Hitler’s Wehrmacht, 1935-1945

Hitler’s Wehrmacht, 1935-1945

Rolf-Dieter Müller, trans. by Janice Ancker

University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 2016, 248 pages

Book Review published on: July 14, 2017

The Wehrmacht, the armed forces of the Hitler’s Third Reich, achieved a uniquely prominent and embattled position in modern military history. During the “blitzkrieg era” from 1939 to 1941, they seemed the epitome of revolutionary innovation, professional skill, and battlefield effectiveness. However, even in the latter years of Hitler’s empire, when overwhelmed by the power of Soviet Union and the Western Allies, the German soldier’s dogged defensive efforts earned them the grudging respect of their enemies. It has only been in the last several decades that we have become increasingly aware of how ramshackle and poorly coordinated the German war effort was. A much darker revelation was the German military’s deep involvement in the genocidal crimes of the National Socialist regime. Thus, even though historian Rolf-Dieter Müller concedes that the Wehrmacht has been the most heavily studied military force in history, there is enough new scholarship to justify another book on the topic.

Müller’s Hitler’s Wehrmacht is a thematic overview of that scholarship. Across seven chapters, he considers topics as diverse as the German soldier’s “front experience,” the “war of the factories,” and the German army’s role in Third Reich’s “war of annihilation” against the Jews and others. For the military professional, the opening chapter is probably most important as it considers the integration of the German military into the National Socialist state. The key issue is Hitler’s bid to break with centuries of Prusso-German tradition by changing the command structure and ethos of the armed forces.

The weakest chapter is probably his last, as Müller offers a forty-four page thumbnail review of the Wehrmacht’s military operations. Müller seems far less comfortable in describing battles and campaigns as he is in reviewing the organizational and social issues. And, while there are problems with editing and translation throughout the book, they are most apparent here. In the first place, there are inconsistencies. The “Third Panzerarmee” on one page becomes the “Third Tank Army” a few pages later. There are also technical glitches; the airborne attack on Crete is described as being conducted by “motorized gliders.” Worse, in considering the final battles around of Berlin, we encounter this sentences like this: “A contributing factor was the successful attack by the 1st Ukrainian Front at the Lausitz–Neisse River near Moscow.” (Moscow is over one thousand miles from Berlin and the rivers listed here.)

For the reader willing to overlook these hiccups, the books promises a concise overview of current and emerging scholarship on a provocative topic.

Book Review written by: Scott Stephenson, PhD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas