"Its History Jim but not as we know it" ...or is it ?

Discussion in 'Historiography' started by James S, Jul 24, 2010.

  1. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    My post on the above thread.
    It does vex me when you hear some folks ( and this does seem to be a popular opinion amongst those who do German re enactment ) that the war as experienced by the German serviceman is never told - the old assumption that it is "a victors history" which exists today.
    Iron Coffins has been around for a very long time - I was in my teens when I read it ( and whilst I am "moderately young" , my teenage years like my hair are long gone) and similar accounts are well known and have been added to in more recent times.

    Sorry a bit off topic but on reading Robert's post again this does come to mind also that "the German" side does seem to be the most written about and perhaps the most read - am I wrong in saying this ?

    Not trying to quote myself folks just to save anyone having to click and go to another tab / page.

    Does anyone have any views on how the war is explained or told from an Axis point of view ?

    The term " Victors History" does it hold water or is it something people say without giving it much consideration or do historians today give an even handed approach to telling the history of WW2 ?

    Just for the sake of interest could folks answering or posting please add as a footnote any accounts written by members of the German forces in WW2 or give the titles of any books which they have read which "tell it from the other side".

    If this subject has been addressed before my apologies for "doing the double".
    ( A popular NI turn of phrase which I will leave others to explain !!)
  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I think 'Victors History' is a fair comment. You never/rarely hear (and I've been searching) of any 'war crimes' against Axis forces. I know they must have happened but did anyone care some 70 years ago.

    Ref books:

    It never snows in September by Robert Kershaw.

    Blitzkreig in their own words - Published in Germany 1942 (very propaganda based.)
  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    James -
    I must admit that I have never been duly concerned about the losers account of the war as it was always enough for me to realise that they were - allegedly - gone and like Spike Milligan - I had a hand in their removal - and from the side which - again allegedly - won - I have at times been disturbed to see that glorous history being distorted and revised to suit the ego and pay checks of Hollywood moguls...
  4. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    Unfortunately I agree Tom , Hollywood is about movies and money not about history and certainly some movies are best forgotten but then again WW2 is just another of a long line of historical gaffs given the movie treatment.

    I recall reading somewhere that Rupert Murdock would be in a heck of fix "History Channel" had there been no one called Adolf Hitler and had there been no WW2. :)

    I think 'Victors History' is a fair comment. You never/rarely hear (and I've been searching) of any 'war crimes' against Axis forces. I know they must have happened but did anyone care some 70 years ago.

    Fair comment Andy but did "our side" ever herd people into barns and shoot them as happened in 1940 ?
    I think it would have surfaced by now.

    I have heard of two instances - one in Sicily were an American Sgt shot a number of POW's - he acted on his "own orders" but Patton didn't push anything too hard and he got away with it short time in jail but that was it.
    The "Dachau incident" something the "revisionist voices" make great play on , but again no order to shoot , panic and discipline breakdown - a war crime ?
    Certainly it was not meant to happen and it was not ordered.
    Did individuals kill POW's almost certainly it happened , and I am sure it was common to all sides.
    Did we ever order the shooting of escaped and recaptured POW's or the shooting of Commando's , not that I know off.

    Some titles which spring to mind
    "First and The Last " Galland
    "U-333" Ali Cremer.
    "Lost Victories" Von Manstein.
    "Michael Wittmann" and "Jochien Peiper" biographies by P.Agate.
    Most books by the late James Lucas.
    "Heaven Next Stop" Gunther Bloemertz
    "I flew for the Fuhrer" Heinz Knoke.
    "The Last Chance" Johannes Steinhoff
    "Battleship Bismarck- A survivors Story" Burkhard Von Mullenheim-Rechberg
    "Another Place, Another Time: A U-Boat Officer's Wartime Album" by Timothy Mulligan, Werner Hirschmann, and Donald E. Graves.
    "Grenadiers" Kurt Meyer.

    A few which spring to mind that I have read over the years.

    Apart from individual accounts the number of reference books on aspects of Germany / Axis side have increased in recent years .

    When you look at "The World at War" produced in 1974 - can it be regarded as a Victors History ?
    I can't say that it can be , it was very fair and balanced.(IMO).
  5. Roxy

    Roxy Senior Member

    Spitfire on My Tail - Ulrich Steihilper
    Panzer Leader - Heinz Guderian
    Hirschfeld:The Secret Diary of a U-boat - Wolfgang Hirschfeld

    are all decent reads - IMHO - from a German pov.

