The trouble with the Russo-German War of 1941-1945, commonly called the “Eastern Front” of World War Two, is language, propaganda and secrecy.
As “To the Bitter End” shows, much has been written about this collosal conflict, but for many years most eyewitness accounts and source documents were only available in German or Russian. For those not versed in those languages the pickings were slim indeed, concentrating on general accounts of the fighting, such as Colonel Albert Seaton’s seminal “The Russo-German War 1941-45” and Professor John Erickson’s “The Road to Stalingrad” and “The Road to Berlin,” or specific aspects, such as Anthony Beevor’s accounts of the battles of Stalingrad and Berlin.
Seaton and Erickson researched their works during the Cold War (1946-1990), when the other two factors – propaganda and secrecy – were real obstacles. Most published Russian accounts of the period were edited with the ideological needs of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in mind and original documents, such as existed, were securely locked away. The latter included the German records captured by the Soviet Army as they advanced west to the Elbe.
But we digress. Suffice to say many aspects of the war remain largely unexplored – in the English language, at least. With the emphasis during the last days of the war on the “Ostfront” generally on Berlin and specifically on the “Führerbunker” below Voss Street, the drama of Vienna, Budapest, Breslau and the forests and villages in between is largely overlooked.
Rolf Hinze’s “Letztes Aufgebot zur Verteidigung des Reichsgebiets: Kämpfe der Heeresgruppe Nordukraine/A/Mitte”, first published in 1995 and translated in 2005 as “To The Bitter End – The Final Battles of Army Groups North Ukraine, A, Centre, Eastern Front 1944-1945”, corrects this in part. The narrative starts in late 1944 after the destruction of Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) in Belarus and the “stabilisation” of that front on the Vistula before Warsaw and the arrival of Soviet forces in the foothills of Carpathians. This triggered the much-less known Slovakian Rising, the crushing of which Hinze gives a full account.
“Full” is a relative term however. Hinze’s account, as translated, is dry and “high level”, meaning little is described below the divisional level. This is a pity, but perhaps inevitable in a slim volume such as this. The publishers rightly say these were “desperate times for the German forces as they fought frantically against overwhelming odds to prevent Soviet forces bent on revenge penetrating into the heart of the Reich.” And Hinze does provide excellent detail on the movements and actions of numerous German formations with the text covering all major actions including the battle for the Vistula bridgeheads, the epic siege of Breslau where the troops held out until the day before the official surrender of all German forces, and the final desperate actions around Bautzen which featured the last successful German counteroffensive of the war and also their last tank offensive. Personal reminiscences would have helped convey the drama better.
Hinze was born in 1922 in eastern Germany and joined the 19th Artillery Regiment in Hanover in 1939. Following the Campaign in the West he joined military academy at Jüterbog. For the remainder of the war he served as a forward observation officer with the 19th Panzer Division. After the war he became a town magistrate before setting up in practise as a lawyer.
For all its defects it does present information previously unavailable in English and should be a “must-get” for all Ostfront affectionados.
To The Bitter End – The Final Battles of Army Groups North Ukraine, A, Centre, Eastern Front 1944-1945
Available in South Africa through local distributor 30 degrees South Publishing, www.30degreessouth.co.za