Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Retreat: Hitler's First Defeat - Michael Jones

He who risks nothing, gets nothing (Qui ne risqué rien, n’a rien)
                                                                                      French Proverb

Title: The Retreat: Hitler’s First Defeat
Author: Michael Jones
Publisher: John Murray
Pages: 328

Content: Siegseuphorie is a German term identifying a euphoria precipitated by a series of dazzling victories and a belief that anything is possible. Blinded by the speed with which the Wehrmacht had advanced through their Soviet adversaries, the German High Command launched in early October 1941, Operation Typhoon, the final drive on Moscow. Buoyed by initial success (the Battle of Vyazma, 150 miles from Moscow, yielded up approximately 600,000 Russian prisoners), they became convinced that they could not be defeated. This strategic self delusion resulted in a wide breach developing between the reality on the ground and the vision of the Commanders. Initial success was offset by heavy rains and mud followed shortly after by a rapid plunge in temperature (averaging -30 C). Overextended supply lines, a failure to plan for winter operations (soldiers were fighting in summer uniforms and weapons/vehicles failed due to a lack of appropriate oils and lubricants) and a general collapse of units due to months of heavy fighting resulted in one of the most brutal retreats in military history. Despite getting within 18 km of Moscow, the Germans had absolutely nothing left when the Russians counterattacked on 1 Dec. The subsequent retreat saw a collapse of discipline in many German units and a reduction to a level of brutality seldom witnessed in warfare as soldiers struggled for their very lives against the rage of the Russian’s. An excellent study in failure of planning, leadership, logistics, arrogance, failure to maintain the aim and a failure to establish and follow the principle of maintaining a centre of gravity. However, the leadership shown by General Model when he was appointed at the most critical point in the German retreat is a study in successful crisis command and the effect that one man can have on the outcome of an entire campaign. Highly recommended with many anecdotes from both Russian and German soldiers.

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