Wehrmachtbericht
(Armed Forces Report)
Book Reviews (2011)

This section list the books that I have read along with a short synopsis of the book from my perspective. The date that is located above the book title is the date on which I finished reading the book.


1/2/2011

The Nazi War Against Soviet Partisans (1941-1944)

This book was written in 1979 by Matthew Cooper.  It's focus is on the security measures of the Germans in their anti-insurgency war against the Russians.  The book starts the discussion by describing how the Germans planned on treating the conquered peoples.  Throughout the first chapter there are references to orders by the OKW which show in no uncertain terms that any kind of guerilla war would be dealt with ruthlessly by the Germans.  The next chapter deals with the initial failures of the partisan movement, but is then followed by a chapter that deals with the successes of the partisan movement.  The fourth chapter contains an analysis of the German security policy in 1941, and all of its inherant faults.  Mr. Cooper basically makes the case that the Germans had lost the partisan war before it had even begun, because their security policy was sure to alienate the local population, which they (the Germans) later figured out that they needed the local populations help, and that it was counter productive to alienate them, which would then lead them to the partisans.  The fifth chapter deals with the partisan movement from 1942-1944, and shows how it matured and gained in efficiency.  It also shows that the partisan movement was only able to mount any real attacks behind the central sector of the eastern front, and that there were very few partisans in the Ukraine, the Baltic States or in the Caucuses (areas in which the Germans raised large indigineous militia units to fight the partisans).  Chapter six deals with the German security policy and how it changed slightly through the years 1942-1944.  As the war progressed, the Germans came to rely on the local population more (and tended to relax some of the harsh security measures that had been undertaken initially).    Mr. Cooper relates some of this by showing parts of orders eminating from the OKW and OKH that show a slight relaxing the harshness of the anti-partisan security measures.  Chapter 7 seven deals with the Germans and their use of the Russians to help fight the partisans, some of which worked quite well (The Kaminski Brigade, the Graukopf Brigade--a unit I was unfamiliar with until now).   The last two chapters deal with "passive security" and "active security", and how the passive security measures were more productive and tended to not alienate the locals, and how active security was the less helpful (to the Germans) method of combating the partisans (as this method almost always lead to the burning down of entire villages and of large scale massacures).  The main thesis of the book is that the Germans lost an opportunity to be seen as liberators and that they could have won over the local population instead of alienating them.  He also believes the war behind the German lines had very little impact on the war at the front, and it was never more than a nuisance to the Germans.

Throughout the book Mr. Cooper made estensive use of the 42 volume Trial of the Major War Criminals, and also Nazi Consiracy and Agression.  It is nice to see someone actually using these as a primary source, as I think they have been under utilized.  But as a counter to that, Mr. Cooper does not use any of the captured German records that are on microfilm.  This is where he would have found some really good information, but he sticks with what has been previously written.  He uses John Armstrongs large book on the Soviet Partisan movement as one of his primary sources.  Within the book he also uses some partisans letters that he has in his own possesion and which were of some interest.  Overall this is a fairly good initial book on the German war against the Soviet partisans.  I am sure it is superseced by many books that have come out in the past 5-10 years (Colin Heatens book comes to mind), but overall it is worth the read.

(as a side note, it is interesting to see that many scholors now believe that the Germans only suffered around 15000 to 20000 dead in their war against the Soviet partisans.  This is not too bad of a casualty rate when one considers our (the U.S.) casualty rate against the Iraqi insurgents (4500 dead)

*******   (7 stars out of 10)

1/10/2011

Partisan Warfare in the Balkans

Written in 1952 by General der Gebirgstruppe Hubert Lanz as part of the U.S. Army's Foreign Military Studies Series.  The study is focused on the partisan war between the Germans the insurgants in the area of northern Greece and southern Albania.  After the introduction, General Lanz gives a good description of the terrain in which the fighting would be taking place.  This was terrain that was well suited to partisan warfare.  He then goes on and discusses the origin and the organization of the partisan organizations in the area.  There were mainly two partisan groups, one the communist partisans, and the other was the nationalist guerilla's.  At times during the fighting, the Germans were able to elicit a short term cease fire between themselves and the nationalist partisans.  General Lanz next does a very good job of analyzing the tactics and methods of the partisans, and he continually emphasizes the attitude of the local population as one of the determining factors in the war against the partisans.  If the local population was behind the insurgants, then inevitably, it would be very difficult for the Germans to destroy the partisans.   At this point I would like to express my opinion of the Germans describing the partisans as "bandits".  It is easy to see from the descriptions found in this book (and the previous review of Mr. Coopers book), that the insurgents are not fighting a "legal" war per-se, and they (the partisans) tend to show no mercy and take no prisoners.  General Lanz states several times in the text how the partisans overran German field hospitals and murdered all of the wounded, the doctors and even the nurses.  Clearly this is a war crime, and I would be more than willing to describe these individuals who would do such things as "bandits".  I am not contending that the Germans always acted in the best interest of the conquered peoples, but clearly these kinds of actions are those of "bandits".  Another reason why the label of "bandit" fits, is that the partisans almost never wore uniforms, but always tried to blend into the population, so that the Germans were unable to tell who was a partisan, and who was not (clearly this is the most effective method of guerilla warfare, as insurgents cannot hope to take on a well armed army in a head-on battle).   Over one half of the study is based on operations of the Germans against the partisans, and is full of details of how the Germans conducted anti-partisan operations.  One section that I found most interesting was the description of units called "guerrilla hunting details".  I had never heard of them in any of my previous reading, and according to General Lanz, these units were "specially trained and equipped.........to actively fight down the partisans.  These were composed of particularly battle-tried young soldiers who were able to endure the most difficult situations and could act with their own initiative while keeping the over-all purpose in mind.  Special training included hand-to-hand fighting with and without weapons, demoltion, mining, signal communication, utilization of terrain, camouflaging, stalking, surprise attacks, and counter sabotage."  (pg 156)  This sounds to me like todays special forces.  These units were first formed on the eastern front when the partisan war started to take its toll on the Germans.  The last section of the book deals with a large anti-partisan operation against the communist partisans in the Grammos mountains, and is quite interesting.  General Lanz gives a very good day by day analysis of the battle, preceeded by pre-battle preperations.  One of the things to keep in mind while reading this book is that General Lanz was in Landsberg prison at the time and he mentions "international law" many, many times in the study.  So, there is no doubt he was watching himself very closely by what he said in this study.  Overall, I would highly recommend this study to anyone interested on the partisan war in the Balkans, and especially on the German anti-partisan measures.

*********   (8 1/2 stars out of 10)

1/26/2011

Firestorm:  Allied Air Power and the Destruction of Dresden

See the "Extended Book Reviews" page for a thorough review of this book.


4/19/2011

Galacia Division: The Waffen-SS 14th Grenadier Division 1943-1945

After a two month "hiatus" from reading, I have finally finished this book.  I spent the months of February and March reading the terribly complex and long rules for Advanced Squad Leader. 

This book deals with the formation and combat history of the 14th Grenadier Division of Waffen SS.  The author starts the book by desribing the initial German invasion of the USSR, and how Galicia (Ukraine) would fit into the new German sphere.  The author then backpeddels and talks about the recent (pre WWII) history of Ukraine, and then segways into a short chapter on the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army).  The book does not really hit its stride until the 8th chapter.  This chapter discusses the Divisions training at Heidelager training grounds.  The author does an excellent job in describing the training program of the division.  Throughout this chapter, and the remainder of the book, there are numerous short stories by surviving unit veterans that really help to bring the history of this division to life.   Almost all the way until Chapter 16 (Brody!) the book deals with the continued training of the division.  Make no mistake....when this unit went into combat at Brody, it was as well trained and disciplined of a unit as the Germans had on the Souther Front in Russia.  The division spent the better part of a year training, and it showed during its tough combat at Brody.  This division stood its ground, and even counterattacked against the onrushing Soviets, while other German units melted away.  Chapter 16 of the book is chock full of first person accounts of the battle of Brody, and it certainly gives the reader a very detailed picture of what the conditions must have been like for these grenadiers.  The division never really saw combat like that again, until the very end in Austria, when again it held its ground against far superior Russian forces.  In the time between Brody and Austria, the division was rebuilt (as there were only around 5000 survivors), and some units saw combat in Poland, and most of the division was stationed in Czechoslovakia for a while, and was instrumental in putting down the revolt in that country in the fall of 1944.  The division was then sent to Yugoslavia where it was in the rear fighting partisans.  It then was ordered north into Austria to counter attack the advancing Russians.  The book describes the movement of the division in detail, intermingling personal accounts with descriptions of the divisions movements and combat.  The book is very well written, and is heavily footnoted (almost to the extreme--as I found myself constantly flipping back and forth to the end of the book to read the notes.  There well over 100 pages of footnotes!)  The author has done his work.  Much of the information within the book comes from interviews with surviving unit veterans.  Two things I cannot pass on before I finish the review, is the descriptions of a sniper in the Galicia Division by the name of Oleh Dir.  The book gives many excellent descriptions of his success as a sniper.  He was without a doubt one of the best snipers the Germans had, and some of the accounts of his actions behind the Russian lines after Brody are just maganificent.  He managed to work his way back to the German lines after several months of being behind the lines.  The other item I wanted to comment on was the mutany of the of the Ukrainian "reserve" battalion in France (1944).  According to the author this battalion slaughtered all of the German cadre and then fled into the forest to join the Maquis.  This would mean that around 100 Germans were killed.  No where does the author give the figure of the number of Ukrainians killed, but I find it hard to believe that no Ukrainians were killed.  At any rate, the Germans mounted a large offensive to try to wipe them out, and they nearly succeeded, but the advancing American front saved them.  It probably safe to say, that if the Germans would have recaptured them, they would have been sent to a concentration camp (the best scenario), or they would have been executed (worst scenario).  
I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a top notch history of the 14th Waffen SS Division, or just a good divisional history.  It starts out somewhat slow with the pre history of the Ukraine, but it picks up speed with the decriptions of the units combat.


********   (8 stars out of 10)


5/15/2011

Operation Sea Lion 

As is clear from the title, this book deals with the proposed German invasion of England during the second world war (1940 to be exact).  The author (Peter Fleming) is an ex British soldier from the second world war.  The book was written by Mr. Fleming in 1956/57, so this is certainly one of the first books to deal with Sea Lion, and because it was written so early, it is undoubtably missing much information that has come out since this book was published.  Never the less, the author goes into a fair amount of detail on the preperations of the Germans for invasion, and the preperations by the British to meet the expected invasion.  The author ranges from topics about the background to the German plan, through the possible fifth columinst threat within Britain to spending several chapters dealing with the Battle of Britain.  

Mr. Fleming analysis is quite sound throughout the book, with the exception of his contention that the Luftwaffe would be unable to deal with the Royal Navy if the Germans were able to land some troops on the shores of Great Britain.  First off, the Germans would never have launched this invasion unless they had air superiority/supremacy.  If we take that as the starting point, then one only needs to look to how the Luftwaffe handled the Royal Navy off of the Island of Crete in 1941 (the British lost 3 cruisers, six destroyers and had seven other ships damaged--all from attacks by the Luftwaffe).  This certainly is a case in point where the Navy is powerless against an opposing air force, if the Navy does not have aircover of its own. So, Mr. Fleming's contention that the Luftwaffe would have been unable to deal with the Royal Navy....well, it just doesn't hold water.

