Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck

Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck

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by Hans Von Luck

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A stunning look at World War II from the other side...

From the turret of a German tank, Colonel Hans von Luck commanded Rommel's 7th and then 21st Panzer Division. El Alamein, Kasserine Pass, Poland, Belgium, Normandy on D-Day, the disastrous Russian front—von Luck fought there with some of the best soldiers in the world. German soldiers.

Awarded the


A stunning look at World War II from the other side...

From the turret of a German tank, Colonel Hans von Luck commanded Rommel's 7th and then 21st Panzer Division. El Alamein, Kasserine Pass, Poland, Belgium, Normandy on D-Day, the disastrous Russian front—von Luck fought there with some of the best soldiers in the world. German soldiers.

Awarded the German Cross in Gold and the Knight's Cross, von Luck writes as an officer and a gentleman. Told with the vivid detail of an impassioned eyewitness, his rare and moving memoir has become a classic in the literature of World War II, a first-person chronicle of the glory—and the inevitable tragedy—of a superb soldier fighting Hitler's war.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"For sheer breadth of recorded experience, no soldier's memoir can match it."
Military History Quarterly

"One of the more valuable World War II exceptional volume."

"A soldier, a warrior, and a leader who never failed his men, and whose courage never faltered."

"The ultimate professional soldier...a personal history that may provide guideposts for the future."
Topeka Capital-Journal

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Random House Publishing Group
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4.18(w) x 6.86(h) x 0.98(d)

Read an Excerpt



It was a cold winter's day at the end of 1949 in a special camp for prisoners of war in the neighborhood of Kiev; at two o'clock in the morning a barrack door flew open.

"Ganz von Luck," shouted a Russian guard. "Davai, to the office."

I still have to smile: the Russians cannot pronounce the H sound. How amused we had been a few years earlier when at the shout of "Goggenloge" no one had stirred. Intended was Prince Hohenlohe.

We German prisoners of war had been in Russia since June 1945; since the late autumn of 1948, former members of the SS and the police, and also all those who had fought against partisans, had been collected into a kind of punishment camp. Also included- something none of us could understand-were all staflf officers.

Drunk with sleep I stood up. The Russians were fond of interrogations by night. It was easier to extract something from a tired pasoner.

A few weeks earlier, the camp interpreter, a Jewish doctor with whom I had become friendly, had told me what was in the wind.

"I have heard that under pressure from the Western Allies Stalin has agreed to observe the Geneva Conventions and release the prisoners. In the ordinary camps the releases are almost complete, but even here releases will be made. Fifteen percent will be condemned and remain here. We don't want to send home any war criminals. Besides, we need manpower."

Not long after, commissions had indeed arrived from Moscow. At nocturnal hearings, by some system incomprehensible to us, 15 percent had to be sorted out; the rest really would be transported home. A five-person commission from Moscow would make the decision.

And now it was my turn!

My nerves were at breaking point. I forced myself to keep calm. I spoke good Russian; while a prisoner I had been able to improve my knowledge of the language and had often been used as an interpreter. At the office, the commissioners' interpreter, a young woman I knew well, was waiting for me. "I don't understand or speak a word of Russian," I whispered to her. "Understand?" She smiled and nodded; she would go along with my charade.

I was led into a large room and saw in front of me a big, T-shaped table, at the head of which sat the commission. In the middle was a Russian colonel, apparently its leader, an affable-looking man of about my own age, bedecked with orders and with an almost square head. He looked like Marshal Georgi Zhokov, the "liberator" of Berlin.

On either side were civilians, probably a public prosecutor and KGB officers. They looked rather less affable and stared at me with impenetrable expressions. At the other end of the table, about 20 feet away, I took my place with the interpreter.

The hearing began.

"What is your name? Your unit? Where were you in action in Russia?"

The interpreter translated, I replied in German, "I have already said all that at least twenty times for the record."

"We want to hear it again," said the Colonel.

My statements seemed to agree with their documents. They nodded their approval.

Then, "You capitalist, reactionary; von Luck is like von Ribbentrop (foreign minister under Hitler), von Papen (chancellor before Hitler). Everyone with 'von' is a big capitalist and a big Nazi."

After the translation I replied, "I have nothing to do with Ribbentrop or Papen. I have been in the war for more than five years and then five years in captivity. That's more than ten years of my life. I should now like to live in peace with my family, follow a profession. I have neither money nor landed property, so what's all this about capitalist, Nazi, and so on?"

The interpreter translated word for word.

They didn't seem to have anything else to lay at my door. So the Colonel turned to his colleague and spoke openly in Russian.

"What shall we do with the polkovaik (colonel)? He's not a member of the SS or the police. At the time of the partisan struggles he was already in Africa. But I hate to let one of these vons get away."

