The German Way of War?

Is there such a thing? That question hit me this morning as I was reading a book review in an old copy of the Journal of Military History. The book in question was Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942 (Modern War Studies), by Robert M. Citino and it was reviewed in the January 2009 issue of the Journal. The reviewer made mention that one of the prevalent theories about the German army is that in World War II they fought a completely different war than the one they were designed for and that goes far to explaining the ultimate German defeat.

The argument is that the German army was designed to fight short, sharp, decisive campaigns and not the types of slugging matches that the World Wars became. On the face of it that argument seems both instinctual and correct. This is especially so when you consider the German victories in the Wars of German Unification when they managed to defeat armies superior to them or equal with astonishing rapidity. The surface is only about as far as that analysis can really go in my opinion.

It is an oversimplification at best to claim that the Germans lost because they fought the wrong war. I definitely fall into the camp that blames the German military, especially its leadership, with a failure of courage. They knew they would be fighting the wrong war and could have but did not stop Hitler from taking control. What makes it all worse in my opinion is that after the war they got busy trying to make excuses for letting the Hitler and the Nazis do what they did. Instead, the officers retreated into a fantasy world of claiming that they had to keep their oaths of loyalty or do their duty. Even a cursory look would show that they signally failed to do their duty.

In the final analysis, it boils down to whether the military is duty bound to serve the nation or the regime. I know what I would argue but rather than go into that here, I don’t want to digress too far from my main point. Especially since the discussion of duty would rapidly devolve into a metaphysical navel-gazing contest.

Is there a German Way of War? If you look at the Prussian army, and the German army was really just an extension of Prussian methods and doctrine, then perhaps a Way of War can be perceived. The first part of any discussion of a German Way of War is to examine the history of the Hohenzollern state to even begin to understand the way the Prussians thought. then you must look at the German/Prussian strategic situation in relation to that of other nations. Next you have to examine the Prussian/German state itself to have an understanding of the logistical and manpower constraints within which the state and military operated. Next is looking at the military methods and strategy the Prussians/Germans thought most appropriate for both defending and expanding their frontiers.

All those things need to be looked at if a good appreciation of what, if anything is the German Way of War. This will be a multi-post series that I will try to complete over the next few weeks, the demands of real-life allowing.