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Michael Dorosh

Steel Infernos, Michael Reynolds the Germany Army and Brit Authors

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I notice yet another poster recommending Reynold's book Steel Infernos to posters interested in learning about the German SS armoured forces in Normandy.

I gave my copy away a while back after not being overly impressed, but I can't remember why I came to that conclusion and am starting to think I was overly hasty.

The impression one gets of British authors is that they tend to apply what they know about the British Army to the German Army. That is a big mistake - the more I learn about the German Army, the more I realize how vastly different they were from western Allied armies, in just about everything they did. I also realize that the more I learn, the more I realize I will never fully understand them.

You look at little things like the fact that their dogtags didn't have names on them (!), or that an infantry battalion did not have a senior NCO in the manner of the British (RSM) or Americans (1SGT) and you realize how different they were.

My initial impression was that Reynolds was firmly looking at the SS Panzer Corps in his book from the perspective of a British officer (I believe he was a senior officer in the British Army) and that his judgement and conclusions were being coloured by that - but I have no recollection of any specifics. I will try and get my hands on a copy and revisit it, but in the meantime, did anyone else want to comment on Reynold's conclusions, or British historians in general? I think Brit historians can be some of the world's most brilliant men - John Ellis, for example, and especially the man who wrote The Face of Battle, probably the best analysis of men in combat ever written. But I think they tend to do better when they discuss their own army.

A look at the thread on SS sound mods will show the briefest of glimpses as to how much there is to consider when researching the Germans in WW II - and how much of this knowledge simply isn't available to people who only speak English.

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CANUCK: Clothing, Equipping and Employing the Canadian Soldier in Combat Mission

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Guest machineman

Flipping through my book pile I see I tend to favor books by British authors, I guess because they seem the most neutral. With American authors (not all of them mind you) there is often a tendency to wrap themselves in the flag, as does most of the Canadian stuff I've browsed through.

I've always found the quality of British media to be particularly high in general.

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Originally posted by machineman:

Flipping through my book pile I see I tend to favor books by British authors, I guess because they seem the most neutral. With American authors (not all of them mind you) there is often a tendency to wrap themselves in the flag, as does most of the Canadian stuff I've browsed through.

I've always found the quality of British media to be particularly high in general.

Interesting point about Canadian authors wrapping themselves in the flag - I think they do tend to get tunnel vision. Whitaker is an exception, as he seems pretty good at covering all points of view - including the German. Many Canadian histories don't even refer to what German division is being fought against, and only quote German commanders if they have nice things to say abuot the Canadians.

Did you have any specific authors or books in mind when you made the remark?

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Without referring to your book in particular, I think that it is just a case of some books being written for the British market, and then subsequently getting published across the world. Certainly if an author has military experience, then that is useful to draw comparisons and conclusions.

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Actually, Reynolds is quite pro-SS in his books. (especially the one on Peiper)

His admiration for them almost becomes worship in his descriptions. All his books have that similar underlying theme.

But they do have GREAT descriptions of ferocious armor fighting.

------------------

Jeff Newell

TankDawg

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I've almost finished reading through it the first time and if anything it seemed Reynolds made a good distinction between The German SS and the British and Canadian units. I have not come away with the feeling that the German side has been "British-ized". It was a good read and was very enlightening about the difficulties faced by the Allies in Normandy and the tough defense put up by the Germans. Allied supply and air superiority didn't seem to factor into it as much as I had always thought. What seemed most important was that the Allies were able to replace losses much easier than the Germans, though the Allies tended to get beaten up pretty regularly until the breakout from Normandy. One wonders what would have happened had Hitler not interfered and allowed the Wermacht a much more elastic defense....

"In answer to the question, 'What shall we do?' from Keitel, Chief of the OKW [in reference to Hitler's order not to yield any ground], Rundstedt made his famous reply, 'Make peace you fools!'"

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I just got done with Steel Inferno and was qite impressed. It isnt written in the most dramatic-heat-of-the-action style, it is definately strategy-based... but it is very specific about proven and unproven facts. His is deffinately in the view of an officer. Its very hard to write a book with a neutral point of view actually.. the acedemic will always seem acedemic, the military man will always be analytical.. i.e. if youve ever read Von Manstien's book 'lost victories' you will DEFINATELY get a feel for how a general writes! Not much in the way of a human perspective to say the least. But surprisingly, Reynolds does not go out to favor how the Allies (british primarily) overcame this and that, in fact his bias is really for the germans and how they were able to exploit the errors the allies made. He can make it seem like the germans won the day after a major british operation by telling you the casualties they inflicted, what they went through (level bombing attacks, etc), everything to make it seem like they suffered through fire and brimstone and will often completle leave out THEIR casualty figures and the long term effects it had on them. For instance there is VERY little detail or description about the field day allied troops had on retreating german columns in the Falais gap. In the end he proves a good point of how the germans were able to MAINTAIN the front for so long because of their remarkable leadership (experience was a key here), and in this he seems very credible. He ends the book very appropriately by really explaing why so many find the german POV so interesting.. The odds they were against, what they endured, what equipment they had and how it took a war on 3 fronts to finally bring them to surrender. I guess it kind of makes it seem like a big epic struggle, and w/ that in mind, it WAS! Just be ready to follow a bunch of half-assed maps if you want to really follow the strategic end of this book.. i reccomend it to anyone interested in normandy.

BTW, Michael D., did you post on a Saving Provate Ryan forum a few years back? I know i know your name and i cant think of where. Love to hear everyone else's thoughts on this stuff.. cya ya'll

Zaff'

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Yeah, I have been on several SPR forums.

I didn't mean to imply that I thought Reynolds was biased towards the Brits, just that his understanding of British procedure clouded his understanding of German procedure, but after reading the comments here I obviously need to take another look before saying anything further. Thanks for the replies, it has been most instructive.

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Guest machineman

Originally posted by Michael Dorosh:

Did you have any specific authors or books in mind when you made the remark?

'Six War Years 1939-45' by Barry Broadfoot, is one Canadian book I found really good. It's an oral history though, and Barry just put down the stories people told him. Amazing stories, some you wouldn't believe if they were fiction. Some of the things people got up to back home was stranger than the war stuff.

'scuse the tangent, but that reminds me of a very similar book I've got about the Vietnam war, and an anecdote where this American commander there relates how he first thought how the NVA had to be 'Communist fanatics' to take the losses they did, then recalls the similar (and quite incredible) losses his own infantry unit took from Normandy to VE day.

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Guest AlfieE

I'd like to comment belatedly if I may.

I think Michael is right, its a shame that there are so few good translations of some of the many fine books on the German army available in English, e.g. Holztrager's ironically entitled 'In a Raging Inferno: Combat Units of the Hitler Youth, 1944 - 5' and the magisterial 'PanzerTaktik' by Schnieder. I guess English speaking publishers have a lot to answer for. But then again, there are some excellent studies on the German army by English speaking authors, e.g. Kershaw's 'It never snows in September'. Personally, I rate Reynold's 'Inferno..' as one of these publications. Whilst he was a Major GEneral of the British Army, trained at Sandhurst, he did command troops from Germany, America, Britain and Canada. Whilst this dosn't mean he won't be biased, I always found his style relatively impartial. He draws heavily on War diaries,After Action Reports and has consulted all those of the Allied Forces held at the Public Record Office, Kew (an outstanding resource!).

As for the German picture, I quote: 'the author made maximum use of the Histories of the 1st and 12th SS Panzer Divisions, and the Radio and Telephone Logs of the Daily Reports of HQ Army Group B and 7th Army, which were obtained from the US National Archives. Further valuable information was obtained from strength returns held by the Bundesarchiv, Germany and from interviews carried out after the war on behalf of the US Army Historical Branch.' (p.302).

As for the author's perspective, I think TankDawg assessment is (possibly) a little wide of the mark. I never observed Reynold's to be slavish in his praise of the Germans and he certainly avoids all reference to the regularly encountered attitude of 'fanatical' SS units.

