Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945

Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945

by Max Hastings


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This is epic story of the last eight months of World War II in Europe by one of Britain’s most highly regarded military historians, whose accounts of past battles John Keegan has described as worthy “to stand with that of the best journalists and writers” (New York Times Book Review).

In September 1944, the Allies believed that Hitler’s army was beaten, and expected that the war would be over by Christmas. But the disastrous Allied airborne landing in Holland, American setbacks on the German border and in the Hürtgen Forest, together with the bitter Battle of the Bulge, drastically altered that timetable. Hastings tells the story of both the Eastern and Western Fronts, and paints a vivid portrait of the Red Army’s onslaught on Hitler’s empire. He has searched the archives of the major combatants and interviewed 170 survivors to give us an unprecedented understanding of how the great battles were fought, and of their human impact on American, British, German, and Russian soldiers and civilians. 

Hastings raises provocative questions: Were the Western Allied cause and campaign compromised by a desire to get the Soviets to do most of the fighting? Why were the Russians and Germans more effective soldiers than the Americans and British? Why did the bombing of Germany’s cities continue until the last weeks of the war, when it could no longer influence the outcome? Why did the Germans prove more fanatical foes than the Japanese, fighting to the bitter end? This book also contains vivid portraits of Stalin, Churchill, Eisenhower, Montgomery, and the other giants of the struggle. 

The crucial final months of the twentieth century’s greatest global conflict come alive in this rousing and revelatory chronicle.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375714221
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/18/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 672
Sales rank: 478,746
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Max Hastings is the author of more than twenty books, including Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, Inferno: The World at War, 1939–1945, and Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945. He spent his early career as a foreign correspondent for BBC TV and various newspapers, then as editor of Britain’s Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph. He has received numerous awards for both his books and his journalism. He lives in the English countryside west of London.

Read an Excerpt

chapter one

Time of Hope

Allies of a Kind

The first of September 1944 marked the fifth anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, outbreak of the Second World War. The struggle had already continued for nine months longer than the earlier conflict, once called the Great War. The 1914-18 conflict cost the lives of a mere nine million people. Its successor would account for at least five times that number, the overwhelming majority of whom died in the Soviet Union or in China (where their passing remained largely unremarked by Westerners, then or since).

The British people somewhat flattered themselves about their own role. France, Britain and the dominion were the only belligerents voluntarily to have entered the conflict against totalitarianism as a matter of principle in support of Polish freedom, rather than as victims of aggression or in hopes of booty. Churchill's brilliant defiance in 1940 mitigated Hitler's triumph in western Europe that year. Without his genius, it is likely that Britain would have sued for peace. At no time after June 1940 was there a possibility that British arms could defeat Germany, or even play the principal part in doing so. Yet it was characteristic of British self-indulgence that, when Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941, some thoughtful people recoiled in disgust from the notion of fighting alongside the bloodstained Soviets, even though their participation opened up the first, perhaps only realistic, prospect of overcoming Hitler.

In Evelyn Waugh's great novel Sword of Honour, the British officer Guy Crouchback embraces war in 1939 as a crusade against the modern world in arms. His faith is lost, however, when he finds his country allied with the Russians. That was fiction, yet in cool reality the head of the British Army, Sir John Dill, said in 1941 that he considered the Russians "so foul that he hated the idea of any close association with them." Dill's successor as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Alan Brooke, initially regarded the Soviets with both moral and military contempt. Churchill's government embarked upon a huge propaganda campaign, to convince the British people that "Uncle Joe" Stalin and his nation were worthy friends of freedom. This was so successful that in 1945 it proved a painful task to shatter public delusions, to break the news that perhaps the Soviet Union was not quite such a good thing after all.

