World War Two books to add to your Christmas list

Forget all the best-known battles of the Second World War and make Christmas 2012 the year you discover those lesser-studied but equally tide-turning clashes that shaped the course of world history.


Here, we’ve picked our ‘Best of Five’ Second World War titles that will take you on a little-trodden military history armchair trail from Europe to the Far East over the holidays.

‘Waffen-SS Armour In Normandy. The Combat History of SS Panzer Regiment 12 & SS Panzerjager  Äger Abteilung 12, Normandy 1944, Based On Their Original War Diaries’ by Norbert Számvéber – £31.50

For two long months in the summer of 1944 the German foe staved off Montgomery’s Army Group near Caen in the Battle for France.

Delving into little-known war unit diaries unearthed from the military history archives in Prague, our author Norbert Számvéber reveals the tactical-level events and command decisions taken by SS-Panzer Regiment 12 and SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12.

Get to know both units – which belonged to the 12.SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend –from their establishment and training in 1943/1944 to the shipments of equipment; orders of battle and tactical numbers of the tanks. The highly-detailed daily chronology of the combat actions comprehensively covers everything from 12.SS-Panzer Division travelling to the Caen sector to Operation Totalize and the withdrawal to the Seine River.

Among the illuminating documents from SS-Panzer Regiment 12 included are combat reports; lists of knocked-out enemy tanks, German personnel and tank losses; combat orders and a summary of acquired combat experiences in addition to a number of detailed maps and excellent photos.

Rare information, photographs and documents from the archive of noted Waffen-SS historian Mark C. Yerger complete a must-have volume for any Second World War enthusiast or scholar.

Duncan says: “This contains a genuine mass of new information and data on 12th SS Panzer Division’s armoured elements during the fighting in Normandy 1944. An

‘Barbarossa Derailed: The Battle for Smolensk 10 July – 10 September 1942. Volume 2. The German Offensives on the Flanks and the Third Soviet Counteroffensive, 25 August – 10 September 1941’ by David M. Glantz – £31.50

‘This is operational history at its best, meticulously researched and presented for the reader to analyse’ says Warfare Magazine.

Quite simply, this two-volume series breaks new ground in Second World War Eastern Front and Soviet military studies.

Now significantly expanded, the study presents a comprehensive mosaic and definitive account of what took place, why and how during the prolonged and complex battles in the Smolensk region from July 10 through to September 10, 1941.

Within the context of Guderian’s southward march toward the Kiev region, volume 2 describes in unprecedented detail the Red Army’s attempts to thwart German offensive plans by defeating Army Group Center in the Smolensk region with a general counteroffensive by three Red Army fronts. It restores to the pages of history two major military operations which, for political and military reasons, Soviet historians concealed from view – largely because both offensives failed.

Based on the analysis of the vast mass of documentary materials; archival and archival-based maps and an extensive collection of specific orders and reports translated verbatim from Russian, David Glantz presents a number of important new findings to challenge and excite.

Duncan says: “The second and final text volume in this series provides detailed arguments from David Glantz as to why the German offensive into Russia was faltering within months of its beginning.”

‘The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting A Lost War, 1943’ by R.M. Citino – £35.00

Heirs to a military tradition that demanded and perfected relentless offensive operations the German Army succumbed to the realities of its own overreach and the demands of 20th century industrialised warfare in 1943.

In his new study, prize-winning author Robert Citino chronicles this weakening Wehrmacht – now fighting desperately on the defensive, but still remarkably dangerous and lethal.

Drawing on his impeccable command of German-language sources, Citino offers fresh, vivid and detailed treatments of key campaigns during this fateful year.

Applying the keen operational analysis for which he is so highly regarded, Citino contends that virtually every flawed German decision had strong supporters among the army’s officer corps – dispelling the longstanding tendency to blame every bad decision on Hitler.

Filled with telling vignettes and sharp portraits and copiously documented, The Wehrmacht Retreats is a dramatic and fast-paced narrative that will engage military historians and general readers alike.

Duncan says: “A really important and well-researched critique of the Wehrmacht at a key stage of the war.”

‘Clash of Empires in South China: The Allied Nations’ Proxy War With Japan 1935-1941’ by F.D. Macri – £35.00

Drawing on documents of US and British officials, David Macri reveals for the first time how the bubbling Sino-Japanese War served as a ‘proxy war’ for the Allies. By cunningly keeping Japan’s military resources focused on Southern China, they hoped to keep the enemy bogged down in a war of attrition that would prevent them from breaching British and Soviet territory.

Macri underscores China’s symbolic importance for the Allies – depicting them as unequal partners who fought the Japanese for entirely different reasons – and by aiding China’s wartime efforts, the Allies further hoped to undermine Japanese propaganda designed to expel Western powers from its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

While the most immediate concern was preserving Siberia and its vast resources from invasion, Macri’s work identifies Hong Kong as the keystone in that proxy war – vital in sustaining Chinese resistance against Japan.

In the first book to cover this rarely-studied southern theatre in detail, David Macri closely examines strategic decisions, campaigns and operations and shows how they affected Allied grand strategy. His account of that forgotten fight is a pioneering work that provides new insight into the origins of the Pacific War.

Duncan says: “Only now are we beginning to see published accounts of the war in Asia that fully recognise the huge role of the Chinese – and other nations – in defeating Japan. This is a fine study covering the critical years preceding Pearl Harbor.”

‘Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army’s Victory That Shaped World War II’ by S.D. Goldman – £25

In the summers of 1937, 1938 and 1939 a series of Soviet-Japanese border actions led ultimately to the annihilation of the Japanese – coinciding precisely with the conclusion of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact and giving the green light to Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the outbreak of the Second World War one week later.

The fact that these events coincided was not accidental.

Europe was sliding towards war as Hitler prepared to attack Poland. Stalin sought to avoid a two-front war against Germany and Japan. His ideal outcome would be for the fascist/militarist capitalists (Germany, Italy and Japan) to fight the bourgeois/democratic capitalists (Britain, France and perhaps the United States) – leaving the Soviet Union on the sidelines while the capitalists exhausted themselves.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact pitted Germany against Britain and France and allowed Stalin to deal decisively with an isolated Japan, which – as Goldman expertly depicts – he did at Nomonhan.

Duncan says: “Another fascinating area ripe for further study are the pre-war clashes between the Soviets and Japanese in the Far East. This study helps fill a yawning gap.”

Words by Michelle Corbett

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