  6. Heimbrent

    Heimbrent Well-Known Member

    Victors history? Yes and no.
    Like Andy says, you will find few books that deal with crimes against Wehrmacht soldiers for example - books that can be taken serious anyway. In many cases it's not beneficial for (serious) historians to research subjects like that because they will be put into right/brown corners, even if that isn't justified.

    Especially former Wehrmacht generals have however vastly influenced the way WW2 was perceived, not only in Germany. Their memoirs etc. lead to the image of the "clean" Wehrmacht (vs dirty SS). Of course it's long been clear that the Wehrmacht was deeply involved in crimes just as well, but the former generals' views are still largely spread (now often thought of as 'facts').
    Drew5233 and James S like this.
  7. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    Although i have not been researching for long, i have found there to be a wealth of material available from the German side. Both in Factual reading and personal accounts. For me it was learning about RAF Coastal Command that then led me to in-turn finding more about their adversaries.
    Regards Skyhawk(Robert).

    Could not agree more .
  8. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Looking at my shelves,

    Stuka Pilot - Hans-Ulrich Rudel, 1951 French translation, prefaced by Pierre Clostermann
    Panzer Battles - MG von Mellenthin
    U-977 - Heinz Schaeffer, Fr. transl. 1952
    Invasion 44 - Gen Hans Speidel, Fr. transl. 1960
    Afrika Korps + Opération Barbarossa - "Paul Carrel" Fr. transl. 1960
    U-Boote - Wolfgang Frank, Fr. transl. 1952
    Stalingrad - Heinz Schröter 19??
    Stalingrad - Theodor Pliever, 1948
    Panzer Leader - Heinz Guderian
    Reinhard Gehlen's memoirs

    I'd say losers were able to write their version of history at will and rather early at that. If they were not divulged enough must have been for ideological reasons (those Fr. transl. I mention above I inherited from my father, and they were rather popular around here during the Cold war...) and of course the language barrier.

    There is an immense, unfathomable body of German literature that simply does not spill over the linguistical wall, you'd be amazed. See here for an example link Look up 1918-1945 on the left frame.
  9. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    There is an immense, unfathomable body of German literature that simply does not spill over the linguistical wall, you'd be amazed. See here for an example link Look up 1918-1945 on the left frame.

    Having found a German "book shop" on eBay I can but agree with you , some amazingly interesting titles but all in German.
  10. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Is that a problem or a challenge? I learnt my German on account of my taste for Zinnfiguren :)
  11. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    No challenge unless you want to shed a few Euros :)
  12. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    This does not have to be an universal case and certainly does not seem to work at my age nowadays, but do you know how I learnt my English? At a very young age, by looking at the pictures in my brother's magazines, Airfix Magazine and International Flying Review come to mind :)

    I tried to make sense of the captions first by making intense use of a dictionary. Later on to perfect my spelling I copied Afx. Mag. articles by typing them laboriously, I still have those copies! I remember spending rolls and rolls of typewriter tape!

    Most of thew words I had no bloody idea how they were pronounced, it took years until I found how 'undercarriage' or 'dethermaliser' were meant to be spoken :D

    When I reached my first English class in school at 12 I already have quite a passable English :)

    Same thing with Italian, although not as intense, and as for German I did go to a language school for two years in my thirties when I became interested in Zinnfiguren (German flat tin figures) but German does require practice, practice and more practice, which requires more time than I have!
  13. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    'Victor's History' is a hugely problematic term though.
    It's always been the case that the winners of a war have had a greater effect on the initial historiography of it, but this term's now mostly applied in the WW2 context by whingers of an IHR type bent looking for justifications for Adolf and his chaps.

    I personally think it's not a convincing line to take - If anything I see the history of German Military activity in WW2 is the one that's had the imbalance of greater coverage, and much of it of the Barbara Cartland-esque 'steely' school (Kurowski etc.) that has often sprung from US publishers. Look for a history of an obscure German unit and there'll be something out there, look for a kit of a German vehicle that had a production run of less than 10 and it'll be available. - It seems only recently that the details of allied units/machines/men are being covered with the same degree of intensity.