If anything, I think what Reynold's book highlights is what unique soldiers the men of the SS turned out to be, not only because of their equipment, organisation, indoctrination and comaraderie but because, in his words, they had mastered the so-called 'Art of War'. (p. 287).

Personally, I rate this book, but I didn't find it an easy or altogether pleasurable read. Nevertheless, I learn't a lot from it and I think it does desrve the attention of our community. Try it again and see what you think.

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Guest machineman

Originally posted by Zaffod:

He ends the book very appropriately by really explaing why so many find the german POV so interesting.. The odds they were against, what they endured, what equipment they had and how it took a war on 3 fronts to finally bring them to surrender

I vividly remember my (English) grandfather telling me how they expected the war to be soon over after the Normandy invasion. Who could resist such a mighty weight of arms and men, such masses of tanks and artillery? What with the continual stream of bombers overhead pulverizing German cities, North Africa lost, Italy falling, the Soviet Juggernaut attacking from the East....and then not only did the war drag on for another year but the V-1's and V-2's STARTED and didn't stop until they had flattened a good chunk of southern England. It sounded like that was a pretty black time in the UK and I got the impression he had a lot of respect for just how tough an opponent the 'Jerries' were when everything was against them.

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Originally posted by Michael Dorosh:

I think Brit historians can be some of the world's most brilliant men - John Ellis, for example

John Ellis? I thought it was John H. Elliot confused.gif Maybe I'm a bit biased towards Early Modern History (looking forward to my Europa Universalis copy) smile.gif

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He ends the book very appropriately by really explaing why so many find the german POV so interesting.. The odds they were against, what they endured, what equipment they had and how it took a war on 3 fronts to finally bring them to surrender.

I wonder if the Poles are given much thought because they had to fight on multiple fronts as well.

I also wonder why it is laudable that one continued to fight on even when it was evident the war was over. In the end, what service did the German soldiers tenacity to fight to the end (I'd be interested to see POW figures as I think the Germans were surrendering far faster than the western Allies) do for the German civilan? Yes France may have surrendered faster but she wasn't razed to the ground either.

[This message has been edited by CavScout (edited 03-02-2001).]

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Originally posted by CavScout:

I wonder if the Poles are given much thought because they had to fight on multiple fronts as well.

I also wonder why it is laudable that one continued to fight on even when it was evident the war was over. In the end, what service did the German soldiers tenacity to fight to the end (I'd be interested to see POW figures as I think the Germans were surrendering far faster than the western Allies) do for the German civilan? Yes France may have surrendered faster but she was razed to the ground either.

What service did they do for humanity in general is a better question, bearing in mind they murdered 10 million innocent people in gas chambers and mass shootings. If you accept that it was okay for them to fight for that, and excuse it by saying "they were really only fighting for their country" then it becomes easier to forgive them for endangering their civilian population by continuing to resist.

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Originally posted by Michael Dorosh:

What service did they do for humanity in general is a better question, bearing in mind they murdered 10 million innocent people in gas chambers and mass shootings. If you accept that it was okay for them to fight for that, and excuse it by saying "they were really only fighting for their country" then it becomes easier to forgive them for endangering their civilian population by continuing to resist.

No doubt. I just understood the heaps of praise and endless excuses for their loss. Blame Hitler, blame numbers or blame this and that. I don't remember much being given to the Low Countries as they were over-run by over-powering German numbers.

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Originally posted by CavScout:

No doubt. I just understood the heaps of praise and endless excuses for their loss. Blame Hitler, blame numbers or blame this and that. I don't remember much being given to the Low Countries as they were over-run by over-powering German numbers.

Well, the Dutch only held out for about 10 minutes, and sizable numbers joined the Waffen SS afterwards to fight in Russia. Fellows like Seyss-Inquart didn't add to their lustre, either.

Don't get me wrong - I love the Dutch people, personally - Dutch school girls still decorate the graves of the dead Canadian soldiers who are largely forgotten here in Canada. They suffered terribly under German occupation, and if they had their way, and the ability, I know they would have fought just as hard to keep the Germans out as the Germans fought against the Allies in 1944.

