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Category: World War 2 book review (Page 1 of 3)

Anthony Beevor’s Epic new history of World War II

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There is little doubt that these are the golden years of World War II research, as literary giants stalk the bookshelves and ferret out whatever essential truths can be discovered about that cataclysmic contest. We who find this war inexplicably and endlessly fascinating are lucky to live during such a time, and to have such a writer as Anthony Beevor to illuminate the darkness with his prose.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson £25

The Second World War, By Anthony Beevor

War story: Grisly tales of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man

Sunday 03 June 2012

Antony Beevor has done a great deal to popularise history. Having played a key role in convincing both public and publishers alike that the subject could be sexy, he has been at the forefront of history’s much-vaunted boom of recent years.

Now, after a succession of highly successful books tackling aspects of the Second World War, his new book is a single overarching volume about the entire conflict, from the Battle of the Atlantic to Pearl Harbor; from the first skirmishes at Khalkhin Gol to the grim denouement of Nagasaki.

The result is a handsome, yet rather daunting doorstop of a book. But happily, its 800-odd pages fly by with considerable speed, as Beevor warms to his task, being especially strong on grand strategy and on the experience of ordinary soldiers. The narrative never flags and the myriad pieces of this intricate kaleidoscope are pieced together with exemplary skill.

There are many memorable moments. Beevor opens with the astonishing story of a young Korean soldier taken prisoner by the Americans in Normandy, who had been dragooned by the Japanese before passing through Soviet hands and into Hitler’s Wehrmacht. It’s an example that seems to typify one of Beevor’s leitmotifs: the utter lack of control that those affected by war – soldiers and civilians – had over their lives.

Throughout, he spares the reader little in his searing accounts of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, while simultaneously uplifting us with tales of stoicism or individual heroics. There are a few eye-opening revelations – not least that 60 per cent of Japanese military deaths were caused by disease and hunger, and that, in combating the latter, an organised policy of cannibalism of PoWs and native populations was carried out. The story was so gruesome that it was deliberately excluded from the war crimes trials that followed 1945.

Beevor does well to give due weight to the Pacific theatre, but he sensibly shies away from any spurious “holistic” approach, preferring to treat the Pacific and European theatres as almost entirely separate entities. Indeed, he tends to avoid modish novelties or grand reinterpretations of the conflict, presenting instead a lively, engaging and unashamedly narrative retelling of the vast, complex, global story of the war.

This is a splendid book, erudite, with an admirable clarity of thought and expression. For a summary of the Second World War – who did what to whom, when and why – the general reader would need look no further.

Given such praise, it is perhaps churlish to offer a note of criticism. Yet it is hard to escape the impression that, in tackling such a vast subject, Beevor has been obliged to sacrifice too much of the very aspect that had become his stylistic trademark: the telling anecdote, the poignant aside, the illuminating vignette. The result is that the book – for all its excellence – appears to lack some of the pizzazz of his earlier offerings.

Beevor’s Second World War is sure to reach a wide and appreciative audience – and deservedly so. But, such are the stellar standards that Beevor has set for himself over the past decade or so, that one fears that there are a few of his most dedicated readers who might be just a tad disappointed.

Roger Moorhouse’s Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital is published by Vintage (£9.99)

Anthony Beevor’s epic history of World War II


 

The end in Germany, 1945

A new book details just how prevalent suicide was in Germany as the Red Army came rolling through in 1944-45. There were also suicides in the west as Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels terrified the populace with allegations of abuse by the Americans and British (the stories about misbehavior of French troops were based in some fact), but for the most part the Germans did not buy into that hysteria. With the Red Army, however, there was no need to exaggerate; the wholesale rape and murder by Russian troops was all too real.

Germany: Book reveals Third Reich was undone by its own propaganda

Josef Goebbels and wife Magda committed suicide in 1945 after poisoning children (Getty)

Josef Goebbels and wife Magda committed suicide in 1945 after poisoning children (Getty)

By ALLAN HALL
Published on Friday 1 June 2012 00:00

THE wave of suicides among Nazi party leaders and army generals at the end of the Second World War was triggered by fear of Soviet reprisals which the regime’s propaganda stoked to fever pitch, according a new study.

Allied to this paranoia of revenge was the prospect of chaos across the country which “ordered German minds” feared following the days of revolution and poverty at the end of the First World War, it says.

Suicide in the Third Reich is a book out this week in Germany – the first of its kind – that sets out to find the answers to one of the biggest examples of mass suicide in history.

