Tadas G Arlauskas

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Book Review of PANZER LEADER by General Heinz Guderian (Originally released in 1952)

Posted by mbatga on November 28, 2017 at 11:35 PM



Book Review of

PANZER LEADER by General Heinz Guderian (Originally released in 1952)

This is one of the significant books detailing the events of Second World War told by what might be considered an insider which also experienced and participated in its military activities first hand. General Heinz Guderian had written several books about military subjects. This one was released in 1952 and was considered a popular book at the time of its release. It provides a number of level-headed insights into the workings of parts of the Third Reich and explains some of the differences between the National Socialist political regime and the German armed forces.

Some interesting points in the book include a time when Guderian was relieved of command over a controversy under circumstances he believed to be unfair. It recounts his mindset:

[Guderian:] ”The unfair treatment that I received began by making me feel, understandably I think, very embittered…so now I sat in Berlin with nothing whatever to do, while my soldiers continued their hard struggle. I knew that I was being watched, that every step I took and every remark I made was being observed. As a result, for the first few months I lived in complete retirement and hardly ever left my home. I received only a few guests. One of the first was Sepp Dietrich, the commander of the Leibstandarte, who telephoned me from the Chancellery to say he was coming to see me. He explained to me that he had done this deliberately in order to show ‘the people at the top’ that they had treated me unjustly and to make it plain to them that he did not wish to be identified with such behavior. Nor did Dietrich make any bones about telling Hitler how he felt about my case….” [Page 272].

The book’s writing certainly carries many critiques of the Third Reich’s government. One theme appears to be that Guderian believed that responsibility for the devastating events and subsequent consequences of WWII on the German country was at least partially accountable to high ranking figures that did not protest Hitler’s activities and who did not provide accurate assessments of facts they either were aware of, should have been aware of, or otherwise should have made themselves aware of—such as the underestimation of Soviet Russia’s capabilities and a faulty overconfidence in a quick and successful conclusion to an invasion of Russia.

There are explained a multitude of types of political and non-political organizations associated with the World War II German government, their tensions, and how a number of them interacted with each other. It accounts for a number of organizations of military or other formations that were dissolved or formed into new organizations or formations. However, it leads the reader to wonder at times why the persons making decisions to dissolve, combine, or reform certain entities was seen as important or critical to the decision makers.

The book provides the impression that the reason for Hitler involving himself in some specific tactical military decisions lay in his mistrust of the armed forces command personnel. It points out a number of times where Hitler was frustrated at his inability to get his subordinates to carry out his orders. The book illustrates a number of situations where orders from authorities were not always carried out or obeyed during events of conflict under the pressing needs of the situation.

In regard to some of the internal disagreements that took place during the Third Reich era, Guderian’s book illustrates the following example that happened towards the end of the war when the German government was trying to prevent useful infrastructure from falling into enemy hands and was trying to implement a scorched earth policy:

“…At this time Speer, whose attitude towards the course of events was becoming one of increasing skepticism, came to see me. He brought me the information that Hitler intended to arrange for the destruction of all factories, water and electrical installations, railways and bridges before they should fall into enemy hands. Speer rightly pointed out that such a crazy deed must result in mass misery and death to the population of Germany on a scale never before seen in history. He asked for my help in ensuring that no such order be carried out. I readily agreed to give it him and I immediately set to work drafting an order in which I laid down the defensive lines that were to be held throughout Germany and specifically ordered that only immediately in front of these few lines might demolitions be carried out. Nothing else whatever in Germany was to be destroyed. All installations that served to feed the populace and to provide it with work were to remain untouched….Jodl submitted my draft to Hitler….” [Page 423]

Later when Speer submitted his own memorandum to Hitler on the same subject of preventing destruction of bridges and factories, Guderian has the following to say:

“Hitler’s reaction to this memorandum of Speer’s, with the conclusions of which I too had identified myself, culminated in these words:

[Spoken by Hitler:] ‘If the war should be lost, then the nation, too, will be lost. That would be the nation’s unalterable fate. There is no need to consider the basic requirements that a people needs in order to continue to live a primitive life. On the contrary, it is better ourselves to destroy such things, for this nation will have proved itself the weaker and the future will belong exclusively to the stronger Eastern nation. Those who remain alive after the battles are over are in any case only inferior persons, since the best have fallen.’

