Choosing to read analysis of military history can be a difficult decision to say the least. This choice can be even more difficult in the genre of WWII history. There is no end to the offerings currently available or about to become so. Traditional divisions in the historiography amongst aviation, ground, and naval can be further subdivided by campaigns, weapons design, unit histories, individual offensives in some instances, and even synthesis of the political and racial goals of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. What has come to the fore, then, is typically the decision of the reader to choose either analysis of the quantitative advantages (weapons production and economic issues for example) of a particular army at a particular moment or that army's qualitative advantages (leadership and planning vs that of an opponent). The result has been primarily, books that either read more like a straight chronological narrative geared towards the WWII history enthusiast or scholarly works meant for specialists and perhaps history graduate students. Col David Glantz massive works on the Eastern front certainly fit this mold and although certainly great additions to the existing literature, they can be ponderous, to say the least, for the layperson to wade through. On the other hand, Robert Citino has specialized in the former type of historical analysis. Although he does not shy away from delving into weapon's development he has for the most part focused his analysis of Nazi Germany's war effort on the style, planning and leadership of that country and its opponents. In `The Wehrmacht Retreats' Prof Citino has produced a masterpiece which not only focuses on these topics but expands upon them and analyzes their own limitations in explaining why 1943 was the year of the Wehrmacht's retreat in all theaters. He writes in the introduction that the detailed operational analysis of this work "will attempt to place these modern events in the context of certain longstanding traditions of German military history and culture"(xxiv).
This book of moderate size(428 pp including notes and bibliography) is chronologically organized and divided into chapters shifting between the fight against the western Allies (North Africa, Sicily and Italy) and the USSR as the year progressed. Significant historical background is provided for each new chapter, which facilitates understanding of various factors involved in the various campaigns of 1943. Furthermore, the notes and bibliography are a treasure trove of further information for the enthusiast who wishes to delve deeper into particular campaigns or even individual aspects of the campaigns. This is truly one of the greatest strengths of this particular work. Although there are bound to be detractors who dislike this or that area of analysis, it is supported in the vast majority of analysis with the original source documents. In other words Prof Citino never expects the reader to merely take his word for it and constantly backs up what he asserts. In all honesty, it would be fair to write that one could create a comprehensive reading list of the European theaters operations from the primary sources cited alone. The chapter on the Kursk offensive is a great case in point with the author pointing out dozens of primary German language documents, English translations of the German and Russian sources, English secondary sources in books, military journals and scholarly journals just in endnot 13...truly impressive!
Although the narrative flows as well as any work of fiction a reader could find, another great strength of this book is the aforementioned analysis. It is thorough without being dull and is exceptional in its ability to challenge previous ways of determining the outcome of the war. For example, Prof Citino continues to develop his analysis of the `German way of war'-one of operational movement and maneuver-which was first presented years ago in a book by that title. In his chapter covering Gen Manstein's famous Kharkov counter offensive in February-March 1943 there is a magnificent short essay included on the limitations of Operational genius in determining battlefield outcome. In short, the point of this essay, as well as much of the later portions of the book, is that irrespective of any general's genius there are myriad circumstances that affect the course of the battle that are completely beyond his control. As such, narratives that heap effusive praise on this or that battlefield commander are to a large extent missing a huge part of the story. Manstein is the example of this in that despite re-taking Kharkov he was unable to finish the job. The Kursk bulge remained due to weather and manpower factors that he had could not affect despite his expertise in `war of movement' (73). Citino concludes the chapter with the assessment that rather than the Soviets or the Germans being masters of their way of war they were "trapped in the talons of their own doctrines"(74).
In conclusion, `The Wehrmacht Retreats' is a phenomenal work and should have a prominent place in any WWII enthusiast's library. The narrative is masterfully written, the sources cited are comprehensive and the analysis is as cutting edge as anything a reader is likely to find in the coming year. It should be an absolute first choice if one is trying to decide which book to purchase right now. Citino is a master of the genre and sits alongside Glantz and Kershaw as the best of the best in WWII history.