Yet if the accession of the Soviet Union as an ally prompted equivocal sentiments, that of the United States provided cause for unstinting celebration. "So we had won after all!" Winston Churchill exulted, on hearing news of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Between that date and May 1945, the United States devoted 85 per cent of its entire war effort to the struggle against Germany. Yet, paradoxically, few Americans ever felt deep animosity towards the Germans, of the kind which they cherished towards the "yellow barbarians" who had attacked them at Pearl Harbor. "I didn't work up a great hate of the Germans," said Nicholas Kafkalas, a twenty-four-year-old captain commanding an armoured infantry company of 10th Armored Division in north-west Europe. "They were pretty good soldiers. A lot of Americans felt less engaged against the Germans than against the Japanese." By the autumn of 1944, largely armed and equipped by the industrial might of the United States, the Allies were in no doubt of victory. But the gratitude of the weary, battered, hungry British people was mingled with resentment as they watched Americans in their tens of thousands, brash and fresh, clean and rich, pour off the ships on their way to join Eisenhower's armies. The New World's soldiers came to harvest the fruits of victory without, as the British saw it, having endured their share of the Old World's pain.

A thirty-two-year-old academic serving as a combat historian with the U.S. Army in September 1944 read British newspapers. He noted the fears these expressed, that the Americans would claim to have won the war on their own. "Unfortunately [for the British], nothing can stop our people from claiming the victory," Forrest Pogue wrote presciently.

They believe the British slow, they over-emphasize their [own] total contribution. The British will never get full credit for their part in winning the war, since their greatest glory was holding on in the 1939-42 period. This was negative type of fighting, and will fade . . . Russia will be played down, perhaps, in later years at home . . . Hers was the positive sacrifice that broke Germany and made the landing [in Normandy] possible. However, ours was the voice and the helping hand that encouraged England to keep fighting, that replaced the terrific loss of matériel suffered by the Russians.

All this was true.

Winston Churchill, whose irrational stubbornness in 1940 had averted Hitler's triumph, enjoyed the years of victory much less than he had expected. Like his people he was weary, as well a man of sixty-nine might be. He suffered increasing ill-health. He was made wretched by consciousness of his shrinking power in the Grand Alliance of Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union. He was haunted by apprehension that Hitler's tyranny in eastern Europe would be supplanted by that of Stalin. In 1940, Britain's prime minister had been warlord of the sole bastion of resistance to the Nazis. In 1942, even if the Soviets treated him with the morbid suspicion due to an old imperialist and adversary of revolution, the Americans deferred to his greatness and to his nation's experience of war. From 1943 onwards, however, Churchill's influence upon the Grand Alliance dwindled almost to vanishing point. The Soviet Union displayed the icy arrogance it considered appropriate, as paymaster of the vast blood sacrifice necessary to bring Hitler's empire to bay. The United States made plain its intention to determine strategy in the west and invade Normandy in summer 1944-Operation Overlord-as its forces waxed in might while those of Britain waned.

"Up till Overlord," wrote Churchill's private secretary when it was all over, "he saw himself as the supreme authority to whom all military decisions were referred. Now, he is by force of circumstances little more than a spectator." Churchill himself acknowledged this: "Up to July 1944 England had a considerable say in things; after that I was conscious that it was America who made the big decisions." In 1944, the United States produced as many weapons as all the Axis powers together-40 per cent of the entire armaments employed by all the combatants on every front in the Second World War. Tensions grew between Britain's prime minister and America's president: "Roosevelt envied Churchill's genius, and Churchill increasingly envied Roosevelt's power," in the words of the historian John Grigg. The warmth of public exchanges between the two men masked a private coolness, and especially the consequences of Roosevelt's impatience with Churchill, which became ever more marked in the last months of the war.

While Roosevelt's life reflected the highest ideals, he was a much less sentimental and more ruthless man than Churchill. Roosevelt possessed, claims his most recent biographer, "a more perceptive and less romantic view of the world than Churchill." This proposition is justified insofar as Roosevelt recognized that the days of empires were done, while Churchill's heart refused to accept the signals of his brain that it was so. Yet any claim of Roosevelt's superior wisdom becomes hard to sustain convincingly in the light of the president's failure to perceive, as Churchill perceived, the depth of evil which Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union represented. It may be true that the Western allies lacked the military power to prevent the Soviet rape of eastern Europe, but posterity is entitled to wish that Roosevelt had allowed himself to appear less indifferent to it.

