Hitler's Commander: Field Marshal Walther Model, Hitler's Favorite General Hardcover – 1 Apr 2005
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About the Author
Steven H. Newton is an associate professor of history at Delaware State University. His previous books on World War II include Kursk: The German View and Panzer Operations.
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Top Customer Reviews
I was initially a little sceptical given the dearth of material from his personal papers (he destroyed them before committing suicide). This is a handicap, in that there is next to nothing about Model the man, his personal life and his inner thoughts. What there is hints at a shallow, tormented soul, drowning his fears and what few contradictions he may have felt in increasing amounts of alcohol.
Where this book soars out of the ordinary is in the analysis of Model's tactics on the Eastern Front, his supposed favouritism from Hitler and his fanatical obedience to his Fuhrer's orders.
On the tactics point, Model has been seen as a peerless improvisor; abrasive and fanatical, but one of many German generals who employed elastic defence in the face of overwhelming Soviet hordes. Newton points out that Model took his own individualistic approach; opting for a thin, continuous defensive line rather than the elastic 'defence in depth' favoured by Manstein et al. I have never seen the case for this approach, elsewhere always castigated as naive, put forward as being a logical and successful tactic on the Eastern Front. For this alone, this book is worth reading.
As far as his favour with Hitler, Newton makes a strong case that Model's rise was by dint of merit, seniority and his General Staff training.
The final point about his fanatical obedience to Hitler is probably the most rewarding facet of this book.Read more ›
written about him in ' Hitler's Generals ' , edited by Correlli Barnett
or ' Hitler's Fieldmarshal's and their Battles ' by Samuel Mitcham
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There seems to be a paucity of material relating directly to Model (he destroyed his personal papers at the end of the war), and the author has done a very good job of piecing together this well-written narrative. There is not much in it about his personal life - a few lines about his upbringing, and the odd allusion to things like his drinking. He seems to have had only one period of leave, 3 months at the end of 1943. It does not gloss over his character, especially his treatment of his fellow officers and superiors, and suggests why they mostly disliked him, whilst the ordinary soldier may have felt somewhat differently. (When he left one of his commands he had been disliked so much that only one office escorted him away, and after Model had taken off in th eplane phoned to tell the others `Schweinfurt' - not a reference to the town, but `the pig has flow'!).
The book is really about his military career, from before WW1 to his suicide in 1945. I found the author to be fair in his opinions - praise where due, criticism where not, though there was no hindsight judgements. It made clear why Model was supreme in defence. There is quite a bit of information about some of the lesser know battles on the Eastern Front, for instance the defence of the Orel salient during the Kursk battle. The scale of the fighting, and casualties, is made apparent. His relationship to Hitler is explored, and suggests reasons why he was one of Hitler's favourite Generals in spite of - or perhaps because of - Model standing up to him. The half-truths of some of the postwar Generals' accounts is also made apparent. All in all a very informative read. The one major criticism I had was the lack of maps, so it was often hard to follow the battles. There is no map of Poland in 1939 for instance, so it is impossible to follow any of the fighting there. I always feel that in works of military history where possible every place name should figure on a map, and this book falls badly short in that respect. There also seem to be a few unnecessary digressions, for instance a longer than needed account of the German atrocities in WW1 and the reasons for them. However all in all a very informative account, and the author does well in trying to flesh out the details of Model's military career.
Hitler's Commander consists of four parts (Model's military career from 1914 to 1941, his command of 9. Armee in 1942-43, the "fireman on the Eastern Front" in 1944 and his final campaigns in the west, 1944-45), which are sub-divided into a total of 15 chapters. Model's early life is not well-documented and the author does not spend much space on his early life or even his service in the First World War, although the author does point out individuals who helped foster Model's rise in the German officer corps. The book has nine sketch maps and half-a-dozen B/W photos. The maps are simple, but one interesting feature is that each has a short caption that the author uses to drive home an important conclusion about each action described. The author also provides 25 pages of footnotes and a 9-page bibliography.
Initially, the author strives to show Model's career as typical for a General Staff-trained officer, alternating between staff and command assignments. Model played a supporting role in the initial campaigns of 1939-40 and it was not until he took command of the 3. Panzer Division in Operation Barbarossa in 1941 that he began to rise above his peers. It is in part two, where the author details Model's dogged defense of the Rzhev salient that the book really takes off. Model's 9. Armee beat off repeated offensives by Marshal Georgiy Zhukov and then conducted a skillful withdrawal of the salient which provided sufficient reserves for the Wehrmacht to conduct the Kursk offensive in 1943. Although the author takes pains to demonstrate that Model was fairly orthodox in the offense, he highlights his innovations that led to defensive successes that frustrated or mitigated even large Soviet offensives. The author points out that Model's fighting withdrawal from the Orel salient was in itself, an impressive accomplishment, despite the Soviet recapture of Orel. Throughout these chapters, the author shows how Model integrated intelligence, indirect fires, obstacles and reserve forces to dilute, deflect and often stop, Soviet offensives. Indeed, Model's accomplishments - particularly his ability to pull together a new front after the destruction of Army Group Center in June 1944 - are so significant that it is hard to believe that they have been minimized by historians for so long.
The final section of the book cover Model's efforts to patch together a new Western Front after the Allied breakout from Normandy, which resulted in not only another temporary reprieve for the Wehrmacht, but signal Allied defeats at Arnhem and Hürtgen Forrest. Thus, Walter Model might be the only commander who could claim to have beaten all three Allied commanders - Zhukov, Montgomery and Bradley. Overall, Hitler's Commander is an excellent operational-level study of the most successful German defensive commander of the Second World War. There are a few minor flaws, concerning editing and fact-checking (some dates appear to be off), but this book should be read in conjunction with David Glantz's works to provide modern insight from the German perspective.
Walther Model was the German commander thrown by Adolph Hitler into so many of World War II's worst crises that contemporaries nicknamed him the `Fuhrer's fireman.'
The son of a music teacher, he sported a monocle and a field marshal's baton. He also stood up to Hitler in a way that hardly anyone else dared.
Newton dispels rumors and myths that discount Model's intellectual prowess and tactical acumen. Model's motivation was patriotism, but more likely he `internalized almost an eighteenth-century model of the professional soldier...one who served primarily for the glory of the fight...(with) single-minded focus on his own military success.'
Newton suggests that Model's suicide had less to do with honor than his inability to face his own future in defeat. Copious notes and bibliography show the extensive research the author did in both German and American archives and in German war diaries and memoirs. A treasure for history buffs!
The writing is well done, the account engaging and thoroughly enjoyable.
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