Review of “Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walther Model- Hitler’s Favorite General” by Steven H. Newton
Posted by T. Kunikov on July 28, 2007
- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press Ed edition
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0306813998
Model has definitely been a fascinating character in all of the books that I’ve read on the Eastern Front. Credited with saving the front line after Army Group Center was decimated and for his superb defense against the Red Army in the Rzhev area until he was finally allowed to pull out to conserve his forces and shorten the front line. The author does a fairly good job of portraying the type of man Model was from the available literature and I would definitely recommend this book to those interested in the German commanders and the Eastern Front.
In some respects this book answered many questions while in others I would have appreciated if the author used more tact or at least provided some sources for the assertions. At one point the author points out that when the Soviet 30th Army was surrounded in January-February of 1942, when trying to breakout they would achieve a superiority of 30:1. Is it possible? Perhaps, but I’d rather have some type of confirmation! When it came to the Warsaw Uprising I was surprised to see that Model didn’t care for it as if it was his problem, he let those in the rear handle it until he saw how close the Red Army was to Praga at which point he sent in a slew of divisions as reinforcements to slow them down, something many would like to forget in their vehement portrayal of the Red Army as doing nothing but watching across the river as Warsaw burned.
These are just a few examples that have stuck in my mind. Overall it seems that Model was a man of some talent, to say the least, when it came to the defense. He was abusive verbally to his subordinates and was one of the few men to stand up to Hitler and in some cases even manipulate him. But this worked for and against him, in many ways. When he was leaving Army Group North, for example, after he had consolidated the front line he had written up a report saying that 2 divisions would be free for use elsewhere. When he found out that he was being moved to command Army Group Center, he revised that report to read 6 divisions and later on another Panzer Division. It would seem that Model only cared about his own Army or Army group at a specific point in time, his instincts were limited to what he could see in front of him in terms of the tactical nature of warfare rather than the strategic.
Both times when he was on the offensive in command of large forces, at Kursk and in the Ardennes, his offensives were a failure. While it could stated that no one could have won these two battles, the mistakes he made during them are worth exploring and understanding in detail. He was also not someone who could control multiple Army Groups as Von Rundstedt would do in the West, at most he could control one Army Group in the defense. One should also mention that while he was a Nazi he was, again, one of the few men who would stand up to Hitler and usually get his way (more or less until the end of the war, when his Army Group was encircled in the Ruhr his troops were labeled traitors).
In the end a very interesting man to read about, his exploits and failures speak for themselves. While he had his draw backs it seems that he was one of the finest defensive commanders during the Second World War. He would prove himself at Rzhev, twice, take a heavy toll on Rokossovsky’s offensive against Orel, stabilize Army Group North’s front, and stabilize the front of Army Group Center after operation Bagration, although honestly he was partly at fault for the condition of that Army Group as he kept requesting more forces when in command of another Army Group in the South where an offensive was also expected. Yet, his limited view of the battlefield and lack of strategic insight would lead to failure on more than one occasion.