The British considered that neither the president nor the U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, for all his greatness as lead manager of America's war effort, exercised the mastery of strategy that was needed to finish the war quickly. "As [Roosevelt's] grip slackened during the last year of his life," argues one of the best historians of Anglo-American relations at this period, ". . . the President became in some ways a liability in terms of the effective conduct of United States and Allied business . . . his refusal to face the facts concerning his own state of health . . . suggest, not so much heroism, as is usually argued, but irresponsibility and an undue belief in his own indispensability, if not a love of power." Even if this verdict is too harsh and ignores the likelihood that an elected replacement president in January 1945 would have been less impressive than Harry S. Truman, it is hard to dispute the assertion that Roosevelt's judgement was flawed, his grasp upon events visibly slipping, from his 1944 re-election campaign until his death in April the following year.

Yet American vision about the most important strategic decision of the western war, the assault on the continent, had proved superior to that of the British. As late as the winter of 1943-44, Churchill continued to fight a rearguard action for his cherished Mediterranean strategy. He pursued the chimera of penetrating Germany through Italy and Yugoslavia. He remained instinctively anxious to defer an invasion of north-west Europe, which he feared could become a bloodbath reminiscent of the First World War. Painful experience of the limitations of Allied forces against those of the Wehrmacht, the greatest fighting machine the world had ever seen, dogged his consciousness. The prime minister always acknowledged that a confrontation in France must come sooner or later. But he remained uncharacteristically dilatory about its timing. General* Sir John Kennedy, Britain's Director of Military Operations, wrote after the war that he doubted whether the invasion of Normandy would have taken place before 1945 but for the insistence of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff: "American opinion on the landing in France in 1944 was, without a shadow of doubt, 'harder' than ours." Franklin Roosevelt could claim personal credit for insisting that D-Day should take place when it did. Marshall, likewise, declared with some justice that one of his own principal wartime achievements was to resist Churchill's follies.

In the summer of 1944, American confidence in Overlord was triumphantly vindicated on the battlefield. After ten weeks of bitter fighting in Normandy, German forces collapsed in rout. The broken remnants of Hitler's forces staggered away eastwards, leaving almost all their tanks and guns wrecked upon the battlefield. The Allies had expected to fight river by river and field by field across France. Instead, Paris fell without a fight. In the early days of September, British columns streamed into jubilant Brussels, where they received a far warmer welcome than they had encountered from the French, among whom political and psychological wounds ran deep. "One got the impression that the Belgians felt they had done their bit by eating their way through the war," said Captain Lord Carrington of the Guards Armoured Division, one of many Allied soldiers astonished by the plenty he found in Belgium, after years of privation at home in Britain. Courtney Hodges's U.S. First Army approached the frontiers of Germany. The vanguard of George Patton's U.S. Third Army reached the upper Moselle. Huge expanses of territory lay undefended by the Nazis. A few feeble divisions, supported by mere companies of tanks against the Anglo-American armoured legions, manned the enemy's line. For a few halcyon days, Allied exhilaration and optimism were unbounded.

Meanwhile in the east, the Soviet Operation Bagration boasted triumphs to match those of the Americans and British. Indeed, the Russians' achievement was much greater, since they faced three German divisions for each one deployed in France. Between 4 July and 29 August, the Red Army advanced more than 300 miles westwards from the start line of its northern summer offensive. The fervour of the Russians' loathing for their enemy was intensified by the desert they found in Belorussia as the Germans retreated-crops ploughed into the ground, all livestock gone, a million houses burned, most of the population dead or deported for slave labour. Private Vitold Kubashevsky of 3rd Belorussian Front had already lived through two years of war, but recoiled in horror from what he now saw in Belorussia. Once he and his platoon noticed a stench emerging from a shed beside a church, and entered to find it stacked with the rotting corpses of local peasants. When correspondents reported on a Nazi death camp found at Maidenek in Poland, where the ashes of 200,000 people were still piled in the crematorium, some Western media-including the BBC-refused to publish their dispatches, suspecting a Soviet propaganda ploy. The New York Herald Tribune said: "Maybe we should wait for further corroboration of the horror story . . . Even on top of all we have been taught of the maniacal Nazi ruthlessness, this example sounds inconceivable . . ."

