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Rückzug: The German Retreat from…

Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944 (Foreign Military… (edition 2012)

by Joachim Ludewig, David T. Zabecki (Editor)

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Title:Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944 (Foreign Military Studies)
Authors:Joachim Ludewig
Other authors:David T. Zabecki (Editor)
Info:The University Press of Kentucky (2012), Hardcover, 504 pages
Collections:Your library

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Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944 (Foreign Military Studies) by Joachim Ludewig


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Publisher: University Press of Kentucky

Released: August 28, 2012

ISBN-10: 081314079X

ISBN-13: 978-0813140797

Softcover: 416 pages

Nonfiction History Military History & Affairs World War II

Joachim Ludewig is an officer in the German Army Reserve. He currently serves as a civil servant in the German Defense Ministry. The German Military History Research Institute first published the German edition of this work in 1994.

Between June 6 and the first week of September 1944, the western Allies bludgeoned the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS units tasked by Adolf Hitler to defend northwestern Europe. The consequences of this battering were grievous for the men of both sides doing the fighting. Yet because the Allies possessed not only brave, well trained, and aggressive soldiers, but also absolute control of the airspace above the battlefields, and a very substantial preponderance of weapons and motorized vehicles, the German units engaged in the fighting suffered far greater losses, both literally and proportionally, than their Allied counterparts.

And when the Allied forces neutralized the German coastal defenses and emerged into the French countryside in early August, the Germans could muster but little in the way of a cohesive defensive front. As the Germans drew nearer to their homeland, however, they managed to patch together a more formidable defensive line to temporarily blunt the Allied assault. The result was eight more months of warfare in western Europe, and the loss of many more thousands of human lives.

How did this turn of events come to pass? That is the question asked and answered in Joachim Ludewig’s Rueckzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944. The University Press of Kentucky has done a great service to those with a serious interest in the Second World War by publishing Ludewig’s work in English. The book is scrupulously researched, not only in the pertinent German military records, but also in the manifold sources that tell the official side of the Allied story. The result is an excellent historical study of a course of events in want of explication.

Ludewig identifies a dozen factors that enhanced the ability of the German armed forces to cobble together an effective defense in the autumn of 1944. One important reason was that their leader became convinced that a successful German defensive/offensive strategy in the west would be much more likely to decide the war favorably for Germany than would a similar operation on the eastern front. Adolf Hitler told his military staff that the west was where “Germany’s Destiny will be decided”. He accordingly began to give more priority to the western theater, shifting newly trained units there instead of sending them to the eastern front.

In the middle of August 1944 Adolf Hitler, dissatisfied with the failure of his armies in France to forestall the Allied advance, dismissed the officer then occupying the position of theater commander-in-chief, and replaced him with Field Marshal Walter Model, a stern, tough soldier who did not shy away from battle. On the eastern front Model had garnered a reputation as something of a miracle-worker in crises, and was acknowledged by German soldiers of all ranks as an especially gifted defensive specialist. In his new position he quickly developed a penchant for ignoring the Fuehrer’s often ridiculous and dangerous orders and taking the matter into his own hands, making decisions based upon sound military principles. When Hitler recognized that Model’s performance had stabilized the German position, he allowed the Field Marshal to follow his own decisions.

The commanders of German Armies and Army Corps recognized very early that their ability to hold the port of Antwerp was essential to conducting a viable defense. By convincing their rankers of this, they were able to persuade them to stiffen their resolve and will to battle. In this the German military leaders were substantially aided when, on September 11, 1944, the first American troops stepped on German soil in the Eifel Mountains.

At nearly the same time, however, Field Marshall Model and his subordinate commanders were successful in stabilizing the German defenses along the Mosel and Rhone Rivers. This enabled the German Fifteenth and Nineteenth Armies to escape encirclement by Allied forces. The 215,000 soldiers that these two armies managed to prevent being killed or captured by the Allies represented a substantial and effective force that German officers had thought completely lost.

Among many military historians and others it is an article of faith that a book authored by a German on the subject of the Second World War must be treated as a tissue of lies. In the case of Joachim Ludewig’s work, however, this point of view will be difficult to sustain. This is so because it is the author’s conclusion that the German armed forces were able to consolidate their defensive line in September 1944 “only because the Allies were not prepared to exploit the…opportunities that arose during…August and September 1944.” In effect, the Allies’ offensive had been too successful. The faster and further the Allies moved forward, the longer and more tenuous became their supply lines, and without an intact seaport in their hands, they could not rectify this problem expeditiously.

But while Ludewig identifies a failed logistic system as the heart the Allies’ problem, he also makes clear that the Allies had other problems that frustrated their hopes for an early victory. Among them was the indecisive and divisive Allied command system, brought about by the necessity for discussion and compromise between Dwight Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery, which among other things undermined a decision that called for rapid capture of the port at Antwerp.

There were other, equally important factors at work. Whereas the Allied leadership had anticipated very slow progress across France against stout German defense, the speed and energy of the Allied advance convinced them that the enemy would be unable to establish a “viable and coherent defense”. The Allies also deprived themselves of their ability to exploit the advantages of maneuver warfare when they chose a strategy of a broad offensive based on two offensive axes. In doing so, they played into the hands of an enemy with a great deal of experience with the concept of defense in depth. Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians across Europe thus continued to suffer the effects of a conflict whose end might well have come much more quickly. ( )
  tenutter | Apr 26, 2015 |
Based on a thesis written in the late 1980s and submitted in 1990. Interesting information on German side, although some of the arguments and assertions regarding Allied activities are a bit wide of the mark, especially in light of the last 25 years-worth of writing. ( )
  JonSowden | Aug 8, 2014 |
To be honest, when I found that the author had been something of a protege of Andreas Hillgruber (notorious for his attempts to bring respectability to the German war effort in WWII), I almost set this book aside. I will also allow that I'm not especially impressed with with Ludewig's efforts to criticize how Eisenhower and Montgomery practiced operational art, their lapses were also not news even at the time this book was first published in 1994. However, if you are looking for a close analysis of the German moves on the ground in the West in the Summer of '44 (under the direction of Field Marshal Model) you will find a great deal of useful information. Probably the kindest thing I can say about this work is that after being produced a generation ago it does feel a bit dated, particular since Ludewig also indulges in some of the special pleading of his mentor; save me from misplaced German victimhood. ( )
  Shrike58 | Dec 1, 2013 |
Quite possibly, the most data dense and well validated review of the critical series of strategic and tactical decisions, battles,and skirmishes that comprised the German retreat from France and Belgium. Incredibly detailed and cogently written, it is one of the best WW2 histories that I have read. Excellent insights into German leadership echelons from HItler down to the battalion level. Clear delineation of the major error, not capturing the Scheldt Estuary, another Montgomery Tour De Farce, numerous collegial decisions by Eisenhower when more decisive choices would have carried the day. 3000,000 Germans escaped from almost certain capture to strongly defend the Reich at great cost to them and the invading Allies. A nearby Michelin map will be an excellent resource.

If you do not have the time to read the entire book, read the outstanding review of it by Antony Beevor in the Wall Street Journal.

I am eagerly looking forward to the third volume in Rick Atkinson's Liberation series that should encompass this area of conflict. ( )
1 vote jamespurcell | Dec 5, 2012 |
The core thesis of this book is that while Normandy through Falaise has been extensively covered in WW2 literature, there does not exist a definitive account of the great pursuit across France that followed, especially from the German POV. This book remedies this in a most excellent fashion. The account is strategic with significant operational detail. A few engagements are handled at the tactical level but mostly this book takes the larger view, concentrating on command decisions, logistics and conflicts between levels of command. The Allied side is covered more in a sense of missed opportunities as the Allies consistently underperform relative to German expectations, especially as regards the failure to exploit the seizure of Antwerp by making the clearing of the Scheldt a priority and allowing the German army task force G to escape from southern France mostly intact. The book also shows that from the end of August into the autumn Hitler sent the bulk of his last callup of divisions west not east. Hitler regarded the Western Front as the decisive sector and allocated his resources accordingly. The book end with the return to positional warfare as the mobile phase of the campaign ended. This is an excellent addition to any WW2 library and has value besides that as a study of higher command in mobile warfare. ( )
  agingcow2345 | Nov 29, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 081314079X, Hardcover)

The Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, marked a critical turning point in the European theater of World War II. The massive landing on France's coast had been meticulously planned for three years, and the Allies anticipated a quick and decisive defeat of the German forces. Many of the planners were surprised, however, by the length of time it ultimately took to defeat the Germans.

While much has been written about D-day, very little has been written about the crucial period from August to September, immediately after the invasion. In Rückzug, Joachim Ludewig draws on military records from both sides to show that a quick defeat of the Germans was hindered by excessive caution and a lack of strategic boldness on the part of the Allies, as well as by the Germans' tactical skill and energy. This intriguing study, translated from German, not only examines a significant and often overlooked phase of the war, but also offers a valuable account of the conflict from the perspective of the German forces.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:12 -0400)

The Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, marked a critical turning point in the European theater of World War II. While the D-day invasion has been throughly researched and examined, the crucial period following the invasion, from August to September, has been largely ignored. Offering a valuable account of the conflict from the perspective of the German forces, 'Ruckzug' draws on both Allied and German military records to show that a quick defeat of the Germans was hindered by excessive caution and lack of strategic boldness on the part of the Allies, as well as by the Germans' tactical skill and energy.… (more)

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