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on 19 August 2010
In this book, Mr. Citino shows us in a competent and accessible way how Nazi Germany overstretched its resources in a truly amazing manner. They achieved a number of remarkable victories but just kept pushing forward until the situation went way beyond manageable and finally everything just crushed down upon them.

While some authors, notably the famous Viktor Suvorov, attribute this to the sheer stupidity of the German leadership (and who needs to be convinced that the leading Nazis were just a bunch of bloodthirsty retards, right?), Mr. Citino argues quite convincingly that throughout history, Germans had waged war by quick maneuver and bold attacks, achieving spectacular victories over numerically superior enemies (as well as some ignominous defeats). As Mr. Citino sums up his analysis: "This spirit of aggression was not something that the German army invented one afternoon in 1935." On the contrary, it was the way Germans had waged war since Frederic the Great. So it's not surprising that Wehrmacht's answer to the question "What to do when the blitzkrieg fails" was to launch another one (p 9). The reason why that strategy backfired in WW2 was because the times for that kind of warfare were over, as we'll learn by the end of this book.

Even though I knew so much about the Second World War already, this book was an extraordinary lecture. Not even in German propaganda literature have I seen such mind-blowing examples of German armed forces' cunning and heroism - and from a clearly neutral source at that. For instance, I had never attributed much significance to German conquest of Crimea - I mean, it looks so small and insignificant on the map. This book, though, shows in detail how the Germans showed superhuman pervasiveness and inventiveness, crashing again and again through the impossible terrain and overwhelming enemy superiority.
There are passages in this book where Mr. Citino describes the Germans overrunning hundreds of kilometers of Soviet terrain at great speed. You'll get the impression that they were just driving through empty country, but then the author mentions casually how there were actually entire Soviet armies there, apparently shooting at the Germans with all they got, but it seemed to be of very little use, until the German high command changed their plans and relocated all supplies and reinforcements to somewhere else and the Germans just ran out of oil and had to stop.
Even more extraordinary, though, was the mind-blowing aggressive spirit of the German commanders. Time and time again, I just found myself gasping for air in utter amazement. The Germans took a horrible beating, were forced to retreat, were outnumbered three to one, and the enemy was about to be reinforced with no German reinforcements in sight. What did the General von So-and-so do, asks Mr. Citino, and answers: he attacked. Again and again. No matter how hopeless the situation seemed, the Germans somehow managed to maneuver behind the enemy and catch him unprepared. I have never seen anything like it. No fiction writer could ever conceive anything as fantastic as this reality. I mean, someone could, but then the readers would say: hey, that's totally unrealistic, there's no way anything like that could ever happen. But that happened in the Second World War.
And yet, as Mr. Citino makes mercilessly clear over and over again, all those German triumphs were mostly in vain. It sounds so unreal that, for instance, a campaign that results in a forward drive of nearly a thousand miles, taking of 625 000 prisoners, destroying or capturing 7000 tanks and capturing 416 airplanes, can be considered a failure (p 254). But that's the way things were on the Russian front. As Mr. Citino explains to us, Germans gained amazing tactical victories but actually achieved very little in strategic terms. He shows it even more clearly by describing in detail Rommel's campaign in Northern Africa - how he achieved a remarkable victory after remarkable victory, right until the inevitable complete disaster.

That is, as I understand, the most important message of this book - the German defeat was inevitable. Not because the English-speaking peoples are somehow inherently better than the Germans, as we're usually told, but because the German way of war, their entire military philosophy was badly outdated.

Another thing that was new to me was about the German allies. Of course, everyone knows that the Finns were tougher soldiers than the Germans themselves. But Mr. Citino argues that the prevailing belittling attitude towards other Axis nations isn't appropriate. It would appear that, for instance, the Italians in North Africa did their fair share and then some. Maybe it has something to do with the author's last name, I really don't know. But I certainly like to think that the Italians, Romanians and Hungarians were good soldiers who gave a valuable contribution to their common cause.

