Wehrmachtbericht
(Armed Forces Report)
Book Reviews (2012)
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.

1/13/2012

Citadel: The Battle of Kursk 

This book was written in 1993 by Robin Cross.  Long before Col. Glantz, Dr Zetterling, Mr. Nipe, Mr. Zamulin et. el. had written their books on Kursk, Mr Robin Cross came out with his book on the German 1943 Kursk offensive.  Needless to say, since many of the new boosk on Kursk coming out today claim to be debunking the "myths" surrounding Kursk, it was my assumption that Mr. Cross's book fell in with the myth making crowd in regards to Kurks.  As it turns out, this is not really the case.
The author starts the book by describing the German reverses on the eastern front in early 1943, and the spectactular recovery by in the Army Group South area masterminded by Field Marshal von Manstein.  The author does a good job of laying the groundwork for the situation as it stood in July 1943 during this first chapter.  Moving on, Mr. Cross examines both dictators, and makes a good comparison, showing how Stalin learned (for the most part) not to meddle in the operations of his field commanders, whereas on the other hand, Hitler continually meddled in his commanders operations, and often forbade them to retreat, or conduct a truly mobile defense, which in the end led to many 100,000's of needless losses on the Germans part.  The author really does a very decent job of comparing the two dictators, and one gets a good idea of how the two dictators might conduct the coming battle.  The author then moves on and describes how the Red Army had gained and in strength during 1942 and 1943.  He discusses how their weaponary had improved and mostly how their tactics and strategy had improved (although some of their strategy remained the same, and was still quite rigid).  The next chapters dealt with the German plans for the coming offensive (which was being pushed by the German Chief of Staff General Zeitzler), the Russian counter plans, and the intelligence that the Russians were receiving on Citadel.  Following chapters deal with the Russian defensive preperations and the actual battle itself.  Two chapters deal with the fighting in the salient, while the final chapter talks in detail about the Russian counter offensives to the North (Orel) and the south.

The author writes so well, that I found myself at times not able to put the book down.  One big issue I did have with the book, is that the author makes no effort to footnote anything, so one is left wondering he got his information from.  I did manage to come across some glaring in in accuracies. For instance, on page 54 the author claimed that the LSSAH had a Tiger battalion, when in fact it only had a Tiger company.  I also am a little sceptical about his comment on page 233 that stated "....these losses represented casualty rates of, respectively, 38, 29, and 27 percent, each suffered within a fortnight.  In 1944 the worst-hit British divisions in north-west Europe took six months to match such casualty rates".  I find it rather hard to believe that British divisions took 6 months to reach those kinds of casualty rates, considering the absolute meat grinder that Normandy was for both the Germans and the Allies.  I would need to see conclusive evidence of British casualties before I would believe that statement.  Nevertheless, much else of what I found in this book seemed to be "in the ballpark".  His numbers were seemingly not far off from what Dr. Zetterling came up with in his book for certain numbers.  Case in point would be the tank figures for the 4th Panzer Army and the II SS Panzer Korps.  See page 230 for a nice chart on the 4th Panzer Army tank strengths.  It is interesting that this chart lays bare the claim that the II SS Panzer Korps had 700 tanks on the eve of the battle for Prokhorovka.  The author states on page 213 "The scene was set for a head-on collision of armour which has become one of the great myths of military history".  Quite clearly, Mr. Cross had already debunked the myth of the 700 tanks in the II SS Panzer Korps, well before any other author.  That being said, the book still has it's share of "myths" in the book.  The author describes actions by the Luftwaffe tank busting aircraft during the battle, that seems to be inaccurate (http://www.dupuyinstitute.org/ubb/Forum4/HTML/000016.html).  When all is said and done, it looks like this book is not a bad place to start for research on the battle of Kursk.   

