The German Army and the Defense of the Reich
Military Doctrine and the Conduct of the Defensive Battle, 1918-1939
Cambridge University Press 2011
New Books in European StudiesNew Books in German StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network June 3, 2011 Marshall Poe
Matthias Strohn‘s The German Army and the Defense of the Reich: Military Doctrine and the Conduct of the Defensive Battle, 1918-1939 (Cambridge University Press, 2011) is an important challenge to the existing literature on interwar German military doctrine. The stunning German victories in 1939 and 1940 have usually been attributed to their practice of “Blitzkrieg” (Lightning War). The inventive use of armored divisions and airpower allowed the Wehrmacht to sweep its enemies from the battlefield with relatively low casualties (on the German side, at least) and with little negative impact on the German homefront or domestic economy. James Corum, Robert Citino (a recent interviewee) and others have traced the roots of this combined arms doctrine in the interwar period, focusing on the “stormtroop” innovations World War One and the advocacy of mobility above all else by planners like Hans von Seeckt.
But Strohn believes that this understandable fixation on the roots of Blitzkrieg has blinded us to the practical importance of defensive doctrine in the 100,000 man Reichswehr. With no hope of challenging France (a fact brought painfully to life in the 1923 occupation of the Ruhr) and little prospect for success even against the Polish army, German strategists (Joachim von Stulpnagel more than Seeckt) concentrated on defensive doctrine, hoping to survive an initial attack long enough to organize (perhaps) a guerrilla campaign or to die gloriously in arms.
Based on extensive archival research, Strohn’s book should provoke a conversation among scholars of the German army that will refresh the debate about interwar doctrine.