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'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Wehrmacht at High Tide-1942

Death of the Wehrmact:  The German Campaigns of 1942.  Robert Citino.  Lawrence, KS:  University of Kansas Press, 2007.  ISBN 978-0700615315.  Illustrations.  Notes & References.  Bibliography.  Maps.  Index.  Pp. 431.  $34.95.

Professor Citino is quickly becoming one of my favorite military and operational historians.  Dr. Citino  is currently a fellow of the Barsanti Military History Center at the University of North Texas and is scheduled to be a visiting professor at the US Air Force Academy in 2011.  He is arguably the foremost authority on German military thought and history today.

This volume is not a traditional narrative battle history.  So be forewarned, if that's what you are looking for, you may not enjoy this book as much as I did.  Dr. Citino has written a combination of operational analysis and cultural history of the German Wehrmacht in 1942, shedding light on why German generals made decisions and fought battles in the manner of Bewegungskrieg, or maneuver warfare.  Drawing on his extensive knowledge of both German military history and his study of the operational level of warfare--that nebulous region between traditional strategy and tactics--Dr. Citino weaves a picture of a German General Staff stuck between a strategic rock and hard place in early 1942.  The expected Russian blitzkrieg (a word he studiously avoids) did not crush the Soviet Union, and with the entry of the US into the war, the Germans really found themselves with limited strategic options to bring about a decisive conclusion before the Allies material superiority made itself felt on the battlefield.

Both in the North African desert and steppes of southern Russia, the Wehrmacht showed their forte for armored warfare, particularly the crushing of the British 8th Army at Gazala and the overrunning of the Red Army in the Caucasus.  However, Citino also lays out the strategic shortcomings of German planning, making the devastating case that  horrible decision making by Hitler and his OKW diluted German operational prowess by ignoring several traditional German maxims about waging war, especially the need for a Schwerpunkt or main focus of the military effort to bring about a decisive victory.  Reading between the lines, one can infer from Citino's effort that Stalingrad was clearly a huge waste of resources by the Germans, and this Grouchy Historian can only wander if the Germans could have reached Baku with the 6th Army in the fight, instead of it being ultimately consumed in what became a battle of egos for a city named for a brutal dictator.

More importantly, for all their tactical genius, the Germans consistently ignored the old saw "Amateurs talk tactics, but professionals talk logistics."  Not to say that commanders like Rommel or Manstein were amateurs, but German commanders were famous for ignoring logistical difficulties in favor of battlefield exploits brought about by shear force of will.  But, again, as Dr. Citino lays out with devastating analysis, the lack of fuel and other supplies slowed down key German efforts and clearly contributed to Rommel's inability to conquer Egypt in summer 1942 and the inability of the 6th Army to capture Stalingrad in the early summer before it became a fortified city.  He is unsparing in his analysis and criticism of how German generals pushed their mobile forces to the breaking point, with seemingly little regard for mundane matters like food, fuel and ammunition resupply.  Ultimately, tactical genius could not overcome geography and logistics, and he ends the book with an account of how the British at El Alamein and the Russians at Stalingrad were able to defeat the Germans with the own brand of modern warfare--although each side defeated the Germans very differently.

If you have a decent understanding of the overall campaign history of 1942, this is a truly excellent book for understanding why the Wehrmacht fought the way it did, how it managed to inflict major defeats on larger opponents and ultimately why these battlefield victories could not achieve overall strategic success.  

Dr. Citino's use of German language sources is truly mind-boggling, and it is easy to see how he intends to fit together a set of books on German military culture through World War II based on his previous work:
The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich (Modern War Studies) 
and his new book...hot off the press and in my little hands:
The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting a Lost War (Modern War Studies)

I highly, highly recommend this book for the serious reader of World War II history and look forward to sharing my views on the next volume.

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