As a reich meant to last 1,000 years imploded, the hierarchy of the Nazi party began preparing for its doom. Propaganda chief Josef Goebbels died along with his wife Magda, who poisoned their six children.

Heinrich Himmler, the SS overlord, killed himself by biting on his cyanide capsule after being captured by British troops

Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering took the same way out before he was to be hanged at Nuremberg; so did labour chief Robert Ley, Holocaust organiser Odilo Globocnik and eight regional Nazi gauleiters, or governors.

Added to those were 53 generals, hundreds of lesser-ranked officers, thousands of minor Nazi bureaucrats – and, of course, fuhrer Adolf Hitler.

The knock-on effect on ordinary people reached its zenith in April 1945 when 3,381 Berliners took their own lives.

Author Christian Goeschl spent years researching the phenomenon, asking why a civilised people could so easily fall into a “cult of death”.

He pins some of it down on the fear that swept Germany as a result of the propaganda pumped out about “subhuman Russians” descending on the country.

For years, the Germans had been fed a diet of half-truths and outright lies about the fate that would befall the country if it fell to the Soviets.

“These stories of the ‘cruel Russians’ did much to strike fear into many hearts,” said Mr Goeschl. “The fear grew as stories of mass rapes, which were true, committed by Russians on German women as they advanced reached the ears of the hierarchy.”

Mr Goeschl studied Weimar Republic (1919 to 1933) suicide rates; these also climbed as the democratic society crumbled.

He went on: “I believe it was an outbreak of anomie in 1945, that is a lack of social norms, the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community ties, with fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values.

“Many men committed suicide in Germany in the 1930’s because they had no work, no prospect of work, no self value.

“In 1945, the chaos which many feared would envelop Germany was too much for them.”

Original review in the Scotsman

 

SEPTEMBER HOPE: THE AMERICAN SIDE OF A BRIDGE TOO FAR by John C. McManus

Operation Market-Garden was one of the strangest battles of World War II. A bold stroke to win the war early engineered by a General for whom bold strokes were anathema, poorly planned, poorly executed, well fought by the men who had to try and win the battle for the glory-hound who planned it. It was, frankly, a mess, brought about because Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery did wanted to allow Lt. General George S. Patton the ‘glory’ of crossing the Rhine River before he did, a feat Patton would have achieved had he been given the supplies that Montgomery requisitioned for Market-Garden.

Montgomery was known for set-piece battles, not improvisational ones planned in a hurry, in other words he was not Patton, and so the Commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, General Dwight Eisenhower, should have known better than to endorse Monty’s plan. But Eisenhower made a number of crucial and historic mistakes during the war, and this was one of them.

The battle was memorialized in the outstanding war film ‘A Bridge Too Far’, but of necessity it concentrated on the British contribution, since it was a British operation and the British 6th Airborne Division was almost wiped out as a result. The American side of things has been neglected, but not now.

September Hope

The American Side of a Bridge Too Far

John C. McManus – Author

Hardcover | $27.95 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9780451237064 | 512 pages | 05 Jun 2012 | NAL | 9.25 x 6.25in | 18 – AND UP

Reviews for September Hope An Excerpt from September Hope


In September Hope, acclaimed historian John C. McManus explores World War II’s most ambitious invasion, an immense, daring offensive to defeat Nazi Germany before the end of 1944. Operation Market-Garden is one of the war’s most famous, but least understood, battles, and McManus tells the story of the American contribution to this crucial phase of the war in Europe.August 1944 saw the Allies achieve more significant victories than in any other month over the course of the war. Soviet armies annihilated more than twenty German divisions and pushed the hated enemy from Russia to deep inside Poland. General Eisenhower’s D-Day Invasion led to the liberation of France. Encouraged by these triumphs, British, Canadian and American armored columns plunged into Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. The Germans were in disarray, overwhelmed on all fronts, losing soldiers by the thousands as Allied bombers pulverized their cities. For the Third Reich it seemed the end was near. Rumors swirled that the war would soon be over and that everyone would be home for Christmas.Then came September, and Holland.On September 17, the largest airborne drop in military history commenced—including two entire American divisions, the 101st and the 82nd. Their mission was to secure key bridges at such places as Son, Eindhoven, Grave and Nijmegen until British armored forces could relieve them. The armor would slash northeast, breech the Rhine and go wild on the north German plains. However, the Germans were much stronger than the Allies anticipated. In eight days of ferocious combat, they mauled the airborne, stymied the tanks and prevented the Allies from crossing the Rhine. For the first time, using never-before-seen sources and countless personal interviews, September Hope reveals the American perspective on one of the most famous and decisive battles of World War II.
 

