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4.0 out of 5 stars How Not to Run a War, 23 Aug 2013
This review is from: Hitler's Wave-Breaker Concept: An Analysis of the German End Game in the Baltic (Kindle Edition)
(publisher's review copy)

Colonel Lunde is a retired, staff-trained regular officer of the US Army with a special interest in military strategy. He has previously published on the German invasion and occupation of Norway, and on the Soviets' war of aggression against Finland. As he is of Norwegian extraction and is also a writer on Norwegian genealogy, his choice of theatre is unsurprising. He now brings us to the Soviet advance into north-eastern Europe and Germany, and analyses this from the point of view of the German military as micro-managed by an increasingly delusional Adolf Hitler.

This is not a book about the private soldier's war but an analysis of events and manoeuvre down to Corps level (with the occasional division and brigade mentioned). In the process he has to bring in the background of Germany's relation with Sweden (or rather the reverse) and the need, as seen by Hitler, to protect iron ore shipments from northern Norway, the supply of Swedish ball bearings, Finnish nickel and Latvian shale oil, the need to keep the Soviet fleet bottled up in Kronstadt, and Doenitz' desire to preserve U-boat training areas in the Baltic. The strategy, if you can call it that, begins to unravel after Stalingrad at which point both Sweden and Finland realise that their future lies in playing Hitler along, while Finland tries to get out of its Soviet war with a whole skin (the Russians, out of their hip pocket, produce half a million troops to influence this discussion). The Italian and Normandy landings in 1943 and 1944, out of area for the immediate narrative, also informed Swedish and Finnish political strategy.

Lunde starts by looking at Hitler's demoniac personality and how an obsession with these needs, and neurotic vacillation, trumped military necessities. He also takes us in overview through Barbarossa and the stalemate at Leningrad so as to arrive at the start line as it were of German retreat. The ultimate major focus is on how the Germans ended up with an entire Army group marooned, out of the main battle, on the Courland peninsula, and how the survivors of pocket after pocket, along the Baltic coast, of experienced troops disappeared to Siberia. Hitler believed such islands of resistance would act as breakwaters against the Russian advance, requiring disproportionate enemy forces to contain them. He missed the point that the Russians had seemingly inexhaustible manpower, men literally in their millions in spite of earlier vast losses, whereas his own army had `lost' an experienced large unit and would have to backfill, ever more desperately, with amateurs. He also failed to accept the inability of Goering's Luftwaffe to supply them in the face of total Soviet air superiority. Stalingrad had taught him nothing; others watched and evaluated.

Equally, as Hitler sacked anyone at the top who argued with him, he ended up served solely by sycophants, such as the evil Doenitz promising jam tomorrow in the matter of submarines, and Speer performing prodigies producing aircraft for which there was nearly no fuel. The sackings reached down and across to a level where churn must have severely degraded the Staff process; Hitler also moved major units about capriciously; one has to wonder how much contact force was lost while they were in transit.

There are echoes, although this is not the main subject, of the sheer ghastliness of German behaviour in the East.

There are a host of threads in this book which the author, drawing on wide reading (often the subject of critical comment), pulls together. Individual memoirs by participants are often self-serving but Lunde is not taken in. Collating all this unavoidably results in points of overlap and repetition but it is difficult to see how such a vastly complex theme could be coherently presented otherwise. The result, however, is a categorical study of how this part of the Second World War - and how not to run it, or indeed any war*. The style is somewhat that of a PhD thesis or staff college paper, with individual chapters sometimes as stand-alone studies.

In sum, I am better educated for having read this book and I commend it to any reader interested in the background to the war on the Russian Front.

Lunde's difficulties with providing maps are canvassed in the preface but I would have been helped by more, and more detailed, maps. There are a few repetitions which could usefully have been trapped by the publisher's editor. And the `troopship' pictured appears to be a Nazi cruiser minus her main armament.

* History repeats itself. Lunde points out how the politician in Hitler considered that his professionally well-educated senior officers failed to see the bigger picture, while refusing their insights into the military one. Almost thirty years later Lyndon Johnson thought likewise, and similarly micro-managed his generals - at vast cost in casualties to his own people - to ignominious defeat in Vietnam. Who's next?
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