One of the KGB officers chimed in, "We can charge him with stealing eggs from Russian villages and thus committing 'sabotage' against the Russian people."

That was the last straw. I knew that even such a minor offense could incur ten to fifteen years in a punishment camp.

I stood up and, as a start, uttered one of the worst Russian oaths. (The Russians and Hungarians are said to have the coarsest of oaths.)

I saw the shocked face of the interpreter and the astonishment of the Colonel and his associates.

Only now and in this way, I thought, would I have the chance of going home.

After a short pause for effect, I spoke accordingly, "Polkovr~ik, you are a colonel like me. (I deliberately used the familiar du form of address.) You have done your duty in the war just like me. Both of us believed we had to defend our homeland. We Germans were probably misled by highly accomplished, one-sided propaganda. Both of us have taken an oath."

The Colonel listened attentively.

"It's three o'clock in the morning," I went on. "I am tired. At six we shall be woken up again to start another day of our captivity."

"I know the Russian law. The accused has to prove his innocence and not the court the guilt of the defendant. How shall I defend myself? If you want to keep me here, you'll find a reason all right. So make it brief and then let me go to sleep."

There followed a short whispered conversation between the Colonel and his colleagues. Then the Colonel said, "You speak Russian. Where did you learn it?" His tone was placid, almost benevolent.

"I was interested in the Russian language, Russian music, and Russian writers even as a young man. Long before this wretched war broke out I learned Russian from emigrants. In the nine months of my service in Russia, but above all in the last four and a half years, I have been able to improve my knowledge. I admit it was tactics to let the interpreter translate."

They smiled and my position seemed to me to be a little less hopeless.

Then came a surprising question from the Colonel, "What do you think of Russia and her people?"

"I have seen much and learned much in the years of my captivity. I like your vast country, I like the people, their readiness to

help, their love of their homeland. I think I have grasped something of the Russian mentality and soul. But I am not a Communist and never in my life will I be one. I am disappointed by what is left of Marx's ideas and Lenin's revolution. I should like our people to learn to understand each other, in spite of our many contrasts and different ideologies. That is my answer to your question, Polkornik."

It was a gamble, but I felt that in my situation attack was the best form of defense.

"If you are allowed to go home," continued the Colonel, "we know you will become a soldier again and fight against us."

I shook my head and replied, "I should like to get home at last and help to rebuild my bomb-damaged country and establish a democracy and live in peace, nothing else."

At that came the familiar "Davai" from the Colonel.

I went back to my barrack. My fellow prisoners crowded around me at once, and after I had described the course of the hearing, they all said the same, "You're mad, that's your undoing. You'll have to stay here." But I judged the Russians differently.

Next morning the interpreter came along. "That was risky, Polkornik, but good. I think you impressed the Colonel. He was a frontline soldier like you and he understands tough talking."

Two days later, in the early hours of the morning, I was called out of bed by one of the guards. My roommates said good-bye to me: "All the best, old man, wherever your journey may take you." In the courtyard prisoners from every barrack were assembling with their few possessions. At a table sat a Russian officer with a list of names, from which he called out one after the other. The man who was called went to the table. There he heard either "Davai," which now meant release, or the fateful "Niet."

We saw the stricken faces of those who had been singled out with "Niet" and hardly trusted ourselves to look at them. I was the third of our section who had to step up to the table. As the man before me heard "Niet," I patted him sympathetically on the shoulder.

Which word would I hear? It was "Davai"!

More running than walking, I hurried to the camp gate. A great stone fell from my heart. We didn't dare look round for fear they might still fetch us back. Did this really mean release?

There I found the interpreter. "Domoi, Polkovnik, all the best." I still think of her today, full of gratitude.

Then we marched to the station, where a train was standing ready to take us away. We still didn't trust the Russians. In which direction would it go? But after we had got in, the doors remained unlocked, for the first time in five years. Our joy knew no bounds. We could hardly take it in, that the day we had dreamed of for so many years had now come at last.

It was bitterly cold. In spite of that we left the doors open a crack, for fear they might be bolted again. We lay pressed tight together and hardly felt the cold.

A few sang quietly, others imagined the first thing they would eat, what it would be like after nearly five years to be face to face with their own wife or girlfriend. No one was ashamed of his feelmgs.

We all knew that when we reached home it would be like being born again.

My thoughts went back to my youth, to the security of my parents' house and to the many pleasant years, until Hitler came along and the war began. Of my 39 years I had spent more than 10 at war and in captivity.

Meet the Author

Hans von Luck was born in 1911 in Flensburg, Germany, the son of a naval officer. Although he would have preferred to study law, he followed the path of duty and in 1929 entered the Reichswehr as a cadet officer. In 1939 his motorized unit was one of the first to cross the frontier into Poland, marking the start of World War II. Thereafter he was constantly in action in every major theatre of war. He was wounded twice and received two of his country's highest awards for gallantry, the German Cross in Gold and the Knight's Cross. He ended the war a full colonel, one of the youngest in the German army. He is married, for the second time, and has three sons.

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Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
CrazyLegs More than 1 year ago
Despite what was said by a previous reviewer of this book, officers are not always "in the back". Hans von Luck was an officer who lead from the front and was present at almost every major area of the European Theater during WWII. Any leader worth his salt could not afford to be "in the back" during Operations like Pegasus Bridge. Yes, he was on the other side, but lessons can be learned from all sides involved in war (whether "good guys" or "bad guys"). This is an outstanding look at WWII from a small unit leaders viewpoint (albeit the German view). What I mean here by small unit leader viewpoint is below the rank of General--this is not a big picture view of WWII like the memoirs of Guderian, Rundstedt, and others. DO NOT read this book if you are looking for an overall history of the European Theater. Read this if you want to see specific details of major battles from the perspective of a leader who was there--in this regard it is one of the best.
C_FULLER More than 1 year ago
If you are interested in WWII this is a good read for you. Von Luck had a rare combination of experiences in which he was in the front of the invasion of Poland and France. He also served in Africa with direct contact with Rommel himself. He was on the Eastern front during the drive through Russia and in Germany during the final weeks of the war. He also tells his story of captivity in Russia and the hardships experienced that many German solders shared but is rarely talked about. Mostly because he was one of the few that survived and made it back to Germany. The read is interesting and informative. It can be at little slow at times but always educational. He talks about the his training, how different countries fought and the type of fighting in those areas. He also talks about the people he met and cultures he got to know. It is very detailed on the people, places, and dates but not as detailed on the individual battles and fighting. If you claim to be a history buff then you have to read Von Luck's book. This is a one of the kind personal account.
Jerry2 More than 1 year ago
I have read numerous stories on WWII from the German soldiers perspective and found this to be the most interesting. Hans Von Luck had a life of adventure that a young man can only dream about. His experience as a soldier in the German Army was fascinating. His relationship and insight into Rommel was also interesting. I loved this book. Very well written!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A definite must read for WW2 enthusiast. Von Luck tells a story of brutality and humanity. Laced with compassion and rational, he tells the truth as only one who was there can tell it. The Germans were not bad people, they had evil leaders, during desperate times. A very touching story that includes action, politics, romance and more. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Author gives a very good perspective on the various fronts during the second world war. However a few things are a bit bothersome such as his ability to fill his Mercedes gas tank whenever and wherever he wanted so that he could pleasantly tour Paris and other cities while the war roared all around him. Also he walks that fine line of bravado about himself and his importance in the war such as a personal request from his superior officers to seek out Hitler himself yet he is so completely out of the loop as to any knowledge of the true nature of the concentration camps. This is a wonderful example of how "lucky" it is to have the name/title "Von" leading off your name and the doors that name opens for our hero throughout the war. One almost feels badly for him after he loses his wine, liquor and car collection to the side that won the war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mr.Krinkle More than 1 year ago
A definite must read for WW2 enthusiast. Von Luck tells a story of brutality and humanity. Laced with compassion and rational, he tells the truth as only one who was there can tell it. The Germans were not bad people, they had evil leaders, during desperate times. A very touching story that includes action, politics, romance and more. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i found von luck was indeed that "luck" that he could go to so many theatres of war and survive. the axis forces didnt have the luxury of being wounded and sent home or rotated when their tour was over, the you will fight till death is reflected well, the trying conditions of snow, desert extremes coinciding with trying to fight a war are excellently portrayed.i thoroughly enjoyed this mans good fortune,hopelessness and bravery.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
i found that this book was very informative. Luck gave a great historical account of the war. aside from the labor camps in Russia, there was nothing else that made me feel right there with him. he gave the perspective of an officer- and no matter you look at it, the officer is always somewhere in the back- and that was not what i was looking. the book was more detailed on tactis of battle than on details of what was happening. there wasnt any feeling of fear derived from this book. it was more like a reporter sitting on the sidelines and describing the scene. i cannot be that harsh on Luck because he wrote about what he experienced. but for my personal interests this book is not satisfying. i am looking for the everyday fear and anxiety of the frontline foot soldier who really feels and experiences the war. and that was what i didnt find in this book. if someone want a general overview of the war then i suggest you read this book. but it is not good for much more. sorry. i guess my tatse is a little out there.