German Army on the Eastern Front, The Retreat 1943 – 1945: a review
If you’re anything like me then any publication with a photograph of a worn out looking landser accompanied by a strap line similar to that on the cover of Ian Baxter’s (2016) ‘German Army on the Eastern Front The Retreat 1943 – 1945‘ will make you sit-up and take note. Published by Pen & Sword for £14.99 or less, Baxter’s 140 page softbound book is a photographic history the Wehrmacht’s retreat through the Baltic States, East Prussia, Poland, Russia and Ukraine following their defeat at Kursk in the Summer of 1943. Each of its 5 chapters opens with a brief historical narrative before a selection of captioned black and white photographs:
Unfortunately, the narrative won’t add much to your understanding of events on the Eastern Front during this period and, in many respects, reiterates the tired old cliché about out-numbered lantern-jawed heroes fighting the good fight against Bolshevism. Worse still can be found in the captions which, at their best, provide a factual but occasionally repetitive résumé of the equipment pictured or pedals the same-old same-old about the ‘self-sacrificing’ German ‘fighting courageously’ against ‘massive numerical superiority’ (sic.).
Of course, it’s unlikely that you’d be buying this book for the read so perhaps it’s prudent to move on and look at some of the 200 or so photographs reproduced within. From a modeller’s and/or wargamer’s perspective it’s always helpful to see the source material. Photographs of artillery, Flak, mortars and other infantry support weapons predominate and it’s useful to see examples deployed in a variety of different climates and contexts. Whilst a few are acknowledged as posed for the purposes of propaganda or many otherwise concerned with administrative duties or group portraiture, some provide a candid and often excellent portrait of the German soldier during this period. If you’re looking for inspiration to model that infantry fighting position or wondering how to add that little bit of authenticity to your diorama, objective marker or scenic base you’ll find something of interest here:
The photographs themselves are not referenced so it’s difficult to tell from where or when they originated. Even to a layman like me a few seem chronologically out of place or just plain wrong. For example, these photographs of a 21st Panzer Grenadier in Normandy, France (Bild 101I-494-3382-12) or an Sd.Kfz. 250/2 of the 9th or 10th SS Pz Div. (Bild 101II-M2KBK-771-28) on the Dreyenseweg near Oosterbeek, Holland, are included in the chapters covering the retreat in Poland and the end of the War in May 1945 respectively. Like the text, a few perpetuate the myth of the ‘Good German’ like these not-so-conscripted-at-all Russian women happily building field fortifications for their smiling friends, the Wehrmacht:
Text and factual inaccuracies aside, Baxter’s German Army on Eastern Front The Retreat 1943-1945 promises more than its provides. Yes, there are some useful reference photographs from the period but nothing so startling original that you couldn’t find it in better publications or, considering the price, freely available online through the Bundesarchiv. Regrettably, 1 to borrow from the public library or pick up in The Works I’m afraid.