Review: Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp

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Marc Rikmenspoel
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Review: Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp

Post by Marc Rikmenspoel » Sun Mar 16, 2008 10:28 am

I received a review copy of Doug Nash's new work, and I've been highly impressed by it. Here's my thoughts on the matter:

In the English language literature on the December 1944 German offensive in the Ardennes, the so-called “Battle of the Bulge,” it is often stated that the American 4th and 28th Infantry Divisions had been “bled white in the Hürtgen Forest fighting” in the autumn of 1944, and were then assigned to the quiet Ardennes sector for rebuilding. I had long wondered at how the scratch, makeshift German defenses on the Western Front, after heavy losses in the Normandy campaign, were able to inflict such casualties on their opponent. An answer to this question is now available in the form of Douglas Nash’s new book “Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp: With the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division From the Hürtgen Forest to the Heart of the Reich.”

Nash already has a solid reputation as the author of “Hell’s Gate,” a book about the early 1944 Cherkassy campaign. Indeed, that work is referenced on the cover of his new release. As in the earlier title, Nash successfully combines thorough research with a fluid, entertaining style of writing. The success of both books is their way of presenting detailed information in a readable style that brings out the human element in modern industrialized war.

“Victory…” provides an analysis of the entirety of the late war German Volksgrenadier experiment. The idea behind creating such divisions is examined, as is the manner in which these units were brought into being, including a look at how the reality differed from what was expected by the German high command and Allied intelligence. The focus then narrows to the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division, with it serving as a detailed example of how a typical Volksgrenadier division went through its organization and training. The focus is further narrowed by placing the overall service of the division in the context of the career of one special company within it. That formation, Fusilier Kompanie 272, was intended as an elite mobile reserve for the division, and the survival of a cache of detailed wartime documents from that company was the germ of Nash’s research for this book.

The bulk of “Victory…” covers the frontline service of the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division from its commitment in November 1944, through its dissolution during April 1945. As mentioned, the focus is on the activities of Fusilier Kompanie 272, but the actions of the rest of the division are examined too, albeit in less detail. The picture presented is one of well-intentioned soldiers, who never had quite enough resources or firepower to achieve more than local success, but who gave their best repeatedly, in an already lost cause. Eventually, constant casualties and the hopelessness of Germany’s situation wore the division down to the point that the survivors had nothing more to give.

Nash interviewed many surviving veterans of the 272nd, and had access to wartime letters, along with the documents mentioned above. Together, these show the men of the division as fighting for their country, and for each other, far more than for the political leadership of that time. This book is one of the few to provide such a look at the late war German military on the Western Front. Over the past 20-plus years, many works have been written in English, or been translated into it, which cover a similar timeline on the Eastern Front. There, much of the German military was determined to fight to the death, with some not considering surrender an option. The 272nd Volksgrenadier Division faced American opponents, and its war was marginally more humane than that fought on the Eastern Front. Still, over the course of several hundred pages, the constant casualties and defeats make for depressing reading, and provide a stark reminder of the horrors of war. This is even true for the victors, because on several occasions the 272nd took an awful toll of their opponents, something Nash verified through extensive use of American sources (veteran interviews, unit histories, and wartime reports).

“Victory…” is well supported with maps, photos (especially of personalities), footnotes, and useful appendices. One need not know much about World War 2 to comprehend the book, but those who are students of that conflict are likely to learn a great deal that is new to them. There are many works currently available that present the history of elite Waffen-SS Panzer Divisions. It is a refreshing contrast to see how a rather ordinary German Army infantry division experienced the last six months of the war. As such, “Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp” is a welcome and much-needed study of a neglected aspect of the World War 2 German Military.

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Post by Benoit Douville » Sun Mar 16, 2008 2:03 pm

This review is really helpful. I will definetely get that work written by the great Author & Historian Doug Nash. I have Hell'Gate, his first book.

Regards

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Post by Richard Hargreaves » Sun Mar 16, 2008 2:28 pm

Excellent review Marc. It's still on my "want" list as it's not available in the UK yet :(. Amazon UK are trying to charge more than $150 for a copy. :shock:
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Post by John P. Moore » Sun Mar 16, 2008 3:47 pm

Richard - I would suggest ordering it directly from Aberjona Press. Jist download the order form and fax it in and you'll have your copy in no time.

http://www.aberjonapress.com


John

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Post by Richard Hargreaves » Sun Mar 16, 2008 3:56 pm

Thanks for the tip, John, but I'll wait for Doug at Landmark Books to get a copy. He has it much more sensibly priced ;-)
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Post by Commissar D, the Evil » Mon Mar 17, 2008 6:35 pm

Excellent review Marc! Not really a topic I would normally be interested in as it concerns the Western Front, but, I must say it seems a very interesting read. Doug's "Hell's Gate", IMHO, put him into the "A" list of modern WWII historians and his choice of this topic is a testament to his versatility. I wish him the best of luck in this endeavor.

