Friday, 23 October 2015

Book Review - Gotterdammerung: the last days of the Wehrmacht in the East

Gotterdammerung: the last days of the Wehrmacht in the East edited and introduced by Bob Carruthers

(a volume in the series Eastern Front from primary sources)

Barnsley, Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2012                    ISBN 9781781591369

I've recorded my frustration with Pen & Sword publications before - they've hit on what for them is a successful model of publishing older reports, memoirs and such unedited, which is both a blessing and a curse.

This book continues that tradition - a bit of a grab bag, the main portion of this work is a study of the German defense of Berlin written for the US Army by Wilhelm Willemar, an Oberst in the Wehrmacht. Because this report doesn't fill out a book, there are a few US Army intelligence reports tacked on to the end which discuss German and Soviet street fighting tactics and weaponry, and the Volkssturm.

Because these items are just slapped into the book, this is not a work for someone who does not know much about the Battle of Berlin. However, being a first-hand report (Willemar interviewed many of the officers involved in the fighting) it has value for the more serious student of conflict.

The report highlights the almost complete lack of planning that was involved in the defence of Berlin - stores and supplies were dumped in depots on the outskirts of the city which were quickly overrun by Russian Troops, there was no co-ordination by defenders, or even communication, so groups found themselves surrounded because their neighbouring comrades had withdrawn without their knowledge, some people constructed defences in the streets that had to be torn down again to allow German movements, and the list goes on.

The other factor that stands out is the lack of coherent command. Hitler, Goebbels and other Nazi figures interfered constantly in tactical decisions, and based actions on the movements of troops that were in no way fit for battle.

The result was of course catastrophe, and yet more senseless waste. Only after Hitler's death was surrender thought of, and even this was bungled, with contradictory orders to breakout of the city, stay put and fight, and surrender doing the rounds at the same time.

If ever the myth of the ruthlessly efficient Wehrmacht held some truth, it is not to be found in its final hours.

This book is recommended only for the reader with lots of background already to hand.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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