The German Army at War, 1939-1945

By Newland, Samuel J. | Parameters, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

The German Army at War, 1939-1945


Newland, Samuel J., Parameters


Almost from the time the guns fell silent in Europe on 8 May 1945, the world in general and the western world in particular has studied the German army of World War II, and its impressive warmaking potential, with a special fascination. Although more than a half century has passed and the developed nations have moved from mass armies to smaller and more lethal forces, the interest in both National Socialist Germany and the World War II German army continues unabated. We still see a steady stream of books on the topic. Some are original studies on various aspects of the war, while others are either reprints or translations of works being made available for the first time in the English language.

One recent release which adds to our understanding of Germany in war and will intrigue American audiences is Gottlob H. Bidermann's In Deadly Combat: A German Soldier's Memoir of the Eastern Front. The book was originally published privately in 1964 but was available only in German. An excellent translation, with the author providing additional materials, is now provided by Derek Zumbro, giving American readers much greater access to this classic. The importance of Bidermann's memoir to German historians is evidenced by the fact that Dr. Dennis Showalter, a renowned scholar on the subject, consented to write the preface to the English edition.

The allure of this book is in Bidermann's descriptions of the magnitude of the conflict that occurred on the Eastern Front, supported by the individual dramas that played out daily. Bidermann is eminently qualified to provide these descriptions. With the war in the east only a week old, Bidermann was one of the three million soldiers who disembarked on a seemingly endless journey eastward. He began as an enlisted man in an anti-tank gun crew with the German 132d Infantry Division as it moved across southern Russia. His unit fought in this area during the sieges of the Crimea and Sevastopol. With the Crimea in German hands--after a bloodbath for both armies-the 132d was shifted north to the Leningrad front. There it remained engaged until the end of the war, when it surrendered in the Kurland pocket. Bidermann and thousands of his comrades became prisoners of war in Russia, a fate as fearsome as death itself. Bidermann was released from captivity in the summer of 1948, terribly ill but still a survivor.

What distinguishes Bidermann's book are his soldier's insights on the German army and the Eastern Front. Bidermann started the war as a common soldier, a Landser, and finished it as a gun captain. He was wounded seven times and repeatedly decorated for valor. Though he finished the war as an officer, however, he came home devoted not to the National Socialist regime but to the men with whom he fought. He wrote the book for the survivors of the 132d. Many, like the author, were still trying to come to grips with the war, the savagery of the Eastern Front, and the misery of captivity under the Soviets. Rather than glorifying the war as Germany's eastern crusade, Bidermann looks at the lives and the feelings of the soldiers as they relate to their adversaries and the battles they fought. As he notes for the reader, some say "one may become accustomed to the threat or constant presence of death," but for Bidermann and his comrades, the cries of the dead and dying, both friendly and foe, "are often heard long aft er the guns are silent."

Geoffrey Megargee provides another perspective on a different level of war with his new book, Inside Hitler's High Command. While any reader who enjoys military history will find this an engaging book, Megargee gives the serious student of military history valuable insight into the German high command. Megargee holds a doctorate in military history from Ohio State University, and he does not disappoint the reader with his thoughtful analysis. From the outset he is focused on providing the reader a clear picture of the German high command, in the process correcting some myths that have been erroneously repeated. …

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