PANZER-GUNNER by Bruno Friesen

PANZER GUNNER: FROM MY NATIVE CANADA TO THE GERMAN OSTFRONT AND BACK, IN ACTION WITH 25THTH PANZER REGIMENT, 7 PANZER DIVISION 1944-45 by Bruno Friesen. Helion, 2008.

Imagine you were were a teenage boy in 1930’s Canada, a vast land with a sparse population and a decidedly North American view of the world. Food is plentiful, jobs are good, natural resources are abundant…but then, one day, your dad moves back to his native land and you have no choice but to go with him.

To Germany.

Nazi Germany on the verge of going to war.

You are immediately enrolled in school, which is hard because you don’t speak German. And Nazi Germany is not a free country like Canada, where you may go almost anywhere you wish, whenever you wish and do whatever you wish once you get there. In Nazi Germany you do what you are told.

So when war comes, when Nazi Germany attacks countries that did not threaten it, you suddenly find yourself learning how to aim weapons at people who have never done anything to you. Such is the situation Friesen found himself in during World War II.

This fascinating book is an inside look at life inside of a German AFV, Armored Fighting Vehicle, fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front. In his case, the AFV was first a Mark IV tank, then a tank-destroyer. For the hard-core buff there is a wealth of material here on how you actually aimed the main battery on an AFV, the algorithms involved and the targeting procedures; if you aren’t a buff it tends to slow down the narrative a bit, but the action scenes are priceless.

There are very few books from the German side with the immediacy and poignancy of this book, and it is highly recommended for anyone who wants a closer look at life inside a panzer.

Book Description from the Publisher: There are few memoirs available of German Panzer crews that focus on the climactic last 12 months of the war on the Eastern Front, 1944-45. What makes Bruno Friesen’s account virtually unique is his family background: his parents came from a German-speaking Mennonite community in Ukraine, and were to all intents and purposes culturally German. To make matters even more complex, in 1924 his parents left the Ukraine for Canada, where Bruno was born. In March 1939 he and his brother Oscar found themselves on a ship bound for Bremerhaven in Germany. He barely spoke German, and had never been to Germany, nevertheless his father envisaged that a better life awaited them in the Third Reich. Needless to say, Bruno became caught up in the Second World War, and in 1942 was drafted into the Wehrmacht. The author provides a full account of his family background, and how, through these unusual circumstances, he found himself a Canadian-born German soldier. The bulk of the book is a detailed account of the author’s training, and his subsequent service with 25th Panzer Regiment, part of 7th Panzer Division. As the title suggests, Bruno Friesen served as a gunner aboard, initially, Panzer IVs, before crewing the lesser-known Jagdpanzer IV tank hunter. The author provides a fantastic amount of information about these two vehicles, and how the crews actually fought in battle with them. This kind of ‘hands-on’ detail has almost never been available before, particularly such extensive information concerning the characteristics and combat performance of the Jagdpanzer IV. Apart from providing a large fund of information about specific German tanks and their combat performance, the author writes in great detail about the combat the experienced on the Eastern Front, including tank battles in Rumania, spring 1944, Lithuania in the summer of 1944, and West Prussia during early 1945. If one wants to know how German tank crews fought the Soviets in the last year of the war, then this book provides an outstanding account, containing material simply not found elsewhere. The author closes his account by reflecting on his post-war efforts to return to Canada, which eventually succeeded in 1950, and his subsequent life there. This book is not just a critique of armored fighting vehicles and tank warfare, it is above all a very human story, told in a lively, conversational and fluid manner, and is a remarkable contribution to the literature of the Second World War.

 

Deathride by John Mosier

DEATHRIDE BY John Mosier

Mosier’s usually revisionist outlook holds true as he takes on the largest war ever fought, the Russo-German war 1941-1945. Using facts and figures, but also lots of extrapolations and educated guesses, Mosier tries to separate truth from Soviet-inspired myth when it comes to the Great Patriotic War. And, God knows, there are plenty of myths that the self-serving Soviet propaganda machine cranked out concerning the conflict.

Mosier is never afraid to praise Hitler or Stalin for a correct decision, casting aside political correctness in favor of historical correctness; his job is not to judge the morality of either regime (which is good, since it would be hard to find any morality at all in either one of them) but to determine what really happened during the war itself.

Many of his conclusions are unique, some seem almost preposterous, but he never fails to make you think about what he is saying. This has always been Mosier’s approach, he is the shock jock of academic historical study, to take what is supposedly common knowledge about an historical subject and turn conventional wisdom on its head. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t work. To say that Mosier is uneven would be a gross understatement.

But not here; in Deathride Mosier has crafted something challenging, thought-provoking and documented. A fine book , all in all, but be prepared for the historian to take a much softer approach to Hitler’s generalship than is typically seen.

 

Norwich under the gun

Perhaps because they were the ones most traumatized by World War II, in Europe books on every conceivable topic about the war are still being published in their hundreds. Most people have heard about the London Blitz, the German bombing attacks during 1940-41, but are not aware that other British cities were also bombed. And in 1942 the Luftwaffe foolishly launched the ‘Baedeker’ raids, to destroy significant cultural artifacts in England, which was a total waste of precious Luftwaffe resources at the very moment they were most needed elsewhere.

Here is a terrific review from the London Mail of a new book on the Norwich attacks.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2135522/The-nights-Norwich-burned-Dramatic-images-reveal-cathedral-city-suffered-hands-Hitlers-Luftwaffe.html#ixzz1td3KSGIc

The nights that Norwich burned: Dramatic images that reveal how the cathedral city suffered at the hands of Hitler’s Luftwaffe


New book chronicles the suffering of the city during the Second World War

  • Targeted as part of the Baedeker raids that saw England’s cultural centres bombed

By Charles Walford

PUBLISHED: 08:29 EST, 26 April 2012 | UPDATED: 01:41 EST, 27 April 2012

For the first two-and-a-half years of the Second World War, the cathedral city of Norwich had been safe from the Luftwaffe’s air raids.

But seventy years ago this month, the Nazi bombing campaign of England entered a new phase.

Having seen the Blitz fail in its objectives to decisively undermine the English war effort, and stung by the increasing success of Allied raids over Germany, in 1942 Hitler decided on a change of strategy.

Rather than cities of military importance the Luftwaffe’s new targets were strategically unimportant but picturesque cities in England.

And this was how it came to be that on April 27, 1942, the residents of Norwich woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of sirens and the menacing hum of incoming aircraft.

Destruction: The Wincarnis works in Westwick Street ablaze following one of the Luftwaffe's raids

Destruction: The Wincarnis works in Westwick Street ablaze following one of the Luftwaffe raids

Burning: Fire-fighters in the city tackle the devastation wrought by Hitler's bombers

Burning: Fire-fighters in the city tackle the devastation wrought by Hitler’s bombers

A Shattered City: The book looks at the effects of Hitler's bombing campaign on the city of Norwich and its people

A Shattered City: The book looks at the effects of Hitler’s bombing campaign on the city of Norwich and its people

During two nights of intense bombing, the cathedral city suffered its worst ordeal of the war as Hitler targeted it for destruction as part of his vengeance campaign.

The unexpected nature of the raids meant that insufficient defences were in place. By the time barrage balloons had been positioned over the town int he following days it was too late.

Norwich: A Shattered City, a new book by Steve Snelling, documents Norwich’s plight during the raids, which turned the commercial centre to a near wasteland, and left entire streets in ruins.

So far in the War had Norwich seemed from danger that some residents had even taken to ignoring air raid warning sirens and not bothered to seek shelter.

But all that changed in just two nights.

The raids brought heavy loss of life, killing more than 200 deaths, but the majority of the city’s most historic buildings, including its Norman castle and cathedral, escaped the bombs and fires that ravaged so many shops, factories and homes.

Men, women and children were killed in the Norwich blitz, which began on the 27 April and continued on the 29 April, with many injured and thousands seeing their homes destroyed.

There were further attacks in May and a heavy bombardment on 26 and 27 June in which the Cathedral was badly damaged.

Exeter, Bath, York and Canterbury all suffered similar treatment at the hands of the Luftwaffe in 1942.

A building on St Stephen's road in the centre of the city is engulfed in flame

Target: A building on St Stephen’s road in the centre of the city is engulfed in flame

Aftermath: A row of bomb-battered houses in The Avenues shows the damage done by the bombing raids

Aftermath: A row of bomb-battered houses in The Avenues shows the damage done by the bombing raids

At the ready: One of the city coporation's gas decontamination squads prepare for the air raids

At the ready: One of the city coporation’s gas decontamination squads prepare for the air raids

THE BAEDEKER RAIDS OF 1942

A GERMAN FOCKE-WULF FW-190 FIGHTER PLANE


The raids on Norwich, Exeter, Bath, York and Canterbury left 1,637 civilians dead and 1,760 injured. More than 50,000 homes were destroyed.

