Stand and Die

Richard Overy

  • Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944 by Joachim Ludewig, edited by David Zabecki
    Kentucky, 435 pp, £33.95, September 2012, ISBN 978 0 8131 4079 7

On the German side, the history of the last two years of the Second World War is a history of retreating. Occasionally, the retreats were punctuated by large-scale counter-attacks – Rommel at the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia; Operation Autumn Mist in December 1944 – but whether they liked it or not, the German forces generally had to move backwards. This history is nevertheless seldom treated as one of retreat, but rather of defeats and shifting front lines. Retreat carries an air of failure, yet the German retreats were rarely catastrophic. Withdrawal in good order to a new defensive position was the common denominator of much of the later fighting in Russia, North Africa and Italy. Defeat came when there was nowhere left to retreat to.

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[*] PublicAffairs, 512 pp., £11.99, May 2012, 978 1 610 39108 5.