On page 293-294 Mr. Fleming does mention the fact that Mr. Churchill wanted to gas the Germans with Mustard gas, and he states that this would have had a good chance of working on the Germans as they (the German troops) would not have initially carried their gas canisters with them, as they could not get them wet.  Point well taken, but Mr. Fleming fails to mention that at this same time, nearly 2-3 German divisions would probably have been airdropped/airlanded further inland, and would have been a much larger threat then the troops coming in along the shores.  It goes without saying that if they would have gassed the Germans on the shore, that Hitler would assuradly have launched a massive retaliatory attack against Englend, using not Mustard Gas (as Churchill wanted to use against the Germans), but something that the British were completely unaware of......Serin (or Tabun).  This gas was completely colorless and orderless.  The poor people of England would not have known what was hitting them until they started dropping dead by the 1000's.  Any kind of gas attack against German troops on the shores would have meant a massive counter gas attack by the Germans, the likes of which the British would have been unable to handle.  It would have been pure suicide for Churchill to have attempted it.  
Mr. Fleming rounds out the book by spending the last chapter discussing the "what if's" of the invasion, and here is where I think the best portion of the book is at.  He states that the Germans would have had a very good chance of launching an attack in the beginning of June (right after Dunkirk), as there were an insignificant amount of troops in England, and almost none of them had any heavy weapons.  The Royal Air Force was licking its wounds from the tough battles in France, and their was almost no reserves of fighters.  Mr. Fleming than goes on to explain what he thinks would have happened had the Germans not continued to attack the British after Dunkirk, but had simply turned east.  I do not neccessarily agree with his analysis on this point, as Mr. Churchill would not have sat idly by, but would have sought every chance to strike at the Germans.  The Germans were right to try to bring England to their knees, as this was the only hope the Germans had in winning the war.  Overall this is not too bad of a book on Operation Sea Lion.  Beware that the book certainly is written with a slant to the British (Mr. Fleming has very little good to say about the Germans).



*******   (6 3/4 stars out of 10)


6/1/2011

Into the Den of the Bear 

This is a memoir of the authors service in the German Army during the second world war.  Most of his recollections occur from the eastern front, and some are quite interesting.  The author (Leutnant Hermann Pfaeffle) served in the recon battalion of the 17th Panzer division initially in Russia.  Eventually he would serve with the 13th Panzer division.  His recollections of combat and life in Russia is quite vivid, and at times I was transported from my comfortable bedroom to the Eastern front (as I placed myself in his shoes).  Some of his memories are quite vivid, and leave little room to the imagination.  Parts of his story are rather disjointed.  There is large gaps of time in the text where the author doesn't recount anything, it makes me wonder if nothing worth mentioning happened during this time, or if that was the editor editing out parts of the text to try to keep the book to a "managable" level?  Much of the book reads like a novel, which makes for a very easy read.  The author frequently places describes his conversations with his comrades, as if they had just happened only hours ago!  Either he wrote things down as they happened, or he has a tremendous memory.  Either way, it made for interesting reading.  The one thing I found lacking was the minimul descriptions of combat actions.  There were not too many descriptions of combat in the book.  Most of what the author wrote about was his time behind the front, which is intriging, but it does not hold the same facination as combat.  The final area that left me wondering was the authors seeming desire to let the reader know that he did not agree with Hitler or the Nazi's.  Now, whether or not this was his real feelings during the war or not, I guess we will never really know.  Either way, it does not detract from the face value of the book.  It certainly has many good vignettes of the authors time on the eastern front.  Recommended.  (I would like to thank my good friend George Robinson for providing me with a signed copy--by the author and the editor--of this book)


*********   (8 stars out of 10)



6/26/2011

The Mare's Nest (David Irving)

This book deals with the German secret weapons programs, and the efforts of the British to counter the German secret weapons.  The book slides back and forth between the attempts of the Germans to build the A-4 rocket and the Fieseler 103 flying bomb, and the British counter measures.  It is very interesting to read about the debates that were going on behind the scenes between the various British scientist in regards to the German rocket and flying bomb programs.  The debates went on for years, and was only finally resolved when the flying bombs and rockets were landing in Britian.  Mr. Irving has brought forth a wealth of "new" information (at least it was new when the book was first published in 1964).   David again had access to many of the German and British archives, and as far as I knew he was one of the first (if not the first) to claim that the British were reading the German codes (although this information was kept out of the first editions by order of the British government).  One of the real interesting parts of the book had to to with the revelation that adding aluminum dust to regular bombs increases the destructive potential of each bomb by nearly 80%!  The Germans knew this, and were thusly adding it to their bombs.  It was also known to some on the British side, but it was not implemented by the British until the war was half over.  David does an excellent job of describing the behind the scenes power play between the air force (and their flying bomb) and the Army and their rocket, and finally between both the Army and Airforce and the SS.   Mr Irvings writing is first class....simply impeccable!  The story that he lays out flows so smoothly, you would swear he had been writing books for decades.  He has a feel for how a book should be written, and he keeps the the story lively and interesting, so much so that I found myself reading late into the night.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the secret weapons campaign of the Germans, and the British counter measures.


