Book Review: Why The Germans Lose At War

Why The Germans Lose At War: The Myth Of German Military Superiority, by Kenneth Macksey

There are at least two regimes in modern Western history who, despite their ultimate defeat and destruction, still attract the admiration of contemporary students of military history because of their supposed tactical brilliance, namely the Confederate States of America and the Germany of World Wars I and II. In this acerbic and deeply biting revisionist history, the author explores why it is that the Germans lose at war with a specific look at World War II that nevertheless puts this nightmare in a larger historical context going back to the Middle Ages [1]. To briefly summarize the author’s point, the vulnerability of the Germans based on their geography has led to the adoption of preemptive offense as a form of defense, and their initial tactical success in many conflicts and their inattention to issues of logistics, demography, and diplomacy has led to eventual ruin and disastrous defeat. The author then argues his thesis with considerable flair and brilliance in about 230 pages of main text that mostly focuses on the Second World War and the culpability of German general officers in enabling and serving Hitler.

In terms of its contents, the book is straightforward and chronological in its approach. After introductory material including maps, charts, and the organizational structure of the German staff under the Prussian monarchs and Hitler, the book begins with a short look at the nightmarish scene at Nuremberg where many of Hitler’s generals were put on trial for their horrifying crimes against humanity, pointing to the fact that this defeat, while the latest of German overreach, was far from the first such scene. The book then goes back to the early 19th century and the rise of Prussia after its defeat during the Napoleonic wars to the period when it unified Germany under its own militaristic state. The book then spends a couple of chapters looking at the folly of the two-front war that led to defeat in World War I. After another couple of chapters, one dealing with the German army under the Weimer Republic and another about the first half of the Third Reich, the book spends most of its space looking at World War II as the quintessential example of German military disaster, an early success based on tactical brilliance and the defeatism of enemies, combined by a blinding arrogance that leads to looking down on allies and disregarding and underestimating enemies and the building up of opponents on every front, followed by inevitable defeat when prolonged warfare reduces the tactical brilliance of an army and logistics and demographics lead to grinding down and defeat, with the hope that this fate can be avoided through a miracle like that which saved Prussia in 1762 when Russia pulled back from delivering the final blow to Frederick the Great allowing Prussia to survive with the status quo antebellum. In World War II there was no such miracle and the book details the grim and unpleasant decline of Germany despite the brilliance of many of its highest officers.

This book has a lot to offer the reader who is intrigued by the title and willing to read its contents. For one, the book offers a thoughtful and chilling look at the political corruption of a military leadership, and the way that divide and rule of a capable military leadership leads to national defeat when people only want to be surrounded by sycophants and not talented but sometimes abrasive subordinates. For another, the book offers a critical reassessment of Rommel and considerable praise for leaders like Guderain, Kesselring, and Model. The book demonstrates the internal feuding of German military leadership under Hitler’s misrule and the culpability of leaders in adopting a form of von Clausewitz’s military philosophy that neglected the importance of the defense and the fact that military plans never survive contact with the enemy. For all of the author’s apparent hostility to von Clausewitz, he offers a critique that is remarkably similar in many respects. More importantly, the author notes, as some historians have also noted, that the international prestige of the German army which led many nations (like Chile) to engage in the Prussianization of their forces [2] often neglected to note the corruption and rigidity that often followed the adoption of a facsimile of Germany’s military. The author is strident and quick to criticize, but the criticism has merit all too often, as Germany’s persistent pattern of arrogance and underestimation of their opposition, and their failure to cultivate demographic or logistic excellence and the building of strong alliances of mutual respect has led persistently to disastrous defeat.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: Why The Germans Lose At War

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