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 of the Prussian-German Imperial General staff tradition. Interwar infighting, personality conflicts, doctrinal conflicts, and a foolish intentional turning away from “Politics” made the Weimar Reichswehr too weak at its core to stand up to the rise of Nazism—and Hitler’s aggressive personality—and amazing luck.
Hitler was also offering the carrot of a massive expansion to the top Generals, new fun and fancy gear like Panzers, Rockets, Bigger guns, and cool new radios. When the expansion of the staff was required, it was all too easy to remove all political discussions, save Nazi indoctrinations, from the Staff Officers’ curriculum. Then Hitler’s run of luck, Allied appeasement, and their own tactical and grand-tactical skill got them involved in a massive War they were really not ready for.
Of course, a General Staff’s real job is to do the best for the strategic interests of their Nation. But the General Staff and leadership of the Wehrmacht had ceded “Politics” to the Nazis- in the personal embodiment of Adolf Hitler. So his lunatic whims- became a tiger the Staff Officers rode at their and their Nation’s peril.
Barry Leach, an academic and popular historian with a strong record, gives us a great little history of a complex subject, with the mass of black and white pics, maps, diagrams, and line drawings that one expects from Sarah Kingham, the Ballantine’s Art director extraordinaire. The 160 pages are filled with history and insight into an organization going off the rails from the top down.
When the narrative gets to the friction between the Hitler HQ, OKW- and the real Professional HQ, OKH, the reader finds more insanity, and lessons that might well be revisited today as this review is written in the third Month of the Ukrainian War of Independence. Nearsighted focus on craft over the true point of their work had led the Wehrmacht to fight on, destroying their own Nation in the process, well after the Real professionals like their Prussian and German Imperial forebears would have sued for peace-to save lives and the Nation. In the end, they were not a tool used by the Nazis- but part and parcel of the Nazi Death Cult.
There are few adult themes in this book and no graphic injury passages, so this would be a fine book for a Junior Reader over about 10/11 years old with an interest in history. For the Gamer/Modeler/Military Enthusiast, it’s a varied package. For the Gamer and Modeler, this is more about the feel of the period and understanding the mentality of the participants, although some modelers may get diorama ideas from some of the pictures.
For the Military Enthusiast, this is a real cool amuse-bouche to get a lead into reading more about the inter-staff struggles that ran throughout WWII. Having read a lot about Allied frictions, getting more into the Axis friction points seems a rich vein of academia. I felt like reading more on this topic after I finished the book- always a good sign.