**********   (9 1/3 stars out of 10)


7/3/2011

The Island: Nijmegen to Arnhem (Battleground Europe Series) (Tim Saunders)

Part of the Battleground Europe series by Pen & Sword Publishers is this book.."The Island".  It tells the story of the Allied drive to cross the Rhine by using 3 Allied airborne divisions and the British XXX corps (ie. Operation Market Garden).  This particular books focuses on the combat south of Arnhem on a section of land between the Rhine and the Wall rivers known to the Allied soldiers as "the Island".  The book is fairly short 192 pages, but it doesn't waste much time and space on superfulous information.  The book starts with a general description of Market Garden and then it moves right in with a description of the XXX corps attacks onto the Island from the south.  Each chapter after deals with specific engagements fought throughout the battles on the Island.  The book is lavisly illustrated, with many "before and after" pictures, and many "airiel" type pictures, which then have the locations of units overlayed on the pictures.  This makes it easy to follow the path of units as they fought these engagements.  The book focuses on the battle from the Allied viewpoint.  I would guess that 90% of the first person accounts are from the Allies, with very few first person accounts from the Germans.  But, this should not detract from the book, as the chapters are nicely written (although there are many spelling and gramerical errors).  Much of the book provided new information for me, but this is the first Market Garden book I have ever read, so I cannot say for sure that any information in this book is truly new.  One of the biggist issues I had with the book is the lack of footnotes.  There are absolutely not a single footnote.  Not good, as I like to know where the author is getting their information from.  Overall this is not too bad of a book.  The author squeezes alot of information on this part of "Market Garden" into a 192 page book, and does it fairly well.  As a side note, these books (The Battleground Europe Series) are meant as a sort of "pocket" tourguide book for those interested in touring the European battlefields. 

 

*******   (7 stars out of 10)



7/13/2011

Hells Highway: US 101st Airborne & Guards Armored Division (Battleground Europe Series) (Tim Saunders)

This book is a continuation (or the start of) the Battleground Europe Series by Pen and Sword Publishing.  This book tells the story of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division and the British Guards Armored Division.  These units were tasked with opening and holding open the road that led to Eindhoven and beyond.  It describes the initial combat at Valkenswaard and the advance to Eindhoven and the Son bridge.  Some of the most interesting portions of the book deal with the "side" battles fougt around Best, St. Oedenrode, Veghel, Schijndel and Koevering.  Some of the most intense battles fought in the south of the Market Garden offensive were fought in some of these towns, and the author does a good job of recounting the hard fighting for these locations.  The reader is brought to realize just how teneous the link between the 101st, the Guards Armored and the units to the North was.  The Germans managed to cut Hells Highway several different times, and this is related by the author in several different chapters.  I did have several issues with the book, namely that the author again did not provide any footnotes, even though he tells the reader that he went through various "archives" to find the information for the book.  This is a serious letdown, as I almost always want to verify where the author found the information, and unfortunately I am not able to do so in Mr. Saunders books.  The other issue I have is that he frequently takes casaulty figures for the Germans from "Allied" sources, and seemingly does not verify them with German sources.  Now, there is no guarantee that all the records for the units involved in Market Garden from the German side have survived, but it would at least be worth checking.  Another point I would like to make is that it seemed that every time the Germans got an counter attack rolling, it was stopped dead by the sheer weight of the Allied artillery.  Here is a quote from a German in this book "This attack also broke apart under the heaviest artillery fire we had experienced since Eterville and Hill 112 in northern France, a superiority of material we could not hope to match.  Even during darkness and long after the attack had come to a halt, our positions were hammered without pause by artillery, which had no regard for ammunition expenditure rates"  (page 171).  Clearly this was a huge advantage for the Allies, and it has been a common theme between the two books so far.  When the Allies needed to get their offensives rolling (call in the Artillery), when the Germans were counter-attacking, just call in the artillery.  As with the first book in the series that I read, this is not a bad book, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know about Operation Market Garden. 


*******   (7 stars out of 10)


7/30/2011

Nijmegen: US 82nd Airborne and Guards Armoured Division (Battleground Europe Series) (Tim Saunders)

Much like it's sister books in this series, this book takes a look at a section of the battle that was known by it's Allied code name "Market Garden".  In particular, this book deals with the U.S. 82nd Airborne division, and the British Guards Armored division.  The book is laid out in much the same fasion as the previous two volumes.  It starts with a short history of the planning of Market Garden and then moves into all of the actions fought by the 82nd and the Guards Armored division.  The author does an excellent job of bringing to life many of these small and seemingly insignifcant actions on the periphery of the battlefield.  Names like Molenhoek, Groesbeek Heights, Bergen Dal, Beek and Devil's Hill are just a few of the places that the author does a good job of bringing the readers attention to.  Many of these I had not heard of before (especially since this is the first time I have read about Market Garden in it's entirety).  Time and again the Germans threw inexperienced and unsupported (or undersupported) troops against the best the Americans had, and time and again they were thrown back.  Some of the best portions of this book is the descriptions of these small battles fought for control of the western perimeter of the corridor.  The last portion of the book the author talks about the fighting for the key city of Nijmegen and it's all important bridges.  Here the Allies had a very tough fight, as the Germans were able to rush some elements of the 10SS Panzer Division into the town to secure the bridges.  The fighting is described by the author using first person accounts which tend to help bring this bloody battle to life.  The to and fro of the battle is well described in the book, and Mr. Saunders certainly is at his best in describing this battle in particular. 

Some of the issues I do have with the book relate to casualties.   It seems Mr. Saunders is only to willing to quote Allied sources in regards to German casualties, but when it comes to Allied casualties, then Mr. Saunders typically says that the Allies "suffered casualties", yet rarely states how many they actually suffered.  Case in point.  On pages 168-169 "At the same time, Lieutenant Slob's platoon surrounded a large house nearby, covered the exits with machine guns and threw in phosphorous grenades which roasted alive about 150 Germans who were inside."  Here he uses this quote but does not seem to have tried to check on German sources to see if this matched with what the Germans claimed to have lost on this day (frequently what one side says the other lost, and that which is actually lost are far off).  At any rate, it would have been nice for Mr. Saunders to double check casualty figures with the German archives (I believe that many of the German recoreds from Market Garden have survied).

Mr. Saunders does make an interesting "what if" statement.  He contends that if the Allies had dropped near the Nijmegan bridge on the first day and captured the bridges intact on the first day, then it might have been enough to save the British 1st Airborne in Arnhem.  It is possible he is right, but we shall never know.  Clearly it does seem to have been a mistake to wait as long as they did to try to take the Nijmegen bridges.  On the other side of the coin, one has to ask why the Germans decided to not pull their units back to the north side of the river, and blow the bridges when the airlandings first occured (or shortly there after).  Without those bridges intact, the Allies would have been forced to make a large assault crossing across the Waal river.  The Germans would have had time to bring in plenty of reinforcement while the Allies brought up the neccesary assault boats, artillery etc. etc.  Clearly this could have had deadly consequences for the entire British 1st airborne division.

Overll this book was a very good read.  If you are interested in finding out about Operation Market Garden, I would recommend this series of books.

*******   (7 1/4 stars out of 10)


8/10/2011

Arnhem: The Landing Grounds and Oosterbeek (Battleground Europe Series) (Frank Steer)

Continuing on with the "Market Garden" Series of the Battleground Europe series is the book on the Landing Grounds and Oosterbeek by the 1st British Airborne Division.  This book is written by Frank Steer, and it certainly has a different "flair" then the previous books on Market Garden.  Mr. Steer focuses more on guiding the reader around the battleground much more than does Mr. Saunders.  I am guessing around 20% of the book is descriptions for the reader of how and where to travel around the battleground to see all of the various sites.  If you are using this book as a guide for the battlefield, then it hits its mark.  If you want to use this book as a short history of the battle, it just does not do as good of a job as Mr. Saunders books on Market Garden.  Never the less, it does give some decent details about the battles, and I was able to learn much about the battle that I did not previously know.  This books fucus is on the actions of the 1st British Airborne Division as they landed, secured the landing grounds and then sent out battalions to fight their way to the bridges in Arnhem.  The book ends with many descriptions of the fighting that took place around the "Osterbeek" perimeter.  All of the battle descriptions were very interesting, and this book (like the others in the series) are full of pictures of the battles, and some modern (black and white) pictures of the battlefield.  The book (along with the whole series) is from the Allied point of view, so the reader gets very little from the German perspective, but this should not keep the reader from reading this book, or any in this series, as they are well written (for the most part) and they did a good job of flowing nicely from one part of the battle to the next. 

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to find out about the operations of the British 1st Airborne division at Arnhem.


*******   (7 stars out of 10)


8/20/2011

Arnhem: The Bridge  (Battleground Europe Series) (Frank Steer)

Finishing up the "Market Garden" Series (within the Battleground Europe Series) is this book on the figting for "The Bridge" at Arnhem.  The author's style in this book is much the same as his previous book on Market Garden, in that the book is much more of a "guide" then the books by Mr. Saunders, who writes more of a history, then a guide.  At any rate, the author gives some decent descriptions of the battle (mainly from the Allied perspective).  He starts the book with a history of the develepement of the Airborne arm in the British Army, and then he proceeds onto the initial battles from Osterbeek to the edge of Arnhem.  From there he traces the developement of the battles near the hospital and finally with the vicious fighting near and for the bridge itself.  Be warned for anyone looking for this battle from the German perspective.....it is not to be found in this book (or really any in this series), as the authors focus on the Allied perspective.   This book, along with its predecessor is fairly short, but the author does do a good job of decribing the actions of the units involved, and the hell that they went through.  One of my main complaints was the use by the author of describing the numbers of German casualties, without confirming those casualties from the German archives.  It is always one of my biggest complaints about authors in general.  If you are going to list casualties about the "other" side, it is best to confirm those casualties from that sides own archives, just to make sure you are not listing some bogus and highly inflated number. 
Never the less, this was a nice book to end the Market Garden series on, and I would recommond it to anyone looking to learn more on Market Garden, and to use as a guide of the battlefield.

*******   (7 stars out of 10)


9/19/2011

River Wide, Ocean Deap: A New Perspective on Operation Sea Lion (Fred Leander)

This is a new book that deals with the planned (but never carried out) Operation Sea Lion by the Germans in the second world war.  The author states that this will be "a new perspective" on Operation Sea Lion............and on this he does not disappoint.  Whereas others either fucus on the British, or focus on the German Army, and give scant attention to the Kreigsmarine, Mr. Leander instead turns the tables and focuses on the Kreigsmarine!  Due to the fact that I had only read one book on Sea Lion (Mr. Flemings book--see my review), I had always been of the opinion that the Kreigsmarine did not stand a chance in the channel.  Mr. Leander takes and delves into the projected order of battle of the Kreigsmarine and then analyses the strengths and weaknesses of these same units.  He gets much of his information from German titles that have not been translated into English---hence one of the reasons why this information is still somewhat unknown the English speaking audience.  The author analyzes a different segment of the operation in each chapter.  He does not seem to leave anything out of his analysis.  What is of particular interest is the way in which the author takes results from battles during the war (either by the Germans, or the British) and "overlays" those results into Sea Lion into a "what could have been" (ie. the Luftwaffe attacks on the Royal Navy at Crete).  The author uses this technique of analyzing the "what could have beens" throughout the entire book, and I must say he does a good job of it.  The book has an extensive series of photographs throughout the book, which help the reader get a good idea of what the author is describing.  The two negatives that I did have was the author did not footnote any of the information (although he usually stated in the text where he found the information), and the book was rather spendy for a soft cover book.  But that should not scare anyone away from purchasing this book, as the author does indeed offer a fresh perspective on this operation.  For anyone who is interested in Sea Lion, this book will certainly help one rethink the possibilities of this operation.  Highly Recommended! 

