Blitzkrieg: From the Ground Up
The first work of Niklas Zetterling that I ever encountered was his review of Shimon Naveh’s In Pursuit of Military Excellence. Posted on the internet in 2002 as a working paper, this critique took General Naveh to task for a number of shortfalls. Of the latter, the allegation that made a particularly strong impression on me concerned the falsification of footnotes.
I had read In Pursuit of Excellence soon after it emerged from the press in 1997. Like Mr. Zetterling, I quickly noticed that Naveh treated footnotes as if they were Strasbourg geese. Indeed, the academic apparatus was so overstuffed that I suspected that the number of works cited greatly exceeded the number of sources that Naveh had pulled off of the shelves, let alone read. Moreover, as I had recently consulted several of the more obscure books listed in the footnotes to In Pursuit of Excellence, I was struck by the absence of any clear relationship between those sources and the passages to which they were connected.
However, it was not until I read Zetterling’s critique that I became aware of the uncanny resemblance between documents cited by Naveh and those listed in the footnotes to a much earlier book, Rudolf Steiger’s Armor Tactics in the Second World War.1 (Among other things, Zetterling observed that the coincidence between the two sets of footnotes was so close that Naveh’s references to archival sources reproduced typographical errors made by Dr. Steiger.)
With this in mind, the first thing I did when I opened my copy of Blitzkrieg: From the Ground Up was spot check the citations. I am happy to report that, of the dozen or so randomly selected references I was able to check, all turned out to be correct. (Alas, neither my work schedule nor my pocketbook allowed me to travel to Freiburg to check the citations to documents stored there. I was, however, able to validate many references to both published sources and documents preserved by the US National Archives.)2
Having done my due diligence, I dove into the text of the book. There I discovered, much to my delight, that the heart of each chapter recounted, in considerable detail, the experience of a company commander. This convinced me that, whatever else Blitzkrieg: From the Ground Up might offer, the book would prove useful to developers of decision-forcing cases on the subject of small unit tactics.
Once I had sated (if only for a moment) my hunger for tales of enfilade and defilade, I noticed the skill with which Zetterling nested each story within the context of battles, campaigns, and the fate of nations. Thus, Blitzkrieg: From the Ground Up reminds students of company command that, however important the tools, techniques, and tricks of that trade may be, the small unit leader can never forget that every one of his actions serves a higher purpose.
The German-language original of Armor Tactics in the Second World War was first published in 1973 as Panzertaktik im Spiegel deutscher Kriegstagebücher, 1939 bis 1941 [Armored Tactics through the Lens of German War Diaries, 1939-1941]. The English version of the book came out in 1991.
Consulting German records preserved on microfilm at the US National Archives used to be both time-consuming and expensive. However, thanks to the good work of the good men who have created repositories of digital copies of these microfilm rolls, this task is much easier, and far less costly, than it used to be.