Also, a vote of thanks to Aberjona Press in maintaining their vision of providing their readers a varied catalog and publishing some of the best of authors.

Very Best,
David
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Post by Marc Rikmenspoel » Mon Mar 17, 2008 11:50 pm

Thanks for the positive comment David, I too am more interested in the Eastern Front, in general. However, a good portion of Doug's book examines the overall Volksgrenadier movement, and I found it quite useful in understanding what events would have been like for the many (Volks-)Grenadier Divisions set up in the summer of 1944 that manned the defensive lines in Poland and East Prussia that autumn. I'm fascinated by the successful German reestablishment of a cohesive defense line at that time, and the study of the creation and organization of the 272. VGD is an example that must have been similar for those units sent instead to the east.

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Post by Commissar D, the Evil » Tue Mar 18, 2008 7:24 pm

You are, of course, quite right Marc--by authoring what by all accounts, is a very good book on a single Volksgrenadier division, Doug opens up for scrutiny the entire issue of the establishment, equipment and efficacy of Volksgrenadier divisions on both fronts. This factor highlights the book's value as an insight into an organizational structure that has received scant attention in English language books.

I must continue to save my nickels...... :up:

Best,
David
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Re: Review: Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Mon Apr 21, 2008 7:56 am

Doug, my copy arrived this morning, since which time my head has been buried in it... when not writing our newspaper (don't tell the boss...). Awesome addition to WW2 literature. Many thanks.

The only down side is that I can see Uncle Joe's point about the binding (you really have to bend the book back to read some of the pages), but the plus side is the price; there aren't many such books you can pick up for £20, so I'm not complaining, nor too my bank manager. :D
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Re: Review: Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp

Post by Doug Nash » Fri Apr 25, 2008 6:54 am

Richard,
You're not the first one to complain about the binding - my own copy is starting to fall apart at the binding as well. Aberjona used to publish in hardcover, but could never turn a profit - softcovers lower the production cost about 30 - 40%, but there's obviously a downside. Since it's so inexpensive, the publisher is able to sell more. I'll pass on to Aberjona some of the issues folks have with the quality of the binding - they need to know that so they can back to the publishing plant and complain about it too.
Thanks much and glad you enjoy the book so far ---
Regards,
Doug
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Costello: Too bad you can't see it for all those trees!

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Re: Review: Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Fri Apr 25, 2008 10:36 am

Sorry Doug, didn't want to sound like a whinger (not sure if that translates across the Pond!). A hardback would I'm guessing cost two-four times as much, so I'll take the softcover as for me the content is by far and away the most important thing.

Interestingly, I bought a WW1 German regimental history off Lulu, the self-publishing site, last week. It was a cheap reprint and I really wasn't expecting much at all, but on the contrary, it's really nicely bound and rather well produced. Will definitely be using them again if there's more material in my historical niche.
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Re: Review: Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp

Post by Uncle Joe » Fri Apr 25, 2008 6:47 pm

A hardcover would cost two times as much, tops. I´d gladly pay the extra as I won´t spend a dime on a book that starts to fall apart in a few months. No sir. Though I must add that I have a very thick dictionary in softcover. Despite plenty of use and some 10 years in my possession, no damage to the binding. But it has very flexible spine, not like hardened concrete of Aberjona spines.

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Re: Review: Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp

Post by David N » Sat Apr 26, 2008 11:16 am

My copy of "Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp" arrived in my mailbox this morning. I am having a hard time putting it down, having quickly read the first two chapters.

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Re: Review: Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Wed May 07, 2008 12:40 am

Doug,

I've just read the chapter on the German Army/Volksgrenadier Division in late 1944. It's the best single overview of the state of the Wehrmacht post-Normandy that I've ever read. Thank you - and I may be referring to it (frequently) when I start drafting my Breslau book. :up: :up:
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Re: Review: Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp

Post by sid guttridge » Wed May 07, 2008 3:17 am

I haven't yet seen the book, but it seems to fill a real vacuum in the military historiography of WWII. There is a need for at least one book on the activities of "unsexy" types of formation common in German ranks. If it comes in at under £25 I will buy it.

I would put it on my shelf beside "La Longue Marche de Division 157", a Swiss(!) history of 157th Reserve Division also published in France. (I reviewed this in the books section of Feldgrau several years ago).

Cheers,

Sid.

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