He frequently produced shocking remarks of this sort. I have myself heard him talk in this way, and I replied to him that the German nation would live on: that according to the laws of nature, it would live on even if the contemplated destructions were carried out: and that such destruction would simply burden that nation with new and avoidable miseries if his intentions were carried out...The military authorities therefore combined with Speer to frustrate the implementation of this insane order...We could not prevent all destruction, but we succeeded in considerably reducing the amount that was carried out….“

[Pages 423-424]

The book also describes certain events that highlight the inefficiencies in, or ineffective management of, certain communications between higher level authorities and ground level persons in rapidly developing circumstances that apparently caused much potentially avoidable loss. These ineffective communications happened on both sides of the conflict.

“...On September 26th the Battle of Kiev was brought to a successful conclusion. The Russians surrendered. 665,000 men were taken prisoner. The Commander-in-Chief South-west Front and his chief of staff fell in the last phase of the battle while attempting to break out. The Commander of the Fifth Army was among the prisoners captured. I had an interesting conversation with this officer, to whom I put a number of questions:

1. When did you learn that my tanks had penetrated behind you? Answer: ‘About the 8th of September’

2. Why did you not evacuate Kiev at once? Answer: ‘We had received orders from the Army Group to evacuate the area and withdraw eastwards and had already begun to do so, when we received contrary orders to turn about and to defend Kiev in all circumstances.’

The carrying out of this second order resulted in the destruction of the Kiev Army Group. The enemy was never to make the same mistake again. Unfortunately, though, we were to suffer the direst calamities as a result of just such interference from higher levels….”

[Page 225]

The book includes a description of some of the first checks in power on the rapid invasion of Soviet Russia:

“...on November 17th we learned that Siberian troops had appeared in the Uslovaia sector and that more were arriving by rail in the area Riasan-Kolomna. The 112th Infantry Division made contact with these new Siberian troops. Since enemy tanks were simultaneously attacking the division from the Dedilova area, the weakened troops could not manage this fresh enemy. Before judging their performance it should be borne in mind that each regiment had already lost some 500 men from frostbite, that as a result of the cold the machine-guns were no longer able to fire and that our 37mm anti-tank gun had proved ineffective against the T34. The result of all this was a panic, which reached back as far as Bogorodisk. This was the first time that such a thing had occurred during the Russian campaign, and it was a warning that the combat ability of our infantry was at an end and that they should no longer be expected to perform difficult tasks….”

[Page 248-249]

There is some mention of the miscalculation of Russian military strength and fighting ability in the German decision to wage a war on two fronts, specifically the miscalculation of Soviet Russia’s tank strength and the unexpected appearance of the Russian T34 tank. But the writing also reserves judgment to some extent regarding the decision to invade Soviet Russia by noting that only Hitler could be aware of the political necessity of the invasion of Soviet Russia at the time considering its apparently increasingly aggressive conduct and what he knew about the international situation as the highest level political figure.

There is some discussion about Guderian’s view of a need for a combined command of the different branches of the German Armed Forces. Another interesting aspect of the book for a layman is the highlighting of the skill involved in “command” or issuing orders, and the implication that the activity involves more than simply telling someone what to do. Similar to Von Manstein’s book, this book describes a number of ‘encirclement’s and ‘breakout’s from encirclement involving both German and their enemy forces. It does leave a reader with limited knowledge of these ideas to wonder the significance of encirclements and breakouts from encirclements as apparently standard military tactical maneuvers or objectives.


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