Review: War Without Garlands
- Published: 01 May 2010 01 May 2010
- Last Updated: 12 July 2013 12 July 2013
Kershaw has a masterpiece here, and this book will explain in graphic detail the difficulty faced by the Landser in a 6 month period, from the start of the invasion until the end of December of 1941 and early 1942. Much of the book highlighting the words of the soldiers themselves, who had a clarity of thought in describing the horrendous and excruciating pace in few words of the bitter fighting against a foe who often proved to be suicidally brave, inflicting casualties to a German army unprepared for the level of intensity they faced in this alien foe, in this alien land, one that went on and on forever into featureless steppe, and when slogging over the top of a hill one could look out and see many more ahead, with little else surrounding the never ending march. Tired and exhausted from continual movemment to support the Panzers as they encircled yet another number of Red Army Divisions, and without the infantry the pockets could not be collapsed. The trapped Soviets inside the circle would often charge forward in mass attacks in attempts to break out of this pocket, and their bodies piled up all around German machine gunners. Some would fight it out to the end and the result were companies depleted of both seasoned officers and NCO's from the brutal amount of resulting carnage.
Some accounts tell of Soviets fighting a desperate attack to break out of these pockets and being on the verge of breaking through thin German ranks only to suddenly stop and sit down, obeying an order given from a safer distance inside the pocket by a superior officer to instead surrender. The Germans simply had no idea they would be facing this kind of enemy, one they could not make sense of and was very hard to defeat, fighting on in hopeless situations. Soviet armor is much discussed, and had the Red Army tank crews had the German Panzer crews training and tactics they likely could have inflicted staggering losses. As it were the training of Panzer crews would usually defeat the technical superiority of their T-34 tanks.
The severity that followed the German advance (looted and burned villages) would lead to an escalation of violence by both partisans and the Red Army. Many German POW's were later found dead with genital mutilations and eye gougings. This predictably lead to a further increase of atrocities from the Wehrmacht or SS in response, and the Soviet fate was no better. Only 3 of every 100 Red Army prisoners would survive themselves, most of them starved to death.
The post that the author refers to also contains Soviet letters and diaries, much of it retrieved from the dead bodies of the Soviets and somehow this information has been preserved for posterity. The power of the speech of these soldiers, both German and Soviet, says volumes in only two or three sentences. They convey a hell that will show the reader that in the first week of December this was clearly a soon to be defeated German army. Their supply chain was served mainly by only two rail lines and non-stop Luftwaffe flights. Soon they would lose their air superiority, despite enormous early losses of Soviet aircraft in the opening months as surprise allowed thousands to be shot on the ground.
Motor convoys had to deal with seas of mud and later arctic tempatures, and horse drawn transport that saw entire companies of horses die from overwork, exhaustion and exposure. All of these reasons, to include an enemy that knew the countryside and was prepared for it, further weakened the German supply chain. Much of the Germans winter clothing was stolen from Soviet homes and POW's. Newsreels and newspaper accounts of nothing but "glorious victory" were soon looked at with skepticism from a German nation that responded to appeals from Goebbels himself for warm winter clothing, and the post from the soldiers to their families, it is their words, letters, diaries and conversations of these soldiers themselves that give the power of clarity to this book, as it is their words that describe it so well, and Kershaw uses this post quite often throughout the entire book. It is a look at the opening months of this invasion from the Landser, the junior officers and enlisted mainly.
Army Group Centre, who's advance is usually examined, contains both the discussions of Guderian and other generals who clearly are aware of what the OKW in Berlin has no concept of: The Divisions are now mere skeletons of what they once were.
Superb book, highly recommeded.
(Reviewed by Dan Weakley)