German staff book review

Book review by Martin Koenigsberg

One of the greatest Prussian staff officers, Clausewitz, said that “war is the continuation of politics by other means”, and in German General Staff, Barry Leach shows that the Nazi General Staff was a perversion, not a true successor to the Prussian-German Imperial General Staff tradition. Interwar infighting, personality clashes, doctrinal disputes, and a senseless intentional misuse of “politics” rendered the Weimar Reichswehr too weak to resist the rise of Nazism – and personality. Hitler’s aggression – and unbelievably lucky.

Hitler also offered the carrot of massive expansion to top generals, fun and fancy new gear like Panzers, Rockets, bigger guns, and cool new radios. When staff expansion was necessary, it was all too easy to remove all political discussion, except Nazi indoctrination, from the staff officer curriculum. Then Hitler’s luck, the appeasement of the Allies, and their own tactical and tactical skills involved them in a massive war that they were really not ready for.

Of course, the real job of a General Staff is to do what is best for the strategic interests of its Nation. But the General Staff and the leadership of the Wehrmacht had ceded “politics” to the Nazis – in the personal incarnation of Adolf Hitler. So his wild whims became a tiger that staff officers rode at their own risk.

Barry Leach, an academic and popular historian with a solid record, gives us a great little history of a complex subject, with the mass of black-and-white photos, maps, diagrams and line drawings one expects. by Sarah Kingham, Ballantine’s art director extraordinaire. The 160 pages are filled with history and insight into an organization going off the rails from top to bottom.

When the narrative touches on the friction between Hitler’s HQ, OKW- and the real professional HQ, OKH, the reader finds more madness and lessons that may well be revisited today as this review is written in the third month of the Ukrainian war. Independence. A myopic focus on craftsmanship rather than the true purpose of their work had driven the Wehrmacht to fight, destroying its own nation in the process, long after true professionals like their Imperial Prussian and German ancestors would have sued for peace. – to save lives and the Nation. Ultimately, they were not a tool used by the Nazis, but an integral part of the Nazi death cult.

There are few adult themes in this book and no graphic injury passages, so this would be a good book for a junior reader over the age of 10/11 who is interested in history. For the gamer/modeler/military enthusiast, this is a varied set. For the player and modeler, it’s more about feeling the period and understanding the mentality of the participants, although some modelers may get diorama ideas from certain images.

For the military enthusiast, this is a really cool appetizer to get a lead on learning about the staff struggles that unfolded throughout WWII. After reading a lot about Allied friction, delving into Axis sticking points seems to be a rich vein in academia. I have been wanting to read more on this subject after finishing the book – always a good sign.

German staff book review

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