Kleinkrieg - The German Experience with Guerrilla Warfare, from Clausewitz to Hitler, Charles D. Melson

Kleinkrieg - The German Experience with Guerrilla Warfare, from Clausewitz to Hitler, Charles D. Melson

This book is built around reprints of two important publications, one that influenced the German attitude to partisan warfare during the Second World War and one that recorded the official doctrine. The first was Kleinkrieg, written by Arthur Ehrhardt and looking at the history of guerrilla warfare. There is a focus on the German experience, starting with the War of Liberation of 1813, and moving on to the Franco-Prussian War and the fighting in Belgium in 1914. There is also a look at the near-constant state of low level guerrilla warfare in the Balkans in the period before the First World War. The second, Bandenbekampfung (‘Fighting the Guerrilla Bands’), produced for the OKW in 1944. 

The 1930s book is more historically accurate when examining the earlier periods – in particular the Napoleonic Wars and the Franco-Prussian War, perhaps because the contemporary anger about the French resistance in the 870s had faded by the 1930s. When you reach the First World War the author still seems to believe the 1914 German propaganda about the invasion of Belgium (at one point he even uses the frame ‘the peaceful and blameless conduct of the invading troops’!), and seems to be almost angry that the Belgians had dared to fight back, very much the German attitude at the time (and to be found in some of the German memoirs I’ve read).

Ironically the wartime document is probably the less controversial of the two, simply recording the wartime techniques officially used by the Germans against partisan bands. The atrocities committed by Germany and their allies weren’t part of the official doctrine, so instead we get a series of practical comments on how to protect railways or how to clear areas, how to gather intelligence, and clear rules on how to treat anyone caught fighting in uniform.

I’m not sure I agree with the suggestion that these documents have much to teach modern armies faced with insurgencies and guerrillas – the German approach to their occupied territories during the Second World War played a massive part in inspiring ever stronger partisan movements, and the anti-partisan war sucked in increasingly strong German forces, especially in Yugoslavia and the occupied Soviet Union. They are of great interest for any study of German anti-partisan tactics of the Second World War,

1 - German Counterinsurgency Revisited
2 - Kleinkreig: Lessons from the Past and Possibilities of the Future
3 - Kleinkreig to Bandenbekaempfung
4 - Fighting the Guerrilla Bands
5 - Small War Legacies

Author: Charles D. Melson
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 216
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2016

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