(As a side note, I will be adding a "Sea Lion" tab to this website, which will be based mainly on this book)

*******   (9 stars out of 10)

9/27/2011

Failure of German Logistics During the Ardennes Offensive of 1944 (James L. Kennedy, Jr. Maj, USA)

This is a report that deals with the failure of the German logistics system during the Ardennes offensive of 1944.  The author goes into detail of the logistics of the German offensive, and what failed and why.  Major Kennedy goes into the strategic situation on the eve of the offensive, the preperations and buildup for the offensive and then a final analysis of the causes of the logistics failures.  His conclusions are very sound, and it paints a fairly bleak picture of the prospects of the offensive (which of course Hitler's Generals knew this going into the offensive).   Much of the information that the author used in the report comes from the Foreign Military Studies provided by the Germans after the end of the war.  This is certainly all very decent information (even if there is the chance that some of the conclusions drawn by the German participants maybe somewhat "colored" for one reason or another).  In his final analysis the author states that the offensive failed mainly because of the "inability of the German war industry to provide supplies to conduct the offensive, and the influence of Allied air operations on operational and tactical logistics during the offensive".  The author does provide data in the report to back up his conclusions.  The report does have a spattering of grammer errors and spelling errors, but it is nicely footnoted throughout. 

A concise report looking at the Ardennes offensive from a unique angle.  Well worth the read. 

*******   (7 3/4 stars out of 10)


10/25/2011

Tiger: The History of a Legendary Weapon 1942-1945 (Eugon Kleine/Volkmar Kuhn)

The German Tiger tank has fascinated WWII historians and enthusiast for decades.  This book helps give a glimpse of what it was like for the average German tanker to fight in these monsters.  The authors start the book by discussing some of the background the early heavy tank developement.  Little did I realize that the "Tiger" tank had been in developement long before the invasion of Russia.  Moving on from the developement of the tank to the actual combat operations of the Schwere Panzer Abteilungs.  Each battalion's operations are described in concise detail.  The authors do not go into too much detail, but they hit the "highlights" of each battlalions engagements on all of the different fronts.  Most of the information in the book has come from the war diaries of the units.  One must keep in mind that the claims of the numbers of tanks knocked out by the Germans included tanks that were damaged and most probably repaired and put back into use by the Allies.  So, the actual number is almost certainly lower than what was reported.  This is not unique to the Germans, as both sides tended to have the same issues when it came to claims of tanks knocked out.  The book flows chronilogically in time, starting in 1942 on the Russian front, and then ending with the end of the war in May of 1945.  From the descriptions of the fighting, it is no wonder the Allies had a healthy respect for th Tiger tank!  If you are looking for a quick, easy to read history of the Tiger tank battalions, then this is the book for you.  It does not go into too much detail.  If you are looking for more detail, then I would suggest Tigers in Combat I and II by Mr. Schnieder.

Recommended.

********   (8 1/4 stars out of 10)

11/20/2011

OB West:  A Study in Command (B-308, B-672, B-718, B-633, B-344)

This compiliation of Military reports prepared by the Germans after the end of the second world war focuses on OB West (the higher headquarters that was in charge of all of the German units in the West).  Volume I of the report was written by Genlt. Zimmermann who was the Operations Officer (IA) on the staff of OB West.  He therefore was in a good position to view the day to day workings of OB West and it's dealings with Army Group B and Army Group G.  Genlt. Zimmermann talks in depth about the chain of command with OB West, the Preperation of the Coastal Defenses in preperation for the invasion and it's (OB West's) dealings with Army Group B and Army Group G (which technically were under OB West, even though Rommel--in charge of Army Group B--had direct access to Hitler, hence he could do an "end around" OB West).  The author goes on to describle in further chapters the OB West order of battle, and then the chapters dealing with the invasion itself and the withdrawl by OB West to the German border.  It is interesting to note that throughout the text, various other generals who have read the text interject their thoughts about what Genlt. Zimmerman says.  Much of this information was certainly interesting, and I found some bits of information that I was unaware of previously, although, as with most things written by the combatants after the war, one has to read this with a critical eye.
     Volume II of the report was written by a General on the staff of OKW, and he relates his dealings with OB West.  Again, this is fairly interesting information, and it was intriguing to get a view of OB West from someone on the staff of the OKW (especially since OB West continually blamed OKW for many of its misfurtunes).  
     The last section of the report is a series of letters between a Mr. Hesse (not sure what his rank was) and Gen. Inf. Blumentritt.  Some of the most riveting portions of this text dealt with Mr. Blumentritt's opinions on the attempted Coup of July 20th.  This report is certainly worth reading if you are interested in the Western Front during WWII, and especially if you are interested in how OB West ran their theater of operations (although read with an open and critical mind--as some of what the Generals said might not have been accurate).  Recommened.

