The earliest primary source document I can find linking myself to Lee is a letter from Lee dated 31 April 1996 when he was living in Brighton and I was minding my own business in the U.S. The gist of his letter was that he was writing a book on the Hetzer and its variants, and did I have any photos or operational accounts of such? Since I was looking for material on the Sd.Kfz.251, it seemed we could help each other, if not directly, then at least by trading sources.
Letter from Lee Archer to William Auerbach. “Dear Mr. Auerbach, Many thanks for your letter of June 10 regarding Hetzers, which arrived here today. I would be very interested in obtaining copies of the Hetzer photos that you used for Last of the Panzers (preferably 7 x 5). Accompanying your article on the rigid gun mounts was a photo…” Aha, he knew of “LOTP” and an article I wrote on the “Jagdpanzer 38(t) Starr” for the May 1982, No.2 issue of “AFV News.” I was being followed… A letter of mine dated 19 Sept 1996 said in part, “I will copy the photo and return ASAP. My macro lens is being repaired right now. I knocked over my tripod while I was in DC last.” This mishap occurred while I tried to copy stills off of a Signal Corps motion picture film with a film camera. Subject? The surrender of the 1./s.Pz.Jg.Abt.512th that finally appeared on “Panzerwrecks 3” ten years later.
By Sept 1996 Lee was living in Heathfield, UK, and opening his letters with “Dear Bill.” The loads of photos and negatives I was sending him had warmed the cockles of his hearth and heart. But by October he was once again wingeing on about the quality of photo reproduction he encountered in copying negatives and photographs I had sent him. “I copied the photographs that you lent me & have received them back from the lab. The results are not quite as good as I expected, with a slight loss of sharpness & definition, even with the 8x10s. The problem was more pronounced with the pull ups from the photos of the manual. I wonder if you would allow me to use the originals, as first generation prints will always be superior.” See? Even back then Lee was a nut for sharpness and clarity and high fidelity photo reproduction. October brought the news that his ‘Hetzer’ book had suffered a set back, but Lee was shopping it around to other publishers. By December of 1996, Lee was decorating his new home and I was moving from one place to another in New York State. Ninety percent of the albums, books and files that I packed up remain in their boxes to this day, which is why my output of material for “AFV News” diminished, my book on the Sd.Kfz.251 stalled, and “Panzerwrecks” had such a slow time lifting off. But I am jumping ahead here. Our written correspondence, sent via ‘snail mail,’ was confined to shop talk and discussions of various AFVs and personal projects. Lee signed off his missives with the erstwhile “I look forward to hearing from you.” Little did he know what I sounded like in person. That would take a visit to APG, but I digress.
Letter from Lee Archer to William Auerbach, 3 March 1997: “Wow! Those photographs were amazing! You were right I am very pleased with the results. You would have thought that the crews would have removed the Swastika & “Heil Hitler” motto from the hull sides before surrendering though.” (These were the shots of the Jagdpanzer 38s surrendering in Schwartzbach in May 1945, which also appeared in “PW3.” Lee originally envisioned those photos appearing in his ‘Hetzer’ tome. Funny how things work out, huh?) Lee ended up by giving me a bit of personal background: “I regularly design master models for Accurate Armour of Scotland, indeed most of the German bits in their range started life on my desk & am constantly looking for new & interesting projects. In your research into German vehicles have you come across anything new or otherwise interesting?” (So, Lee was a maker of model masters, too. Hmmm, that would explain such Accurate Armour kits as “K20 VK4501 (P)” (LA 1992), “C23 Schmalturm” (LA 1993), “K22 Bergetiger (P)” (LA 1994), “K32H Tiger P2 (Turm Hinten)” (LA 1995), and “K94 Panzer 1A,” (LA 1996) to name but a few. Impressive indeed.)
Letter dated 26 May 1997 from Lee to Bill, “I would be interested in obtaining copies/borrowing the photos that you sent the photocopies of, which reminds me, I must print up your negs. The pictures with the staples in the top look as if they have come from a technical intelligence report, true or false?” (Ans. True. Some of these photos, minus the staples, appeared in “Panzerwrecks 8.” Most readers would be appalled by the amount of Photoshopping Lee has to do to make a photo presentable in PW!) The letter continued, “For the past 8 or 9 months I have been systematically contacting military museums, state & local archives in Europe in my quest for photographs. The results have been very encouraging. Just last week I placed an order with a Latvian archive…” (Some of those Latvian archive images appeared in the “Panzerwrecks 7” feature on the “Surrender in Kurland.”) Lee continued, “Some extremely interesting photos have come out of Poland, in particular a Sturmtiger in action & two shots of a Panther with applique armor to the roof! Scans of the Xerox copies are enclosed.” (This was the first time I saw the image of the Panther that appeared on page 11 of “Panzerwrecks 1” in the feature “Modified Panthers of I//Pz.Rgt.26,” and page 2 of “Panzerwrecks 5” in the feature “Panzerwrecks 1 Revisited.” But how did “Panzerwrecks” ever come to be in the first place? Stay tuned.) Lee ended his letter by encouraging me to “Enjoy the internet!” Obviously, I must’ve joined millions of others in logging onto the internet through AOL’s dial up service. Hard copy written and posted correspondence, the glory and record of civilized man since the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the story of “Panzerwrecks,” was about to be co-opted by email.