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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Battle for Germany 1944-1945

Max Hastings is one of the premier historians of the Second World War. Unlike Stephen Ambrose, who , while a very readable historian -- even knowing whom to plagarize (link) -- is as much a cheerleader as historian, Hastings presents objective analysis. It's fortuitous that he also happens to be a very good writer.

Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 follows his Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy, 1944. Hastings succeeds in explaining why the Germans fought so tenaciously even after the war was obviously lost. Within ten weeks after the landings at Normandy, the allies were at the Rhine. The Russians, without whom we could never have defeated Hitler, were pressing hard on the eastern front.

Hastings portrays the Wehrmacht as one of the premier armies of the world -- and also one of the most vicious in its treatment of civilians. We tend to forget the enormous casualties suffered in WW II that make WW I look like a walk in the park. The Russians alone, according to some estimates, suffered some forty million deaths (of course, Stalin was responsible for many of them through vicious resprisals and substantial incompetence.)

Hastings presents a convincing case that poor training of allied troops and less than inspired generalship by Montgomery and Eisenhower prolonged the war, which should have ended, her argues, by the end of 1944. The Red Army, while having more spectacular leadership, suffered from its callous treatment of its own troops. They responded with savagery against the occupied countries. The more democratic countries' armies were substantially more humane -- Americans never saw the Germans as the inhuman barbarians they considered the Japanese to be -- but relied on the advances of the Russians to tie down German SS units on the east which otherwise would have been used against the allies.

Democracies tend to be more cautious in war, having to be concerned with casualties. Hastings notes that the Red Army and Germans had no such concern and could be much more profligate with their armies.

On the other hand, Germans fighting to the bitter end, for whatever reason, be it indoctrination or saving Europe from the asiatic hordes, meant that they had more time to kill Jews. Almost 500,000 Jews were shipped to concentration camps from Hungary in mid-1944.

A fascinating book .
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