 *******   (7.25 stars out of 10)

2/5/2012

Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron (Deborah Cornelius) 

Not too many books have been published on Hungary in the second world war, and this is one of the newest, and one of the most comprehensive books to date on Hungary during WWII.  The author starts her book by telling the situation of Hungary at the end of World War I, and especially how Hungary lost much territory to it's neighbors under the various treaties (i.e. Trinian treaty).  Much of the information in these first few chapters was new to me, and hence was quite interesting.  One gets very good picture of the dilema that Hungary was eventually faced with in terms of trying to regain some of the lands that they lost to their neighbors shortly after WWI.  If they took back some of this land (as offered by the Germans), then they would feel themselves somewhat beholden to the Germans.  The Germans on more than one accasion threatened to take back some of these lands if Hungary did not go along with Germany's plans.  The author lays this all out, and the behind the scenes of Horthy and all of his various Prime Ministers.  The reader is brought through the peaceful times before the war to the eventual chaos and disintigration of their nation as the Russian's poored over their borders and instituted a reign of terror.  Good portions of the middle to later chapters deal with the German occupation of the country, and the anti-semetic actions taken by the Germans and eventually the Arrow Cross movement.  The final chapter deals with the Soviet occupation, and here is where I started to have some minor issues with the book.  It seems the author felt like the initial government founded by the Soviets was "democratic", when, in my opinion, and according to how she described it, this initial government was certainly not democratic.  Although it might have had a facade of democracy, but the fact remains that there were only left leaning or communist parties to choose from, as the conservative elements had either been swept up the by Russians and sent to Siberia, or they had fled with the Germans.  Needless to say, the government was a leftist government right off the bat.  Eventually the government became solid communist, and the Hungarians would have to deal with that misery for many decades.  In my opinion, the Russian occopation was the worst legacy of the war.  I will commend the author for the extensive footnotes, and the amount of research she has done.  This book will remain the book to read in terms of Hungary in World War II for quite some time.  Recommended.

 


********   (8.0 stars out of 10)

3/19/2012

The Code Breakers (David Kahn) 
(http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-codebreakers-david-kahn/1007313608?ean=9781439103555&itm=1&usri=the+codebreakers%3a+the+comprehensive+history+of+secret+communication+from+ancient+times+to+the+internet)

I purchased this book with the hope that the books focus would be on World War II.  I think I got more than I bargained for.  The book has about 1/3 of its pages dedicted to WWII. The remainder of the book deals with the "ancient" history, and contemporary history of code breaking.  The book is massive in size.  The total number of pages (not including footnotes) is around 1000 pages!  Although, I will say his method of footnooting leaves a lot to be desired.  There is no footnote in the test per se.  One has to guess where there is a footnote, and then flip to the rear of the book and look for the footnotes that relate to the page of text that you are on.   A very time consuming and frustrating process.  Through the first 1/3 of the book, the author describes in detail the origins of codebreaking and codewriting (decyphering and encyphering) (encrypting and decrypting).  First portion of the book does not relate to WWII, but it is somewhat interesting to learn how code breaking (and code writing) actually came about, and how our ancesters used it.  There are many terms that the author introduces the reader to in the beginning chapters.  He even goes into a fair amount of detail describing certain types of cyphers, and how they were written and how they were decyphered.  It all becomes rather technical, and almost to the point of monotony.
The middle section of the book relates to the Allied and Axis codewriting and codebreaking during the second world war.  The portion dealing with the Germans was relatively brief, but the author did give mention to all (or most) of the organizations within Germany that either wrote codes, or broke codes during the war.  It was interesting to learn how extensive the German Foreign Office codebreaking section was (Pers Z).  I had never even heard of Pers Z before, and I certainly would never have guessed that they had 1000's of people working in that department.  The author does a solid job on relating to the reader all of the different organizations within German that did codebreaking and codewriting.  There were several within the Military, and not to mention Goering's Forschungsamt.  Mr. Kahn also did a bit of primary research in the German archives to come up with the percentage of military messages read by the German Army Group North.  This was good to see, so that the author did have some original reasearch to add to the book.  One of the most surprising aspects of the author's book dealing with WWII, was how poor the Japanese were at codebreaking, and codewriting.  They were horrible, and because of this, they lost the battle of Midway.
The third and final portion of the book deals with non-military related codebreaking, and I can honestly say I had no interest in readying it.  I finished the chapter on the NSA and then stopped reading.
If you are looking for a very detailed book on cryptograhy, or crytanalysis, then this is the book for you.  If you are looking for a book that focuses on WWII codebreaking, then I would suggest 

"Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II"  (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/used/product.asp?ean=2682966947841).  Also, in 2009 the NSA declassified around 1000 pages of primary documents dealing with the German codebreaking during WWII (http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/declass/european_axis_sigint.shtml).  In relation to this, check out this website if you are interested in the codebreaking by the Germans during WWII (http://chris-intel-corner.blogspot.com/).




*******   (6.8 stars out of 10)

Hitler's Panzer Armies

5/12/2012

This book focuses as it's name says, on the German Panzer Armies on the Eastern Front.  It does this in an admirable fashion.  I must admit, the author (Colonel Kirchubel), had me as soon as I opened the book and saw that he said "this book is written to the Glory of God".  As a Christian myself, this was wonderful to read!!  Colonel Kirchubel does a very decent job of recreating the actions of each of the Panzer Armies throughout their entire period on the Eastern Front.  He does not cover either the 5th Panzer Army, or the 6th (SS) Panzer Army.  His sources are limited almost exclusively to secondary material, and he states this in the beginning of the book, but this does not limit the effectiveness of the book.  As a former tanker himself, the author is in a very good position to analyze the campaigns of the Panzer Armies.  His analysis is not without some faults (in my opinion): 
  • The author claims that the Soviets by late 1942 and early 1943 were operating within the German's "Boyd Loop", but what he fails to mention, is that the German field forces were completely handcuffed by Hitler's insistance on controlling everything.  Sometimes it would take days before Hitler would give the OK for an Army to withdraw or counter attack etc. etc.  On the Soviet side, Stalin started to trust his generals a little more, and he started to give them a little more free rein.  Needless to say, these two situations combined to create the effect where the Soviets were gaining in terms of the "Boyd Loop" effect.  The Soviets were also gaining a little in tactical and operational skill, but they were still far behind the Germans, and in my opinion would never truly surpass the Germans (the author of this book thinks otherwise, but I believe the evidence paints a different picture). 
  • The author falls into the same trap as many other historians, and makes the claim that Citidel had gutted Germany's panzer arm, when in fact Germany's panzer divisions after Kursk were still relatively strong.  It was the long fighting withdrawls after Citidel that took a beating on the Panzers.
  • On page 77 the author states that "The annihilation of a serious threat to Army Group Center's right flank at Kiev, an essential precondition for the final offensive against Moscow, was complete".  I disagree with this assesment on several different grounds. 
A.  So far during Barbarossa, the Russian counter attacks against the Germans had proven to be mostly ineffective and disjointed, and there is no reason to believe that any counter attacks from the Soviet 5th Army into the flank of AGC would be anything other than that.  This is not to say that the Russian counter attacks did not cause losses to the Germans, and at times even slow them down, this they did, but they were almost always poorly led, and very poorly executed, and usually never achieved their tactical goal.  

B.  On the other hand, through June, July and August the German forces had proven more than capable of handling the extended flanks, and of stopping all of the disjointed Russian counter attacks.  There is little doubt that they could have handled the Russian counter attacks against the southern portion of AGC.  

C.  Most importantly of all, most historians fail to take into account the actions of Army Group South.  Had AGC decided to continue to push on to Moscow in mid August, Army Group South would not have simply stopped fighting and let the Russian Armies arrayed against the southern flank of AGC attack with impunity.  AGS would more than likely have continued to drive East-Northeast and come up in behind the armies on AGC southern flank, which would have dramtically reduced the pressure on AGC as they drove on Moscow (and possibly could have resulted in their destruction, if not the abandonment of their positions astride the flank of AGC).   I would also like to point out that the Russian 5th Army was actually withdrawing from its exposed position before Guderian launched his offensive to the South.  This was I believe, mainly from the pressure of the German Second Army, which had just smashed a Corps around Rogachev and were moving south, into the vulnerable flank of 5th Army.   As a side note, the German destruction of the Russian forces around Rogachev was an infantry only operation, and thus helps to deflect criticism away from the critics of the German infantry divisions on the eastern front (there are some who claim that the German infantry divisions on the eastern front were not of the same quality of the German panzer divisions and motorized divisions, but I have yet to see any evidence of that, considering all of the constraints under which a normal infantry division had to fight in comparison to a lavishly equipped and powerful Panzer division).  So, the essertion that the elimination of the Russian armies on AGC southern flank as a prerequisite to an attack is Moscow, just does not hold up to scrutiny (in my opinion). 

