Great idea, Dwight and Brian!
Dwight: I wouldn't mind taking a shot at Soldiers of Destruction when it's available.
Great idea, Dwight and Brian!
Dwight: I wouldn't mind taking a shot at Soldiers of Destruction when it's available.
Feel free to write a review on THE RETREAT. Perhaps you too will bring up subjects or questions in regards to this book. I am still trying to wrap my mind around fighting in -30 degrees winter warfare without proper gear! Everything the Germans had malfunctioned. A mega-disaster of the highest order
Michael Jones, The Retreat: Hitler's First Defeat, New York: St's Martin's Press, 2010. Hardback, 328 pp, notes, biblio., illust.
This is a thoroughly researched history written by an established, reliable military historian, which as the title implies is the military account of the Germans' defeat at Moscow in 1941. For readers who want the action and experiences of the common soldiers in battle, this book provides it. For those who want to examine why the Germans were defeated, it provides that too. And for those who are interested in how combat soldiers are affected by the experience of war, there are more than ample examples.
There are three major points in the book. One is the inevitable comparison to Napoleon's Russian campaign in 1812. The similarities are numerous, even down to the date on which both invasions started and the route of advance followed by both the French and German armies. Jones frequently points out how much of the German experience replicated the French experience. But the author's intent wasn't to write a comparative history, the similarities were simply there and are used to illustrate the principal reasons the Germans lost, which brings us to the second point--logistics.
The German victories in the three wars of unification (1864-71), which in the order they were fought lasted 8 months, 3 months, and 6 months, left the German Army with a legacy of short, sharp conflicts in which logistics didn't become a critical factor. Even in WWI, where again Germany expected a short war but ended up with a protracted contest and defeat, didn't materially change the short war mindset. Jones does an excellent job of making that short war mindset evident in the German conduct of what was called Operation Typhoon, the drive on Moscow. Fully expecting to have taken the Soviet capitol before the Russian weather set in, no provisions were made for the supply of winter clothing, no adjustments were made to deal with the impassability of the Russian roads during the autumn rains, and no plans were made for a continuous, major, resupply of fuel, ammunition, and weapons, which brings us to the third, and to me, the most interesting point--the savagery of the conflict and the Russian will to resist
The German High Command fully expected the Red Army to simply collapse under the armored onslaught. In part the belief stemmed from Nazi racial beliefs about the inherent superiority of the Master Race over the sub-humans of the East. As the Russian resistance stiffened, the Germans responded with greater inhumanity, which the Russians reciprocated in kind. The effect of German racial stereotyping resulted in acts of extreme violence and indifference to suffering among the German soldiers, which in turn hardened the Soviet soldiers resolve to fight to the death rather than surrender to the beats. Jones does a masterful job of showing how and why this situation developed. Not all German soldiers and officers subscribed to the racial profile the Nazis provided, nor did they all condone the barbarity of the treatment meted out to Russian civilians an Red Army POWs. But the barbarity was nonetheless a fact, and it played an enormous role in the Germans' defeat.
A great deal has been written about Hitler's misconduct of the war and his refusal to listen to the advice his generals gave him. That was true a good part of the time, but not always. There are two decisions in the early part of the book that I found interesting because they describe a legitimate difference of opinions on specific tactical moves. One was Hitler's decision to turn south and destroy the growing threat to his left flank, thus virtually bringing the drive on Moscow to a halt. Whether or not he was right is still debatable, and Jones has provided an unbiased account of the arguments that were made for and against the decision. Another is the decision to continue the attack on Moscow as the winter set in. The General Staff wanted the attack continued, in many ways failing to grasp the true situation at the front. But the commanders at the front were divided in their opinion about halting and going into winter defense or making a final "last ditch" effort to break through the Russian lines. As it happened, the attack continued and the Germans came within hair's width of breaking into Moscow. The account of how and why they failed is truly gripping, and I won't spoil that for you.
On the back side of the coin we see the Russian offensive overwhelm the now exhausted Germans, who are steadily driven back in what seems to becoming a repeat of Napoleon's retreat in 1812. The Russians are fully prepared for winter fighting, equipped with adequate winter clothing and weapons that operate under all conditions--think AK-47 in a more modern time. The Germans. After a four-week offensive that virtually destroyed Army Group Center, the Russians make the same mistake the Germans did two months earlier. The Russians become convinced that the Germans are finished and on 19 January Stalin withdrew Col. Gen. Kuznetsov's First Shock Army, which at the time was fully engaged in combat, sending them into reserve. It is at this point Hitler sends General Walther Model to take command of the 9th Army.
