The German Infantryman on the Eastern Front

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Simon Forty and Richard Charlton Taylor
Other Publication Information
Paperback or Digital download
January 2024
128 Pages, 7 x 10 in, 150 photographs plus maps
Product / Stock #
Company: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site
Book Cover

From the book’s conclusion,

In 1939-1942 German infantrymen were the best trained and most efficient soldiers in the Western world. Their victories in Europe optimized the use of new technology and old skillsets to overpower their enemies in a series of lightning thrusts. Spearheaded by airborne special forces and amor, fully supported by a rampant air arm, quite simply they blew away the opposition and made fools of the Allies who had defeated an older generation of Germans so comprehensively in 1918.

The most significant element of their superiority wasn’t their tanks and dive-bombers, much as both helped, but their incisive leadership – and not just by the senior officers. Their mission-led approach to battlefield tactics and initiative, stemming from the Prussian Auftragstaktik, meant that intent was more important than specifics when it came to giving orders. If the intent was clear, subordinates had flexibility to achieve the goal. Responsibility allied with adaptability meant that the job often got done without the need for the sort of hands-on control visible in other armies of the period, whose speed of reaction was never faster than the Germans’ speed of decisive action.

The German Infantryman on the Eastern Front is a concise, well-written book that summarizes the Eastern Front campaigns from 1941 through Germany’s defeat in May 1945. This well-researched and illustrated book is composed of seven chapters (six of which are color-coded for easier reference):

  • Timeline of Events
  • Introduction (Reddish-Brown)
  • The Soldier (Blue)
  • Transport and Services (Green)
  • Strategy and Tactics (Brown)
  • Life in the Field (Purple)
  • Conclusion (Reddish-Brown)
  • Further Reading
  • Index

Each chapter is further broken down into subsections that keep the reader engaged and wanting to learn more. For example, the chapter on The Soldier is further broken down into the following sections:

  • Truppenführung (Leading Troops)
  • Waffen-SS
  • Other Soldiers on the Eastern Front
  • Reichsarbeitdienst (RAD – Reich Labor Service)
  • SS Police Units
  • Allies
  • Hiwis – Hillfswillige (Auxiliary Volunteers)
  • Osttruppen and Ostlegionen
  • Uniforms and Clothing
  • Weapons

There are also callouts in each chapter, again using The Soldier chapter as an example:

  • The Reality of Unit Strengths
  • Infantry Engineers
  • German Divisional Organization

The book is a collection of black and white photographs, color photos of re-enactors, art, and diagrams to highlight the chapters. It is a boon for figure painters, modelers, and builders of vignettes and dioramas for the ground war on the Eastern Front. There are numerous great photographs for motivation and show German, and to a lesser extent their Allies, in the field. The photos, paintings and sketches also show how the ongoing war affected German soldiers in terms of uniforms and equipment. This book also dispels the myths of the German armored and mechanized units, showing that a vast majority of the German army moved by foot and on horse.

This book shows the German military in its ascendency in the East until its supply lines were overstretched over vast distances, key leaders with their extensive training not being able to be replaced, the Russian winter’s appearance, and lack of intelligence on communication networks (particularly road and rail). As these issues became obvious, the Führer took over more of the operations. Auftragstaktik gave way to Befehlstaktik (the subordinate is micro-managed and told how to do everything without any flexibility), orders that doomed Germany to a quicker demise.

The authors Simon Forty and Richard Charlton Taylor do a fantastic job of keeping the reader engaged with the cooperative use of the written word, historical photographs, period propaganda art, soldier art and re-enactor photos to get their message to the reader. This results in a comprehensive and concise understanding of four years on the Eastern Front. They also incorporate humor, which is so essential in dealing with topics like this, both in experiencing them first-hand, and reading about it afterwards. Here are two examples,

Most Lufwaffefelddivisonen served on the Eastern Front in winter 1942-43. They weren’t the most effective troops – the lower army ranks labeled them “Luftwaffen-Fehlkonstruktions-Divisionen” or “mistakenly constructed air force divisions. (pg 29)

The German early war infantry mortar was the 5cm leGrW 36. It was trigger-fired and man-portable in two parts but had no sighting system other than the Mk 1 eyeball. (pg 101)

A paragraph in the Conclusion could well have been used in the Introduction or book jacket:

Our knowledge of the Eastern Front battles for many years was tinged by the politics of the Cold War. Desperate to shore up European defenses against the perceived “Red menace,” a powerful Germany was an essential bulwark of NATO’s central front which was where the next war was anticipated – and it wasn’t “if” that war happened, it was “when.” Seemingly overnight the West’s recent enemies became part of the solution. The Wehrmacht’s deep complicity in the Holocaust and the aggressive and ruthless handling of Soviet civilians and POWs were quietly forgotten as German generals returned to the foreground to bolster the rebirth of the German armed forces. The whitewashing of the army was never quite replicated for the actions of the Waffen-SS, but the many papers and biographies of the 1950s allowed much of the German Army to cover up its actions in the east by pointing at Soviet excesses in victory. It didn’t take long before a new myth emerged: that the German Army – with its brilliant leadership, excellent weapons, and brave soldiers fighting against the ravening hordes of communist butchers – was only defeated by weight of numbers and the dead, palsied hand of a jumped-up corporal at the helm. The generals played to the galleries, emphasizing their own prowess, bigging up the importance of Western generals and the common heritage that placed a revitalized Germany in the front line against the Reds.

The authors show that the German defeat was not just about numbers. “Indeed, they also show that the German defense in the east – a horse-drawn army whose recruits got steadily younger and less well trained – was, perhaps, even more remarkable than has been thought.”

Profuse thanks to Casemate and IPMS/USA for providing the review sample.


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