D.  In August and September the weather was still reasonably good, in comparison to the weather in October and November, when the Germans were trying to surround Moscow.  Even the author admits this much when he states that one of the reasons he (Guderian) wanted to launch his portion of Typhoon before the rest of AGC was because he feared the deterioration of the weather.   The weather was certainly one of the biggest reasons Typhoon failed, and wasting 5 weeks of prime campaigning, to strike to the south and eliminate the Russians on the flank (who were retreating to the east at this time anyway)--makes little sense.

E.  The strengths of all of the German units in AGC were certainly far stronger in mid August then they were at the end of September--especially Panzer Group Two.   This obviously would have meant that the German units would have had more "staying power" then they did historically during Typhoon. 

F.  And during the month or so that Guderian was away to the south helping 1st Panzer Army close the pocket around Kiev, the Russians were busy building their defenses in front of Moscow.  This they would not have been able to do that (to the degree they did) had the Germans launched Typhoon in mid August. 

G.  And lastly, the Siberian units that proved so vital in late November/early December would have been no where close to Moscow to help them as they did historically.  All of these factors combined make the case (I believe) that heading south to destroy the Russian armies on AGC flank proved to be the wrong decision, and that had the Germans launched Typhoon in mid August, there is a very good chance Moscow and the surrounding area could have fallen to the Germans.


It is unfortunate, but Colonel Kirchubel falls for some of the same tired old myths about Kursk as many modern day historians.  On page 168 he states htat "Prokhorovka became a graveyard: 400 tanks and 320 panzers and Sturmgeschutze littered the countryside."  Even the book by Robin Cross (written in 1993-see my review of Robin's book above), does not make these wild claims.  For an accurate accounting of German tank losses, see Niklas Zetterling's book Kursk, A Statistical Analysis (http://www.amazon.com/Kursk-1943-Statistical-Analysis-Russian/dp/0714650528/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1336938738&sr=8-6.  Needless to say, the figure of 320 panzers was a figment of the Soviets imagination, and as it turned out the German losses at Prokhorovka were actually quite light in comparison to the Soviet losses. 

Further on down the same page, the author also makes the mistake in believing that the Germans did not have any "reserves" available.  Many historians (including Col. Glantz) fail to take into account the 60-75 divisions that the Germans had in the West during most of the war (not to mention the dozen or so divisions in the Balkans).  These divisions were ONLY released by Hitler AFTER it was too late (i.e., the German front had collapsed and he sent them to try to stave off total defeat).  Needless to say, these divisions would always have been more helpful had they been released at the start of large German offensives, not after it was too late.  So, in essance, the West was a large (and mostly untapped) reserve.  The author also states on page 169 that "It (Operation Citadel) did not meet any of it's objectives.  It greatly weakened the Ostheer, especially in mechanized forces and did not appreciably damage the Red Army."  All of this happens to be wrong.  Again, I would point the reader to the excellent statistical analysis that Dr. Zetterling has done on Kursk. His research paints a very different picture.  See the Dupuy Institute Forum for other very extensive discussions on Kursk (http://www.dupuyinstitute.org/cgi-bin/Ultimate.cgi).  On this same page the author claims that the Red Army was not "appreciably" damaged from the German summer offensive.  I would point the reader to the analysis of Russian losses by Kryvosheev, and keep in mind that the Soviet empire was only twice as big as the third Reich (not including all of the countries that German occupied), and then look at the casualty ratio between the Russians and the Germans for 1943 (http://ecbiz76.inmotionhosting.com/~bburme5/wehrmachtbericht.com/page13.php).  Clearly the German offensive, and their later defensive efforts were causing large amounts of damage to the Russians, and with the Russians taking nearly 3-4 times as many casualties (in 1943) as the Germans, this rate of losses by the Russians could not be sustained for long.  Again, most historians fail to realize or grasp this fact.

Overall I this is a decent book, and I would recommend it to all those who are interested in the war between the Germans and the Russians.

********   (7.9 stars out of 10)


The Leibstandarte Volume I

7/12/2012

This is the first volume of the 5 volume divisional history of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler division.  It starts out by describing how the first company sized unit came ino being, and then follows the units history as it grew into battalion size and then regiment size and eventually towards the end of the book reinforced Brigade sized unit.  The author does a good job of describing the initial forming of the company sized Leibstandarte, and how it was inportant to Hitler's security.  The author also does a good job of describing the other non-Leibstandarte security units that surrounded Hitler.  The best portions of the book are definately the descriptions of units combat actions.  The Leibstandarte fought in Poland, the Netherlands, France and Yugoslavia/Greece.  The author does a supurb job of describing each campaign that the unit was involved in, using the units archives from the Bundesarchives, interspersed with some gripping first person accounts.  Because the author has used the primary archives as the main source of information for this book makes it well worth the time to read this account.  Many accounts of the Leibstandarte tend to be based on information that is less than "primary".  I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in an unbiased and factual account of the Leibstandarte.

