German WW2 Reviews

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Larso
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Re: German WW2 Reviews

Post by Larso » 05 Jul 2018 07:00

Tigers in the Mud by Otto Carius

Against his father’s advise, Carius volunteers for panzer service. Initially he is assigned to the 21st Pz Regt of the 20th Panzer Division. They operate Czech 38t tanks and Carius is firstly a loader. He can’t see much but the dust still finds him. He looses some teeth when his tank is knocked out. Worse was happening around him. Then there is the jolt that was the Russian T34. He sees a Luftwaffe Division disintegrate and learns some harsh lessons about war. In early 1943 he is transferred to the 500th Replacement Battalion to learn to operate the new Tiger tank.

The above is covered in less than 20 pages, so the great bulk of Carius’ account is about operating and commanding Tigers. Carius is part of C Co, 502nd Heavy Tank Battalion. He is in action on the Leningrad front where the terrain seems particularly unsuitable for such heavy vehicles. It was surprising how relatively minor damage could put these mighty tanks out of action. There are a few stories of note in the difficult retreat and with being cut-off.
The major actions in the book begin on the Narwa front. There are numerous actions trying to stave off Russian advances. There are frequent encounters with tanks, anti-tank guns and infantry. Usually the Germans are out-manned but the Tiger’s armour and gun allow many situations to be retrieved. As the war continues Carius is able to deploy these to their full potential and completely smash strong Russian tank formations. There are also reverses where command incompetence or Russian initiative cause significant loses. At the end, Carius is given command of a company of Jagdtigers and sent to oppose the Americans. These vehicles were surprisingly vulnerable and the fading morale of his troops means Carius is unable to use them to best effect.

The 502nd was one of Germany’s most successful Tiger battalions. A lot of this was due to Carius himself, so this memoir is very useful, as Carius recounts his thinking and planning of actions. While he inflicts considerable carnage, it is not a ‘blood and guts’ account. Certainly casualties and tragedies are suffered but the author’s focus is more on command when it comes to battle. He writes of his officers and his commanders, both the excellent and the fools. This is quite interesting. It is solidly written overall, though perhaps a bit dry at times. I enjoyed it but think I would’ve appreciated it more when I was a teenager. Still, highly recommended for its depiction of Tiger tanks in action on the Eastern Front. 4 stars

Larso
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Re: German WW2 Reviews

Post by Larso » 05 Sep 2018 11:19

'At Leningrad’s Gates' by William Lubbeck

This is a very informative memoir by a soldier, later an officer who fought with the 58th Infantry Division. William grew up on a small farm in Eastern Germany. He writes of life at the time and its conservative style and innate respect for authority. It is informative to hear him explain how the Versailles Peace following WW1 left a deep mark on many people. There was more concern about Communism than the Nazis, who were seen as uncouth and tellingly, derived a lot of support from the less educated. Yet even though support was often luke-warm, it was enough to give Hitler the chance to ‘use democracy to destroy democracy’. Gradually the freedoms enjoyed by ordinary people were subsumed. Everyday things required approval, and families such as Lubbeck’s, who did not join the party or show support began to be victimised. This meant interference in business, church, school and the very real risk of arrest. William as a very young man was dubious of them himself but nonetheless found himself having to join in to some degree. He did, with many others, approve of Hitler’s achievements in creating jobs for the six million unemployed, regaining lost territories and rebuilding the army. It was a complicated time. There were benefits from the improving economy but horror at the increasing control over their lives and the racial agenda. It is a very interesting and informative part of the book.

William was not interested in farm life and was becoming an electrician instead. This had him in line for posting to a panzer unit but his call-up, just prior to the invasion of Poland, saw him posted to the heavy weapons (13th) company of the 154th Infantry Regiment. The unit participated in the invasion of France, which mainly meant a lot of marching for William. This continued with the subsequent attack on Russia. William’s unit is part of Army Group North and is probably fortunate to stay with it for much of the war. Even so, they fought in some epic battles on the Leningrad Front, the Volhov encirclement, the Demyansk pocket, Novgorad and places ever closer to Germany.

The 13th Company operated a mix of 75mm and 150mm howitzers. William was initially assigned to the communications platoon, but keen on being more involved, became an FO. It is astonishing how accurate the artillery could be. There are certainly plenty of Russian attacks made to practice on! William is particularly detailed on the life of soldiering. He is under fire a lot but there is also interesting observations made on food, drink, army organisation, sex, party officials and so on. A point William makes is very few German soldiers he knew were motivated by Hitler. Most, like himself, where simply patriotic Germans who fought for their country. They had faith in their generals and each other and even in victory into 1943. From here however, when Allied bombers began hitting Germany hard and the clearly declining military situation, concerns did begin to grow. William himself is sent to an officer academy for six months, returning to his company in May 44. He is made commander of it even. Ongoing Russian attacks steadily force the Germans back and William is very fortunate to escape by sea just before the end.

