Book Review: Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942


by Robert M. Citino

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007. Pp. xiv, 431. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN:0700615318

Death of the Wehrmacht is the sequel to Bob Citino's earlier  The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich(2005). In that work, surveying the breadth of Prussian and German military history, Citino argues that the German way of war was characterized by a preference for short wars, culminating in a decisive battle of annihilation. This required a military led by aggressive, offensively spirited officers and a tolerance of independent decision making by subordinate commanders. In Death of the Wehrmacht, Citino looks at the campaigns in Russia and North Africa in 1942, the out-comes of which doomed the German Army and its way of war. 

After recounting Germany 's successes from 1939-1941, Citino examines the campaigns in southern Russia and North Africa in considerable detail. The May 1942 victories in the Crimea , Sevastopol , and the Izyum bulge, marked by large bags of prisoners, seemed to confirm German martial superiority over the Red Army. The month closed with Erwin Rommel's offensive against the British Gazala line in North Africa , followed by the Tobruk in June. 

While spring 1942 was dazzling, the summer was just the opposite. The summer offensive in southern Russia, planned by Adolf Hitler and his General Staff Chief Franz Halder, and aimed at seizing the Caucasus oil fields, failed in its attempt to encircle and destroy Soviet forces west of the Don River, and ultimately became enmeshed in the maelstrom of Stalingrad. In North Africa , Hitler eschewed taking Malta , to let Rommel rush into Egypt , where his advance halted at El Alamein . In the end, German forces on both fronts held positions that were extended and exposed. That autumn, Soviet and British counteroffensives led to catastrophic German defeats. 

Citino ascribes these defeats to several causes. The first of these is geographic, although Citino is more implicit than explicit here. The Wehrmacht was designed to execute decisive, annihilating campaigns. This was best done in relatively confined geographic areas.  Poland and France fit that requirement nicely.  Russia , with its vast spaces, was another matter. 

Mindset was another cause. For the Germans, being on the offensive was the only way to conduct a war, a mindset that included both Hitler and Halder. In 1942, the Germans resumed offensives, especially in Russia , when they might have considered a more prudent, defensive posture.

According to Citino, radio killed independence in subordinate commanders. Mistrustful of his commanders, Hitler increasingly sought to micromanage affairs and radio gave him the ability to do so. Here Citino is on thinner ice. Every advance in communications technology provides a temptation to higher authority to violate its chain of command downward. The self discipline of the leader is what matters. In the case of Hitler, self discipline was never his strongest trait.

The book, like all of Citino's works, is engagingly written, although marred by some editorial glitches. While his research is not based on documents, Citino's notes show a grasp of the enormous corpus of literature on this subject that is second to none. This makes the book especially valuable for the reader who is new to the subject. Taken all together, Citino's well written and thoughtful study will be of great value to experts and novices alike. 

Reviewer: Richard L. DiNardo, USMC C&S College, Quantico   

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