Some noted buildings were destroyed or damaged, including York’s Guildhall and the Bath Assembly Rooms, but most escaped – Exeter and Canterbury cathedrals survived as Norwich’s did.

But, like the Blitz, from the German point of view the raids were a failure as the bombers, such as the Focke-Wulf FW-190 (pictured), suffered heavy losses for the relatively minimal damage inflicted.

The cities were reputedly selected because they were awarded three stars for their historical significance by the German Baedeker Tourist Guide to Britain – hence the forays were named the Baedeker raids.

German propagandist Baron Gustav Braun von Stumm, is reported to have said on April 24, 1942, after the first attack: ‘We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide.’

Steve Snelling’s account of the raids and aftermath features dramatic images of firemen desperately tackling the blazes that engulfed the city’s buildings but also reveals the personal experiences of those who lived through the ordeal.

The bombings shook the city but made the people emerge from their shelters with a determination to resist the creeping Nazi threat.

Through personal interviews and archive research the human cost and steely resilience of the locals shines through.

Ralph Mottram, in his book the Assault Upon Norwich wrote,: ‘Those of us who drove through the blazing streets had an unpleasant reminder of old days of Ypres and Armentieres (First World War)” wrote.’

‘The light of flames flickering through jagged gaps in familiar walls, and reflected in pools of water, the crunch of broken glass and plaster beneath wheels and feet, the roar of the conflagration and the shouted orders and warnings were ominously reminiscent.’

Defences: Digging for protection in Chapelfield Gardens. One of the trench shelters takes shape
Defences: Digging for protection in Chapelfield Gardens. One of the trench shelters takes shape as a young Judy Swain manages a smile

Defences: The men of the city dig a trench shelter in Chapelfield Gardens, while young Judy Swain manages to put on a brave face

Bomb site: When raids resumed in the autumn the town was prepared and children were safe in a shelter just yards from where a bomb hit the Jenny Lind Playground in Pottergate

Bomb site: When raids resumed in the autumn the town was prepared and children were safe in a shelter just yards from where a bomb hit the Jenny Lind Playground in Pottergate

Two-year-old Pat Brock and a defused 500kg bomb in Brickle Road.
A high explosive bomb fails to detonate in a Norwich vegetable patch

Two-year-old Pat Brock poses on a defused 500kg bomb in Brickle Road (left), while one device that failed to detonate came to rest in a Norwich vegetable patch

 

Infantry Tactics of World War II

Terrific review of what looks to be a long-overdue book for World War II buffs. Great Father’s Day gift folks.

Book review: Second World War Infantry Tactics by Stephen Bull

By Pam Norfolk
Published on Monday 30 April 2012 07:00

‘Battles and wars are not won unless the infantry is standing on the land that once belonged to the enemy. They live under the hardest conditions and suffer the most danger. It is the pits, a place to stay out of…’

The combat-hardened words of US foot soldier Radford Carrol will ring true with warriors of every nation. Since time immemorial, the ‘poor bloody infantry’ has done the dirty front-line work of war.

They bear the brunt of fighting and often suffer disproportionately in comparison with the other arms of service, and yet the history of infantry tactics is too rarely studied and often misunderstood.

Curator of military history and archaeology for Lancashire Museums, Stephen Bull sets the record straight in this fascinating, in-depth account of the fighting methods of the infantry during the Second World War.

He focuses on the infantry theory and the combat experience of the three major players, the British, German and American armies, while his close analysis of the rules of engagement, the manuals, the training and equipment is balanced by vivid descriptions of the tactics as they were tested in action.

These operational examples show how infantry tactics on all sides developed as the war progressed and give a telling insight into the realities of infantry warfare.

So how did an infantryman function in combat when whole belts of ammunition and train loads of shells were meant not merely to kill him, but blow him to pieces?

The answer, says Bull, is by being taught to fight in very specific ways, not just to pull the trigger or control the desire to run. Chaotic as combat often is, the models for infantry actions are a complex choreography.

During the Second World War, infantry techniques changed over the six years between 1939 and 1945 with armies learning from each other and becoming more similar in their tactical outlook.

Whilst we tend to think of this war as a period of technological leaps – radar, atom bombs and submarines – the truth is that troops still had to advance, take ground and cities, kill and be killed.

As the British Operations manual of 1939 noted, it was infantry that confirmed success, compelled the withdrawal or surrender of the enemy, and held objectives.

