War Without Garlands

Robert Kershaw – Ian Allan Publishing

This is a book about German experiences in the first couple of years of the WW2 Eastern Front campaign, told largely through the recollection of individuals, but mostly not the well known, high-level protagonists. Kershaw paints the broader picture, and allows the words of the common footsoldiers to invoke the atmosphere on the ground. There is some Soviet and other personal material, but precious little.

Kershaw, therefore, focuses on what these events meant at the level of the German combat soldier. So, on the one hand, the Army inflicts defeat after defeat on the Soviet forces,  but the soldiers complain about dud kit and cockups. Even the vaunted tactical skills of the Germans is exposed as being far from ever present. And when the run of victories, ends, there is a drawing of breath as some realize that they have fallen for nothing but empty propaganda.

The racism of the invaders is seen in its pure, undiluted form, and Kershaw does not shy away from recounting what this meant for the enemy – combatants and non-combatants.

Some reviewers have suggested Kershaw tries too hard to make the reader sympathize with the ordinary German soldier, but I think that’s an unfair criticism. I would have preferred Kershaw offer more analysis at times, but he is content to let the reader judge all events through the words of the soldiers, and he consistently maintains that approach.

This is a good book to read as an addition to a more analytical view of the war, its only shortcomings being that (a) it does not cover the whole war, and (b) non German input is minimal. It has been well researched, is well put together, and is a powerful reminder of how pervasive evil was in the Nazi regime.