General Heinrici is not a well-know German commander of WWII, at least in terms of others such as Rommel, but he was a very able officer. He was a professional soldier who commanded a Corps during the first two years of the War on the Eastern Front. He therefore provides a very valuable insight into the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the initial lightning successes, the first shock of a Russian winter and the blunting of the German thrusts in a vast territory. The author/editor has made a selection of the General’s papers and diary records that provide a very candid insight into the war on that front, together with Hurter’s perceptive introduction. A fascinating view and rewarding for the reader.
NAME: A German General on the Eastern Front, The Letters and Diaries of Gotthard Heinrici 1941-1942
AUTHOR: Johannes Hurter
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War Two, Second World War, PoW, Poland, Operation Barbarossa, Eastern Europe, Russia, Red Army, Eastern Front
DESCRIPTION: General Heinrici is not a well-know German commander of WWII, at least in terms of others such as Rommel, but he was a very able officer. He was a professional soldier who commanded a Corps during the first two years of the War on the Eastern Front. He therefore provides a very valuable insight into the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the initial lightning successes, the first shock of a Russian winter and the blunting of the German thrusts in a vast territory. The author/editor has made a selection of the General’s papers and diary records that provide a very candid insight into the war on that front, together with Hurter’s perceptive introduction. A fascinating view and rewarding for the reader.
Heinrici was the archetypal career soldier of the Prussian tradition. Almost a caricature in appearance and career, but he was more than that and his story provides an unvarnished view of the early German operations in Russia.
He was a highly decorated WWI veteran who was keen to resume his military career in the new Wehrmacht. With most of Germany, he was happy to see the rebirth of a strong and aggressive Germany after the humiliation of the Peace Treaty that followed the Armistice of 1918. He turned a blind eye to excesses of the Nazis and the dubious nature of Hitler because Hitler was restoring German power. As with most fellow Germans, he had to be aware of the price that was being paid for this restoration, but the easy early victories of expansion into the Rhineland, the annexation of Austria and the land grab in Czechoslovakia made the invasion of Poland seem to be a natural and low risk next step. France and Britain appeared irrelevant.
Once the British and French declared war as a consequence of the invasion of Poland, most German officers began to feel uneasy but, even in hot war, no one seemed able to stop Hitler. The Phony War in the West turned into another blindingly successful Blitz Krieg and Germans seemed poised on the cusp of victory over Britain. Then the first threat of defeat could be seen by the most perceptive as the British destroyed the Luftwaffe attempt to gain air superiority over British air space as the essential prelude to invasion by the Wehrmacht. Some became concerned because Hitler shrugged off the reverse and began preparing for the invasion of the Soviet Union. The forces in France and the Low Countries were stripped of assets that were moved East, ready to roll into Russia. However, even the most perceptive officers were won over by the early advances into the Soviet Union and the massive stream of prisoners being brought back to German captivity.
As a Corps commander, Heinrici had a local view and also a broader view from his knowledge of his own troops performance and what he saw, and was briefed on, of those Corps to either side and of the strategic objectives. What is not so obvious is exactly how much a General may have been initially deceived and ignorant of the Nazi excesses. Some may see in his diaries and letters a convenient self-deception. More than seventy years on the perceptions are different and coloured by evidence from war crimes trials. Hindsight is still common amongst historians.
However, there is every appearance of a remarkable candour in Heinrici’s writings. He describes graphically the conditions in which he and his troops fought and he shows a growing doubt about Hitler’s strategy. He also shows mounting concern that the Wehrmacht was being drawn in to the war crimes of the Nazis and the first actions of the Holocaust. Again, it is difficult to take his observations entirely at face value but that comes from the evidence that emerged after the war.
As a professional soldier, Heinrici was viewing life as a patriot tasked with delivering on Hitler’s objectives and that may show criticism of the Commander in Chief as much from the perspective of the affect of orders on the officer and his troops. Some officers did believe the battle would continue into the Russian Winter and some of them had direct experience from training in Russia before the rise of the Nazis. They could see with concern a lack of planning to provide the clothes and equipment necessary and the preparation to fight in the appalling conditions.
The eye witness accounts from Heinrici tell of what he saw and showed his level of perception. This is a uniquely honest set of views from a senior German soldier of war on the Eastern Front. The powerful text is supported by a very interesting photo plate section that includes some images that very graphically portray the harsh winter and the equally hostile thaw. A good account of what became a defining tuning point in the war.