But this meant the fighting foot soldiers inevitably absorbed most of the punishment. In Normandy alone, British infantry represented about 70 per cent of the army’s losses even though only one in four men was actually in the infantry.

Bull says that the outcomes of combat can never be predicted however many calculations are made because, in reality, men are not numbers and do not always act in accordance with theories.

He claims that very often individual soldiers cannot see, or perhaps do not understand, the bigger picture. Some do not know they are in range, ‘others can clearly see the gates of heaven, or a quick way home. Others are too tired or hungry to care.’

Bravery in battle, he says, is often depicted as ‘suicidal’ in histories and novels but mostly is a response to their training, battle ‘fever’ and traumas. What injuries soldiers most fear also has an impact on what they might do in combat, or are prepared to venture.

A major pitfall in the study of tactics, says Bull, is the idea that there are tactical absolutes, some perfect movements that, if only they could be discovered and applied, would always prove successful.

Every age is different, with important factors like economics and technology changing rapidly. New weapons and training can appear very quickly in times of war, weather can have a massive impact and, most importantly, people change too…

Bull’s excellent book focuses on the infantry’s role in the infamous blitzkrieg and on the growing significance of sections and squads. He emphasises the increasing importance of combat in urban areas – in buildings, sewers and rooftops – which evolved through the experience gained in bitter protracted urban battles like Stalingrad.

Accessible, well-researched and wide-ranging, Second World War Infantry Tactics is an enthralling introduction to the methods of the opposing ground forces as they confronted each other on the European battlefields of 70 years ago, and a tribute to the men who fought and died.

Pen&Sword, hardback, £19.99)

Original article

 

Das Reich V 1943-1945 by Otto Weidinger; A Review



Das Reich V 1943-1945, 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich by Otto Weidinger. J.J. Fedorowicz, 2012.

When one finds a new title from Fedorowicz in the mailbox, still in the original shrink wrap and therefore untouched by human hands, the discerning book lover (and military history buff, since that’s their forte) instantly feels the electric thrill that comes from knowing what a fantastic experience awaits. Not simply the unique and reliable information within the text that is candy for the mind of the historian and historian wannabe, but also the immense tactile joy that comes from handling a book that is constructed from the finest materials and the finest paper. Fedorowicz titles are beyond first-rate in all respects.

Such exhilaration is doubly great when dealing with a title that is so long-coveted as Weidinger’s concluding volume in the history of the original Waffen-SS division, 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich. For those who are not World War II buffs, and more specifically buffs of the German units and the Eastern Front, where Das Reich spent most of its operational life, this may seem like an odd book. After all, the Germans were the enemy, the Waffen-SS did some horrific things, and Das Reich is the division that is directly responsible for the attack on the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane. It was even Weidinger’s regiment, the 4th SS Panzer-Grenadier Regiment Das Reich, that was responsible for Oradour. So, why even read this book, much less review it?

Well, there’s two reasons. First, I’m a military historian and I look for the best possible references for my work. Weidinger is a primary source for the period I am researching, he was there and was directly involved in the action, and primary sources are never to be overlooked. The astute historian will have to try and identify and compensate for biases, yes, but facts are facts, independent of interpretation. If Weidinger says Das Reich was in a certain place at a certain time, and his statement contradicts that of a lesser source, then Weidinger’s account gets the benefit of the doubt. Just as Josephus is the best account we have of the Jewish revolt in the reign of Nero, despite the fact that historians see bias in parts of his work, Weidinger’s account is the best we have for the movements of Das Reich during this period.

Second, the writing of military history divorces itself as much as possible from the other streams of history, such as social history. Military history covers the movements and actions of military units. I try to flavor my accounts with local histories and insights from the civilian population, but in the end the work is about the soldiers. This book is military history of the first order, and thus is very appropriate for the work at hand.

Weidinger writes in a very clear voice and a very matter of fact style. He uses quotes from famous Waffen-SS veterans, such as Ernst Barkmann, very effectively. Indeed, one such quote completely cleared up a confused situation that I have been researching for years. With the Waffen-SS being declared a criminal organization in toto, and with Weidinger himself having been tried as a war criminal (he was acquitted), Waffen-SS veterans who were reluctant to share their experiences talked openly with Weidinger, and those accounts are priceless. Not only that, the book was fact-checked by one of the highest ranking Waffen-SS men to survive the war, Paul Hausser, which means that the actions described are almost certainly what took place. Yes, the historian has to try and filter out the author’s biases, but that’s true for any source, not just this one.