By September, the Red Army had recovered all but a small fragment of the Soviet territories lost since 1941. Stalin's people, who had achieved their decisive victory over Germany at Kursk in July 1943, now stood at the borders of East Prussia, and on the Vistula within a few miles of Warsaw. The Germans clung to a mere foothold in Lithuania. Further south, the Russians had driven deep into Rumania, and held a line close to the capital, Bucharest. Only in the Carpathian Mountains did the Germans retain a narrow strip of Russian soil. German casualties were horrendous. Fifty-seven thousand captives from the Fourth Army were marched through the streets of Moscow on 17 July. Muscovite children jeered and threw stones. A watching six-year-old was so conditioned by propaganda images of the enemy that she noted her own astonishment on seeing that these Germans possessed human faces. She had expected to see the features of wild beasts. Most Russian adults looked on in grim silence. Yet a Western correspondent watching the shuffling parade of Germans was surprised to hear an old Russian woman mutter: "Just like our poor boys . . . driven into the war." Between July and September, Hitler's forces lost 215,000 men killed and 627,000 missing or captured in the east. One hundred and six divisions were shattered. Total German losses on the Eastern Front that summer-more than two million men killed, wounded, captured and missing-dwarfed those of Stalingrad. It was little wonder that Stalin and his marshals were dismissive of Anglo-American successes in France. A recent American study has described Bagration as "the most impressive ground operation of the war." Yet if its gains were awesome, so was its human price. Russia's summer triumphs cost the Red Army 243,508 men killed and 811,603 wounded.

In the second week of August, Marshal Georgi Zhukov-who had brilliantly orchestrated the summer operations of the two Belorussian Fronts-together with Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky, his subordinate at 1st Belorussian Front, considered with Stalin the possibilities of an early thrust west across Poland, on an axis which would lead finally to Berlin. This was rejected, chiefly because Rokossovsky's forces were exhausted by their long advance, and also because Stalin perceived opportunities elsewhere. Russia's warlord committed his forces, first, to new operations on the Baltic Front, where some thirty German divisions held out in coastal enclaves, some of which they retained until May 1945; and, second, to a series of major offensives in the Balkans, where several countries lay ripe for Moscow's taking.

Table of Contents

The Principal Commanders and Their Forcesxix
1Time of Hope3
2The Bridges to Arnhem34
3The Frontiers of Germany63
4The Russians at the Vistula95
5Winter Quarters134
6Germany Besieged155
7Hell in the Hurtgen176
8The Bulge: An American Epic197
9Stalin's Offensive238
10Blood and Ice: East Prussia261
11Firestorms: War in the Sky298
12Marching on the Rhine338
13Prisoners of the Reich381
14Collapse in the West418
15"The Earth Will Shake as We Leave the Scene"447
16The Bitter End477
Sources and References519

