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An Average Biography of One of the Most Highly Regarded Generals of World War Two
on 11 September 2015
This book suffers from something many other similar biographies of German generals suffer from, and that is a severe lack of personal material. This is in stark contrast to British Generals who generally left large quantities of papers and manuscripts for a biographer to pour over. This means that you get very little insight into the character of the man, beyond his seeming adherence to the Junker code of honour. We almost never get to hear his inner thoughts until his period of captivity.
Gerd von Rundstedt has often been held out as one of the great German generals however the overwhelming feeling after having read this book is that he didn't really deserve his reputation at all. The book deals extensively with the second world war (about 100/150 pages) and his post war captivity (about 100 pages) but you get very little information on the pre-war period to explain why he was so revered other than he was highly regarded as a junior officer. He steadily rises through the ranks, finally becoming a senior officer in the early 30s. He is twice passed over for the top job, the author suggests he rejects it for political reasons, but ultimately he holds a succession of senior CiC posts during the war. However due to the delegating style of command he uses, where he sets out broadly what he wants and leaves it to his Chief of Staff to organise the details, there is very little for him to hang his reputation on. By the later periods of the war, he is barely in control at all of what is going on in his command, with Hitler increasingly taking over the reins and he himself slowly sliding into senility. If anything he is very lucky to have consistently had good officers working under him. The man's reputation seems to have come out firstly due to german propaganda and then due to Allied propaganda lionising him for their own purposes, particularly over the Ardennes Offensive, something he even admits he had no influence over. One can't help but feeling the younger fighting generals like Guderian and Rommel, earned a reputation whereas Rundstedt was merely gifted one.
The Book is written in a pretty readable style. Occasionally you can get bogged down in the campaign details, particularly in the Eastern Front, but these patches aren't too long and generally i read it pretty fast.
If this book can teach you anything, it isn't really why von Rundstedt was a great General, but instead how the German General Staff worked through the eyes of the doyenne of the Prussian Junker Aristocracy. For this reason alone it is well worth a read for anyone who is interested in the Western Theatre of World War Two.