But comparing their defeat in 1940 to German defeats in 1944-45 is a bit different - from a professional military standpoint, I wonder if you can point to any shining moments in the defence of Holland? And compare that to the numerous solid performances by German forces during their 3 years of defensive warfare. From that perspective, perhaps it makes more sense?

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Originally posted by Michael Dorosh:

Well, the Dutch only held out for about 10 minutes, and sizable numbers joined the Waffen SS afterwards to fight in Russia. Fellows like Seyss-Inquart didn't add to their lustre, either.

Don't get me wrong - I love the Dutch people, personally - Dutch school girls still decorate the graves of the dead Canadian soldiers who are largely forgotten here in Canada. They suffered terribly under German occupation, and if they had their way, and the ability, I know they would have fought just as hard to keep the Germans out as the Germans fought against the Allies in 1944.

But comparing their defeat in 1940 to German defeats in 1944-45 is a bit different - from a professional military standpoint, I wonder if you can point to any shining moments in the defence of Holland? And compare that to the numerous solid performances by German forces during their 3 years of defensive warfare. From that perspective, perhaps it makes more sense?

Not really. Germany was at war and had have several years to prepare. Holland and the Low Countries weren't and activly set out to avoid provoking the Germans.

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Guest Andrew Hedges

Most of WWII history (strategic) is still sort of a footnote to Chester Wilmot's 1951-or-so Struggle for Europe. Wilmot is, I think, a New Zealander, and his book betrays a certain pro-British bias, but as I said, most strategic history afterwards has to address Wilmot.

The best histories in general are the US Army's Official Histories. They are highly readable, but very detailed. They tend to focus more on what happened than on what should/could/might have happened, and contain a lot of detail about small unit actions, too. The US Army had official historians who travelled around and interviewed soldiers soon after combat, and Charles Macdonald (Company Commander, A Time for Trumpets) was the general editor and author or co-author of many of these books, The british official histories tend to read more how you would expect an official history to read, although they contain useful information.

Edit: There is still no WWII book that even approaches Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy, which is too bad. Those books are brilliantly written, and the descriptions of battles (with small clear maps of almost every action) are unsurpassed. One can hope, though...

[This message has been edited by Andrew Hedges (edited 03-03-2001).]

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.

Edit: There is still no WWII book that even approaches Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy, which is too bad. Those books are brilliantly written, and the descriptions of battles (with small clear maps of almost every action) are unsurpassed. One can hope, though...

[This message has been edited by Andrew Hedges (edited 03-03-2001).]

The book "the Battle for world war 2" by John Keegan throws some light on the lack of a definitive history of ww2.

In it, he highlights that the weight of work on the period, outweighs that of any period of conflict in human history..combined.

In many ways it can be a disturbing read. Not so much with atrocities or the butchers bill, but the way that it has become increasingly distorted by those who have an agenda.

Our views of what happened are constantly being challenged by new documantaries, or by aplogist/revisionist historians who want to present these events in a different light.

Coming to a consensus on what would constitute a definitive account of world war 2, would be hard to agree on.

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Originally posted by CavScout:

Not really. Germany was at war and had have several years to prepare. Holland and the Low Countries weren't and activly set out to avoid provoking the Germans.

Yes, but I said "from a professional military standpoint." Armies don't train to "not provoke", they train to fight and to kill.

Perhaps I am misinterpreting your point of view. I took your meaning to be this - that the German Army has heaps of praise given to it for their fighting ability from 1943-45, whereas armies such as the Dutch and Belgians do not get such praise for their defence of their homelands in 1940.

Is that in fact what you intended your meaning to be? If not, then I'll ask for a clarification.

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Guest Andrew Hedges

Originally posted by Berkut:

The book "the Battle for world war 2" by John Keegan throws some light on the lack of a definitive history of ww2.

.

