Top critical review
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on 14 December 2012
This book is a great idea: an analysis from the German perspective of how they responded to and contained the Allied airborne assault in Holland.
Previous accounts have tended to dwell on the Allied experience, with the Germans usually somewhat anonymous. Kershaw's account sets out how very adept the Germans were at improvising a defence, using literally the scrapings of the rear echelon: old men, convalescent wounded, conscripted police, naval "battalions" comprised of the crews of lost or blockaded ships, and so on, with just a stiffening of SS veterans. Odd tanks, trucks and half tracks were cobbled, together with whatever infantry could be found, into ad hoc forces that were pitted against elite paratroopers, and won.
Essentially the German strategy was to delay the advance of the relief force while simply containing the various paradrops, their idea being that if the relief column could be halted the airborne forces would inevitably have to capitulate.
Quite a lot of German WW2 tactical practice made it into post-war NATO doctrine, something on which Kershaw - as a former parachute officer himself - speaks with great authority. The German (and NATO) response to the dropping of paratroopers behind the main line was to counterattack them immediately with any troops to hand whatever, regardless of losses, in order to prevent their cohesion and to separate them from their existing and expected supplies. This worked perfectly at Arnhem, where an elite paratroop division was defeated by probably the worst troops Germany had yet fielded. There were crack SS troops there too, but the advance to the bridge was halted by poor quality rear echelon forces who dug in tenaciously and would not be dislodged.
Although the paras at Arnhem were eventually heavily outgunned, they were beaten before the tanks arrived by the German tactics. Meanwhile, for the German commander Model, the real battle was the one to block the advance, a battle he duly won and with - it appears - inferior numbers and minimal air support.
The paperback edition of the book suffers from a severe lack of decent maps - there are hardly any and it is impossible to work out on those there are what's a road, what's a river, and so on. The narrative contains lots of descriptions along the lines of how this unit formed up at this town and then attacked this other town, but it's often hard to figure out where these places are and the account loses coherence because of it. The hardback, it appears, is quite a lot better.
Recommended overall but the paperback loses two stars for being a bit baffling.