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Book Review
Somua S 35 vs PzKfw III
Panzer III vs Somua S 35 Belgium 1940
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:

The Battle of France and invasion of the Low Countries in 1940 involved the first large-scale tank-against-tank battles in history. The massive clashes at Hannut-Gembloux Gap involved hundreds of tanks on both sides, yet have faded from memory due to the catastrophe of the Allied defeat. This book examines two of the premier opposing tanks of the Wehrmacht and the French Army, the German PzKpfw III and the French Somua S 35. With a complete history of the design, development, and deployment of these armored fighting vehicles, the story of these great battles is once again brought to life.

In 1940 the Somua S 35 was perhaps the best tank in the world based on armor and anti-tank capability. The performance of tanks in the Battle of France is steeped in legend, myth, and misunderstanding. Hordes of heavy Wehrmacht panzers did not sweep aside dainty French tinkertoys. When Nazi Germany attacked in May 1940, French tanks alone outnumbered the Panzerwaffe by almost 2-to-1. French Renault, Hotchkiss, Somua, and Char B1 bis tanks had thicker armor than any panzer, and the panzers were frighteningly outgunned by the Somua and Char B1 bis. While German anti-tank guns had trouble penetrating French armor, France’s anti-tank guns could shoot through any panzer at typical combat ranges.

With those facts in mind, I could not wait to read this book cover to cover!

the book
Panzer III vs Somua S 35 Belgium 1940 by esteemed military author, historian and modeler Steven J. Zaloga is the 63rd title in Osprey Publishing Ltd's series Duel. It compares and contrasts the strengths and weaknesses of those two tanks in the battle of Hannut-Gembloux Gap, May 1940, and is a fascinating work on a long neglected subject.

This book is available in softcover, PDF, and eBook formats, with a length of 80 pages. Richard Chasemore illustrated the book with original color and cutaway artwork. Modelers, historians and artists should be satisfied with the excellent selection of photographs.

Mr. Zaloga explains in general how the Panzerwaffe triumphed over the French DLM (Division Legere Mechanique, or Light Mechanized Division) by detailing the theories, concepts, doctrines, training, design, organization, and employment of tanks by the French and Germans in general, and of the Somua S 35 and Panzerkampfwagen III in particular. The different military organizations are discussed: Panzer Divisions and their organic regiments are compared to the DLM (Division Legere Mechanique, or Light Mechanized Division) and RCC (Regiment de Chars de Combat, or Tank Regiment). All facets of these tanks are explored: design and production company, configuration, refueling, crew conscription, training, and staffing, employment, unit integrity, deployment, supply, technology, and equipment.

Also explored are the command and control vehicles, Germany's two Panzerbefehlswagens, the small kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen based on the Pzr I, and the grosser Panzerbefehlswagen based on the Panzer III.

The book touches upon the attack through the Low Countries as a diversion from the Schwerepunkt through the Ardennes, culminating in focused accounts of the battles of Hannut-Gembloux Gap. Finally, Mr. Zaloga analyzes the record and offers lessons learned.

Panzer III vs Somua S 35 Belgium 1940 is related through 80 pages in 11 sections and chapters:
    Design and Development
    Technical Specifications
    The Combatants
    The Strategic Situation
    Statistics and Analysis
    Further Reading

The text is easily read and well organized. Included is a small glossary of abbreviations and terms, and several tables listing numbers and types of tanks.

While this book is engaging and I found it to be a worthwhile read, I was expecting more combat reports and tank vs tank battle narratives. The majority of this book is a history of the Hannut-Gembloux Gap battle. That Somuas and Panzerkampfwagen IIIs were prominent players is established, yet other tank types were heavily engaged, too. There are few accounts of tankers shooting it out with the enemy. No personal experiences of shells bouncing off armor, spall showering the inside of the vehicle. Possibly this is due to the losses amongst the tankers – few German Blitzkrieg tankers survived the war.

Speaking of tankers, two commanders of the Hannut-Gembloux Gap battles are profiled with full page biographies: Heinrich Eberbach and Jean Touzet du Vigier.

I am glad to have a book that compares the PzKpfw III to the S 35, which this book does, but I can not consider this a story of a duel between them. It is more a story of the strengths and weaknesses of two specific tank types that happened to be in a particular fight in the opening days of the Blitzkrieg.

Graphics, Photographs, artwork
Extraordinary photographs from the author’s private collection supports the text. Many are after-the-battle photographs of destroyed tanks. Most are black-and-white yet two are color photographs: Soumua of 29e RD, 2e DLM, Aberdeen Proving Ground; Somua running at Samur Museum. While most photos were obviously not taken by professionals, all show worthwhile detail. Two were shot inside a Somua.