Weidinger was not one of the good guys, but on the Eastern Front there were no good guys. Just serving in the German or Russian Army, however, did not make you automatically a villain. Just as soldiers of the Red Army had zero choice about their fate, so were many of Das Reich’s rank and file during this time drafted into the division from other services, such as the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine, and had no choice except to serve where they were told to serve. Refusing would have meant a firing squad

There is one glaring error to the book, but it was not made by Weidinger. Rather, whoever wrote the back cover blurb describing the book should be sent to remedial classes; after all, when you edit for a publishing house that specializes in World War II history, you should at least know the basics. Here’s the offending passage on the back cover: “…in March it participated in the three efforts to relieve Budapest.” Well, good grief. Those three efforts were Operations Konrad I, Konrad II and Konrad III, and even a quick glance at Wikipedia would show they took place in January, before Das Reich had left Belgium headed for Hungary, not in March. Not only that, Budapest fell on February 12th, 1945, so by March there was nothing to relieve since the city was already in Soviet hands. The only operation in March was Unternehmen Fruelingerwachen, Operation Spring Awakening, the last German offensive of the war, and that had nothing to do with Budapest and everything to do with protecting the oil fields at Nagykanizsa.

Aside from this, however, the book is a long-awaited gem of military history from a man who lived through that history, produced in a costly volume that is more than worth its price.

 

HITLERLAND by Andrew Nagorski

Two days in a row…hey, anything for my bookies! Anyway, this is a great review and I have never known Nagorski to be anything less than a first-class historian.

NONFICTION: “Hitlerland,” by Andrew Nagorski

  • Article by: GLENN C. ALTSCHULER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2012 – 8:53 AM

Firsthand assessments of American journalists, expats, politicians and diplomats of the threat posed by Adolf Hitler.

Andrew Nagorski. Moscow, Russia. May 27, 2004. Photo by Andrey Rudakov

Photo: Andrey Rudakov,

Camera

Following the Reichstag fire and the suspension of civil liberties provisions in the Weimar constitution in 1933, journalist Dorothy Thompson gave voice to her frustration. “I keep thinking what could be done,” she writes. “I feel myself starting to hate Germany. … If only someone would speak.”

Thompson’s sense of urgency was not shared by most American journalists, expats, artists, politicians and diplomats who visited Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. “There were those who saw what was coming and those who were blind to it until the very last moment,” Andrew Nagorski, director of public policy at the EastWest Institute and a former bureau chief at Newsweek magazine, reminds us.

In “Hitlerland,” Nagorski tells their stories. Informative and interesting, the book often covers ground that has been well-traveled, most recently by Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts,” an account of William Dodd, the U.S. ambassador to Germany in the 1930s, and his daughter, Martha.

Reluctant to pass judgment, Nagorski does not explain why so many Americans dismissed evidence all around them. Nor does he mount a compelling case that those who sounded the alarm “gradually eroded isolationist sentiments” in the United States and “prepared their countrymen psychologically for the years of bloodshed and struggle ahead.”

At its best, however, “Hitlerland” conveys, often vividly, the difficulty Americans had coming to terms with Nazi terror. In 1941, Nagorski reveals, Howard K. Smith, a young reporter for CBS radio, was visited by Fritz Heppler, a German Jew he had met at an air raid a year earlier. The Nazis had searched his apartment, found nothing, and released him, Heppler said, but he was certain that a roundup of Jews was imminent and begged Smith to help him get out of the country. The reporter offered a cigarette, suggested that Heppler was exaggerating the danger, promised to make inquiries about a visa, and escorted him to the door. Smith forgot about the incident the next day — and never saw Heppler again. “My callousness on this occasion can hardly be justified,” he recalled, much later. “Not that it would have helped him; but it would have helped soothe my own conscience.”

Did Smith really believe that Heppler was exaggerating the danger, one wonders, or was he afraid? And what are we to make of Ambassador Hugh Wilson, Dodd’s successor, who, in the aftermath of the annexation of Austria, found Nazi Germany “so darned absorbing and interesting,” and maintained that “we have nothing to gain by entering a European conflict, and everything to lose”?

“Hitlerland,” alas, doesn’t provide satisfactory answers to these questions, but provides a significant service in forcing us to ask them.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.

  • related content

  • HITLERLAND By: Andrew Nagorski.

  • HITLERLAND

    By: Andrew Nagorski.

    Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 385 pages, $28.

