War Without Garlands
War Without Garlands – Operation BARBAROSSA 1941-2
German soldiers were genuinely surprised to be informed they were invading Russia because of the well-publicised non-aggression pact between the two nations. This book covers the pitiless campaign that resulted, viewing it almost entirely through the eyes of ordinary soldiers and junior officers. Extensive use is made of diaries, letters and oral accounts previously unpublished in English, including secret SS Files that monitored rumours and reactions from the German Home Front throughout these events.
The Russian soldier’s refusal to surrender and fight to the death, despite being out manoeuvred or surrounded was to break the temp of German Blitzkrieg in Europe for the first time. Spectacular German victories in the early heady days when it was rumoured at home that paratroopers had landed in Moscow proved to be Pyrric. German fighting power was degraded by appalling casualties as early as the high point at Smolensk in September 1941. The Wehrmacht had to pause to regain operational tempo for its mobile forces. Despite the Soviet catastrophe at Kiev in the Ukraine and in the autumn battles in the mud before Moscow when whole Russian armies were removed from the Soviet order of battle, the German Army had ‘victored itself to death’. The final German assault in the winter of 1941 was as reckless as it was unsustainable.
War Without Garlands was ‘kein Blumenkrieg’ as the German soldiers called it. No longer were returning German soldiers feted by garlands of flowers tossed by an adoring public as had happened after the fall of France in 1940. It soon became the longest and costliest campaign to date in the war.
The book reveals the extent to which a Christian army manned by ostensibly ‘decent’ soldiers became accomplices to savage ethnic cleansing directed against the so-called Untermensch or ‘sub-human’ Russian civilian population, Jews and prisoners of war. Soviet atrocities were meted out in return and these controversial actions are objectively examined from the perspective of victims on both sides.
The typical experience of the ordinary German and Russian soldier is chronicled and analysed during the summer and winter battles of 1941-2. The ‘seed-corn’ of the German Blitzkrieg experience perished during these battles, fundamentally altering the fabric and psyche of the Wehrmacht throughout the remainder of the war. The Germans always had misgivings about the onset of Russian winters after this campaign.
This is a frank appraisal of a brutal and pitiless conflict.
Kenneth Macksey Tank Magazine 2000
‘Only rarely have I been so hauntingly absorbed by a military history as I have been by this one…It is beyond doubt unique and important’.
Background and Preparation
This was the book that I had wanted to write for a long time, but at some risk because of limited British interest of the war on the Eastern Front, remedied temporarily by Anthony Beevor’s success with his book Stalingrad.
War Without Garlands is a hard hitting and frank appraisal of the brutality of war and was to some extent influenced by my Gulf War and Bosnian operational experiences.
During the first Gulf War in 1991 I maintained a daily journal, which I religiously maintained from the moment I was warned off to go until I got back. Having been extensively exposed to war time diaries with the first two books I appreciated I needed to write what I saw and felt it, with no holds barred and not with an eye for future publication. Even under the pressure of operations during the invasion of Iraq I might occasionally skip a day or two, but then immediately wrote my impressions up before memories dimmed. I disciplined myself to write without restraint, ignoring the need for security and frequently – as one does – changed my mind about personalities and events and recorded rumours, because that too has an insidious effect on attitudes.
As a consequence the diary not available, without serious editing, for publication, but it was a useful reminder of what to look for in other people’s wartime accounts and a selection filter to settle the credibility of accounts I used in War Without Garlands. Like the diary, it produced grim reading.
I was serving in Germany again when I came to write it, this time a staff officer at the NATO Central Land Command Headquarters (LANDCENT) in Heidelburg and AFCENT in Holland. Like for It Never Snows in September I managed to pick up a lot of original German material. Because of the pressure of work – I was Military Assistant to two NATO four-star Generals – it was difficult to find time to write. Some of it occurred during leave and many late nights.
Coincidental with publication I was posted to a fascinating job in South Africa, where I was to spend the next two and a half years. I had visions of producing books on the Zulu and Boer Wars and researched and visited the sites accordingly. The down side was that far from England I lost all control of reviews for …Garlands, which unfortunately was insufficiently gripped by my publisher. Yet for me, the book remained an important personal milestone.