Monday 10 June 2019

Book Reviews: Hitler's Defeat on the Western Front, Seidler & Hitler's Defeat on the Eastern Front, Baxter

This has reached me in a timely fashion, right after reading a series of books such as Operation Totalize and The Germans in Normandy, which cover the same period and territory. Being an Images of War title, this is naturally a more pictorial treatment, which nicely complements the aforementioned text based books.

In this title, the text is largely confined to four brief 'chapters': Defending Northern France; Battles in Holland and Belgium; Defending the Rhine; Last Battles in the West. Each of these is followed by big chunks of captioned photographs. Some of these images will be familiar to hardened veterans of WWII studies, but there are also a good number that live up better to the 'rare photographs from wartime archives' tagline.

This view of an SdKfz 251 from atop a tank is great.

As is quite common in series such as this, there are a few editorial gaffes, such as when the same image appears twice, as does a Panther passing wrecked buildings, appearing on both p.11 and p.66. At least the captions differ! Speaking of the captions, they're okay. But given that they form the bulk of the text, they could've been better, i.e. more informative and/or interesting. Once again there's some redundant repetition.

Still, overall the pictures are great, and having them at ones' fingertips as reference in book form is fab. There are also some additional appendices, giving unit compositions and OOBs. So, all in all, a useful and enjoyable addition to the Images of War series.

Rommel inspects SPGs and crews. Note natty sackcloth tank tops!

This title sounds like it should be the perfect complement to Siedler's book, as reviewed above. And in some respects it is. Certainly it's a complement. But, alas, it's far from perfect. As usual with Ian Baxter's work, in my experience of it thus far, the prose is occasionally very clumsy, and some captions are either boringly obvious, redundantly repetitious, or just plain wrong.

In this particular addition to the highly useful but quality-wise fairly variable Images of War series, Baxter seems peculiarly obsessed with the SS. The SS are, I would say - and I perhaps share the fascination many, Baxter quite obviously included, have with this darkly fascinating branch of the Nazi war machine - very over-represented here. And a lot of the references to them seem almost gushingly admiring.

A nicely dramatic shot. SS? Yes!

The only real acknowledgement of their complicity in war crimes comes in reference to the crushing of the Warsaw uprising. The rest of the time Baxter continually sings their praises. As much as I'm fascinated by the SS myself, I found this irksome. And in a book purporting to cover the Eastern Front as a whole, this SS-focus just seemed a bit odd.

One possible explanation might be the sourcing of the photos, perhaps? In his acknowledgments Baxter refers to his gratitude re the use of photographs from several private sources. Maybe those sources are mainly SS related? If so, some kind of mention of that fact ought to have been made. 

More SS...

... and more.

On the positive side, this is one of the few Images of War titles wherein I haven't recognised lots of the images from other sources, such as the Bundesarchiv. Structurally it's akin to Seidler's Western Front book, with five brief chapters - Kursk; Fighting Withdrawal; Winter Warfare; Bagration & Aftermath; Last Battles - supported by the captioned photographs. But there's more text here than in Siedler's Western counterpart. This means more detail. However, it also means more lumpen prose and repetition. So, a mixed blessing!

The photos themselves are useful and interesting, if of quite varied quality. The over-representation of the SS may or may not irritate others. As I like their funky camo' gear, I can live with it. But it's not as broadly representative visually as Siedler's Western Front counterpart. Several appendices cover info on organisation, equipment and uniforms. I only glanced at the latter, so won't pass judgement on them here, they may be useful additions. Then again, they may not.

Can it be! Is this possibly not an SS unit?

Not the best of the Images of War offerings. But still interesting and useful for reference.

And lest ye forget... yet more SS!*

* I will confess that SS camo' gear is something I never tire of seeing.

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