    Review: Nagorski does not make a compelling case that American observers helped end isolationist sentiment in the United States. But the book does vividly convey the difficulties Americans had coming to terms with the Nazi terror.

http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/books/141960583.html

 

Estonians – Book Review

For all of you World War II bookies out there, here’s a review from one of the more obscure corners of that worldwide conflagration. We in the West have been conditioned to condemn any and all people who cooperated or helped the Nazis, and presumably with good reason: it’s hard to find a more odious regime throughout all of human history. But if you did try to find a government and ruler even worse than Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, then Joseph Stalin and his USSR would be the number one candidate.

In 1940, the peoples of the three small Baltic countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, were subjected to conquest by Stalin’s armies in the months just after that rapacious tyrant ordered his armed forces to attack little Finland without provocation. The Baltic peoples were rounded up and tens of thousands sent off to prison in Siberia and throughout the Soviet Union, never to be seen again. As a percentage of the population, their numbers were staggeringly high. So when the Germans overran their countries in 1941, many of them saw it as liberation and fought on the side of the Germans.

The truth is they did not want to fight for either side, but they had no choice. Caught between the two most aggressive dictators of the 20th century they were doomed to fight for one side of the other, and sometimes for both. Today’s book being reviewed would be a great place to start for anyone wishing to know more about this chapter of World War Two.

Eesti Elu

We Were Estonian Soldiers

A new book titled We Were Estonian Soldiers has been released describing Estonia’s involvement in World War II from a soldier’s viewpoint. It is written in English and consists of about 250 pages, enhanced with many illustrations and photos. The source material was gathered by the author’s father and is now in the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi, Estonia. The book will also soon be released in Estonia in our native language.

pics/2011/12/34455_1.jpg

The stories are about five Estonian officers who were classmates at the Estonian Military Technical Academy during the years of 1936 thru 1940. Their detailed memoirs start with the Soviet occupation of Estonia and the outbreak of World War II. All were commissioned 2nd lieutenants upon their graduation from the academy in 1940. Then their lives took different paths.

Mart Laar, Estonia’s Minister of Defense, has written the introductory pages. He ends his introduction with the following words:

“Some of the following stories are simply fantastic. If one did not know that it is impossible to dream up such wild tales one would think them being simply unbelievable… Most of these men fought in both Soviet and German armed forces. Their aim was to keep the Red Army out of Estonia until war’s end when the Atlantic Charter of the allied forces would allow Estonia to regain its independence. It was no fault of theirs that it could not be achieved. What they did achieve was to instill a tradition of resistance which bore fruit 50 years later when Estonia again won its freedom from the occupying foreign power.

They were true Estonian soldiers. – Mart Laar, Sept. 4, 2011, Tallinn, Estonia”

Lt. Victor Orav started his military career in the Estonian Army which was soon disbanded and integrated into the Russian occupation forces. He deserted from the Red Army and ended up in a German prisoner of war camp. Life in camp was hard as attested by his body weight being only 88 lbs when released. He then served in the German SS and was heavily wounded in action. He and his family lived thru the heavy bombing of Tallinn. At the end of the war he managed to walk and ride on top of railroad cars from Czechoslovakia to western Germany in order to not fall into Russian hands.

Lt. Hugo Kubja likewise deserted from the Red Army. His story is one of survival in the woods of Estonia. At one point he had to shoot his way out of a situation which threatened his freedom. He took part in expelling the Red Army from Estonia at the battle of Tartu. Later, he saw action on the Leningrad front. At war’s end he made his escape to the west.

Lt. Edgar Reiksaar was captured by a Russian patrol after deserting from his Red Army unit. They thought him to be a German paratrooper and he was tried in a Soviet court for spying. The court found him guilty and he was ordered to be executed. He escaped but was later recaptured and executed with several bullets thru his head. Miraculously he survived. His ordeal and how he made it back to safety is stranger than fiction.

Lt. Johannes Jaagus lived thru the intrigues and fears brought on by the Soviet occupation. He wrestled with his soul when pressured to join the Communist Party. Spies and “death angels” brought angst and fear into his life. He lived thru several terrifying air raids while in the Red Army. He too chose an opportune moment to desert and become a prisoner of the Germans.

Lt. August Vohma was the consummate professional soldier. He saw continuous action throughout the war years. No matter what country’s uniform he was wearing he performed with distinction. He was first promoted to captain and then to the rank of major. At war’s end he was the ranking Estonian artillery officer in Germany. August’s story is also a love story. He met a young lady during the war who became his wife. His dogged search for her after the war involved some amazing twists of fate.

The English version of the book is available from:

http://lakeshorepressbooks.com…

You can find the article here:

http://www.eesti.ca/?op=article&articleid=34455

 

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