Wehrmachtbericht
(Armed Forces Report)
Extended Book Reviews

The purpose of this page is to present an area for "extended" book reviews.  These are book reviews that simply are too long and extensive to place in the normal book review sections of this website.

1/26/2011

Firestorm: Allied Air power and the Destruction of Dresden

The premise of this book is the history of Allied air power and massed bombing attack on the German city of Dresden during the second world war.  That being the premise, let me preface that by stating that the author does not exactly hold to the supposed premise of the book--as you will see from my review.  
 
The first six chapters of the book deal with the history of flight and the history of bombers.  These first chapters are reasonably well laid out, and they give the reader a good idea how the world war two bombers came into being.  Mr. Bruhl (the author) does  a decent job of tracing the development of the bomber/airplane as a weapon of war during the first world war, and during the inter war years.  One point that did catch my attention was on page 21.  The author claims that the U.S. was fearful of Italy and Germany establishing air bases in South America during 1940.  This is an interesting claim, and one that I cannot find any evidence to substantiate.  Not the least of which is the fact that the Germans or the Italians would have had a very difficult time keeping any bases in South America supplied once they were established.  This claim seems to be a case of crying wolf, and I see no way in which this could have ever happened in 1940. Another theme that reared it's ugly head throughout the first six chapters (and to a lesser extent--the whole book), is that when the author was talking about any of the top Nazi's, he did his best to try to prove that many of the Nazi's had Jewish parents/grandparents etc (see page 49 where the author claims that Herman Goring's godfather was Jewish--and how that has any relevancy to this book is beyond this reviewer).  In chapter three the author does do a good job of reviewing many of the planes which would hold a prominent place in the air forces of the belligerents during the second world war.  Some of this information may be new to uninitiated, but to the world war two historian, there will not be anything new here, never the less it still is a good overview of the air planes that the U.S., Great Britain and Germany used.  Further on the author claims that Field Marshal Milch of Germany was partially Jewish (see pages 68-69).  This evidently was one of those myths that just keep "making the rounds" and simply will not die.  Check out "The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe: The Life of Field Marshal Erhard Milch" and pay special attention to pages 327-330 for Mr. Irving's description of whether or not FM Milch was partially Jewish (http://www.amazon.com/rise-fall-Luftwaffe-Marshal-Erhard/dp/0316432385/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296185738&sr=1-2

In Chapter 4, the author moves from talking about the air war against civilians to discussion of the slaughter of the Jews in Auschwitz.  This takes place on pages 100 to 101, and it appears like a bolt of lightning out of the blue.  This is certainly bizarre, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the Allied air power or the destruction of Dresden, and it comes right in the middle of the discussion on the effects of bombing on civilians.  If this would have been the only time that this happened in the book, I could have written it off the the bizarre ramblings of a half baked author, unfortunately it was not the only time he interrupted his story to interject tidbits of information on the holocaust of the Jews.  The following is a list of pages that contain short sections that deal, not with the bombing of Dresden, but the treatment of the Jews by the Germans (totally unrelated to the supposed theme of the book):

Pages 100-101
Page 107
Page 180
Pages 188-189
Pages 190-191
Pages 198-199
Pages 256-257
Pages 295-296
Page 304

