Friday, March 30, 2012

Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East by Stephen G. Fritz

While newly crafted monographs based on the latest research are a welcome sight when it comes to the Second World War, and more specifically the Eastern Front, what Stephen Fritz has compiled here is a dated analysis that wholly lacks any kind of up-to-date look at the war on the Eastern Front. Unfortunately, with this title, while the German point of view is up-to-date to some extent, although largely unoriginal, the Soviet point of view is pretty much thrown back to Cold War era stereotypes. The reader is regularly bombarded by the huge numbers the Red Army was able to utilize against the Wehrmacht, with ten and fifteen to one ratios being thrown around and Red Army success being almost wholly attributed to numbers of tanks and men with those numerous 'waves' of frontal assaults. To keep up those pretenses the author regularly emphasizes the 'combat' or 'front' strength of German forces. Left out are all the other forces within German Army Groups (rear area personnel, etc.), but when listing Red Army strength all are included thus invaliding any type of ratios one could conclude from the information presented. I would expect a synthesis to at least offer some new or original take on the topic being covered, but aside from rehashing readily available information, there is little of anything else evident here.

This book's strengths are the intertwining of Hitler's ideology and the complex process(es) that led to the Holocaust by the latter period of the war, but both of these issues have been readily addressed in multiple works by Christopher Browning, when it comes to the 'Final Solution', and a host of publications on the Wehrmacht and its role in the genocide on the Eastern Front (Omer Bartov, Geoffrey P. Megargee, etc.). The biggest weakness is the analysis of the actual military campaigns. For instance, even though Frtiz cites Glantz he does not recount the fact that offensive unleashed by Operation Blau did not feature a Red Army that regularly retreated but, on the contrary, one that consistently launched its own offensives all the way to Stalingrad. He labels the 13th Guards Rifle Division an 'elite' formation, while Glantz has shown that in fact the division was recently reconstituted with raw recruits and returned soldiers from hospitals, hardly 'elite'. Additionally, the author seems to think that whenever the Red Army is able to amass forces at a breakthrough point they are 'emulating the Germans'. No, they are emulating well known military doctrine that has nothing to do with the Germans. Another 'elite' unit is found when dealing with the Battle of Kursk, the 5th Guards Tank Army. Again, no, this was a unit that recently came together with a staff that never truly worked together before the eve of the battle. In general, the author's analysis of the Battle of Kursk is horribly dated and too often one has to read about 'fanatical Russians' who are ' liberal doses of vodka'. Soviet success is attributed to the 'condition of German forces' rather than any skill Red Army soldiers or commanders exhibited. Oddly enough, Fritz characterizes Red Army attacks against the 'boundaries' of German units as 'unimaginative Soviet tactic[s]' when in fact the Germans regularly utilized such tactics themselves, and in many cases they proved quite successful as 'boundaries' between units were regularly viewed as weak spots. Finally, in one of the tables in the appendix there is a list of deaths for the Germans and Soviets for the duration of the war. This would be fine if not for the obviously skewed 'ratios' that are presented right after. While Fritz regularly discusses the amount of allied support the Germans enjoyed throughout their campaign in the Soviet Union, the figures for their casualties are wholly missing thus greatly skewing the ratios in favor of the Germans as Soviet deaths are certainly not all attributable to just German action(s) on the Eastern Front and the Red Army certainly inflicted hundreds of thousands of casualties on Italian, Finnish, Romanian, and Hungarian forces (just to name a few).

In many respects this title proves what historian David Stahel has recently written in his first book on Operation Barbarossa. When it comes to the Wehrmacht the average academic is too entwined with its role in the Holocaust with the end result that military and operational history takes a back seat and suffers or it simply becomes a rehashing of what has already been said, usually ignorant of the other side and lacking real in-depth analysis. Unfortunately whatever 'good' this book contains is marred by the numerous Cold War stereotypes and inadequate analysis that is offered. Those unfamiliar with the Eastern Front will find plenty of interesting information here but they would need a heavy dose of supplemental reading(s) to assure that a more objective understanding is reached.

No comments: