Friday, December 24, 2010

Michael Jones' "The Retreat: Hitler's First Defeat"

Michael Jones is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the British Commission for Military History, and has taught at the University of South West England, Glasgow University, and Winchester College. The author of Stalingrad: How the Red Army Survived the German Onslaught and Leningrad: State of Siege, Jones has conducted battlefield tours of the Eastern Front for several years.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Retreat: Hitler's First Defeat, and reported the following:
The Retreat is about the battle for Moscow in World War Two, and the terrible German retreat from the Russian capital, in temperatures that dropped below -35 degrees Celsius. The book focuses on a relatively short time-frame – from December 1941 to February 1942 - but those three months had major consequences for world history. If Hitler had taken Moscow, the Nazi’s hegemony in Europe would have been powerfully consolidated. Instead, the Führer’s invincible army plunged to its first defeat in savage winter fighting against a resurgent Red Army.

The book poses a broader question – why do we keep repeating the same mistakes? History is littered with grim warnings that went unheeded. In 1941 every German general knew about the ghastly fate of Napoleon’s Grande Armée in 1812, whose soldiers froze to death in a retreat from Moscow in atrocious weather. Yet incredibly they contrived to fight for the Russian capital without issuing their soldiers proper winter clothing and equipment. And this is where page 99 comes in. Most of the page gives a personal portrait of the German commander Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, who masterminded the assault on Moscow. It tells that alongside his military skill and experience lay a darker trait, a ruthless fanaticism.

Bock’s nickname was ‘Der Sterber’, ‘the Grim Reaper’, and page 99 quotes Time Magazine’s portrait of his great offensive:
In the winter of 1812 Napoleon retreated from Moscow, but in the winter of 1941 von Bock expects to take the city. Furiously determined, “Der Sterber” is disdainful of hardships. Bock looks like a man dying through some mysterious process of internal combustion. He is gaunt, and his eyes have the baleful stare of windows in a bombed-out house. A highly competent general, he believes with an aggressive religiosity in dying, if necessary, for the honour of the Fatherland.
Bock’s fanaticism mirrored Hitler’s own – and it was no accident that the German leader chose him to lead the Moscow offensive. But in savage winter fighting at the gates of the Russian capital, that fanaticism met its first rebuff. Von Bock’s assault ground to a halt with some German units so close to Moscow they could see the spires of the Kremlin gleaming in the winter sunlight – and his army was plunged into terrible retreat. It was Hitler’s first defeat.
Learn more about The Retreat at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue