Fighting for the Fatherland: The Story of the German Soldier From 1648 to the Present Day
David Stone, Potomac Books, 2006, 464 pages, $29.95.
David Stone, a British military historian, has produced an exhaustive history of the Prussian and German armies, from the legions that preceded Frederick the Great to the Bundeswehr of today.
Under Frederick, Prussia’s army of two hundred thousand became the most professional military organization in Europe, a model for other states. The army was also an integral part of Prussian society, respected for its gifts to the poor. Later, it played a key role in the Napoleonic wars, when General Gebhard von Blücher’s timely arrival on the battlefield at Waterloo avenged several earlier defeats.
The army remained a vital institution in the unified Germany that emerged under Otto von Bismarck. In 1914, Stone writes, “the young men of [Germany] rushed to join the fight for their Fatherland, and the army that would carry that fight to their country’s enemies.” But Germany had bitten off more than it could chew; in Stone’s judgment, success in the Great War “had always relied on the German army being much larger than that which was actually available.”
World War I would not be the last time that the German soldier would pay the price for critical errors by his high command.
Over time the German army has been remarkable for its high morale and unit cohesion, in defeat as well as in victory. Following the unsuccessful 1944 assassination plot against Hitler, Stone writes, “In the short term very many officers and soldiers…regarded the conspirators as traitors to the Fatherland and to the officer corps.”
Stone is not notably successful in putting a human face on his subjects. However, he has provided a useful reference for any study of the German soldier.
Originally published in the Winter 2008 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.