My only point of criticism (apart from the obviously absurd claim on p 127 that a distance of 600 miles is supposed to cover several time zones) is that the maps in this book are a horror show. Not only are they too few. What's worse: they are grossly inadequate. The majority of place names mentioned in the text can't be found on the maps. What good is a pages-long detailed description of German forces' movement, if the reader has no idea where those locations are? What good is the map accompanying a campaign description if 80% of the locations mentioned in the text aren't on it? Just one example out of many: on p 229 is the map of the German attack on Caucasus. In the text, there is, among other things, much talk about the importance of conquering two of the major Soviet oil centers in the region - Maikop and Grozny. Maikop is on the map all right, but can you believe that Grozny is not on the map? One of the most important cities in Northern Caucasus, one of the main targets of the campaign to which this map was supposed to belong to, and Mr. Citino was too stupid or too careless to put it on the goddamn map!!
In short, it's advisable to read this book near your computer, and to keep Google Maps open.
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on 2 October 2010
This is a fine book which confirms Citino's thorough knowledge of German military history. The development of the German Army's strategy of a war of movement based on "mission tactics" which provided the basis of the Wehrmacht's successes but ultimate failure in its campaigns in WW2 is the theme of the book and is brilliantly analysed. The bibliography with its detailed commentary on sources is alone amost worth the price of the book.
A few criticisms. First, the maps are so rudimentary as to be almost worthless; there is not even a rough guide to show the immense scale of the campaigns. Secondly the key issue of intelligence is almost totally neglected. Ultra,for example, is dealt with in a single paragraph.A "War of Movement" faces major problems when the opponent is forewarned!
Thirdly, the limited industrial base for the Wehrmacht which effectively crippled its military operations against the Coalition which its strategic failures had created, is really not dealt with. The excellent recent book "The Wages of Destruction" by Adam Tooze opens a whole new perspective on the economic and strategic context in which the Wehrmacht sought to achieve victory by operational superiority and its ultimate slim chaces of success.
Finally,there is at times a rather irritating note of US superiority in the book. The description of the Sherman tank as "the Wehrmacht's nemesis in the last years of the war" will surely bring a smile to many readers of WW2 history,not least not least admirers of T34 design.
Despite these points ,this is a very valuable addition to the understanding of the operational issues of WW2.
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on 29 October 2007
This is not a book, it's a pair of specs. With a manual on how to use them. It really improves your sight many times! Or perhaps I should call it a crystal ball (but one that looks into the past rather than the future)....

No, seriously, after having read this book I've got the feeling I see the German "contribution" to the Second World War in a new light. Though the book is not perfect I find this one of the rare titles that really helps me understand the greater picture. Years ago I had the same experience with Brian Fugates book Thunder on the Dniepr. That one also wasn't perfect, even controversial, but it introduced a special way of looking at the Soviet war effort in 1941-1942. This book by Citino does likewise for the German war effort, only far less controversial. I have to say that with Mr. Citino's approach in mind I find explaining German behaviour in the early parts of WW2 so much easier than before. It really makes sense.

So, what am I going on about? Well, without giving away the entire contents of the book Mr. Citino states that the Germans have perfected the operational level of warfare to a point where they have lost sight of the strategic level. It has disappeared out of their minds completely, and as a consequence the Germans have tried to solve every problem they encountered at the operational level. Also, any setbacks would be explained at this level. Only when it was too late did the Germans sort of wake up, but by then it was too late.
The book begins by explaining the Prussian and German road up to 1942, and gives a believable explanation of the evolution of the German way of war over a period of 300 years. Then this way of war is shown in action in the year if WW2 leading up to 1942, and Mr Citino points out where the first cracks begin to appear.
Next comes a survey of all major operations in 1942, spread from Africa to the Soviet Union. The author explains why the operations early in 1942 still succeeded, and why the operations later failed. But rather than the way the Germans did it at the time, by looking at flaws in their operations only, he also and above all else points at the strategic level that has been totally neglected and the role it plays in the failures. And he does it in a very clear and understandable manner. For this Mr. Citino deserves every credit. I think he did a wonderful job.

The book is not just about how the German way of war worked and failed, it is also a fine summary for all the German major operations of 1942. These are dealt with in some detail, which makes interesting reading on its own. But it is as part of the overall approach that the "extra" of this book comes through.

Finally I have to say the book isn't perfect. I don't agree with every theory Mr. Citino mentions. I think they are positioned a bit more black and white than they sould be. This helps to make things clear and to make a point, but it makes it a little less acceptable as well. A little, mind, because it is still very convincing stuff.
Besides the theoretical issues there are also some printing errors. A few examples are: One group attacked from the north, the other from the north. Or mentioning actions that took place in North Africa in June 1940 where the fighting only started in December 1940. This should obviously have been 1942.
If you can get past these occasional errors though this is a title anyone interested in the German war effort in the Second World War should read. If I could give it six points, I would....
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on 31 May 2011
This is a terrific book, although rather too heavy on the operational details (it's tiring reading so many Roman numerals...) to be a fluent read. As other reviewers have noted, it's one of the few books that provides a new level of insight into something that has been pored over many times.