Is that "The Battle for History" or a different book? Your other point is true, of course -- there is pretty much of a consensus, now on the main issues of the civil war. Not on every issue, of course, but on the main ones. But historians didn't really arrive at this consensus until the 1930's, which was 70 years or so after the war ended. Foote's book wasn't begun until 20 years after that.

Still, it would be nice to see someone try, even if they were wrong. And if you mention a small battalion sized German counterattack in a larger history, why not include a little quarter-page map?

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A review I made on Amazon.com:

"After the first read-through, Reynolds book comes across as a well-researched and well-written account of the Battle for Normandy from the perspective of the I. SS-Panzer Korps.

However, the author is clearly impressed with the fighting ability of the Waffen SS divisions in Normandy and less so when it comes to the performance of the British forces. It is perhaps this fascination with his subject that has clouded his judgement on several accounts.

As an example, Reynolds conclusions on the battle for Villers-Bocage on 13.06.44 becomes distorted due to several glaring errors.

1. Reynolds claim that Brig. Hindes decision to halt his brigade group at Livry in the evening of 12/13 was "incomprehensible" and that Hinde instead of halting should have advanced "the mere 6km to Villers-Bocage". The distance is actually double that...

2. Reynolds scorns the British for using the arrival of 2. Panzerdivision on June 13th as their "excuse" for pulling out later that day: "the whole business of 2nd Panzer is a myth anyway..", "..only part of the reconnaissance and various advance parties arrived on the 13th.." and "a company of 1/7th Queesns ran into the enemy...these turned out to be a 2nd Panzer Division staff car and two motorcycle escorts - hardly the deployment of a Panzer Division advancing to contact.."

The odd thing is that Reynolds is flat out ignoring the post-war papers prepared by 2nd Panzer commander von L├╝ttwitz and the history of 2nd Panzer by Strauss. Both clearly states that both the divisions Panzergrenadier regiments had arrived on June 13th and commenced the attack against Villers-Bocage, Amaye-sur-Seulles and Cahagnes.

It is errors and distortions such as these that makes this reader doubt the general accuracy Reynolds account."

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Originally posted by Claus B:

However, the author is clearly impressed with the fighting ability of the Waffen SS divisions in Normandy and less so when it comes to the performance of the British forces. It is perhaps this fascination with his subject that has clouded his judgement on several accounts.

About the first thing Reynolds mentions about this issue in his Peiper-book is that stemming from the circumstances the western allied soldiers were much LESS willing to take risks than their German counterparts. After the succesful landing and the liberation of the Western Europe many allied soldiers began to consider the war as almost won. Who wants to die for an already decided war (at least on the winning side)?

Also Reynolds himself is/was a professional british soldier. Wouldn't he be one of the least likely persons to belittle the British accomplisments during the war? Still it's clear that he is impressed by the performance of the Waffen-SS troops. Maybe there are a good reasons for that. Other than just being biased.

Ari

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One of the reasons why Germans had their stunning victories in 1939-41 was that the theory of operational art has only found an adequate defensive answer to blitzkrieg in 1941.

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I think "Men of Steel" might be supplemented with a much older book by the brit Alexander

McKee: "Last Round Against Rommel", Signet, 1966 - the British title is "Caen: Anvil of Victory" copywrite 1964. It covers the Commonweath/German view from D-Day through Falaise; concentrating primarily on the Battles for Caen.THe bulk of the material presented consists of narratives from the participants on both sides - outstanding for Data Mining! It is filled with tactical goodies viz. "Panzer" Meyer's succinct description of how to conduct a night attack, the importance of traffic control & cross country movement, etc. INdeed, as the writer served in many of the units, and the focus of the work is much more about the sharp end of the stick it does much to dispell Reynolds' apparent pro SS tilt. The Scots and Canadians in particular are just as tough and ruthless as the 12 SS or Panzer Lehr in these battles. Too many battles to enumerate from Combat Mission are discussed by participants of both sides in this book. This book has, in conjuction with Combat Mission proven to me what a marvelous time machime CMBO is. Although map deficient, if you can fine a copy it't a must grab.

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