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Panzer Leader, A Book Review

Discussion in 'Biographies and Everything Else' started by belasar, Nov 13, 2011.

  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Panzer Leader By General Heinz Guderian, Da Capo Press 1996, Softcover, 528 pages, With selected Photos and Maps, Appendix and Index, Amazon Softcover New: $10.20, Used: $4.08, Hardcover New $79.95, Used $25.76

    Originally penned in the 1950's my copy is a recent rerelease of a classic WWII autobiography by one of the most senior German leaders to put to paper his side of the events of the war. Autobiography's can prove an invaluable source of first hand information on events that happened behind closed doors or to a closed circle of participants. Valuable as it may be a, autobiography must be read with some measure of caution as all personel history is subjective, and it is the rare author who is willing to tell thier story warts and all. What the author fails to record is often as illuminating as what they do write.

    Little of his life prior to the rise of Hitler, and none of his post war years are mentioned. This is a book about the Second World War and his observations of Germany during this period as a creator of the Panzer Truppen, frontline commander, exile, Inspector of Panzer Troops and Chief of the General Staff.

    Guderian credits Hitler's enthusiastic embrace of panzers for thier deployment by Germany despite friction by more tradition bound senior leaders of the army. He counters the statement that there were widespread breakdowns of panzers during the German move into Czechoslovakia, but there were logistic failures in providing needed fuel and right-of-way for the panzers according to him.

    In the Polish campaign he repeats the oft discredited claim that Polish Cavalry charged German Panzers with saber and lance.

    In the 1940 campaign he often cites the German High Command as more a hindrence to victory then the resistance of the Anglo-French armies. In his opinion Germany accepted peace too soon from France and should have continued the attack until the Mediterain coast was reached. Nor does he feel Germany should have stopped there, but moved immeadiately to North Africa with all available forces to secure Algeria, Gibralter and Egypt. In his view the only way to bring England to the peace table.

    Initialy taken aback by his first viewing of a map of the Russian invasion, he expressed little lack of faith as to its feasability. He states that German plans were fairly fully formed for the movement as far as Smolensk, but after that there was 'a general understanding' that the Panzer Groups of Army Group Center would pivot north to aid Army Group North in the capture of Leningrad, followed by a decent on Moscow from the northwest and west. Guderain seems confident that both targets could have been taken by the late fall of 1941 and that these twin victories would have destabalized the Soviet northern and central fronts.

    Guderian laments the turning of his 2nd Panzer Group south to aid Army Group South as a lost oppertunity to move on Moscow by mid August. He also seems to date this period as the beginning of Hitler's micro-managing of troop movements and attacks. The assault on Moscow when attempted was hindered as much by a failure to replace shortages in men and equipment as they were by the weather and Russian resistance. While nothing could be done by the cold weather and the Russian's, the replacements were available and were misguidedly used to form new units rather than reconstituting existing formations at the front, he asserts.

    Bitter about his dismissal as commander of 2nd Panzer Group, he blames his army group commander, von Kluge, as much as Hitler and the High Command. His disagreements with von Kluge would eventually lead to a proposed duel to settle the matter of honor, but of course it never occured. He holds the Anglo-American declaration of nothing less than the Unconditional Surrender of Germany as a major blunder by the allies that trew away any chance of a negotiated peace before the final destruction of Germany. He wished for and hoped that a seperate peace could have been made with the west so that Germany could concentrate on Russia alone.

    Reinstated as Inspector-General of Panzer Troops in early 1943, Guderian writes of his efforts to reconstitute the Panzer arm of the German Army. He laments the waste of his newly rebuilt panzer divisions at Kursk, and states that there were better targets to employ them on. This lament would be repeated until the wars end in other misguided attacks ordered by Hitler.

    He claims that while approached by various members of the conspiracy to remove Hitler, he was ignorant of how far they were willing to go to achieve this goal. He also claims to be so unsure about thier actions and that he could not clearly decide how to repond. Unusual for so deciesive a battlefield commander. In the end he made no effort to aid the plot but also no effort to prevent it either. His apointment to the Court of Honour to determine which officers should be turned over to the People's Court for eventual execution is equally ambiguous as well. He states he served only to ensure that the rights of accused officers were not abused, but admits that he took every oppertunity to beg off actually sitting in attendence, sending his deputy to preform the disaggreeable task, with the full knowledge that this person lacked the stature to have any practicle effect.

