With Our Backs to Berlin – Tony Le Tissier
I have just finished reading this book book by Tony Le Tissier and it is amazing. You can purchase it at Amazon.com. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the battles and the personal stories of the soldiers during the final months of the war. Some of the reviews below will give you a good picture of what the book is about:
With our backs to Berlin is an excellent collection of 10 semi-short stories of soldier’s experiences in that grand battle. There are 9 German stories and 1 Russian one. Some of the stories give you an idea of the tenacity of the combat in that desperate last defence of the Reich, and some like the one about the siege of Klessin on the Reitwen Spur is truly amazing. All the stories are complimented with pictures and detailed maps, and these, combined with google earth, allow you track the soldiers accounts easily. I plan to visit the former Oder Front soon to visit some sites, and this book was the book which inspired me to do so, and I will be visiting the sites out of the book. Unlike Beevors ‘Berlin’ it offers information on particular battles on a Kompanie level, rather than viewing it at Korps and Division level. I’d rate it 10/10
I would also suggest ‘Berlin Soldier’ by Helmut Altner. This is a stunning account of the Battle for Berlin.
As a reader I found myself searching in vain for an explanation of how an intelligent and advanced nation can be so tragically misled by a pie-in-the-sky Fuhrer who hid in a bunker directing an army and a city to total destruction. Yet men and boys fought and died in their thousands, “for the Fuhrer”, with suicidal zeal, most of them surely knowing all was lost.
I suppose, if one ponders long and deep enough, the answers are to be found here in these morbidly fascinating accounts from men driven by a religious-like faith in a rather unlikely and delusional leader.
There are few signs of regrets in these accounts. Lots of pride though.
With Our Backs to Berlin is a collection of short German memoirs about the final battles fought between February – May 1945, with the primary focus on operations around Berlin. This book compromises personal accounts that author Tony Le Tissier was unable to include in his more in-depth campaign study, Zhukov on the Oder, but it is by no means a collection of left-overs. Many of the accounts are quite gripping and this book is a more interesting read than Zhukov on the Oder, in terms of narrative quality. There is also considerably more military detail in With Our Backs to Berlin than popular accounts such as Antony Beevor’s Berlin or older books like Cornelius Ryan’s The Last Battle. Military specialists will appreciate the gritty level of detail, although general readers will note that the fate of Berlin’s civilian population is much less discussed than in other books.
The book consists of 12 accounts, which are arranged in chronological sequence, all but one of which are occur on the Eastern Front. The most prominent accounts are Gerhard Tillery’s from the 309. Infanterie-Division, Ernst Henkel’s `The Last Defender of Schloss Thorn,’ Karl-Herman Tams’ from the 20. Panzergrenadier-Division, Harry Schweizer’s narrative on the defense of the Zoo Flak-Tower and SS-Oberscharfuhrer Willi Rogmann’s tale of the last stand of the band of the SS-Leibstandarte in the ruins of Berlin. Henkel’s account is the only one from the Western Front, although the author provides a short chapter on the surrender of the 11. Panzer-Division to the Americans. The accounts vary in length from as little as 4-5 pages up to Rogmann’s 80-page narrative, which comprises nearly a third of the entire book. Overall, the quality of the personal accounts are quite good – some exceptionally so – although the supporting maps provide little help.
There are a number of take-aways from this book. First, most accounts suggest that German morale was at rock bottom after the defeats in 1944, but these first-person accounts clearly depict a large number of soldiers and civilians as still committed to the cause until Hitler’s suicide. One regimental commander on the Seelow Heights tells his men, “We shall stay here if necessary until the American tanks drive up our arse!” Second, contrary to the final defense of the Reich formed of `old men and boys,’ the SS and Wehrmacht were able to field at least a few quality formations right up to the end. Even the Kriegsmarine sailors sent o fight on the frontline are depicted as aggressive, even though they were unable to survive long in ground combat. Most of the accounts are harsh on the Volksturm, Hitler Youth and other hodgepodge last-minute volunteers, who contributed little to the defense of Berlin. Third, supply difficulties probably caused the Germans more problems in the defense of the Oder River line and the approaches to Berlin than the shortage of men, tanks or artillery. Various accounts mention poor quality fuel which caused problems with vehicles or fuel being pinched by rear echelon types, leaving front-line tanks without fuel. Low quality ammunition caused jamming and even the best units had less than a basic load of ammunition. Finally, it is apparent that German command control was falling apart faster than the front-line troops who bore the burden to the end. Even before the Soviets broke through on the Oder front, hastily-thrown together German units operated under a jumbled command structure.
Rogmann’s account, detailing how the SS-Leibstandarte’s band was converted into an 8-cm mortar platoon for the final defense of Berlin is simply terrific and even funny at points, but it is also very problematic. No matter how you slice it, Rogmann – a highly-decorated SS combat veteran – embellished and exaggerated his role in the battle to the point that all but the most blindly pro-Nazi readers will begin to doubt his veracity. Among other things, Rogmann claims that Hitler personally asked him for military advice (even though he admits he had no access to the Fuhrer bunker), that he drank Hitler’s cognac from his desk in the abandoned chancellery (Hitler was a non-drinker), that he cussed out SS-Brigadefuhrer Mohnke in front of other SS officers, that he was easily able to con Soviet officers to get him through checkpoints on their vehicle, etc. Rogmann’s account contains a great deal of useful information about the final Battle in Berlin but unfortunately, it leaves the reader wondering what is truth and what is post-war BS put in by the author to inflate his role. Nor does the author provide much help, beyond offering the official dispatches on Rogmann’s earlier combat awards in 1941-44; these confirm that he was a brave soldier, but do nothing to corroborate his account of events in April-May 1945. Compared to the other accounts in this book, which portray German soldiers simply doing their duty, Rogmann’s account jumps out as someone trying to portray himself as a superman. Overall, With Our Backs to Berlin provides a great deal of military detail about the final weeks of the Third Reich and is more than just a volume of supplementary material.