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Armageddon 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A book that provides new insight where before there just was old information.
vonpranzer More than 1 year ago
I was there part of the time before coming home. This book real tells it like it was.
bookkeeperWN More than 1 year ago
Most books concerning this period of WWII choose a single theme or perspective and go from there. Max Hastings tackles many themes and perspectives, and does it very well. Hastings' battle narratives are coupled with his shrewd analysis of the impact the commanders, soldiers and equipment had on the outcome. Others often stop here, but Hastings goes further to incorporate an analysis of how the philosophical background of the societies from which the combatants came, coupled with their leaders' political objectives, impacted the outcome. You will not finish this book without having a number of "ah, now I get it" moments. Perhaps Hastings' greatest achievement in this book is his description of the fragile alliance between Britain, the US and the USSR that somehow managed to stick together long enough to pull it all off. Sixty five years after the fact, we often forget that by 1945, the US/British relationship was quite strained, and neither had much in common with the Soviets other than the defeat of Germany. Hastings correctly points out Eisenhower's essential role in managing a marriage of convenience. While I wish a few sentences could also have been given to the role General Marshall played to organize the manpower and industrial strength of the American contribution to the war effort, it's a small complaint against the overall narrative. This is a surprisingly fast read, considering the subject matter and the scope of what Hastings covers. Hastings is no less of an editor when it comes to his own work than what he exercised over others' work at the Daily Telegraph, and everyone benefits from it.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Quick Summary:The title Max Hastings chose for his history of the final year of World War II in Europe conveys something of the gripping drama he manages to create in this well-researched and fascinating work. In parallel to his later book Retribution about the last year of World War II against the Japanese, Armageddon focuses on the final year of World War II in Europe. His technique and style are very similar in both books. He begins each chapter with an overview of a topic (such as ¿the Bulge¿ or ¿Stalin¿s Offensive¿ in Armageddon) and then supplements his summary with two categories of anecdotes: testimonies by relatively unknown ¿little people,¿ whose millions of stories compose the total history of the war, and analyses of the actions and judgments of the military and political leaders involved.As The Washington Post pointed out in its review, ¿the months between September 1944 and May 1945 were among the cruelest and most destructive Europe had ever seen.¿ Hastings helps you get a sense of the horror of the battles, their brutality, the exhaustion of the soldiers, and the suffering of the citizenry. And all of it sounds fresh, even though you may have read these stories time and again (or watched them on the History Channel). The Washington Post review calls this book ¿magisterial¿ and it seems to be no exaggeration.Detailed Review:After the success of the Normandy Landing and subsequent breakout, it appeared in autumn of 1944 that the Western Allies could roll into Germany with only slight opposition. That view proved to be woefully inaccurate for several reasons. First, the allied generals had little competence in wars of rapid maneuver. Second, allied soldiers were much more interested in surviving the war than their Nazi opponents, who man for man, proved to be much more competent soldiers. Hastings writes: "The defense of Germany against overwhelming odds reflected far more remarkable military skills than those displayed by the attackers, especially when all German operations had to be conducted under the dead hand of Hitler."Third, bickering among the allies exacerbated the problem, but the American General Dwight D. Eisenhower¿s skill and tact overcame the biggest obstacles. The British General Bernard Montgomery comes across as very petty and egotistical, but fairly competent at a plodding strategy. Hastings says he ¿was a cleverer man and a far more professional soldier than [Eisenhower], but his crassness towards his peers was a fatal impediment to greatness.¿ A fourth reason for the western allies¿ tardiness was Hitler¿s December offensive that produced the Battle of the Bulge, which came as a total surprise to the complacent allies.Montgomery made a major strategic mistake in failing to secure the approaches to Antwerp, the largest port in Western Europe after it fell with little resistance. The port lies 50 or so miles from the sea on the River Scheldt. The Germans quickly occupied both banks of the river to prevent ships from reaching the port. It took several months of hard fighting to dislodge them from their positions, which they defended with substantial competence. The allies suffered from substantial supply shortages because the only ports available to them were the small channel ports in Normandy and Pas de Calais. Not until the approaches to Antwerp were secured in early 1945 could the allies bring to bear their enormous advantage in material and fire power.The slowness of the Western Allies¿ progress caused great hardship among the conquered people of Nazi-occupied countries. The Dutch in particular had to suffer through their ¿Hongerwinter¿ at near starvation subsistence. Eisenhower persisted in a very cautious ¿wide front¿ approach, especially after the spectacular failure of Montgomery¿s Market Garden attempt at rapid penetration of the German front. As German Field Marshal von P