********* (9.25 stars out of 10)

The Leibstandarte Volume II

9/2/2012

This is the second volume of the 5 volume divisional history of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler division. It continues the history of the division started in Volume I.  Nearly the entire book describes the units fighting in Russia.  The text is nearly a day by day accounting of the units actions.  The book starts with the Brigades transfer to the Ukraine and describes the battles of the brigade as it fought it way across the Ukraine and into the Black Sea area.  The one item that really struck me was the description of how the Russians were using "exploding bullets".  I knew that this ammu was outlawed, but it should come as no surprise that the Russians were using it.  There is nothing in the text of the book that leads one to believe that the Germans responded in kind by using exploding bullets.  It seems that these bullets were only used against the Leibstandarte during one battle.  Or at least, it was never mentioned again the book.  The one difference between this volume and the first volume is that the author did not include daily casualties suffered by the Liebstandarte.  Total casualties were listed only a couple of times in the text, but otherwise the text was devoid of casualty figures for the Leibstandarte.  As in the first book, the text includes lots of first person accounts but the text is mainly made of up information drawn directly from the archives.  These divisional history books are some of the few books on the market that draw their information primarily from the German archives, hence these books are crucial to understanding the war as seen from the German perspective.  A good portion of the book describes the units fighting along the Sambek position (after their withdrawl from Rostov).   The Leibstandarte was eventually withdrawn from the Sambek position and moved away from the front, and then eventually moved to France and expanded into a full Panzergrenadier Division.  The book ends with the divisions transfer back to the eastern front to try to rescue the situation after the Russians had counterattacked in November and December 1942.  Again, this volume is highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of the Leibstandarte and the Germans in WWII in general.

********* (9.25 stars out of 10)

The Leibstandarte Volume III

11/19/2012

Normally by this time of year, I would have read 30+ books by now, but because I myself am compiling/writing a book, my time is extremely limited, hence the reason why it is taking me so long to get through these books.  Even though it takes me a while to get through the books, this should not reflect on what I think of the books.  This series of books in particular are simply fantastic. The latest book that I read was Volume III in the Leibstandarte divisional history.  It picks up where Volume II left off.  The first portion of the book deals with the VII (Wach) batallion LSSAH in the fighting along the Donez.  The VII batallion was on of the "ad hoc" type units that were thrown together to stem the Soviet flood after the surrounding of the 6. German Army in Stalingrad.  Much (if not all) of the information in this chapter was new to me, hence I found it very interesting.  The book then segways into the transfer of the entire LSSAH Panzer Division and it's employment along the Donez of front of Kharkov.  Here the writer focusus a lot of attention on the fighting that the division did during this time.  Needless to say, the division was involved in some very heavy fighting, along an extremely extended front.  The book then moves through the abandonment of Kharkov and the evntual offensive to take back Kharkov and hit the Soviets in the flank.  The succeeding chapters then deal with Kursk, and the withdrawl from there to a portion of the front to the South of the fighting around Kursk, and then the eventual transfer to Italy.  At this point, one would have to say that the LSSAH was squandered by disarming Italian units (and fighting partisans in western Yugoslavia), when it was desperately needed on the Eastern Front.  The book then ends with the transfer of the LSSAH back to the Eastern Front and the desperate fighting on the southern wing of the Eastern Front.  Much of what made the first volumes so good, are continued in this volume.  The detailed information is unbeatable.  The writer literally deatails what the LSSAH did each and every day (literally like a War Diary).  The text is accompanied by very solid (and colorful) maps.  These maps generally make following the action easy.  Obviously the text is compiled from the War Diary and other primary sources of information.  This is what makes these books so valuable in my eyes.  Especially since many historians are more than content with writing books using secondary sources, it is most refreshing to see a book (series) written almost exclusively using the primary archives.  In terms of a divisional history, these books are almost unsurpassed.  Highly recommended!!!


********* (9.25 stars out of 10)