BOOK REVIEW

Hitlerís Greatest Defeat-
The Collapse of the Army Group Centre, June 1944

Paul Adair-192 Pages- Published by Arms and Armour ĖLondon-1994 and Distributed by Sterling Publishing Inc, Newyork-1994 for 25/- USD and 14.99 Pounds Sterling.  

Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN does a Book Review of a stunning German defeat in World War 2.

Layman readers of military history are more familiar with names like Normandy landings and Battle of Stalingrad than with names like Battle of Kursk or Operation Bagration  which in reality were far more decisive than any other battles in finally leading to the collapse of Nazi Germany. 28 out of total of 38 German divisions were completely destroyed  (Refers-Page-508-Scorched Earth-Paul Carrell-George.G.Harrap and Company Limited-London-1970) in Operation Bagration. 350,000 to 400,000 men were killed wounded or taken prisoner. More serious albeit intangible was the loss inflicted on the German High Command in terms of senior officers killed. Thus 31 out of total strength of 47 German   general officers present on the battlefield  were killed or lost as missing/captured in the operation. These included  seven corps commanders (who in third world countries have little to do with battles and are more notorious for performing non-military functions !!!!) and more than 20 infantry divisional commanders (Refers-Pages-508 & 509-Ibid). The scale of the German losses was such that even a man like Field Marshal Busch who was contemptuously referred to by many German officers as "Hitlerís lapdog" took a stand against Hitlerís rigid and self-defeating orders for rigid defence and was later resultantly dismissed.

While Operation Bagration has been correctly described as the German Cannae by Paul Carrell Adairís book has definitely filled in a much-needed blank in the military history of WW Two. The readers may note that despite all Hollywood propaganda highlighting US role in WW Two in defeating Nazi Germany it remains an irrefutable fact of history that it was US economic might and Russian blood that played the most decisive role in Hitlerís defeat. The figures of casualties i.e 13,600,000 combatants killed or total 20,600,000  of the USSR in killed category alone versus 295,000 (total) of the USA and 326,000 killed of Great Britain (Refers-Page-987-Hitler and Stalin-Alan Bullock-Alfred.A.Knopf-New York-1992) are a clear proof of the fact that the major battles of  the war were won with Russian blood. What the Hollywood films donít show is a bit unheroic and was described somewhat accurately by a British historian as following, ďSoviet Russia did most of the fighting against Germany, sustained nine tenth of the casualties and suffered catastrophic economic lossesĒ while ďthe Americans made great economic gains and had a trifling number of casualties fighting against GermanyĒ and that "Roosevelt was the only one who knew what he was doing: he made the United States the greatest power in the world at virtually no cost ď(Refers-Page-700-English History-1914-45-A.J.P Taylor-Penguin Books-England-1977).

Paul Adairís major contribution as the title suggests is to emphasise the fact that the destruction of German Army Group Centre was "Hitlerís Greatest Defeat". The writer goes in great details and illustrates the brilliant intelligence deception plan evolved by Soviet Intelligence  to deceive Hitler about the direction and timing of the Russian offensive which as a matter was one of the greatest strategic surprises of the Second World War. The reader may note that achieving surprise at a strategic level is far more difficult than tactical surprise. In this respect the Russian deception plan to deceive the German High Command as Adairís analysis convincingly proves has no parallel in WW Two.

The author goes into considerable details in discussing how the Red Army by 1944 had improved from the relatively incompetently led Red Army of 1941 to a highly dynamic operational entity by 1944. This the writer analyses was because of the fact that the German invasion of Russia forced Stalin to resort to rapid promotions as a result of which the new generations of senior Red Army officers in 1944 consisted of  highly talented and dynamic junior officers who occupied positions of  army corps and divisional commanders as a result of accelerated promotions by 1944. The writer explains with concrete examples how the new breed of Soviet senior commanders repeatedly proved this fact during "Operation Bagration" .

The narrative is most interesting with exhaustive quotations based on personal accounts of participants. The writing style of the author and his command over language is such that even a layman reader does not get bored with too much technical military jargon and can read the book with as much ease and interest as it was a Sherlock Holmes novel. This is a particularly strong point of the book since readers in todayís busy world are ruthless with unusually long and seemingly boring military works which despite their intrinsic analytical value are dismissed by most readers as too boring to be read.

The author has also given considerable attention to Russian partisan activities in the German rear and has highlighted their role in the German defeat by keeping sizeable proportions of German forces occupied in rear area installation and line of communication protection duties and in co-operating with the main Red Army formations in the detailed defeat and annihilation of various German formations in the final stages of the offensive.

Adequately detailed maps and the reader experiences considerable difficulty in on ground orientation, however, do not support the book. This is compounded by the fact that the subject battles were fought over a large area and Russian names are more difficult to remember by a foreign reader.

There are some factual errors in the book but these pertain to historical background and are more related to 18th and 19th century German history than Operation Bagration.

On the whole Adair has accomplished a great deal in restoring one of the most decisive battles of the Second World War to its true place in history. In addition the book is a welcome addition to the relatively few Western accounts on the battles fought on the Eastern Front in the period 1944-45. The book is a compulsory reading for any student of military history who is interested in the operational art and various aspects of the inter relationship between military strategy, intelligence theory, operational strategy and military methodology.

previouspagebackhome