23 October 2009

Two Soldiers, Two Lost Fronts - German War Diaries of the Stalingrad and North Africa Campaigns

This book is built around two recently discovered war diaries—one by a member of the 23rd Panzer Division which served under Manstein in Russia, and the other by a member of Rommel’s AfrikaKorps. Together, along with detailed timelines and brief overviews, they comprise a fascinating “ground level” look at the German side of World War II.

The assignment of keeping the first diary was given to a soldier in the 2nd Battalion, 201st Panzer Regiment by a commanding officers and the author never saw fit to include his own name. This diary covers the period from April 1942 to March 1943, the momentous year when the tide of battle turned in the East. It first details the unit’s combat in the great German victory at Charkov, then the advance to the Caucasus, and finally the brutal winter of 1942–43.

The second diary’s author was a soldier named Rolf Krengel. It starts with the beginning of the war and ends shortly after the occupation. Serving primarily in North Africa, Krengel recounts with keen insight and flashes of humour the day-to-day challenges of the AfrikaKorps. During one of the swirling battles in the desert, Krengel found himself sharing a tent with Rommel at a forward outpost. The Field Marshal read parts of the diary with interest and signed it. Evacuated due to illness, Krengel then records service in Berlin beneath the relentless Allied bomber streams and other occurrences on the German homefront.

Neither of the diarists was famous, nor of especially high rank. However, these are the brutally honest accounts written at the time by men of the Wehrmacht who participated in two of history’s most crucial campaigns.

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