Military Book review – Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944 by Joachim Ludewig

Joachim Ludewig, Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944.

“Rückzug is an important book. It is the first serious study to focus on the six-week period from the Operation Dragoon landings on the Mediterranean coast in mid-August and the partial Allied victory at the Falaise pocket…. A professional and well-researched assessment of this surprisingly under-examined phase of World War II.” — Anthony Beevor, Wall Street Journal

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The Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, marked a critical turning point in the European theatre of World War II. The massive landing on France’s coast had been meticulously planned for three years, and the Allies anticipated a quick and decisive defeat of the German forces. Many of the planners were surprised, however, by the length of time it ultimately took to defeat the Germans.
While much has been written about D-day, very little has been written about the crucial period from August to September, immediately after the invasion. In Rückzug, Joachim Ludewig draws on military records from both sides to show that a quick defeat of the Germans was hindered by excessive caution and a lack of strategic boldness on the part of the Allies, as well as by the Germans’ tactical skill and energy. This intriguing study, translated from German, not only examines a significant and often overlooked phase of the war, but also offers a valuable account of the conflict from the perspective of the German forces.

Between June 6 and the first week of September 1944, the western Allies bludgeoned the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS units tasked by Adolf Hitler to defend northwestern Europe.

The consequences of this battering were grievous for the fighting men of both sides. Yet because the Allies possessed not only brave, well trained, and aggressive soldiers, but also absolute control of the airspace above the battlefields and a very substantial preponderance of weapons and motorized vehicles, the German units engaged in the fighting suffered far greater losses, both literally and proportionally, than their Allied counterparts.

And when the Allied forces neutralized the German coastal defenses and emerged into the French countryside in early August, the Germans could muster but little in the way of a cohesive defensive front.

As the Germans drew nearer to their homeland, however, they managed to patch together a more formidable defensive line to temporarily blunt the Allied assault. The result was eight more months of warfare in western Europe, and the loss of many more thousands of human lives.

How did this turn of events come to pass?

That is the question asked and answered in Joachim Ludewig’s Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944. The University Press of Kentucky has done a great service to those with a serious interest in the Second World War by publishing Ludewig’s work in English. The book is scrupulously researched, not only in the pertinent German military records, but also in the manifold sources that tell the official side of the Allied story. The result is an excellent historical study of a course of events in need of explication.

Author Ludewig identifies a dozen factors that enhanced the ability of the German armed forces to cobble together an effective defense in the autumn of 1944.

The original German edition was first published by the MGFA (Military History Research Institute of the German Armed Forces) in 1994 and it was about time that this valuable work was translated into English. As all publication of the MGFA I can heartily recommend it. Be warned that is not a “popular” history book and no “easy reading”. Everyone not scared off by this, will find the most detailed and comprehensive account of the Wehrmacht’s retreat from France published so far. 

Highly recommended. 

The author, Joachim Ludewig is an officer in the German Army Reserve. He currently serves as a civil servant in the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. He lives in Bonn, Germany.

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