********   (8 stars out of 10)


12/9/2011

Sledgehammers:  Strenghts and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II (Major Christopher W. Wilbeck)

The title of this book sums up what this book is all about.  The author is a Major in the U.S. Army.  He served in both Desert Shield and Desert storm as an armor officer.  He therefore has good first hand knowledge on armor warfare, and is in a unique postion to write on this topic.  Major Wilbeck traces the prewar development of the German heavy tank project in the first couple of chapters.  Moving on in chapter 3, the author starts describing the formation and action of the first heavy tank battalion that the Germans formed using the Tiger tank.  He describes its formation and its actions within Army Group North.  Needless to say, the Tigers had a very inauspicious beginning.  Not necessarily because of the Tiger tank itself, but mainly because they were placed in terrain that they were not meant to fight in.  The author moves on from there in successive chapters to describe the actions of all of the heavy panzer battalions which fielded the Tiger tanks.  One is left in no doubt, that the Tiger was tough to destroy, but was prone to breakdowns, and they were not well suited to combat in any type of rought terrain (see especially chapter 4 and the section that talks about the heavy panzer battalions and their retreat through Italy. The Germans lost the vast majority of their Tigers in Italy from mechanical breakdowns.  Clearly, they should never have been committed in that type of terrain).  The author uses the heavy panzer battlalion unit histories and Tiger's in Combat I and II for most of the book.  These are certainly the best english language sources that deal with the Tiger.  The last chapter of the book is an analysis of the Tiger battalions.  I had to completely agree with his analysis of the battlalions themselves, although I did not agree with how this statement came across, "German doctrine and actions after 1943 focused on tactical breakthroughs, presumably in the hopes of conducting tactical envelopements.  The Soviets saw the potential of continuing a tactical breakthrough into an operational breakthrough, which in turn could be exploited to achieve operational-level results" (pg. 213).  The key to remember here, is that the Germans were fighting on THREE fronts, and they did not have the operational reserves that the Russians had to create operational breakthroughs (i.e. like the Germans had in 1941).  The Germans did not give up on a war of manuever on an operational scale, they just did not have the units to properly conduct such manuever warefare any longer.  If they had not been fighting against the Western allies, then they would have easily had the forces to conduct the operational/strategic level offensives that the Russians were launching late in the war.  But, the author (along with other authors--i.e. Colonel Glantz--almost make it seem like the Germans had given up the idea of operational level operations, in favor of more limited operations/tactical operations).  This simply was not the case.  The Germans would have loved to have had about 20-30 divisions in Reserve on the Eastern front, to use as an operational level asset in conducting deep operational/strategic operations.  Unfortunately for the Germans, the other two fronts were using up that operational level asset.  It it also interesting that the author describes the heavy tanks that the Allies built (T1E2, T29, T30 etc. etc.), but does not mention the massive tanks that the Germans had already built, but not fielded (ie, the Maus, the E100--not completely built).  These tanks would have made even the largest of the Allied tanks seem like mere toys in comparison, and that is not even taking into account that the Germans had even looked at the possibility of field gargantuan tanks in the 1000 to 1500 ton class!  Truly land cruisers!! These tanks would have been so gigantic, that they could have simply ran over the largest of the Allied tanks without ever having to fire a shot. See these links for more on these super heavy tanks:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yL0h19ci6dw


http://www.unmuseum.org/ratte.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landkreuzer_P._1000_Ratte


http://www.militaryfactory.com/armor/detail.asp?armor_id=293


http://www.achtungpanzer.com/p-10001500-pzkpfw-ixx.htm

The book was well written, and the author certainly gave a good analysis of the German Tiger tank battalions.  Recommended.

********   (8.5 stars out of 10)


12/31/2011

Operation Citadel: Kursk and Orel, the Greatest Tank Battle of the Second World War (Janusz Piekalkiewicz)


With all of the new Kurks titles coming out this year, I thought it was high time that I read some of my old Kursk books.  Up to now, I had read Walter Dunn's book on Kursk (
http://www.amazon.com/Kursk-Hitlers-Stackpole-Military-History/dp/0811735028/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325389781&sr=1-7) and the completely outdated book by Martin Caidin, "The Tiger's are Burning" (http://www.amazon.com/Tigers-are-Burning-Martin-Caidin/dp/B000HZJSMO/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325389986&sr=1-3).  Neither of those two books were up to today's standards, but Dunn's was certainly better than Caidan's.  At any rate, with all of the new books coming out this year that claim to be breaking the "myths" surrounding Kursk, I figured I should at least read some of my older Kursk books to find out what those myths were all about.  I have chosen Janusz Piekalkiewicz's book on Kursk as the starting point.  The book was written back in 1987 and hence it has many of the same problems that the Caidan book has (more on this later). 

The book has a rather interesting format.  The author uses a "day by day" format for each "phase" of the battle.  Mr. Piekalkiewicz breaks the battle down into three distinct phases.  Within each phase of the battle, he gives a day by day account of the battle from the German perspective, usually from the OKW war diary, or from the Volkicher Beobachter or some other newspaper, and on the Soviet side the info usually came from the Sovinformburo, Rueters or even from the reports originating from STAVKA (all numbers originating from the Sovinformburo were more or less compelete rubbish, and were basically propaganda).  This were rather bland reports, and tended to be mostly propaganda.  The OKW entries were very terse, and held little real information.  Here is where I started to notice an issue I have with this book.  The author did not much of an effort to footnote much.  There are I believe only around 16 footnotes in the entire book, and that was information that the author gained from the Ultra decrypts.  Towards the end of the each section/phase of the book, the author gives a reasonably decent desrcription of the battle from an operational point of view.  There are very few maps in the this book.  I am guessing there are less than 4 total in the whole book, so it leaves one wishing there were more.  I ended up getting my book on Kursk written by Glantz/House in order to follow along using their maps.  Some of the best portions of the book were the sections during the day to day reports by the SS war reporters.  Although it bordered on sounding like propaganda, it was riviting for the most part.  I am certainly glad that the author places so much emphasis on the battle to the North of the Kursk salient (ie, the battle for Orel), as this is certainly one of the reasons why Citiadel was ultimately called off.

