21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A superb military biography,
This review is from: Hitler's Commander: Field Marshal Walther Model, Hitler's Favorite General (Hardcover)
Many a student of WWII will have wondered when a decent biography of this much-overlooked Field Marshal would appear. His long service on the Eastern Front and lack of personal papers perhaps explain this. No matter; Steven Newton's book is well worth the wait. This is a truly superb book.
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. Newton describes how Model would send all the right signals to Hitler to placate his rabid leader, but actually laid plans to do precisely those things the Fuhrer forbad. His withdrawal after Kursk being a case in point. He dressed up permanent withdrawals as 'Sword and shield' tactics; withdrawing to mass an attack that was never made and never intended. This was often done with the tacit knowledge and understanding of his senior commanders. I could not help reflecting on the stories of Hitler's frustration with his Generals; that they connived to undermine his orders; and thinking that maybe he had a point! This gives a richness and nuance to some of the transactions and relationships between senior officers and Hitler that I have rarely seen exposed before.
This is not to say that Newton tries to 'rehabilitate' Model, presenting him as some misunderstood, noble officer. Misunderstood he may be, but that does not mean he becomes a more attractive character. Despite the bias of the character references from those around him, Model comes across as a shallow, unthinking, ruthless and selfish man.
This is not a book where one warms to the character of the subject. The value of this book is in the insight it gives to the controversies within the German High Command, the nuances of tactics adopted by different commanders, and the complexity of the relationships between Hitler and his Generals.
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