The last 20% of the book is about William and his new bride’s trials in post-war Germany and then their immigration to North America. Like everything else in this book, this was pretty interesting. In some ways this is one of the more clear eyed accounts by a WW2 German soldier. Six years of war had their effects too in terms of awful memories and guilt. The combat accounts here are good, though not too visceral. As a soldier, William did his duty (and a couple of his photos show that he completely looked the picture!) and indeed, sought to do his very best. He was of his time; Christian, patriotic and respectful of authority, only to find these attitudes completely exploited by the Nazis. It is shattering. 4 ¼ stars

Larso
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Re: German WW2 Reviews

Post by Larso » 27 Oct 2018 12:28

'Blood Red Snow' by Gunter Koschorrek

Gunter Koschorrek always planned to write a book, so he kept notes and an eye out for experiences that warranted recounting. It is fortunate that much of this survived the war and turned up several decades later, as he has written one of the best accounts of combat on the Eastern Front I have encountered. It began in October 1942 when Gunter was sent to Stalingrad at the age of 18. He is extremely fortunate to be assigned to 1/21st, one of the mechanised infantry battalions of 24th Panzer division. He is based outside the city and used to run supplies in. These missions are increasingly dangerous and confused, with the delivery point sometimes only hazily known and Russian forces perhaps just yards away.

The attack that encircles the 6th Army is overwhelming. Gunter and a handful of others have the narrowest of escapes. There are also numerous desperate battles against Russian infantry and tanks. To me, Gunter’s account is one of the most vivid in terms of the detail of Russian attacks. There are the surges of infantry, tanks attacking trench lines, even face to face combat. The Russians are extremely determined and the German forces are steadily eroded until there is a collapse. Gunter also has an eye for weaponry and writes of the role of 20mm AA guns in support for instance.

There is more of this later in the book with operations involving flame thrower tanks, Ferdinands and Stukas. This is after a brief stint in France while the division is rebuilt and some time in Italy chasing partisans. Most of Gunter’s actions though involve him operating a machine-gun and aside from the tensions involved, there is quite a lot of interesting material on movement and positioning weapons. It was also fascinating to read of the effect of fog and snow on operations. Hearing ominous activity, while being unable to see a thing is stressful even reading about it! Most of it ends in very bloody violence and Gunter writes of the awful appearance of freshly killed enemies and comrades.

I am a great fan of ‘The Forgotten Soldier’ by Guy Sajer. I am aware of the criticisms made of it in recent years and can see the validity of some of these. I always thought the intensity of Sajer’s story stood out and wondered why this was so? Gunter’s account is the first German memoir that to me, conveys the Eastern Front in the same tone and manner. However, Gunter’s account seems more grounded in verifiable dates and events. It is almost diary like in places, while being a very cohesive account overall. He names his comrades too. There are some simply remarkable stories. This one is a must! 4 ½ stars

Larso
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Re: German WW2 Reviews

Post by Larso » 23 Jul 2019 11:31

'An Infantryman in Stalingrad' by Adelbert Holl

Alderbert Holl was an officer with the 94th Division at Stalingrad. This book relates to his experiences as a company commander with 2/276 regiment in the attack and then encirclement of that epic battle. From September 1942, he records on virtually a daily basis his actions and orders in relation to the battles near the Volga. These include the organising of his men in assaults, defence and operating with tanks and Stugs. They certainly made a difference. It was also interesting reading about how they operated under the control of 24th Panzer division. The number of Russian prisoners taken was remarkable. The cost is immense though and his battalion is reduced to 20 or so men even before the massive Russian attack.

This edition has been translated by esteemed Stalingrad historian Jason Mark (and Neil Page). He has also drawn on his extensive files to provide an astonishing level of supporting material to Holl’s text. There are army and corps reports, casualty states, pictures of the actual streets and buildings mentioned and a footnote on virtually every other soldier that Holl writes about. It is probably the most fulsome memoir I have ever read in terms of the extent to which things are verified. There is so much included that the note font size was so small as to be hard to read!

