Book Review: The German Wars: A Concise History, 1859-1945


by Michael A. Palmer

Minneapolis: MBI/ Zenith Press, 2010. Pp. viii, 246. Illus., biblio., index. $29.00. ISBN: 0760337802

No military establishment has garnered more attention than that of Germany, with its Prussian antecedent.  Palmer’s work continues that tradition with mixed results.

Palmer opens the book with a chapter on the wars of Italian and German unification, though the former is at best tangential to the subject at hand.  He then follows the course of German military history from the victories of Moltke the Elder to the Götterdammerung in the ruins of Berlin in 1945.  Throughout there are several sidebars dealing with various matters that are part of the subject, but that Palmer correctly regards as interruptive of his broader narrative.

Palmer’s general argument, born in the 1980s when the US military admired all things German, is that while the German Army’s tactical and operational prowess were formidable, its efforts were ultimately doomed to failure because of inattention to, if not sheer disregard of, strategy.  While this argument may have been revisionist in the US military of the 1980s, today it is now accepted as the conventional wisdom, thanks to the efforts of such notable scholars as Gerhard Weinberg, Williamson Murray, James Corum, Robert Citino, and others.

Palmer’s grasp of the material and issues involved is generally good, although marred by the occasional mistake.  The claim, for example, that Austria overran Serbia aided by German and Bulgarian troops, is incorrect; Germany provided the bulk of the forces.  The book also suffers from the complete absence of maps.  Finally, Palmer usefully includes a bibliography divided into discreet chronological periods.  While one takes Palmer’s point that the number of works listed must be limited to the most important, there are still some unfortunate omissions.  The most notable is in the section on World War II, where there is no mention of the German multi-volume “semi-official” history, Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, much of which is now in English translation under the title Germany and the Second World War.

For scholars and students well versed in Germany military history, this book contains little if anything that is new.  For the novice military historian or German historian seeking to gain some knowledge of the German military experience, however, Palmer’s work is a useful primer.

About the Reviewer: Richard L. DiNardo holds a doctorate in military history.  Currently at the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College, in Quantico, Virginia, Prof. DiNardo has written extensively on the German armed forces.  His most recent book is Breakthrough: The Gorlice-Tarnow Campaign, 1915 .   

Reviewer: Richard L. DiNardo   

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