The basic idea is that the Prussian military tradition lived on in the Wehrmacht to the extent that it failed to get beyond mobile and decisive campaigning and get to grips with a trully modern war that was about industrial output and logistics. In Russia it was also about an enemy that was adapting to and learning from disaster, and making full use of its own geography and allies.

There is an enormous amount more to it than this, but that's enough to justify five stars.

For the human side of the kessel-based warfare, I'd thoroughly recommend Robert Kershaw's 'War without garlands'.
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on 15 January 2012
In this interesting book, the author shows the frequency with which Prussian/German armies gained success from the 17th century onwards while being outnumbered, with poor supply and transport and inadequate intelligence regarding their opponents. He then goes on to suggest that the deficit was made up through intensive training, pushing responsibility down the command chain and an extreme aggressive attitude that would result in the enormous WW2 victories of 1939-1941.

Citino's thesis is that the whole situation changed in 1942. As he says, "What happened in the summer and fall campaigns of 1942 was something far more significant. In those brief six months and entire way of war that dated back centuries had come to an end. The German traditions of maneuver-based Gewegungskrieg, the notion that "war is an art, a free and creative activity," the belief in the independence of the subordinate commander within his own sphere of competency: each and every one of these bedrock beliefs had taken a pounding in the last six months, and in fact had revealed themselves to be no longer valid."

He describes the overwhelming material superiority of the allied armies in tanks, aircraft, guns, supplies, logistics, intelligence (Ultra) and not least manpower, and the strategic impossibility of the situation for the Germans.

This isn't really anything new, but he does write at some length about the remarkable German successes despite these handicaps, and in my opinion, undermines his whole idea when evaluating the last German offensives in southern Russia. As he says, "For all the ink spilled over its fundamental deficiencies, there was nothing wrong with Blue - its complexity, its size, its maneuver scheme - that a thousand or so extra tanks would not have fixed. But that was precisely the problem."

In other words the Germans could have attained their objectives with a still relatively small (relative to their opponents) increase in equipment and no one would be questioning their maneuver-based Gewegungskrieg?
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on 28 February 2008
This book tackles what the Werhmacht went through in 1942, I can comment in detail in regards to the Eastern Front, but less so to the activities in the North African theater of operations. The book is an interesting read and I can honestly say one of the few 'military histories' that is actually enjoyable to read. If you're interested in the position of the Wehrmacht and its campaigns throughout 1942 you could definitely do worse than this book. It gives an operational play by play of the activities undertaken by the Wehrmacht from one offensive operation to the next, its context, its ultimate goal, etc.

I do have to admit that I very much appreciated the authors detail when it came to describing Rommel's campaign in Africa. For the longest time I've been distracted by the fact that this commander gets so much limelight for doing practically nothing at all in North Africa. Again and again he decides to run back and forth across the North African desert with a Corps sized force trying to make a nuisance of himself as the British repeatedly realize that he's a thorn in their side and send in reinforcements every time he decides to undertake another reckless advance without any regard for logistics or his orders which ultimately lead to him either retreating or eventually losing all his troops.

There are three things which made me give this book 4 stars: I didn't like that every now and then some 'what if' ideas would be thrown in. They aren't discussed in detail but they are there and in my opinion I'd rather find out what happened than what could have happened, especially since the author himself asserts that such ideas are a waste of time in the introduction. Secondly, the Soviet side is lacking, I would say heavily at times, in the representation it gets in this book. Yes, it is heavily reliant on German sources and it is after all a book on the Wehrmacht, but it would simply be nice to see an even account from the Soviet side for a change. This can be easily overlooked if you take the authors ideas and and analysis of the Soviet side with a grain of salt. Lastly, I think the editing in this book is lacking, there are incorrect words here and there, misplaced words, etc and they occur far more often that I'd expect and at times take away from the reading experience. For example, on pg. 173 we have order 227, "Not a step back!" being discussed, the transliteration offered is "Ne shagu zapad" which should read as "Ne shagu nazad", 'zapad' is Russian for west. A small error but one that could easily have been avoided. Another detail error can be found on pg. 252 when the author claims that Pavlov, famous for being the soldier "Pavlov's House" was named after, was a Captain. In fact he was a sergeant and the truth behind Pavlov's House can be found in Mike Jones's "Stalingrad." Otherwise this book does offer some fresh insight into the war and especially the Wehrmacht. And for that, I'd recommend it.
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on 8 August 2010
Brilliant what can you say clear sharp writting makes this book so useful when you are interested in the German stlye of warfare. Worth getting 9 of 10.
Mr Citino as a writer is very engaging and considering some of the writers on warfare are amazingly dull should be more well known for his ability to bring the subject forward into a wider audience with his open engaging yet informative stlye.
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