Model's entrance onto the stage, and the resulting developments, provide fertile ground for discussion about Hitler's 18 December "Stand Fast" order, which historians have roundly condemned as having created the debacle described in this book. Maybe. The fact is, that when he issued the order, the German field commanders had nearly all lost heart and could see only failure and retreat ensuing. Two things were needed at that moment. 1. The German High Command needed to come out of denial about the true situation and initiate a radical reorganization of the logistics train to supply the front line troops. Model did that, and he stopped the Russian advance. 2. The folly of the "Stand Fast" order was that it did not allow the German troops to disengage and fall back to positions they could hold. It forced them to remain in close contact with the enemy, which they were in no shape to do. The concept behind the order was sound, if the attendant supplies and reinforcements had been rushed forward while the front line disengaged, making a "stand Fast" line farther in the rear.
This is a great read and I'll send the book to the first person who contacts me and includes a postal address with the request. Dwight
Excellent review Dwight
[LEFT]As i read the post i too now recall the many comparisons of Napolean and the German Army Group Center. As you pointed out, the author did not focus on the Napolean references alone. The proof was in the pudding. It's true the German Army followed many of the same instances that Napolean's Army did. A bitter irony, because both Armies failed to recognize the Russian fanatics and its brutal winter.
When Stalin pulled out the First Shock Army, the Russian counterattack fell apart rapidly. Many Soviet divisions became encircled and consequently destroyed. I wonder what the commanders of the First Shock Army thought when the German's mustered enough strength to repel a Soviet Offensive? I would guess those particular Soviet Commanders would have felt as if their actions were a big waste of men and materials. The Soviet counterattack came so close to completely decimating the German Army Group Center, but in the last minute the hounds of hell were called off the Germans! This gave Field Marshal Model enough time to regroup and regain the upper hand.[LEFT]
You composed this review with deep thought Dwight. Excellent!
Octavian: Thanks for the compliment and thanks for bringing the book to my attention. I think it is one of the best works on Germany's war in Russia since it describes in detail and graphically the essential elements of that conflict--vast distances, brutal winters, fanatical resistance, and extreme nationalism, and gross inhumanity on both sides. Dwight
Excellent review Dwight!
I just finished Soldiers of Destruction. It is 1:53 AM, so ill have to postpone my review until sometime later this morning.
Awesome review, Dwight! In the future would it be possible for you to read and review every book that I plan on buying?
Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death's Head Division, 1933-1945 by Charles W Sydnor, Jr.
Soldiers of Destruction is a case study of the SS-Totenkopfdivision from its founding until its surrender on May 9, 1945. One of the book’s most compelling features is its explanation for how an undisciplined, inexperienced group of concentration camp guards were transformed into one of the most powerful tools of the German war machine. Sydnor argues that the transformation was possible due to the leadership of Theodor Eicke. As the commander of SSTK, Eike used strict discipline, intense training, and indoctrination to mold his men into fanatical defenders of National Socialism. After SSTK showed its prowess in the early stages of Operation Barbarossa, it attracted the attention of Hitler; but the Führer’s favor turned out to be a double edged sword. The SSTK got extra privileges, but these benefits came hand in hand with the toughest assignments. Hitler began relying on the SSTK. He refused to let them retreat from the front line to recuperate because they were too valuable in their current location. He kept them on the front line. As a result of this and the stand-and-fight order, the SSTK sustained heavy losses. Sydnor does a good job in showing how SSTK was affected by Hitler’s decisions. Interestingly enough, Eike never is mentioned blaming Hitler for the loss of so many of his men. Instead, Eike shifted the blame to Himmler, or even more so, to the Wehrmacht commanders. According to Sydnor, after the battle of the Demyansk Pocket, the entire SS-Totenkopfdivision was “left with the combat strength of a single infantry battalion.” Eventually the SSTK was able to retreat and refit. After SSTK was back to combat strength, it was sent back into action. Because of its well-earned reputation, the division was constantly shuffled around to the worst areas of the front. Sydnor gave the division’s new role the title, "The Furher's Fireman", but he also mentions that many divisions of the Waffen-SS were given similar orders. Basically the Waffen-SS became the backbone of the German military in the late stages of the war.
This is the best book I have ever read on the Waffen-SS. Sydnor's words are very readable, and he is an expert of description. I did not notice any bias in this work either. Sydnor does not really focus on the war crimes committed by the SSTK. He talks a little about the massacre of Le Paradis, and again mentions war crimes at the end. Most of the book is about the military role of the SSTK, the relationship between the Army and Waffen-SS, the relationship between Eike and the SS leadership, and how the waffen-SS and SSTK transformed over time. I think this is a great book, and I’m sure anybody who has even minor interest in the topic will enjoy reading it. If you are like me, and only have basic knowledge on the Waffen-SS, then this book will teach you a lot about how the SS divisions came about, how they acquired supplies, and how their role changed throughout the war. I know a few people mentioned above that they would like to pick this one up. Just send me a PM with your Address, the first person to message me will be sent the book.
Corey: An excellent and review that is right on the mark in every respect. I too thoroughly enjoyed this book and profited from it. Good job. Dwight