infantry swept inland, nipping at the heels of the retreating German Nineteenth Army. A sudden German artillery salvo dispatched six L Company men and left Lt. Orient dead. 1st Lt. Edgar Danby, an armor instructor (the author's grandfather), was flown in from Italy to replace him.

Despite logistics problems, the Third Division forged north through the Rhone River valley until they found the Germans holding fast, L Company and its supporting tanks leading the regimental charge. In the haste and chaos of the day, they managed to slip the German rearguard and unwittingly attacked the German LXXXV Armeekorps headquarters in the small town of Allan. Both sides were shocked by the ferocity of the battle.

Led by a rampaging Panther tank, the Germans counterattacked, knocking out the Sherman of Lt. Danby while threatening to cut L Company's positions in half. Surrounded and facing annihilation-but steeled by the courageous leadership of Captain Coles and others-L Company held fast despite dead and wounded on all sides and 13 men captured. The seemingly unstoppable Panther, stalking the battlefield like some black knight from a Teutonic fantasy, continued to hold off American reinforcements in the morning, until the Armeekorps headquarters executed a withdrawal.

In this book, the minute-by-minute confusion, thrill and desperation of WWII combat is placed under a microscope, as if the reader himself were a participant. In this small but singular battle, the courage of US troops in their liberation of France is given full due.


"Danby resurrects the forgotten campaign of World War II in this excellent popular history... a sprightly and evocative tribute to the troops of Operation Dragoon." Publishers Weekly, 05/2008

" of the most interesting and absorbing battles histories that this reviewer has ever read...remarkably realistic and personal..."History Book Club, 06/2008

"...clearly written, pacey and exciting whilst giving a clear account of the sequence of events, a first hand perspective and a "flow" that keeps one keen to thumb over the next page."Military Modeling (UK), 07/2008

"a powerful, punchy story...outs the reader in the middle of a raging battlefield populated with humans who far transcend the one dimensional paper soldiers often found in military history..."Bill Stone, 07/2008

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Item Specifications...

Pages   365
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.25" Width: 6.5" Height: 9.5"
Weight:   1.52 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Publisher   Casemate
ISBN  193203370X  
ISBN13  9781932033700  

Availability  0 units.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Europe > France > General
2Books > Subjects > History > Military > General
3Books > Subjects > History > Military > United States > General
4Books > Subjects > History > Military > World War II > General

Reviews - What do customers think about DAY OF THE PANZER: A Story of American Heroism and Sacrifice in Southern France?

Very good, if at times a bit overwritten  Aug 7, 2008
This is an interesting book built around a rather unknown campaign from World War II, and an interesting incident during that campaign. After D-Day, the U.S. and their Allies invaded southern France in August 1944. The ensuing campaign has been derided as the "Champagne Campaign" by historians and observers. While the campaign didn't see the grinding attrition battles that took place in Normandy--the invasion itself was virtually unopposed, and the Germans were essentially withdrawing because of the breakout in Normandy--there was some serious fighting, and the author focuses on one such action, in which his grandfather, a tank platoon commander, was killed.

The battle took place during the pursuit north from the beachheads towards the southern portion of the French border with Germany. German troops were retreating along a main supply route north, and part of the 3rd Infantry Division, with attached armored units, tried to capture a village near the line of march with the intention of setting up a base of fire onto the main road. However, the Americans inadvertently chose a village occupied by a German Corps HQ, and those Germans defended the position rather stoutly to avoid capture. The resulting battle killed a number of Americans, including the tank platoon commander (author Danby's grandfather) and cut off some others, resulting in their capture. Eventually, the Americans drove the Germans out of the village, and continued with their pursuit of them north towards their homeland.

I enjoyed this book pretty well. I thought at times it was a bit over-written, the prose getting a bit purple in places, and it occasionally has an amateurish quality to it, as when there's an anecdote about a guy who served with the unit but doesn't appear in the narrative who was killed after the war, driving home from his discharge. The book also has a lot of build-up to its one chapter that deals with the actual battle, which is only about 20 pages in length. Definitely recommended for World War II buffs.
A Pleasant Surprise  Aug 4, 2008
In The Day of the Panzer, amateur historian Jeff Danby has written one of the best company-level accounts of the Second World War to appear in recent years. Although the author had a personal interest in writing this account - his grandfather was killed in action during the fighting described - he does not cloud the narrative with useless emotion and he brings a very solid research effort to bear on the topic. The result is a narrative that is balanced, objective and interesting - far-surpassing Stephen Ambrose's back-biting Band of Brothers concoction. In this account, Danby focuses on the 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion of southern France (Operation Anvil-Dragoon) in 15-27 August 1944. Although describing a rarely-mentioned campaign in some detail, the author's primary interest is in describing the activities of L Company, 3-15th Infantry and its attached tanks from B Company/756th Tank Battalion. Overall, this is a very well-written piece of tactical history and a pleasant surprise.