Some of the weak spots that I did find in the book include (but are not limited to these alone):

Page 94, the author states that the Germans lost 500 planes during May 7 and 8 from the Red Air Fleet attacking Luftflotte 4 and 6.  I find no mention of this in Glantz, Healy or any of the other new books on Kursk.  If the Germans had lost that many planes in only two days, it certainly would warrent mention, as this would amount to nearly a 33% loss of planes to an entire Luftflotte.  The author has no foot note, so one is left wondering where such an absurd numbers originates from, but it is safe to assume it came from the Russians (more than likely, a postwar Russian memoir).

Page 101, the author makes the assertion that the Me109 by 1943 is more or less, outclassed by the new models of Russian planes.  Although, I think one will find that the Me109 was still a match for all of the new Russian planes.  The Me109's characteristics were still as good as anything the Russian's could put in the air (see the author's own diagrams of the major weapon systems at the end of the book for reference).

Page 102, the author states that the deception plan "Mincemeat" was succesfull in that it convinced Hitler that the British might land in the Peloponnesos.  That being said, Hitler did send the full strength 1st Panzer Division to Greece...............but how many divisions got sent to Sicily??  I would wager Mincemeat was not nearly as effective as originally thought.  Although, once the Allied invaded Sicily, the 1st Panzer should have been shipped immediately to the Eastern front.

Page 139, the author states that the German II SS Panzer Korps began the offensive with approximately 700 tanks.  (This certainly is one of the largest myths surround Kursk--ie, the tank strength of the II SS Panzer Korps) This is over 200 tanks more than they actually had.  According to Dr. Zetterling in his book on Kursk, the II SS Panzer Korps started the offensive with 494 tanks and assault guns. (Kursk, A Statistical Anaylsis, page 30).

Page 170, the author states that the German II SS Panzer Korps had more than 600 tanks on the morning of July 11th, while according to Zetterling the II SS Panzer Korps actually had 294 tank (Kursk 1943, A Statistical Analysis page 107).  (Again, a myth that was set straight by Dr. Zetterling).

Page 272, the author states that the "German tank losses in the two battles of war material at Orel and Belgorod were so high that the German strategy of operations with powerful motorized formations had come to a halt".  (In my opinion, this certainly can be labelled as one of the myths stemming from this battle--ie, see the German armored counter attacks in the Western Ukraine during early 1944).  As a counter to this, see Zetterling (Kursk 1943) pages 120-123. As an example, the entire Army Group Centre lost only 311 tanks and SP guns during the entire month of July.  Clearly, this is not a large figure for an entire Army Group.  Army Group South's tank losses would have been higher, but not so much so, that the Germans were unable to mount powerful armored operations.  Clearly the author has fallen into the trap of blieving what the Russians thought at the time, which is not correct in retrospect.  The problem for the Germans is that they continually were transferring their Panzer and Panzergrendadier divisions back and forth from the Eastern front to the Western front and to Italy, and that they were never really able to mass them in huge numbers like they did at Kursk.  Herein lies one of the major issues with having Hitler as a supreme commander.  He truly was not much of a gambler when it came to miltary operations.  He wanted to hold on to all of his gains, without gathering together a strong force for a "knockout" punch.  Hence his desire to leave the full strength 1st Panzer Division in the Balkans when it was sorely needed at Kursk.  Or his desire to leave 50+ infantry divisions in France (when there was almost no chance of an invasion of France) when Manstein or Model could have used about 3-4 more infantry divisions each.  Instead these divisions were sitting idel where they were, and were completely useless to the Germans (in an offensive, and war winning sense).

When it comes down to it, the biggest problem with this book and Mr. Caidan's book, is that neither of them used the captured German records at NARA (or BAMA) in researching their book.  Dr. Zetterling used the captured German records for his Kursk book, and it stands out as the best book on Kursk in relation to numbers (ie numbers of tanks invovled, numbers of casualties etc. etc) (http://www.amazon.com/Kursk-1943-Statistical-Analysis-Russian/dp/0714650528/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325519308&sr=1-2)

Overall I would say this book is decent in terms of it's description of the battles of Kursk, but in terms of statistics and the analysis of the battle, it is lacking.  This might be a decent book to start your investigation of Kursk, but I would move on to the newer books for a more detailed and more accurate understanding of the battle.

Blood, Steel and Myth...(http://www.aberdeenbookstore.com/CatalogueRetrieve.aspx?ProductID=4004915&A=SearchResult&SearchID=1145264&ObjectID=4004915&ObjectType=27) George Nipe.

Zitadelle, The German Offensive Against the Kursk Salient....(http://www.aberdeenbookstore.com/books/eastern-front/zitadelle-the-german-offensive-against-the-kursk-salient-4-17-july-1943) Mark Healy.

Demolishing the Myth, The Tank Battle at Prokhorova.....(
http://www.aberdeenbookstore.com/books/new-arrivals/demolishing-the-myth-the-tank-battle-at-prokhorova-kursk-july-1943-an-operational-narrative) Valeriy Zamulin.  This is a book from the Russian perspective on the battle at Prokhorova.  I have the book, and I have skimmed through it, but I am not sure which "myth" this author is trying to debunk, especially since it seems many of the myths surrounding this battle have arisen from faulty Soviet numbers.  Never the less, the author gets much of his German information on the battle from Dr. Zetterling's excellent book on Kursk, so I would be willing to say that this book is worth a read.

The Battle of Tanks, Kursk 1943 (http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Tanks-Kursk-1943/dp/0802119085/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325523369&sr=1-1)  Lloyd Clark.

*******   (6.5 stars out of 10)