The German Army on the Eastern Front: An Inner View of the Ostheer's Experiences of War

The German Army on the Eastern Front: An Inner View of the Ostheer's Experiences of War

Jeff Rutherford & Adrian E Wettstein
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
A collaboration between two historians, “The German Army on the Eastern Front” purports to be a fresh look at the Wehrmacht’s experience in the east, and it mostly succeeds in this. Using a selection of source materials ranging from letters home to contemporary Divisional and Corps reports and documents, the authors have covered a wide raft of topics with a chapter on each of the following: Combat, Leadership, Tactics Weapons & Organisation, Supply, Occupation & exploitation, training & replacements, and ideology. For a book that’s only 200 pages long, that’s quite a lot to pack in.

The book itself is a standard format hardback with eight pages of black and white plates, and a decent glossary. Written in an emininently readable style, this isn’t your average dry-as-a-bone historical treatise; each subject is approached in an engaging way, although thanks to the book’s shortness I felt that some areas were brushed over rather than given the attention they needed. I found the section on Ideology the most interesting part of the book; particularly the evidence of the long-standing National socialist foundation on which the Wehrmacht operated blows gaping holes in the convenient claim that it was all the evil Nazis who did bad things, whilst the honourable German Army simply fought well.

There are some faults with this book. The lack of either authors’ military experience leads them to reach some conclusions which any soldier will question. For example, discussing the imposition of discipline, they expressed surprise at draconian punishments for “Relatively minor offences, such as falling asleep on sentry duty”, and identified this as proof of a lack of care for soldiers. Similarly, on the Tactics, Weapons and Organisation chapter, the authors' comment on a user questionnaire on the newly introduced MP44 states “What is striking is how many technical details require improvement”. Anyone who’s been involved in trialling of kit will scratch their heads at that remark! Also the photos selected were rather irrelevant to the text of the book; it would have been better to include full passages of the quoted documents into an Appendix in my view. However, these issues are far outweighed by the frequent pearls found in the book which I’ve never come across before: extracts of the XIIIth Army Corps “Leaflet for Snipers” noting the need to relearn sniping (just as the British Army had to), and the quote from General Jordan Comd VI Army on the utility of SMGs: “The SMG is one of the most effective defensive weapons against assaults. It belongs in the main combat line and not as a private weapon for leaders of rear units”. The urge to be tacticool is as old as the hills…

Priced at £25, this isn’t a cheap read, and is too short for my taste, whetting the appetite but lacking detail in areas. But it’s a very interesting and enjoyable book; packed full of fascinating snippets and with some interesting insights into the mechanisms of German warfare against the Russians. Over all, I recommend it.

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