Pocked with scars of deflected and penetrating hits, these images bear mute witness to the ferocity of armored warfare. It also demonstrates the effect of the opponent's guns against the other's armor. Modelers take note! Several images to inspire dioramas are within the pages.

Two maps will help you visualize the campaign and battle:
The strategic situation on the evening of 12 May 1940 (Amsterdam to Saarbrucken).
The battle of Hannut-Merdorp, 13 May 1940.

Mr. Chasemore created another group of amazing digital illustrations! Profiles of the machines, turret cutaways, fascinating images through the gunsights used by the two tanks. The ultimate artwork is a centerfold battle scene depicting close-quarter combat between a Panzer III and a Somua!

Those illustrations are;
1. "PAMPAS", PzKpfw III Ausf F Specifications, Hauptman Ernst Freiherr von Jungenfeld, II./PzRgt 35, 4. PzDiv, from front, rear and profile.
2. Somua S 35, 2e Cuirassiers, 3e DLM, from front, rear and profile.
3. TZF 5B Telescopic Sight with narrative.
4. L.731 Telescopic Sight with narrative.
5. The crew layout of the PzKpfw III Ausf F. cutaway.
6. PzKpfw III Ausf F turret keyed with 13 components.
7. The crew layout of the Somua S 35 cutaway.
8. Somua S 35 turret keyed with eight components.

Tables and charts
1. PzKpfw III production up to the French campaign with monthly totals from Sept. 1939 to June 1940;
    Total losses
    In service
2. Somua tank production 1939-40 with monthly totals from Sept. 1939 to June 1940;
3. 1940 AFV gun comparative data by Gun; Length; Platform; Projectile; Type; Projectile weight; Muzzle velocity; with penetration data at 100m; 500m; 1,000m, for the
    25mm SA 34
    37mm SA 18
    37mm SA 38
    3.7cm KwK
    47mm SA 35
(This table suffers from out-of-sequence subtitles that will confuse readers unfamiliar with the subject.)

4. Organizational comparison, May 1940 for the 3e DLM and 4. Pz Div by;
    Tank regiments
    Motorized infantry battalions
    Troop strength
    Light tanks
    Medium tanks
    Tanks sub-totals
    Armoured cars
5. 4. PzDiv causualties in the 1940 French campaign, 10 May - 25 June, by;
    Engagement locale; KIA; WIA; MIA; Total
6. Panzer status on 8 June 1940: PzKpfw I - IV, kleiner Befehlspanzer and grosser Befehlspanzer, with totals for 3. PzDiv and 4. PzDiv by;
    Deployed on 10 May
    Total losses
    Under repair
    Operational on 8 June
    Per cent operational

Again I am delighted that an authority like Mr. Zaloga has created this comparison of the Panzer III and the Somua S 35; several years ago Osprey published a Duel title about the Char B bis and the Panzer IV heavy tanks. As with that title I have awaited Panzer III vs Somua S 35 Belgium 1940 for over 20 years! Back then I first learned of the formidable French armor while, of all things, playing Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader expansion Crescendo of Doom. That game inspired me to learn about the first two years of the war, including the revelation about French armor in a book by Len Deighton.

Modelers take note - several images to inspire dioramas are within the pages! While this book may not exactly relate accounts of Panzer IIIs and Somuas in armored dogfights, it is extremely detailed, it remains interesting and easy to read. It fulfills a purpose of clarifying why a technically more powerful tank was defeated by German tanks.

Panzer III vs Somua S 35 Belgium 1940 is the latest addition on my ‘favorites’ shelf! Happily recommended!

Deighton, Len. Blitzkrieg: From The Rise Of Hitler To The Fall Of Dunkirk.

Remember, when contacting vendors and retailers, to tell them you saw this book here — on Armorama!
Highs: Extraordinary photographs and artwork support the fascinating text. Modelers take note - several images to inspire dioramas are within the pages.
Lows: Typos in the table "1940 AFV gun comparative data". Not really any accounts of direct Somua v Pzr III shootouts.
Verdict: Very detailed text which is interesting and easy to read. It fulfills a purpose of clarifying why a technically more powerful tank was defeated by German armor.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 9781782002871
  Suggested Retail: $18.95, 12.99 GBP
  Related Link: Pzr IV vs Char B1 bis
  PUBLISHED: Dec 07, 2014

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. All rights reserved.


in my shopping cart!!! thanks for the review.
DEC 07, 2014 - 03:56 PM
Sounds like a very interesting book!
DEC 07, 2014 - 06:04 PM

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