    He states that troops under his direct command acted 'correctly and his compassion' with the civil population they encountered. This I am willing to accept at face value. His assertions to being ignorant of the Death Camps and atrocities commited by Waffen-SS combat formations (excepting the Kamanski-Dirlewanger brigades) is a little suspect. As Inspector-General of Panzer Troops the Waffen-SS Divisions (mostly Panzer, Panzer Grenadier or Motorized) fell under his purview. He also chronicles his inspection of factories providing all manner of supplies and weapons for his panzer troops. Factories often using slave labor drawn from the Concentration Camps.

    He seems to feel that his efforts to create the PanzerWaffe, and lead it into battle had no connection to the success Hitler had in enacting his Final Solution. Neither does he seem troubled that he was an integral player within Germany's attempt to seize by force the homeland's of otherwise peacefull neigbors. He asserts that as an officer he lacked the right or privledge to question the morality of the actions ordered to preform by the civilian command.

    He expresses little regret in serving in Hitler's empire other than an inabillity to bring the war to a successfull conclusion in Germany's favor. He admits to only two kinds of mistakes, the inabillity to convince Hitler to adopt sensable courses of action once he clearly and correctly laid them out, and to trusting that other actors were honest brokers when working out aggreements.

    Gurderian is clearly a brilliant battlefield leader and in many ways an innovative thinker for his time in military matters. It does seem however that he has situational ethics with reguard to the consequeces of action taken. Niether a criminal nor the paragon of virtue he portays himself to be, he is the product of his times and circumstance.

    Flaws aside, both with man and the book, I think every serious studernt of WWII should read this book, and is a worthy addition to any library of the period.

    BR-XII
     
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  2. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    Here,I have to disagree :IMHO,PL is worthless,it is a gathering of wrong statements .
    SOME exemples
    1)The newly rebuilt Panzer divisions were NOT wasted at Kursk
    2)The Polish cavalry dod NOT charge the Panzers with saber and lance
    3)The chance for the Germans to move in june 1940 to NA was inexistent
    4)The claim that Hitler doubled the number of Panzerdivisions by halving te Panzerstrength of each division,is wrong
    5)His claim that tank replacements were available ,but were withheld in Germany to form new divisions,also is wrong
     
  3. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    I defend neither the man or the book he wrote, and agree with some of your critisisms of it. Still we have no other account by so senior a commander available to us. For what he writes tells us much about him and the generals like him who served the Reich. A chance to peer inside the mind of such men is the best reason to read it. Just don't accept his word as the final one on the subject.
     
  4. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    An other account by so senior a commander is "Verlorene Siege" by Manstein . Although I have heard a lot of criticism about it,it seems it is better (or "less bad") than Panzerleader.
     
  5. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    Manstein's book is one of the most 'airbrushed' of the German High Command's memoirs ; he had a lot more to hide than Guderian and did so successfully. 'Verlorene Siege' was taken as a standard work of reference for many years and it's only recently that it's reputation has seriously called into question.
     
  6. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    You will notice that I am not criticizing Guderian for hiding his membership of the Court of Honour (about the 20th july) and the gift of Hitler;to admit this late 1940,would be politically suicidal .I would have done the same .
    Much more important is the (IMHO) stupidities he is writing on (in my copy) P 294 on the formation of PzDivisions having 400 tanks(notes for a conference with Hitler on 3 march 1943)
     
  7. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    Manstein's book has not just been criticized on a political level ; critics have drawn attention to his own 'enhanced' view of his military decision-making.
     
  8. scipio

    scipio Member

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    Guderian's book should be read.

    However, the more I read the less I respected him and the lower my opinion of his military and certainly strategic vision.

    I could add a list of corrections as the previous posters have done. However I am going to restrict it just one.

    It beggars belief that Guderian did not know what the Waffen SS were up to never mind the Allgemeine.

    SS Liebstandarte Adolph Hitler and its commander Sepp Dietrich were under Guderain's direct control in Poland, France and Russia.

    Two days into the Polish campaign and two atrocities by SS LAH - excusable that Guderian did not know but when the next SSLAH atrocity occurred and the Army wanted to Court Martial the miscreant, the SS successfully appealed to Hitler who decried that henceforth (17th October) SS could only be court marshaled in their own courts. One would have though that would have alerted him to the SS character.

    At Wormhoudt in the French campaign, Sepp Deitrich, appears stinking of pig SH*T and all we get is comment that Sepp was subject to ribald humour.

    The subsequent massacre was common knowledge although the SS tried to hush it up (because of the embarrassment of having to call on the Regular Wehrmacht to rescue their leader).

    And so it goes on - yet all we get from Guderian is that the Waffen SS should simply be regarded as excellent soldiers - and dear old Uncle Sepp is genuine guy.

    And then there was Russia!

    I think Guderian was lucky not to have to appear in front of a War Crimes Trial.
     
  9. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    I too admit that my opinion of Guderian has declined after reading Panzer Leader.
     
  10. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    I think that the point now reached with opinion of the 'General's memoirs' from Germany is that they should be read - but with caution. This includes Guderian, Manstein, Kesselring, Liddell Hart's interviews, etc. In the 1950s, they were taken as 'Gospel' for many reasons, including the politics and opinions of the time.

    It's now widely accepted that they were distorted to enhance the writers image or self-image ( and that's nothing new - you can level the same accusation at Churchill).

    So - the books are not worthless ( after all, no-one can now go and interview any of these men ). All of them are on my bookshelf and will remain there. But they need to be read with a critical eye - but backed up by reading more current research and criticism ( eg - in Manstein's case - Melvin, Stein, etc...)
     
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  11. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    Good review, Belasar. Of a book that's certainly worth reviewing.

    'Verlorene Siege'? That would be 'Lost Victories'.
    Dreadful book. For many reasons, not least the constant 'it wasn't me'; but mostly Manstein's turgid style - one of the most difficult to read memoirs out there.

    Panzer Leader was a disappointment for me too; whatever the truth or otherwise of what Guderian says (it's a memoir, I expect some partiality), he just seems so puffed up with his own importance while really giving little actually useful analysis.
    'We moved some tanks here, then we moved some there, I was very cunning. Then the next day I moved some tanks, they were moved to where they were needed, I knew how to move them correctly, unlike those other Generals. Tomorrow I shall move some tanks.' ad nauseum.

    I basically agree 100% with Martin. You sort of have to read these books, and wince through the hubris and impartiality (ever read all of Monty's offerings? Not exactly... balanced, or even Bradley - staffers memoirs reflect the internal politics of the time as much as any real history), but the effect they had on the overall historiography for years, combined with a fixation on other German sources, was out of all proportion to their actual worth.

    ~A
     
  12. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    One minor error is when Guderian describes the composition of panzer divisions for the French campaign in 1940 including "6th, 7th, 8th - one panzer regiment, three battalions, Czech equipment." The only Czech equipment I'm aware of - feel free to fill in - is Pz35t/38ts in lieu of Panzer IIIs, a total of 334 across the three divisions (106 35ts in 6th, 228 38ts in 7th/8th). Even the majority of tanks within these divisions were PzIs, IIs, and a few IVs. These were the former 1-3 Light Divisions, the main change in converting them to panzers was additonal tanks to expand a battalion to a regiment, so the "Czech equipment" helped make that possible; but the implication that the divisions were equipped from Czech stocks is at best poorly worded.
     
  13. JBark

    JBark Member

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    I think calling PL worthless is simply silly. Guderian is writing his story as would anyone in a memoir. His ability to be completely accurate is limited by the information made available to him. If he heard from a subordinate of a saber charge (I'm sure he would not have anyone believe he witnessed it) then he probably would not have had any new data by the time he wrote his memoirs. The change in the strength of panzer divisions did occur and probably happened over time. Hitler could have very well been suggesting the numbers Guderian reports but was influenced to change his decision. Your problem is that you want to attack Guderian and nit pick his book to a worse degree than Hart...who did a horrible and amateur job of criticizing Guderian. Didn't you once point out that Guderian wrote his memoirs while still in Allied custody? Considering that this is wrong what does a wrong statement by you do to your credibility?
     

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