While it is headed by dates, it does not read like a diary. There is a degree of tension as the situation deteriorates and the ongoing job of killing the enemy. I had thought it a bit dry early on but by the end, when winter had closed in fully and the survivors were starving it was quite compelling. Holl is one of many who endured because it was his duty to his country and men. Frustratingly it has an abrupt ending but then there is a subsequent book where Holl relates his seven years as a POW. Given all I’ve read here I wish he’d also written a book about his service prior to Stalingrad. 4 stars - 5 for the documentation and notes!

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Re: German WW2 Reviews

Post by Cult Icon » 26 Aug 2019 15:43

I must second 'For Volk and Fuhrer' by Erwin Bartman as being very good. I think it is one of the best german soldier's memoirs and definitely the best Waffen SS memoir (if others can name something else, I'm all ears). Erwin Bartmann has two posts on AHF before he passed away and his memoir comes across as more insightful and complete than the other WSS memoirs.

I was surprised to see that it notes the Warsaw Ghetto and the use of LAH men by the SD to mass murder Jews. Also, the widespread sexual abundance enjoyed by LAH men, including sex/rape with foreign women (French, Ukrainian etc) and the use of SS or local brothels. Fritz Witt, who later trained/commanded the 12.SS hiter youth helped organize sexual services for his men! I also like the commentary on the officer/ nco relationships and the RK commanders.

Larso
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Re: German WW2 Reviews

Post by Larso » 07 Dec 2019 07:50

'In Deadly Combat' by Gottlob Bidermann

Bidermann served with the antitank company of the 437th Regiment of the 132nd Infantry Division. He joins his unit as it is involved in battle in the Crimea. He operates with a 37mm anti-tank gun and surprisingly to me, this was often in an attack situation. The other surprising thing was that it was successful against the large Russian tanks. He writes in considerable detail about several such actions, where the pressure of very close quarter engagements is clear. The fighting overall in the Crimea was intense. The Soviets threw many thousands of men into attacks and the German victory must have been a very close run thing. Many of Bidermann’s comrades are killed along the way though.

After its Crimean stint the division is sent to the Leningrad Front in late 1942. Bidermann fights at Lake Ladoga, Gaitolovo and others. They face mass attacks and conduct increasingly desperate defence. Bidermann is now a junior officer and we hear his thoughts behind his orders. When he goes on leave mid 1943, he writes the division has suffered 4,520 KIA at that point in the war. I don’t believe any of the Western Allies had a division that suffered deaths to that extent.

Finally Bidermann finishes the war in the Courland. Again there is much desperate defence. The final days here are quite interesting, so too the first days of his imprisonment. There is then a lot on the tragedy of years as a POW in Russia. There are some stories where you almost weep. This said, it must be remembered it was far worse for many Soviet prisoners of the Germans.

Bidermann does write a lot about killing and personal combat. Indeed, as the war continues, his account gets grimmer. However given the scope of his service it was clear he had more to say on this if he’d chosen. His memoir is quite general in long patches, almost a regimental or divisional history at times. This is useful for situational awareness but again, Bidermann could’ve said more about his personal deeds. Interestingly, it is when he writes more generally that he can get a bit lurid in discussing battle. I felt he is more grounded when he reveals himself in the action. Overall, a very informative account of very front-line service - Highly Recommended! 4 stars

Larso
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Re: German WW2 Reviews

Post by Larso » 09 Jan 2020 02:01

'For all it was worth' by B.R Teicher

This is Teicher’s detailed story of his life growing up in Germany before WW2, his service in the war and the years after, up to his immigration to South Africa. As with many stories by this generation there are some remarkable things to learn about life in a very different age.

Teicher’s childhood is addressed quite extensively. He was an only child of reasonably successful parents but life in pre-Hitler Germany was still very difficult. While the standard of living improved with Hitler, so too did the Nazification of life. Teicher is honest about being caught up in the process and details the various activities (Hitler Youth etc) he was involved in. His education of course was interrupted by the military situation and he even made it to officer school, only to be booted out for punching an annoying NCO!

The war is addressed from about page 150 and it comprises only the next 50 or so pages. There almost seemed to be more about Teicher’s activities as a POW than a combat soldier? The astonishing thing is, Teicher goes to Russia, fights at Kursk, where he is wounded destroying a bunker, captured and escapes, in about a page! This was a bit exasperating. There is more detail with his next posting to Italy. His actual unit (loosely attached to the 29th Pz Gr) is unclear but he volunteers for the Brandenbergers and most of his combat is behind the lines missions. These are mostly of a recon nature but also involved blowing things up. There could’ve been more detail for some of this. It is clear Teicher found this all quite exciting. He continues in this vein with POW activities in the Black Market.