    The historiography of WW2 appears to be only just reaching a fuller maturity to my eye (maybe it needs 50+ years before a war gets wider/objective/deeper coverage... something I often wonder about). The knotty bits like allied crimes etc. need covering by the harder 'academic' historians to have any gravitas, and they do seem to be gradually turning to such details, but there's also a whole lot of 'tidying' to be done in more populist perceptions of the wider war - and I think that's happening.
    Perhaps with time some of these more serious looking German language titles will spill over into English too, some look more interesting than the lurid 'German Viewpoint' stuff that's often found in English.

    German view books -
    Personally I'd avoid most of the Generals' work. von Manstein's Lost Victories exemplifies much of their 'It weren't me guvnor' tone - and I find Guderian's confirm that being a clever chap on the battlefield doesn't automatically make one a great writer.
    (quite possibly the opposite in his case... 'we moved some tanks here... and then we moved some tanks over there... and then I very cunningly moved some tanks somewhere else... this was very cunning... tomorrow I may move some more tanks' etc. ad-nauseum)

    I still think the best German memoir I've yet read is Mettelmann's rather excruciatingly titled Through Hell for Hitler
    Heimbrent likes this.
  14. Alan Allport

    Alan Allport Senior Member

    If anything I see the history of German Military activity in WW2 is the one that's had the imbalance of greater coverage, and much of it of the Barbara Cartland-esque 'steely' school (Kurowski etc.) that has often sprung from US publishers.

    Indeed; Ronald Smelser and Edward Davies have argued that during the Cold War the story of the Nazi-Soviet War was told, in the English-speaking world at least, almost entirely from the German point of view.

    Best, Alan
  15. It is one of ‘those’ subjects, important but so difficult to properly address.

    The elephant in the room when it comes to assessing the German war experience is Nazism. It worked its way into every aspect of German life during the dozen years the Nazis were in power, from the forces to the indoctrination of children via the ‘youth movement’. There’s no parallel for that with the Allied experience, and nothing truly similar in previous wars. The Great War brought about unprecedented savagery and slaughter on the battlefield, but there’s no underlying political philosophy you can point to and compare to Nazism.

    Because it was there, and it was everywhere, in the German experience, how do you address it from an Allied perspective? I don’t know. Whenever a totalitarian regime is finally overthrown, it becomes incredibly difficult to find anyone who actually supported it. Most have a reason for being a card carrying member, such as it was the only way to get a good job, it avoided trouble from the authorities, and so on. All probably quite valid reasons. Very few would admit though the reason they were a member of the XYZ party was because ‘I believed in the ideals of our regime, and wanted to help carry them through’.

    There seem to be various schools of thought now firmly entrenched. All the real Nazis were in the SS, the Wehrmacht simply wanted to defend their homeland from the Soviet hordes (and those sneaky Danes and Dutch who were such a threat…) who were coming anyway. I sometimes suspect a revisionist agenda (albeit a minority one) amongst some that aims to close the gap between Nazi atrocities and Allied ‘excesses’, presumably in the hope of de-Nazifying the German war machine, allowing it to be considered purely on technical merit. Or perhaps that’s my prejudice showing through.

    I don’t know you can stand back and look at World War Two in a ‘balanced’ way. Nazism infected so many lives across Europe, ending a good portion of them. It wasn’t just about Armies and Navies clashing, it was about an extraordinarily virulent form of evil that masqueraded as social and political doctrine, but in the end was about exterminating the weak and those perceived as a threat to its cult of racial purity. You don’t really get that in the Napoleonic Wars.

    I think that some commentators and historians would like to ‘move on’ from that fact and discuss the conflict in more logical terms. If you do that though, you ignore a great many of the reasons why people fought, both for and against Nazism.
    britman, Za Rodinu and canuck like this.
  16. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Senior Member

    WW2 as a "crusade against Nazism" doesn't look very convincing, AFAIK the worst aspects af Hitler's crimes did not come into general knowledge until very late in the war. The post WW1 borders were unstable, none of the Versailles creations could defend itself effectively against a major power and once nationalism became rampant war would probably have broken out even without the nazis.

    It also ignores the motivations of all the other axis nations that had often completely different objectives from Hitler. I don't think there's any scarcity of German sources but there is precious little litterature available or discusson on the Japanese or Balcan axis nations "home fronts".

    Separating the "normal" German experience from Nazism is difficult, the regime was truly totalitarian in the sense that it attempted to "invade" all aspects of life. Possibly books like Ruddel, that apparently admired Hitler until the end, are more honest than most.
  17. Heimbrent

    Heimbrent Well-Known Member

    Reading the posts on this thread I was thinking it might make sense to differentiate between various eras of historiography. At least when it comes to Germany the situation in the years after the war was very different from what it is now.

    Shortly after the war, historiography was dominated by former Wehrmacht generals. It's also the time where you'll find the kind of i-used-to-read-that-as-kid novels and mags. The ideological aspect of war, namely nationalsocialism was rarely subject in those and if it was, it was always 'the others'. (On a sidenote, like TOS says, there are accounts where admiration for Hitler is clearly stated. But if you take a closer look you'll see that Hitler isn't considered equal to nationalsocialism; in fact, it's not uncommon to find people who were no fond of NS but would say nothing bad about Hitler - it's like he was perceived as someone (or something) above all the rest.)

    German historiography has evolved a lot since then. There are heaps of serious studies on WW2 and historians are now daring to approach things differently. Starfury Rider isn't wrong when he says that nationalsocialism cannot be taken out of the equation. But a balanced approach is still possible and - I think - needed.
    If you take partisan warfare as example: Most serious studies around (if not all) will generally see it as integral part of the war of annihilation, which isn't the full truth. Fact is that partisan activity was also a military problem and "required" military answers. Yet it still isn't opportune to research anti-partisan activites in the context of military operations, from an operational point of view.
    It's the same with aspects of the air war, crimes against civilians etc. Taking the German point of view into consideration or trying to take a step back when looking at things doesn't mean one ignores the criminal nature of the Third Reich and its regime; it's not a separation either but rather two aspects of the same matter and doesn't trivialise NS or lessen the achievement of Germany's adversaries. It's pieces of the puzzle to help make the picture of WW2 a little more complete, I guess.
  18. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Maybe also worth considering the amount of postwar 'historical' coverage of the Eastern front that sprang from assessments of almost completely German sources, and in the light of the growing cold war.
    Some of the conclusions drawn by 'official' US military historians of that theatre were sometimes a little 'unusual', but seemed to prove immensely influential on what was written from that point onwards, until chaps like Glantz & Zaloga began digging deeper.
    (I only seem to recall reading late 40s and 50s reports on it from a US viewpoint, so don't shoot me if other 'Western' chaps drew similar odd conclusions... just blame the gaps in my reading :unsure: )
  19. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Adam, your US military historians working on "Eastern Front" matters based themselves on interrogation of captured German generals and little else. I have several booklets on the subject published by the US Army and it's always the same theme: how smart we were, how we ran rings around the Russians (it's always the Russians), but you'll never see the sentence "in the meantime elsewhere they were eating us alive".

    If you read von Luck's memoirs, for instance on his tale of the Stalingrad operation Uranus you'll read the magnificent feats of Balck smashing what was a vanguard detachment, while uncomprehendingly to him the rest of the Army just left this as a pawn and ran past him to take strategic objectives behind him. This really brings to mind that Sun Tzu (mis)quote: "... Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

    Never a line on"Ys, but...", never a proper analysis on how the Soviets were winning other than "they were too many" and that was the lesson the Western armies were learning.
  20. slaphead

    slaphead very occasional visitor

    I grew up a bolt counter and a hero worshiper of aircraft and pilots so i have come very late to the tactics and battle debate. No one in my family or friends read serious books on the war, yet many of the comments in the above posts must have filtered down to common plebs like me and mine because one thing I do remember is that when I played "war" with my mates as a kid...
    1) Germans were the baddies.
    2) And no one wanted to be a German.
    3) if the subject of the end of the war came up, the common consensus was that we should have "gone in with Jerry" and finished off the Russians (it was a simpler time and we thought the "British" army had won the war - no Commonwealth, no Allies, no Americans, just "us").

    Looking at re-enactors today it seems that the opposite of 1) and 2) is true, and that 3 was fed to us some how (movies? news? I realy dont know)

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