Saturday, August 1, 2015

Book Review: The Germans in Normandy

5–Stars, Highly Recommended

The story of the struggle for Normandy is an appalling one; the battle was, in Erwin Rommel's words, 'one terrible blood-letting'. (from the Introduction)

Both the Allied and German forces put most, if not all of their hopes for ending World War II on the battles over occupied France. Hargreaves does a masterful job of writing the history of D-Day to the final liberation of France from the German perspective. He talks about the logical hopelessness of the German defense, yet portrays the sheer will-power of the German military that, at times, threatened to thwart to Allied invasion. Germany missed its opportunity in so many ways — megalomaniacal leadership of Hitler and Goebbels who refused to face the reality of the Allied superiority and the complete exhaustion of their own troops, uncoordinated strategies, woefully insufficient front line and reserve forces, inadequate hardware (or, as Hargreaves terms it, "material"). Though Hargreaves doesn't explicitly make the connection, the attempted coup by top military leadership in the midst of the defense of France had to have been, at the very least, a distraction.

Hargreaves succeeds in portraying the tenacity of the German military as time after time they were defeated but continued to fight on in spite of overwhelming odds. It's terrifying to think what might have happened if the German military had been anywhere close to being as prepared as were the Allies. Whether Hargreaves intended it or not, one result of reading this book is a fresh realization of how horrible war is -- 240,000 or more people killed in a 2 1/2 month period and many of the bodies so damaged that they could not be identified!!

I do have some criticisms of the book. First was the overuse of the phrase "material supremacy". Often, this was quoted from German sources, but there could (perhaps) have been some variety in how the German phrase was translated and Hargreaves, himself, could have used a different phrase when he wasn't quoting. I found maps difficult to decipher — the quality of the graphics in the Kindle version was really good, but they lacked legends that would have made them more understandable to someone who, like me, has neither a military background or more than a cursory knowledge of French geography. There were some minor quirky (to me) errors -- for example, "The 6 June cost the Panzer Lehr thirty vehicles." Phrases that introduced quotes often ended with a period rather than a comma. Several times, a phrase like "It was gone midnight…" was used. Or, a phrase like, "Thus at the age of thirty died Michael Wittmann…" Or, "Paris not only lacked the men to defend it to the last man…" -- how many more than 1 does it take to defend to the last man? Hargreaves is, apparently, British and perhaps some of these are simply differences in how Amis and Tommies (the terms the Germans used in Hargreaves book) express themselves. None of them take away from the book.

I think Hargreaves sums up the essence of The Germans in Normandy with this section at location 5628 (Kindle):
For the Landser, there was the bitter taste of defeat, and yet the German soldier refused to accept he had been beaten. Events had conspired against him, but the Landser held his head high. Like Untersturmführer Riegamer, he struggled to accept his sacrifices had been in vain. This could not be the end. 'German soldiers have once again acquitted themselves superhumanly in battle,' Hitlerjugend commander Kurt Meyer wrote bitterly in his diary. 'They do not deserve the terrible defeat. The defeat cannot be blamed on the frontline soldiers as this bitter cup was served to them by a gambler at the map table.'
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