Heinz Guderian is one of the few German generals of the Second World War other than Erwin Rommel, whose name is readily recognizable to a fairly large audience. He is widely regarded as the "father" of Germany's panzertruppen (armored units) and therefore, a key player in the Third Reich's early military successes. Yet much of the name-recognition of Guderian is based on his post-war memoirs, which continue to be re-printed, not on objective and scholarly analysis. As historian Pier Paolo Battistelli points out in his volume in Osprey's Command series on this general, the real Guderian and his accomplishments are much less well known. Battistelli's short biography does a fair job of revealing Guderian's actual contributions, which were substantial, but a component of Germany's overall military modernization in the 1930s. The author's narrative is effective at "busting" the mythology surrounding Guderian's name, but makes only modest progress in depicting Guderian's abilities and flaws as a general.
The introductory sections of the volume are quite short and cover the first four decades of Guderian's life in just a couple of pages. Although his service in the First World War was hardly stellar, the single paragraph devoted to Guderian's activities in 1914-18 seems clearly inadequate. Yet it is clear that Guderian spent the war as a junior staff officer and did not have significant command experience. The author then spends 5 pages provided a succinct career history of Guderian from 1934-45, which seems a bit pointless, since this material is gone over again in greater depth in the next section. The `hour of destiny' section (about 30 pages), examines Guderian's role in the creation of the panzertruppen in 1934-39, his leadership of panzer units in Poland, France and Russia in 1939-41, his role as General Inspector of Panzer troops in 1943-44 and his final role as Chief of the German General Staff in 1944-45. This text is supported by 5 maps, three battle scenes by Adam Hook (Kursk, Barbarossa and France 1940). The photos are generally pretty good, except for Guderian himself, who only appears infrequently (and not a single photo prior to 1939).
The author effectively demonstrates that Guderian hyped his own contributions in his post-war memoirs and that the development of Germany's panzer forces is attributable to the efforts of a number of individuals, of whom Guderian was initially only a minor member. It should be remembered that Guderian was first and foremost a signal officer with no real command experience, but he was quick to realize that commanding a panzer unit offered a short-cut to higher-level advancement. He used the circuitous route that Germany took to creating the panzertruppen - through the subterfuge of army motorization and signal units - to his advantage and should be regarded as a consummate military in-fighter. The author also makes the point that Guderian recognized that Hitler's patronage was also useful and used the Fuhrer's interest in panzers to his own advantage as well. Later, Guderian conveniently `forgot' his political machinations and Nazi ties, when they became liabilities.
The narrative is weaker on exposing Guderian's flaws as a commander, which became particularly evident in Russia in 1941. Again and again, Guderian failed to close pockets of encircled troops properly - even when ordered -because he was eager to achieve the glory of reaching Moscow first. Guderian's failure to close the Smolensk and Bryansk pockets quickly were not oversights. Although Guderian had been around tanks for seven years by the time of Barbarossa, he was far more of a general staff rider than a panzer leader and I doubt that he ever really understood tactical armored combat. Guderian's slashing style had worked well in Poland and France but when he ran into serious operations at places like Mtensk or Tula, he was at a loss what to do. However, once Guderian returned to his staff role as panzer inspector, he did help to revitalize Germany's depleted panzer forces in 1943-44, at least briefly. As chief of staff, he was essentially hostage to Hitler's directives. Overall, this is an adequate short biography and provides a good alternative to Guderian's own Panzer Leader, but in too many areas it really only scratches the surface.