dswaddell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story and evaluation of the fall of Germany on the Eastern and Western fronts during WW2 in '44 and '45. The book is interesting and goes into great detail about the events, armies, and leaders involved at the end of the war in europe. The book seems a little out of balance in regards to the authors opinions about the troops and leaders but the arguments made to support the position he takes are very well done. The only bad part is that it gets to be a bit repetitive near the end of the book.
CharlesMcCain on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
British journalist Sir Max Hastings has written a number of very good narrative histories of various episodes of World War Two. Narrative history is generally that which the writer takes pains to let the people involved tell the story through excerpts from their papers and letters and diaries and government reports of the time. Hastings succeeds brilliantly at this. The end game on the Eastern Front, which decided the war in the favor of the Allies, is very complicated. Hastings does a masterful job of explaining this very complex moment in history.
Cajun_Huguenot on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a well written history of the last year of the war in Europe. Hastings is masterful writer. I could not put this book down.
meegeekai on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Unbelievable book. This one blew me away, I just never thought much about the Soviets in WWII. This is a must read for anyone interested in miliatary history.
greginAk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
good overview of the last year of the war in europe on both fronts. hastings is not afraid to be controversial especially about the quality of allied solders. he backs up his view points with many quotes. he clearly has a mastery of the subject. he discusses the strategic overview of the war, tactics, the lives of civilians in occupied countries and Germany.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tells a powerful, convincing story about the dramatic months of the latter campaigns of World War II. Packed with insight and yet easy to read. This is momentous history. Highly recommended.
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willyvan More than 1 year ago
For this outstanding book, military historian Max Hastings researched in the archives of four countries and conducted 170 interviews with survivors of the war. Brilliantly written, it conveys the horror of war, without idealisation. Throughout, he makes realistic judgements. For example, he writes of the Warsaw uprising, "the Polish commander wanted it both ways: the success of his revolt hinged upon recognising Russian military support, while its explicit objective was to deny the Soviet Union political authority over his country." Hastings asserts, "the British Joint Intelligence Committee had concluded that, if the Poles carried out their long-planned uprising, it was doomed to failure in the absence of close co-operation with the Russians, which was unlikely to be forthcoming. It seems lamentable that, after making such an appreciation, the British failed to exert all possible pressure upon the Poles to abandon their fantasies." He points out, "Despite some historian's idealisation of those who were ruthlessly returned to Stalin, the murderous record of Cossacks who served the Wehrmacht in northern Italy and Yugoslavia deserves more attention than it has received." He observes, "Stalin's people were overwhelmingly responsible for destroying Hitler's armies." He cites American historian Forrest Pogue who wrote that the Soviet forces "broke Germany and made the [D-Day] landing possible." Hastings judges, 'the single most impressive ground operation of the war' was Operation Bagration of July-August 1944, and Stalin was 'the most successful warlord of the Second World War'. The key dilemma at the end of the war in Europe was whether the Anglo-American forces should try to take Berlin, which was a hundred miles inside the agreed Soviet occupation zone. Hastings applauds Eisenhower's decision not to try, and shows that no Anglo-American action in spring 1945 could, or should, have undone the agreements reached at the Teheran and Yalta conferences.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Max Hastings gives a very thorough account of the final days of the Third Reich. We see the experience of the Western Allies, the Soviets and the Germans, the grand strategy of generals and battle accounts are given perspective by the experiences of ordinary soldiers and civilians from all sides. This book does not gloss over the terrible cost of the war, and it is quite honest about how much higher a price the Soviets paid than the Western Allies. The war on the Eastern front was far more savage, mostly because both sides were far more willing to sacrifice vast numbers of men for their military objectives. Hastings shows how such a sacrifice would have been impossible for democracies like Britain and the USA, but that their more cautious tactics were only made possible by the enormous sacrifice of the Soviets. Simply put, the greatest credit for the defeat of the Nazi's goes to the Soviet Communists. Nevertheless, this book is not an apportioning of credit or blame, but a gripping account of the battles that ended Nazi Germany. It is a vivid portrait with much human interest on every page and I highly reccommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was verygood story..For me it was interesting..
ARISTO More than 1 year ago
rehash bombast