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.