The Day of the Panzer consists of fifteen chapters, beginning with the composition of L Company and its earlier combat at Anzio, the amphibious landings in southern France and march toward the Rhone valley and then culminating in the action at Allan on 27 August. The author provides a postscript which describes the post-war lives of most of the participants, an appendix which provides a complete L Company roster (with information on combat awards and casualties), a glossary and some very nice pictographic charts on the MTOE of U.S. infantry and tank units. The notes and bibliographical sections indicate that the author did an immense amount of research for this work, including reviewing most of the relevant official U.S. records at NARA. Unlike Ambrose, who interviewed only a handful of members of E-506 PIR for Band of Brothers, Danby interviewed a very large amount of U.S. veterans as well as French citizens of the town of Allan, which provides far more credibility. The book is supplemented by 13 excellent maps, including one 3-D one of the action around Allan, that make it very easy for the reader to follow the narrative. The book also has 43 original B/W photos that depict L Company in France.

For the past sixty years, the Allied landings in southern France have generally been over-shadowed in post-war historiography and the popular imagination by the D-Day landings in Normandy. When considered, operations in southern France were often derided as `the champagne campaign' and left at that. Danby does a great service both to the veterans themselves and U.S. Military history by personalizing a campaign that had some very hard-fought moments. Unlike the D-Day landings, the three U.S. divisions that landed in southern France on 15 August 1944 did not face heavy German resistance and the author notes that L Company moved inland more rapidly than expected. Indeed, the first week of the invasion was more like a pursuit for the U.S. infantry units, as most of the German troops withdrew northward up the Rhone valley back toward Germany.

The drama in the narrative is provided when the 3rd Infantry Division's pursuit comes to a near halt due to severe fuel shortages and the decision was made to send a small task force to try and catch up to the Germans and interdict their single escape route until the rest of the American forces could arrive. Thus, L Company and two Sherman tanks of the 756th Tank Battalion and a few other vehicles were sent off in hot pursuit. Unfortunately, they bumped into a German headquarters in the town of Allan and quickly found themselves in a hornets nest, with a number of U.S. soldiers captured. L Company managed to secure the town but a German counterattack, led by a single Panther tank, inflicted significant losses (including the author's grandfather) and the Americans were soon surrounded. What followed was a tense, close-quarter action that the author describes in great detail.

There are several interesting points that this book brings out. First, German small-arms accuracy was much poorer than American infantry; oftentimes, German soldiers missed close-range shots while it was not unusual for American riflemen to pick off Germans at 100-200 yards. Second, although the Sherman tank was inferior to the Panther in most respects, it was not as helpless as is sometimes depicted. The author describes how one Sherman spotted a Panther in ambush and then deliberately went about taking it out. Third, the much-maligned U.S. infantry of WW2, often depicted as unmotivated draftees, could perform quite well on the battlefield. It is particularly surprising to read about two separate actions where privates took on several German machinegun positions and prevailed. Much of this was testament to General Truscott's superior training in the 3rd Infantry Division, but there is little doubt that the U.S. infantry was both aggressive and skillful.

I particularly liked the emphasis on tank-infantry cooperation in this book, which is rare in many tactical accounts. Young officers graduating from the Armor Officer's Basic Course today should read the story of 1LT Edgar Danby's one-day in combat as a platoon leader as a valuable cautionary tale. Although most of the American officers involved in this action end up as casualties - sometimes as the result of bad judgment - there is no rancor in this narrative. The only point where I question the author's evaluation is in regard to Captain Coles, the L Company commander. Coles was an OCS hothead who repeatedly struck enlisted soldiers at a time when General Patton was on the verge of being relieved for the same offense. The author sees Coles as a good combat leader, but I would question the leadership abilities of someone who was constantly beating up his subordinates. You don't lead men with your fists. Otherwise, this is a great piece of historical research and a worthy read both for the specialist and the general public.
A great read  Jul 9, 2008
I bought this book with some hesitation because I felt the title sounded like a "B grade" movie. My fears were totally unfounded because the book was excellent. The author follows a small group of soldiers during a relatively short period of time during the campaign in Southern France. In the early parts of the book he does a good job quickly and clearly putting the campaign, and the battle that will become the later focus of the book, into their historical context. He also introduces the soldiers and civilians who will be the main characters in the story. He has a real gift for bringing the characters to life. He deftly describes their pre-war backgrounds, World War II experiences, and the jobs that they are expected to perform in the upcoming battle. Once the table has been set he gives a detailed acount of the battle in and around the village of Allan. He describes the battle in such a way that you can follow what happened at the same time that you can appreciate the confusion that the soldiers must have felt. His description of the destruction of the tank in which his own grandfather was killed was stunning. It happens so suddenly that I had to re-read the passage to be sure of what I had read. I think this reflects how the people who experienced the events must have felt. Anyone who is a student of WW II will enjoy this book.
All Things Come to a Moment in Time  Jul 6, 2008
Jeff Danby has done a masterful job of story telling. His book revolves around a small-unit action--essentially an American rifle company and a handful of Shermans and M10 tank destroyers--that lasted but a day and a night. Danby creates believable portraits of his real-life heroes, and weaves together the tales of the American, German, and French participants as they all plunge unknowingly toward the moment they came together in Allan, France. His prose is evocative, and once the action begins, absorbing. This is a great book!
great book  Jun 22, 2008
very well written and enjoyable book.ready for the authors next!you will not be disappointed.similar to the ambrose style in that he does an excellent job giving the "big" picture as well as making you feel like you were in the foxhole with the infantry but reads more fluid than ambrose. jeff danby is sure to be a name familiare to all of our bookshelves.

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