Reading and learning are two of my passions and it is my pleasure to share these books with you.I have read them all and have found them to be both insightful and engaging. I encourage your feedback and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I did.
Maj Chris Buckham
Friday, 12 September 2014
The Devil’s General: The Life of Hyazinth von Strachwitz, "The Panzer Graf" - Raymond Bagdonas
Author Raymond Bagdonas has
written his first book on a subject of fascinating depth, that of the life and
operational experience of Hyazinth von Strachwitz, "The Panzer Graf".
Coming from a long line of aristocratic, strongly Catholic Germans, von
Strachwitz, while largely unknown today, was a man of exceptional leadership
and operational/tactical acumen. A veteran of the First and Second World Wars,
he served first as a cavalry officer and later as a Panzer commander.
A consummate commander and
leader, he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class for bravery within the
first six weeks of the commencement of WW1 before being captured and spending
the remainder as a POW. Following his release, he was thrust into the mayhem
that was postwar Germany as a member of the Selbstschutz Oberschleisen (a
Silesian Freikorps unit) fighting Polish separatists in Eastern Germany.
Following the stabilization of the country and the rise of the Nazi Party, von
Strachwitz joined the SS and received a reserve commission. This led to a
re-activation with a reserve cavalry regiment and a return to uniformed
within the German military led to cavalry units being replaced with tanks
(panzers); thus commenced the legend of the “Panzer Graf”. Over the next eleven
years, von Strachwitz would become a master Panzer Commander, ultimately
becoming the most highly decorated Regimental Commander in the German Army.
Over the course of his WW2 career he was the recipient of the Knight’s Cross
with Diamonds, Oak Leaves and Swords (one of only 27 recipients within the
German military), the German Panzer Assault Badge in Gold for 100 Engagements
(14 awarded in total throughout the war) and the Wound Badge in Gold (five or
more wounds). Personally credited with 150-200 destroyed enemy tanks, he fought
with the 16th Panzer Division, Grossdeutschesland Panzergrenadier
Division (GD) and the Panzerverband Strachwitz .
Following his incarceration as a
Colonel General of Panzer Troops by the Americans for 18 months during which he
drafted a number of treatise on his experiences fighting the Russians, a
penniless von Strachwitz and his wife moved to Jordan in order to assist in the
training and modernization of the Jordanian military. Ultimately returning to
Germany, he passed away in 1968 and was interred in Grabenstatt.
Bagdonas has done a commendable
job given the limitations of access to information and primary source documents.
Much of the original unit documentation that covered von Strachwitz’s early
years was lost when 16th Panzer was destroyed at Stalingrad and
follow-on unit documents were lost in the confusion of the later years of the
war. Therefore, a significant amount of Bagdonas’s narrative is anecdotal or
subjective in nature based upon secondary and tertiary sources. Where this
becomes more noticeable is when he makes observation or comments for which, in
my opinion, there should be additional commentary or identification of source.
For example, he makes the observation in his narrative that numerous US
interrogators utilized torture in their quest to break prisoners following
Germany’s surrender in 1945; what is missing is the source where he found this
Bagdonas’ writing and flow are
very good and the reader is easily engaged with his informative style.
Additionally, he provides numerous anecdotal information that add depth to the
commentary. His discussions about why the GD did not have a chaplain, the
competition between the fusilier/grenadier regiments and the unique challenges
relating to utilization of a combined arms unit such as GD when the expertise
of the Commander did not always translate into effective use of all unit
elements, are all examples of this.
I felt that his use of
appendices added greatly to the provision of information surrounding von
Strachwitz’s accomplishments. The bibliography that he provides is very useful
in identifying additional sources to the reader on the various engagements in
which the Panzer Graf was engaged.
Bagdonas notes that von
Strachwitz left no memoirs or notes; so gathering and drafting a comprehensive
biography was extremely difficult. I feel that he has done a commendable job
and that the book may serve future generations as an example of an individual
who responded to the call of his nation twice and served in an honourable and
selfless way throughout. As a leader, commander and officer, von Strachwitz was
an individual to emulate.
Although, it feels that the
narrative is, at times somewhat shallow as it relates to the subject of von
Strachwitz, I would still recommend this book for its publication quality, its
photo/map inserts and the information that the author provides about this
noteworthy historical figure.