Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
This is a paperback volume, with the slightly smudgy printing that betokens a reproduction of a previous edition. It, strangely, omits the sub-title to the original German edition – A Soldier to the Last Day. The quality of translation is generally good.
In the tense world that was the OKW, the pinnacle of Nazi Germany’s army, Kesselring was what one might term a survivor. He clearly developed a very sensitive political nose. But a reader in the 21st century must bear in mind the circumstances in which this memoir was written. He started it whilst imprisoned by the Allies after the end of the war (and spent five months in solitary confinement at Nuremberg). He was sentenced to death for war crimes, although, as in many cases, this was soon commuted to life imprisonment. Following an intensive media campaign he was released in 1952, ostensibly on health grounds, yet he manged to live until 1960, dying at the reasonable age for a Hitler general of 74.
So the threat of a death sentence does, I imagine, somewhat distort the writer’s view. I found his tone unsurprisingly self-exculpatory. Combined with a natural military/Germanic style, this does not make for easy reading – this is most definitely not a page-turner; indeed I have to confess I did not finish the book! It would be of most use to a serious military historian to use it as a reference for the German perspective when reviewing any Allied campaign.
What was of interest? He clearly did not lack for courage – for example, flying in an observation aircraft over enemy lines to assess the state of the front did not seem to daunt him. He could be as cold, clinical and monocular as many a Nazi. He refers to “terror raids” by the RAF on German cities, but does not see the Luftwaffe’s raids on e.g. Coventry or Hull in the same light. Massively heavy-handed retribution for partisan activity in Occupied Europe does not seem to raise his Bavarian eyebrow.
Unless you know more than I about the German Army, it is sometimes difficult to follow his arguments about strategy. Yet a persistent theme is the lack of long-term strategic planning emanating from the Fuhrer. Kesselring creates some perhaps wishful scenarios on how Germany may well have beaten the Russians had some key decisions gone the other way.
It is also abundantly clear that he found the relationship with the Italians extremely trying, and that none of their three services could be relied upon as an effective force.
The final pages underline many times over how the over-arching aim of Kesselring and his men was to avoid falling into the hands of the Russians: “The German soldier in the line, who knew no fear as long as he had a weapon in his hand, trembled, in the most literal meaning of the word, at the thought of being taken prisoner by the Russians.”
In these closing comments he understandably becomes very reflective with some insights such as: “I am always happy to find that soldiers are often better and more sensitive politicians than those who feel they have a vocation for that profession.” !
In conclusion, very difficult to read at length; but useful as a reference tome for serious historians.