Forging the Anvil
Combat Units in the US, British, and German Infantries of World War II
G. Stephan Lauer
Lynne Rienner Publishers, London, 2022, 463 pages
Book Review published on: September 30, 2022
Forging the Anvil: Combat Units in the US, British, and German Infantries of World War II, Stephen Lauer’s study of World War Two infantry, tackles the long-held belief by allied generals and post-war studies that during the war, the German infantryman were tactically better than their U.S. and British counterparts. Although this perception has been addressed previously in other works, the author makes a compelling case for why this argument should be reexamined, pointing out that new German demographic data and soldier narratives provide a clearer picture of the German soldier and allow new areas for evaluation and comparison between U.S., British, and German soldiers. The author contends that if the perception of German superiority was a true “evaluation of evidence in the classification, selection, training and assignment of citizens to the infantry, and efforts to build and sustain cohesive social bonds within the small units would support it” (p. 3).
Lauer argues that infantry soldiers are the critical component for a nation to win a war and as such, how they are created matters greatly. He presents his analysis in a clear and organized way by looking at how the three nations created infantrymen from conscripted citizens and forged in them the willingness to endure the brutal physical and mental demands of combat with the necessity to fight and die for each other. The book uses a chronological methodology divided into three parts. Each part has a chapter devoted to each nation. This approach allows the reader to gain a clear understanding of the author’s analysis. Part I looks at each army through the inter-war years up to the reinstatement of conscription, including how each nation viewed the obligation to serve in wartime, selection methods, and how each army planned to create and sustain cohesive infantry units. Part 2 focuses on the intent and effect of conscription and the standards for induction and classification for soldiers selected for infantry. Finally, part 3 looks at the outcomes of classification and selection as the war enters its final years.
In his analysis, the author clearly points out the challenges each nation faced in meeting the manpower needs of the global conflict, including the consequences of their decisions to allocate manpower. As each nation made decisions about where to assign their citizens, the reality of combat showed the importance of quality infantry soldiers. The decisions on which citizens became infantry collided with battlefield realities and resulted oftentimes in the failure to build and sustain cohesion, resulting in subsequent decisions on how to fight the tactical battles. Lauer also addresses the impact of organizational culture on each nation’s ability to provide infantry as they addressed manpower shortages and looked for efficiencies. Through his methodology and analysis, Lauer convincingly proves why the German infantryman performed better than their counterparts.
The book is exceptionally well researched and clearly outlines the author’s case. Given the current war in Ukraine, this book is a timely addition to the scholarship on how to win in large-scale combat. It provides valuable insights, and it will be up to the reader to determine, given the author’s conclusions, whether the U.S. Army is ready for the challenge. I highly recommend the book for all readers but especially those readers interested in leadership, the experience of combat, and World War II.
Book Review written by: Robert J. Rielly, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas