One of the many obsessions of historians of the Second World War has been the hunt for the 'turning point' - the year in which an Allied victory became inevitable. The two usual candidates are 1942, ending with the disaster at Stalingrad, or 1943, the subject of Mitcham's work. This was the year that saw the defeat of the last major German offensive on the Eastern Front, at Kursk, as well as defeats in Tunisia, on Sicily and in the Atlantic, while control of the air was slowly being seized by the Allies, even in the skies above Germany. The position was even worse in the Mediterranean, where a major German army was lost in Tunisia, Sicily captured, the south of Italy invaded, and Mussolini and the Italian fascists toppled from power.
Mitcham starts with a look at the development of the German armed forces (the Wehrmacht) from 1933 to the start of the war and then through the initial victorious campaigns in Poland, Scandinavia, the West, the Balkans and the Soviet Union in 1941, as well as the setbacks of 1941 and 1942, ending at Stalingrad. The main text begins with a look at Manstein's impressive performance on the southern flank of the Eastern Front, where he was able to restore the line broken to the west of Stalingrad, before moving on to look at each major campaign fought by the German armed forces during the year, from the defence against the strategic bombing campaign to the defeat of the navy as well as the major land campaigns that saw Germany fighting on two fronts well before the launch of the 'Second Front'.
My only real criticism of this book is that ends rather abruptly with the Allied arrival at the Gustav Line in mid January 1944. A brief conclusion comparing the state of the Wehrmacht at the start and end of the year would have been of use here. Otherwise this is a successful wide ranging book that gives a good overview of the German war effort in the year that saw the initiative pass permanently slip from their hands. Mitcham clearly knows his material, and is able to provide clear, concise and accurate accounts of the events of a busy and complex year.
1 - Nazi German and the Wehrmacht, 1933-42
2 - Manstein Restores the Southern Flank
3 - The Defeat of the German Navy
4 - Tunisgrad
5 - The Bombing Intensifies
6 - The State of the Wehrmacht, Spring 1943
7 - Hitler's Summer Offensive
8 - The Retreat Begins in the East
9 - Decay and Disarray in the Mediterranean
10 - The Allied Invasion of Southern France
11 - The Fall of Fascism and the Loss of Sicily
12 - Cracking the Floodgates: The Russian Front from 1943 to early 1944
13 - The Italian Defection and the Battle of Salerno
14 - Salerno to the Gustav Line
Appendix A: Table of Comparative Ranks
Appendix B: German Staff Positions
Appendix C: German Units, Ranks and Strengths
Appendix D: Characteristics of Select German and Allied Tanks
Appendix E: Luftwaffe Aviation Units, Strengths and Ranks
Author: Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr.
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military