Clearly there is a pattern here.  It would certainly seem that the author wants the readers to remember that the Germans were slaughtering millions of Jews, and (it seems to me), that he wants to set that as a background to the bombing of Dresden.  In so doing he is minimizing the impact of the destruction of Dresden when compared to the murder of the Jews.  I think the author is making an error in including this material in a book on Allied air power and the destruction of Dresden.  If the author so wishes to write a book on the holocaust, then I would suggest he write one that deals with the holocaust, but this information has no place in a book that is ostensibly dealing with a far different topic then the holocaust. 
The author continues on with discussions of the German V weapons (vergeltungswaffen--vengeance weapons) and Operation Thunderclap (see chapter 6 for a discussion of Thunderclap).  The first 6 chapters are written quite well, and have a nice amount of information.  They could have been significantly better had the author not went off on wild tangents talking about the persecution of the Jews, and at times seemingly letting his bias slip into the text (ie. the description of Germans as "rabid", "fanatical", "Nazi satraps", "Nazi"--even if they were not members of the Nazi party, etc reveals a bias against the Germans.  No British or American is ever called anything close to those terms in the book).  It was interesting to see the author described the German "wasserfall" AA rocket project at the end of Chapter 5.  This was a large anti-aircraft rocket that was developed in 1942, and was guided to its target by remote control.  Certainly not nearly as elaborate as todays AA rockets, but this could have been considerably more effective than merely using AA guns to try to shoot down bombers.  In chapter 6, the author notes that Churchill was "strongly for" the use of poison gas and the "wholesale bombing and strafing" of all occupied Europe.  This tends to be another of those weird Churchill moments were he comes across as some crazy dictator.  I highly doubt that Churchill would ever have tried poison gas, the Germans had far more poison gas, some new poison gases that the allies did not have, nor could they have done much to prevent the devastation that these new poison gasses would cause.  Churchill was wise not to start that war (not the least of which the use of poison gasses had been outlawed).
The second half of the book deals with the history of the city of Dresden.  He talks at length about many of the famous buildings and landmarks that were to be found in the city.  He then moves on to start the discussion of the raid itself. Throughout chapters 8, 9, 10 and 11 the author uses first hand accounts of Germans who lived through the raids, and in my opinion, these are the most valuable aspects of this book.  These chapters are certainly worth the read.  The author states on page 183 that "the plants and the number of workers involved constituted a considerable defense industry, which transportation and communication aside, would have made the city a legitimate military target".  My argument with this is first, the "city" is not a legitimate target.  The factories that were producing anything for the Wehrmacht, these were certainly legitimate targets, but it was against the Geneva convention to target civilians (and this is exactly what "area" bombing does), so to say that the "city" is a legitimate target, is certainly not accurate.  See the following link (http://www.dannen.com/decision/int-law.html#D).  The author then states again that the "city" was an important strategic target, and again I would have to say that the marshalling yards were the important strategic target, not the city itself.  I would add here that the British tried in vain early in the war to adopt day light bombing practices, but their losses were unacceptably high, hence they turned to night bombing of cities (which necessitated area bombing, because individual targets are impossible to find at night--and they were very difficult to find during the day as well).  That being said, with the advent of the P-51, the Allies now had a long range fighter in which to keep the bomber streams well protected, so there technically was no reason to keep with the night bombing campaign, granted the Allies would not have not been able to launch nearly as many missions as they did, but the British could no longer use the excuse that their bombers would have been defenseless during any day light bombing runs.
The author makes the claim on page 197 that "millions of Russian civilians were slaughtered as the Germans made their way across the Soviet Union".  He fails to mention that the vast majority of those killed were either Jews, Communist or were partisans.  The Germans did not simply annihilate entire villages simply because they were Russian.  If you were Jewish, a communist or a suspected partisan, then you were in trouble, but if you were not one of those three and you did not resist the occupation, then you were likely to be left alone.  On the other hand, the Russians just simply wiped out everything that was German when they entered East Prussia.  It did not make any difference whether you were a National Socialist or not.  The Russians did not care, they wanted vengeance, and their leaders urged on this barbarity.  Further on in Chapter eleven, a young German boy describes how his brothers ambulance which had been transporting wounded to the Elbe Meadows, had been hit and destroyed by machine gun fire from an American fighter plane.  Later on in the book Mr. Bruhl makes the assertion that any talk of American fighter planes strafing civilians was just mere rumors.  I am not sure how many escort fighters we had in the air over Dresden that day, but to think that there were not a few "bad apples" in the bunch is just incredulous.  I can only imagine that there were a few fighter pilots who did not care one lick if they killed a German soldier or German civilians.  This is certainly not hard to believe, and is certainly brought to life by the above description of the attack on the ambulance (German ambulances were usually well identified by the "red cross" on the top and the sides).