There follows quite a bit on his post-war experiences doing a variety of jobs but ironically working for the US Army more often than not. His attitude and activities through his time was quite interesting. The other thing that was notable was Teicher’s reflections on the big events. He writes on the Jewish situation and how Hitler exploited and sacrificed his generation. Overall, this is a very readable book but given the lighter coverage of his war experiences I give it just less than three stars.

Larso
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Re: German WW2 Reviews

Post by Larso » 12 Feb 2020 09:26

'Panzers on the Vistula' by Hans Schaufer

This book promised much but I’m afraid it didn’t deliver. The inside sleeve states that ‘Hans Schaufler fought as the commander of a Jagdpanthe in East Prussia in 1945.’ Well he didn’t. It seems he might’ve been a passenger in one but when he writes, infrequently, specifically about himself, he’s in a communications halftrack. He does include an account by another officer who commanded a Jagdpanther in battle, perhaps this is the confusion….
Schaufler was a regimental intelligence officer of the 35th Panzer Regiment, of the storied 4th Panzer Division, which he served in from 1939! This suggests he had a lot of experiences to recount about the early war offensives and years on the Eastern Front – yet none are mentioned? There’s also nothing about his prewar life or attitudes to the ‘interesting times’ he lived in. So, it must be said, this is not a standard memoir of the times in the usual form.

In a sense the author’s focus on his experiences in Kurland and around Danzig and the Vistula is reasonable. There was a lot happening as the German army desperately defended German territory to give refugees a chance to escape. The Russian advance was a cataclysmic experience for those in its way. The retribution being dished out for the German’s own conduct in the East, was horrific. Artillery and bombing also caused massive casualties, especially on the German ships that were sunk in the Baltic. It was far worse than I’d thought. British planes contributed to this as well.

The horror of it all is pretty clear at least. As for writing about the battles, most of what Schaufler recounts is quite general. Yes, there is material on a handful of Panthers fighting off superior Russian numbers but it is often expressed as ‘we’. A few more detailed passages are provided by comrades but it is frankly less than it could have been concerning these momentous days. Schaufler finally writes more personally concerning his astonishing sea journey to safety. Again, a few other’s accounts are added to flesh out the book. There are some extremes of fortune.

While handsomely produced, it is only 139 pages long including index. The Jagdpanther on the front (my favourite AFV) and the blurbs imply more is going to happen than does. It is a strange mix of a book – general history, collected anecdotes and in places, a war memoir. While Schaufler is good at listing the units he fought beside, the 4th Panzer’s sub-units are frequently jumbled up? Perhaps it’s the translation? I don’t recall it being an expensive book and that’s as it should be. There is interesting material but it is over-hyped and as a memoir, too incomplete.

Larso
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Re: German WW2 Reviews

Post by Larso » 05 Apr 2020 12:09

'Boy Soldier: A German Teenager at the Nazi Twilight' by Gerhardt Thamm

Gerhardt is only nine when the war starts. For much of his youth he lives an idealic farm life with his extended family in Jauer, which was close to the Polish border. As is often the case, I learned new things about farming and living in the 1930s. It was busy but there was an entrancing rhythm to it all. The Thamm family had mixed reactions to the rise of the Nazis. His grandfather ridiculed Hitler but as time went on the freedom to be open about this disappeared. The grandfather’s comments on Hitler’s decisions act as foreshadowing for the disaster to come. When the Red army finally gets close, there is the delicate decision as to when to evacuate. Too soon and punishment could come from Nazi authorities, too late and… well.

As for his soldiering, Gerhardt is firstly utilised to unload the trains full of wounded. Their line was remarkably untroubled by Allied planes. Then when the town is evacuated there is a hair-raising escape from Russian tanks. At fifteen, Gerhardt is posted to an ad-hoc infantry group defending the Sudeten Mountains. They are fortunate that the Soviets have their attentions elsewhere but the boys are utilised to guide the soldiers through the familiar terrain and particularly to bring refugees through to safety. They are also lucky to get good food, relief and showers! Gerhardt has some tough moments but his exposure to the real horrors of the Russian advance seems to be limited to what others see. After the capitulation they are returned to their farm to operate it on behalf of the Russians, before finally being expelled by Polish settlers. They leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

This is a very interesting look at childhood in astonishing times. German society was well ordered and quite resilient. Gerhardt is lucky in many ways. They lose everything but remarkably their lives are spared despite the terrible dangers. The combat component is quite different to that of a proper soldiers. They are lucky in their NCOs but there is still horror to be experienced. I give this three stars for that element but it is a four star book overall.

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