Saturday, 21 November 2015

The First Battle of the First World War: Alsace - Lorraine - Karl Deuringer edited by Terence Zuber

This review has been submitted to the British Military History Journal.

Title: The First Battle of the First World War: Alsace - Lorraine
Author: Karl Deuringer
ISBN: 978-0-75246-086-4
Publisher: Trafalgar Press
Year: 2014
Pages: 398
Photos/Maps: 0/38

The original book by this name was drafted by Karl Deuringer in 1929 as part of an effort to capture for posterity the role of the Bavarian Army in the First World War. The Battle of Alsace-Lorraine was unique in that it not only represented the first significant combat of the war, but also the first and only time that the Bavarian Army fought together under a single unified command. In its original form it was over 893 pages with 74 maps; to reproduce a modern copy of this would be impossible and so it was edited and translated by Terence Zuber into a more manageable form and length. In doing so, Zuber has maintained both the flavour and the intent of the author's original work.

It is important to realize at the outset that this book represents a tactical analysis of the first month of the war running between 11 Aug to 14 September, 1914. Dueringer provides a brief introduction outlining the strategic plan within which the Bavarian's (designated the German 6th Army) undertook their tasks. Specifically, they were to pin in place as many French soldiers as possible while upholding the German left flank in the region of Alsace-Lorraine. All of their subsequent actions focused on achieving Moltke's (the German overall commander) Commander's Intent.

The detail associated with the narrative is more than impressive. It is extremely detailed and really does require the provided maps in order to accurately follow the convoluted movements of the units involved. There are however, numerous maps included that are reproductions of the originals from Deuringer's 1929 work. These included maps are referenced to in the narrative and, while beneficial are somewhat hard to follow. There are an additional nine large situational maps and thirty regional maps (some in colour) which may be accessed online; however, it is necessary to join The History Press newsletter in order to access. They are, nevertheless, very helpful.

Zuber's translation is excellent and the degree of detail provided by Deuringer is both outstanding and daunting; the book is not for the faint of heart. It is extremely easy to get lost in the myriad of minor movements described. The operational unit of discussion is as small as platoon and company level and so maintenance of the big picture is easily lost. This is done deliberately and as long as the reader is aware before they dive in, it does not detract from the overall impact of the book. Deuringer also acknowledges that the sources used for the book are predominantly from the Bavarian side, as few if any records were kept by the French and the acquisition of personal notes and diaries was extremely difficult.

Despite the detailed style of writing there are significant numbers of lessons to be gleaned especially for those armies experiencing combat operations after a significant period of peace (keep in mind that the German and French armies had not been involved in large scale combat since 1871). Challenges relating to effective movements, resupply, fatigue and the fog of combat are all readily evident. The importance of physical fitness, realistic training, dynamic leadership at the lowest level and effective planning also become obvious. Dueringer weaves these lessons extremely well into his narrative, thus it serves as both a testament to the capability and success of the Bavarian Army but also a treatise on the importance of preparation, training and doctrine. 

This book is of great value although the reader must work for it more so than in other books that I have reviewed. The style is dry and detailed but fascinating to those willing to make the effort. Unlike many other historical renditions of battles, is is easier to visualize and appreciate the terrain and environment when the focus is so narrow. Unfortunately, there is no bibliography included however, there is a short notes section that provides some additional reading recommendations. Overall, I would recommend this book with the one reservation that it is not a quick read and does demand attention in order to get the most out of it.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Hitler's Wave-Breaker Concept: An Analysis of the German End Game in the Baltic - Henrik O Lunde

This review has been submitted to War History Online magazine.

Title: Hitler's Wave-Breaker Concept: An Analysis of the German End Game in the Baltic
Author: Henrik O Lunde
ISBN: 978-1-61200-161-6
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2013
Pages: 278
Photos/Maps: 16/6

The gradual changing of the fortunes of war for the Germans, starting in late 1942, witnessed the transition from offensive to defensive operations for the Wehrmacht. As the forces allied against them grew in size and capability and the operational space diminished, the Germans were forced into ever more dynamic and reactive defensive measures, demanding decision making at the lowest possible level of command. Fronts had opened in Italy, Normandy, throughout the East, the North and in the air and the capacity for OKW (Oberkoammndo der Wehrmacht) and OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres) to provide timely guidance and evaluation steadily diminished. This book evaluates and analyses one region, the Baltic, and how Hitlers command strategy for this vital region developed, influenced in no small part by his strategic perceptions and bias'. The author incorporates into his study, an operational analysis of the impact of Hitlers command approach on the ability of the German Baltic forces to react to their dynamic environment.

The author maintains a three pronged approah in his evaluation; each was critical to the results for the German Army. First he undertakes a study of Adolf Hitler the man and tactician. Specifically, he looks at Hitlers history as a soldier,his perception of his own capabilities and his relationship with senior Nazi officials and Wehrmacht officers. HIs perceptions resulted in a flawed operational policy that squandered hundreds of thousands of his best soldiers in an effort to sustain a failing strategic policy. Following this he evaluates the political dynamic of the Scandinavian region focussung primarily upon the two main players - Finland and Sweden- and their ongoing relationship with Germany as the war progressed. Lunde incorporates into this the economic, geopolitical and military aspects of these relationships and how they impacted HItler's thinking. Finally, he looks at the relationship between Hitler and his commanders and, more importantly, their ability to influence operational decision-making. It is telling the degree to which, even at the eleventh hour, they acquiesced to his flawed operational logic irrespective of their professional assessment of the situation within their regions.

Lunde's arguments are  both logical and easily followed. He has addressed a series of very complex facets of German leadership dynamics and international relations and presented them in such a way that, while the evident complexity is not lost upon the reader, it is not only comprehendible but also thought provoking. For example, the relationship between Germany and Finland is extremely challenging and nuanced. With a battle-hardened army of over 600,000 soldiers, Finland was a key linch-pin in the potential success of German force of arms in Russia but was also reliant upon German arms to ensure its safety from Russia. This inter-dependence increased as the war continued with Germany doing all it could to retain Finland as an active or at least passive ally in the conflict. The international dance between the two is fascinating to follow and expertly dissected by Lunde.

The lessons for political masters and military commanders in this book are numerous and they speak to the challenges of juggling operational and strategic balls concurrently. Lunde has written a very telling book about a region and a campaign that did not adjust to the changing strategic and operational realities on the ground. Casemate has published a high quality book and I would strongly recommend it for those interested in further appreciating the multi-faceted approach required in the interaction between international relations and military operations.