Monday, August 27, 2012

UNDER HIMMLER'S COMMAND: The Personal Recollections of Oberst Hans-Georg Eismann, Operations Officer, Army Group Vistula, Eastern Front 1945 by Hans Georg Eismann

The last year of the war for Germany is comparable to the first year of the war for the Soviet Union.  The chaos and destruction is hard to describe and keep track of but more importantly any new piece of information is a welcome addition to our knowledge and understanding of the war, and in this case, the Wehrmacht and the Nazi Party.  Hans-Georg Eismann's account cannot be readily compared with the likes of Manstein, Guderian, Raus, etc.  At least in these recollections, he was not a commanding officer but part of the general staff of the army group and had to deal with a variety of issues and complications that can make for dry reading for non-specialists.  Overall the book is some 134 pages of text, including about a dozen pictures of various commanding officers (which is highly reminiscent of the Red Army in 1941 when commanding officers were constantly changed in hopes of a different outcome) and a few maps sprinkled throughout.  The recollections of Himmler's role in Army Group Vistula are interesting but they say more about what Himmler wasn't than what he was.  This was obviously not a man capable of commanding an army group and his sojourn as commander is riddled with mind-boggling orders and ideas, including the sending off of an entire battalion to attack the Red Army and hold them until a future attack by further German forces was arranged.  Lacking any communication or contact with other German forces and finding themselves in the open countryside, the battalion was never heard from again. 

Interestingly enough, the same post-war attitudes that one finds in the memoirs of top German commanders are in evidence here as well.  For instance, the author argues in favor of the myth of the 'Wehrmacht with clean hands' when he claims the Wehrmacht on its march to the east never participated in the type(s) of crimes he was accusing the Red Army of perpetrating.  Another similarity is that of the missed opportunity that Manstein is so famous for (hence the title of his memoirs, "Lost Victories"), Eismann also goes into some detail about the numerous missed opportunities the Wehrmacht squandered throughout the war, including 1945.  Included here is a mention of a division made up of 'Vlasov's men' that participated in one advance and was then viewed as too unreliable and removed from the front.  Eismann argues that more should have been done with not only Vlasov's formations but also Ukrainians from the beginning of the war, the Germans could have had a million-man Ukrainian army!  How they would all be armed is a separate question he obviously ignores, and considering the Germans could hardly provide any type of support/weapons for their actual allies (Romanians, Hungarians, etc.) it seems quite far-fetched to believe that a million Ukrainians could be readily equipped to fight.  Thus, continually one seems the divergence between the military's thinking and that of the Nazi Party, which could never fathom arming so many 'subhumans'.  Overall, this book was an interesting read and a nice addition to Eastern Front literature.  The one real problem I had with the book was due to the translator's decision to include a plethora of German verbiage where a simple English translation would have sufficed, this decision at times took away from the overall readability of the book.

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