There are two points on page 261 that I would like to contend.  First off the author states that the bombing of Dresden forced the Wehrmacht to reassign entire divisions to help with the cleanup of Dresden. Most likely these troops were from a "reserve/replacement" division and they were therefore not first line troops, and they would have only been committed if the city of Dresden itself was in danger from the Russians.  The author also contends that the destruction of Dresden made it harder to transfer troops to the Eastern front.  This is almost certainly true, but the Germans had many other roads, railroads in which to use, so it certainly did not stop the transfer of troops to the east, it only made it somewhat more difficult.  One of the points in the book that were rather odd again, was the authors insistence on reviewing David Irving's book on the destruction of Dresden ( http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-1945-Destruction-David-Irving/dp/1872197183/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296316890&sr=1-5).  The author takes exception to Mr. Irving's claim that there were possibly more than 35,000 dead from the firebombing of Dresden.  Is it possible that there were more than 35,000 dead?  Is it possible that there were less than 35,000 dead?  Who knows????  The fact of the matter is, the city was overflowing with refugees from the east, and they probably suffered the most from the fire bombing.  Who knows, besides our God in Heaven, how many of these people died?  Either way you slice it, 25,000 dead, 35,000 dead, 65,000 dead, 135,000 dead, it was a terrible tragedy for this German town.  The Germans lost more dead (civilians) on this one night, then the British did during the entire war.  On pages 280-281 the author again states the figure of 110 weapons factories (he even describes what some of them produced), but he fails to mention that not a one of these had been seen as so important to the German war industry as to merit a single Allied raid before the February 1945 raid that destroyed the center part of the city!  These factories were located mainly on the periphery of Dresden, and more than likely they were little affected by the raid.  According to Mr. Bruhl, the 110 factories employed around 50,000 workers, thus implying that the civilians of Dresden were "fair game" because they could possibly have been employed in the factories.  Do to the fact that the bombing mainly destroyed the center of the city, and it is most likely that the workers in these factories lived in the outskirts of town, I do not find it very likely that many factory workers were killed (some almost assuredly were killed, and that number could have run into the 1000's).  In the descriptions of the people who lived through the firestorm, these were almost all old men, old women, younger women and children.  With the exception of a few women, the factories would not have employed old men, old women and children, and these were the ones who probably suffered the most during the raid.  On pages 284 to 285 (in relation to factories), the author states that "much of this manufacturing capability had been destroyed or seriously crippled--though more of it would have been devastated if the massive British raids had concentrated on the industrial areas just outside the city instead of the Altstadt".  It is interesting to note from this sentence, that the author himself realizes that the raid did not hit the factories, but destroyed the old center of the city--where there were no factories.  So much for claiming that the raid was designed to knock out the factories.  Also, Mr. Bruhl does not give any evidence at all (a source would be nice) of where his assertion that much of the manufacturing capability had been destroyed or crippled.  He also goes on to state that many of the workers were dead, even though he again notes no kind of a source for this information.  He ends the book by again pointing out to the many evils in which the Nazi's perpetrated (which no one can really argue that point).  Again, this seems to me to be a way of saying that what the British did by area bombing the city was allright, because the Nazi's deserved it.  The book is studded with bits of bias like this throughout.  If the author would have kept to the description of Allied air power up to the raid on Dresden, and then described the raid on Dresden and left out all of the covert bias, and the constant descriptions of how the Nazi's were killing the Jews, then I think that the author would have had a very decent book.  As it is, the book "comes across" to me as a sort of apologia for the British method of Area/Terror bombing.  Overall, not a good book.  I would recommend the following books instead:

The Fire (http://www.amazon.com/Fire-Bombing-Germany-1940-1945/dp/0231133804/ref=pd_sim_b_1)

Among the Dead Cities ( http://www.amazon.com/Among-Dead-Cities-History-Civilians/dp/B001P3OLX8/ref=pd_sim_b_4)

Inferno (http://www.amazon.com/Inferno-Fiery-Destruction-Hamburg-1943/dp/0743269004/ref=pd_sim_b_8)

To Destroy a City
(http://www.amazon.com/Destroy-City-Strategic-Bombing-Consequences/dp/0306811693/ref=pd_sim_b_10)

Apocalypse 1945 (http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-1945-Destruction-David-Irving/dp/1872197183/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296316890&sr=1-5)


*****   (4 1/2 stars out of 10)


4/15/2012



Deathride:  Hitler vs. Stalin: The Eastern Front, 1941-1945 (John Mosier) 

The author, John Mosier, takes a look at the war between the Germans and the Russians from a perspective that is most certainly unique. He literally "thinks outside the box" with nearly every aspect of the war.  His main premise, is that the Germans basically outfought the Russians, and it was only the help of the Allies in the form of their economic aid to the Russians (i.e. Lend Lease, tanks, trucks, planes etc. etc.) and the Second Front that saved the Russians from losing the war against the Germans.  Mr. Mosier points out quite clearly that the Russians were losing the war of attrition against the Germans, and that the Russians absolutely could not keep losing troops at a 3:1 pace and hope to win (Russia had a population of around 160 million, while the Greater Reich was around 80-85 million--yet the Russians were losing casualties on the eastern front many times of what the Germans were losing--hence they were losing the war of attrition).  See the tab on this website dealing with Manpower in German in WWII, and Eastern Front Casualties for a more in depth look at this aspect of the war.  Throughout the book the author does make the case that Russian data is and should be suspect.  He lays out a couple known cases where Stalin was extremely displeased with those who brought him data that was not to his liking.  He there had those people murdered and changed the data to suit his needs.  I feel that overall, the authors assertions have some validity.  Clearly had the Allies not given Stalin any aide, and had they not even presented the threat to Hitler's Reich in the West, then the Germans would have been able to use their Strategic Reserve against Stalin while they were on the offenisve. As it were, Hitler only released the Stretegic Reserves when the German front was collapsing, and it was then too late (i.e. Moscow 1941/42, Stalingrad, June/July 1944 etc. etc.).   Here are some of the other aspects of the book that I either disagreed with, or agreed with:
  • The author takes the line that the German attack on Russia was a preventative attack, and that the Russians were actually preparing to attack the Germans.  He used the book "Icebreaker"  (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ice-breaker-viktor-suvorov/1000109551?ean=9780241126226), by the Russian defecter Victor Suvorov to reinforce this hypothesis.  I must say that I have never really believed this, but I cannot pass judgement on Suvorov's book, as I have not read it yet (although I do own it).  Looking at the situation from the Germans perspective though, it is possible to imagine how they could have believed that the Russians were getting ready for an attack on Germany or her allies.  The Russians had 3,000,000+ troops and 12,000 + tanks on or near the border with Germany and her allies.  Clearly, this was not a deployment of someone who was expecting peace.  Now, whether this deployment was for offensive or defensive purposes, no one knew.  It is also important to remember that when Germany first made plans for attacking Russia, the Soviets had just finished taking land from Finland, the had also taken Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and they had taken Bessarabia (and Bukovina), all while the Germans were trying to finish off the French and the British.  Is it any wonder that the Germans were unsure of Stalins motives?
  • The author makes many comments about the Germans holding on to ground when they probably should have been falling back to new lines.  Usually this is blamed on Hitler, but the author has continuously made the assertion that it was his Generals who either wanted to stay where they were (see page 279 where the author claims General George Lindemann was the one who did not want to pull his Army back to the "Panther" line), or did not act in time to save their Army (i.e. Paulus).   It would be nice to find out where the author had come up with that information regarding General Lindeman, as I cannot locate that anywhere, and the author did not footnote that bit of information (but I have to admit I have not done a thorough search).  In Professor Newton's book on Field Marshal Model, on page 267 he states that Field Marshal von Kuchler wanted to withdraw to the Panther Line and that Hitler resisted this, but that he (Hitler) finally relented.  Mr. Newton makes no mention of General Lindeman wanting to hold the line where it was.  And in fact the situation was disasterous (see pages 269-270 of Newton's book on Model for the descriptions of the pathetic state of the infantry divisions holding the line--although originally Model called ahead and told 18th Army to hold it's positions where they were, and this was based on a very rosey picture that Hitler gave of the situation.  Model would later quickly change his mind once he had seen first hand how week the German divisions actually were).  Clearly falling back made sense, as it did in almost every situation on the Eastern front where Hitler forbade a retreat.  The assertion that the Generals were mainly to blame for holding onto territory when they should have fallen back adsolutely does not hold water.  In fact most of the time the Generals were at extreme pains to get Hitler to authorize a withdrawal, and much of the time the withdrawal order came too late!

  • I believe the author falls into one of the commen misconceptions that defeating an enemy ultimately has to be done by capturing his economic assets, when in fact, that is more of less a red herring.  This is really evident in a country as large as the Soviet Union.  If Hitler captured some of the areas with raw materials, the Soviet Union could still rely on the 80% of the country that was still unconquered.  Trying to fight the war on the Eastern front with economic objectives in mind was not going to win the war.  Hitler needed to let his generals fight a war of movement, and destroy the Soviet armies using their Panzer Armies as the tip of the spear.  It is interesting to note that later in his book, the author then has a somewhat different tone as the Germans are losing territory.  He mentions that the territory they were losing was of "relatively little value" (page 278), even though earlier in the book this same territory was of economic value?  Seems a little contradictory to me.
  • The author mentions that Hitler wanted to stop offensive operations in October of 1941, but gives no source for that information.  I must admit that I have never heard that before, and I would be interested to find out where the author found Hitler stating that.  From my research, Hitler wanted to continue offensive operations (in fact, he wanted Moscow captured before the beginning of Winter--see Matthew Cooper's The German Army  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-german-army-1933-1945-matthew-cooper/1000073535?ean=9780812885194).  There is little doubt that Brauchitsch and von Bock also wanted to try to capture Moscow before the start of Winter, and they clearly had an influence on Hitler, but there seems to be little evidence that Hitler wanted to end operations in October.
  • The author mentions that Hitler was right in wanting to fight the war in the eastern front in regards to economics.  I believe this was entirely wrong.  You wage war to defeat your opponents armies, NOT to try to occupy his vital economic assets.  Especially in a country as massive as Russia.  As part of this same argument, he states that Hitler was correct in launching operation Blau, mainly for economic reasons.  Again, this goes against all common sense. The Russians had massed the vast majority of their armies in front of Moscow, and the vast majority of those armies were filled with rifle divisions, which had proved to not be capable of stopping the German Panzer Armies, so it is reasonable to assume that had the Germans massed at least three of there Panzer Armies, with the infantry armies that were in Army Group Mitte, it is reasonable to assume that Moscow would have fallen.  Instead Hitler went off on some wild goose chase through the south, and ended up splitting his forces into two different, and diverging army groups.  In speaking of these armies groups in the south during Blau, the author calls them seperate wings of a giant pincer movement, but in fact they were divergant wings of an offensive, not convergant.  They were not forming some kind of pincer movement, they were attacking divergently, and hence, were of no (or little) mutual help to each other.  The author also states that the Germans were trying to encircle Stalingrad, which is clearly not the case.  Had the Germans tried to encircle Stalingrad, things might have ended differntly, but as it was, the Germans tried to storm Stalingrad, and ended up getting bogged down in ferocious street fighting.



This book will assuredly not sit well with many readers, as we have been ingrained with certain ideas and perceptions releating to WWII.  The author of this book looks at many of the campaigns on the eastern front and turns everything on its head, and comes up with conclusions that are certainly revisionist.  The question to ask is, 100 years from now, will historians be judging Mr. Mosier as a misguided revisionist, or will he be seen as ahead of his time for his insightfull judgements of the eastern front?  Only time will tell!
Recommended.

******** (8 stars out of 10)