February 13th 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Democratic Progressive Party ousts Kuomintang

CANBERRA OBSERVED Barnaby Joyce: enigma, loose cannon, deputy PM?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Temporary protection visa holders left exposed

ENVIRONMENT Bob Carter, RIP: mythbuster and fact finder extraordinaire

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Farewell, religious liberty, farewell, conscience

EDITORIAL Syria: U.S. backdown opens door to peace talks

ECONOMICS Bubble has burst on globalisation project

EUTHANASIA Media drives sales in the death market

CULTURE What does a good music review sound like?

CULTURE Can we put a rocket under religious Sci-fi?

CINEMA A melancholy heroism: Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

BOOK REVIEW Partial but thorough

BOOK REVIEW Brutality of battle

LETTERS

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BOOK REVIEW
Brutality of battle




News Weekly, February 13, 2016

 

ARDENNES 1944: Hitlers last gamble

by Antony Beevor

(Viking, London)
Hardcover: 451 pages
ISBN: 9780670918645
Price: AUD$35.00

 

Reviewed by Christopher Rule

 

Before I begin let me make an admission: apart from a couple of chapters of Beevor’s last book, The Second World War, Ardennes 1944 is the first of his books I have read. Now I know what I have been missing.

What was the Ardennes offensive? It was the plan Hitler conceived in September 1944 to push through the Allies frontline close to the German-Belgian border, cross the Meuse River and proceed to Antwerp. The port of Antwerp was the centre of Allied supply operations for their push into Germany from the west. By recapturing Antwerp the Germans would disrupt the Allies supply operations, seriously affecting their push into Germany.

Hitler hoped to split the Allies and force Canada out of the war, and maybe even the British. He also hoped that the Western powers would sue for peace, leaving only the Soviet Union to fight. He chose to attack in the Ardennes because it was the weakest link in the Allied front, being manned by American units that had been severely mauled during the fighting in the Hürtgen Forest in October-November.

The German High Command, particularly General Guderian, had serious doubts about the plan. Guderian was of the opinion that, with the onset of icy, winter conditions, the Red Army would launch a “massive offensive” against Germany through East Prussia. This of course proved to be correct.

The Germans planned to get to the Meuse River within 48 hours, which didn’t happen, despite the Allies being caught off guard and seriously undermanned. When that didn’t happen the offensive had already failed. According to General Jodl, the unanticipated slowness with which the Germans moved forward was a more important factor in the ultimate failure of the offensive than the unexpected speed with which the Allies reacted. To the Allies it became known as the “Battle of the Bulge” because the German attack pushed a bulge in the Allied frontline almost to Dinant on the Meuse River.

The offensive began on December 16, 1944, and drew to a close around January 29, 1945. To all intents and purposes the Germans knew it had failed by the end of the first week. It continued for another five weeks solely because Hitler refused to face the reality of defeat.

Beevor makes the point that the Germans brought the “terrifying brutality of the Eastern Front to the west”. While the fighting was brutal, I’m not sure that he proves his point. Even if it was as brutal as the fighting in the east, the numbers involved were not as large as those in the east and the Eastern Front lasted much longer. Nor was there anything equivalent to Stalingrad in this battle.

He also makes the point that soldiers on both sides shot prisoners. After the massacre of 84 American prisoners shot in cold blood by German Panzergrenadiers at Malmedy-Baugnez, American officers condoned such incidents. The American troops had come to realise that it was a matter of “we or they” and had also come to hate the Germans.

Beevor also describes vividly the tensions between the Americans and the British – to say nothing of the French – caused mainly by Field Marshall Montgomery and egged on by Fleet Street.

Eisenhower called Montgomery a “psychopath … an egocentric”. General Bradley, commander of the 12th Army Group, in particular, was irrational, almost to the point of paranoia, when it came to Montgomery. He saw him as the cause of all his woes.

Beevor is critical of Bradley because, being stationed at Luxembourg, he was too far away and was, thus, out of touch with the battle. Also, he ignored an order from Eisenhower to “reinforce the line of the Meuse”.

Beevor criticises Patton for his impatience, which could make matters worse, rather than improve them, as happened at the battle for Bastogne, which the Americans had chosen as the obvious place to stop the German advance to the Meuse.

The names of many celebrities pop up in the narrative. They include Ernest Hemingway, his ex-wife Martha Gellhorn, Marlene Dietrich, J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Kissinger and David Niven – the last four were soldiers who belonged to units involved, but they were only bit players in terms of this narrative. Hemingway, “an inveterate war tourist”, was referred to more often than the others and certainly provides my quotable quote. In what was taken to be a “mild jibe” against Ernie Pyle, “the most famous American war correspondent” Hemingway referred to himself as “Old Ernie Hemorrhoid, the Poor Man’s Pyle”. However, it is hard to see what the point was of introducing them into the narrative other than for light relief in an otherwise grim picture.

I have a few minor gripes with the book. Although there are many maps, I did think that the map titled “Crushing the Bulge” on page 334 could have included all the place names that were being referred to in the following pages. And it would have helped the understanding of those of us who don’t speak/read German if he had translated the German military unit titles, such as Fallschirmjäger, into English.

That having been said, I recommend this book. While written by an academic it is no academic tome. It is well written, fast-paced and well researched. Beevor graphically portrays the horrors of war. He makes good use of multiple sources and interweaves them into a narrative that is all too human.


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