Armageddon: The Battle for Germany by Max Hastings is one of my new favorite books about the European Theater of World War II. Although Hastings only covers the battle for Germany, not Italy or Japan, he provides an excellent account of what the last year of the war was like in Europe. Ground campaigns, air campaigns, the home front, all of it is presented in intense and emotionally excruciating detail.
That detail makes it thrilling but horrifying to read; the descent of Europe into an inferno of rape, destruction, and fanatical fighting in late 1944 through May 1945 is painful to read about. But, it’s also incredibly interesting and awe-inspiring that great men fought so hard to rid the world of the fascist evil that swept over Europe in the 1930s.
Summary of Armageddon: The Battle for Germany
Hastings covers almost every aspect of the European Theater starting after the invasion of Normandy and battle for France, which Ambrose partially recounts in D-Day.
His holistic account of that theater is overwhelming at first, but you’ll want to read every detail. He gives every perspective of the war and describes it in both personal details and in terms of grand strategy.
For example, he begins with the Market-Garden Operation, which was a horrific failure for the Allies. Whereas most authors would mainly provide either just an overview of the campaign or just personal accounts from Allied paratroopers, Hastings goes above and beyond. Yes, he gives the perspectives of British, American, and Polish paratroopers. But he also gives the perspective of the British tankers sent to support the paratroopers. And he gives the perspective of the German Wehrmacht and SS troops that fought the Allies.
Hastings doesn’t even stop there; he also gives his opinions about the operation and describes the strategic and tactical reasons why it failed, such as the obstinacy and vanity of Field Marshal Montgomery and at times weak leadership of General Dwight Eisenhower. Hastings’s holistic account of the battle allows the reader to better understand it from both sides and how it fits into the larger picture of the fight for Germany.
While Hastings doesn’t describe every battle or air campaign, he does give similar detail about most major operations on both the Western Front and Eastern Front. The 8th Air Force’s strategic bombing campaign, Patton’s fight for Metz, the Battle of the Bulge, Operation Bagration, and the Battle for Berlin are some of the major operations he describes in great detail in Armageddon: The Battle for Germany.
What makes the book so captivating is how Hastings is able to weave a coherent narrative out of so much information. Even if he just stuck to the major operations, that would make Armageddon: The Battle for Germany and excellent book. But, he goes above and beyond that.
He writes about the concentration camps and POW camps, taking pains to describe the difference in how the Germans treated different nationalities. Also, he writes about how those camps and prisoners fit into the larger German economy and even how they were different than the Soviet gulags!
And, of course, he describes the differences between the soldiers from different nations. The Germans were professional and fought with fanaticism. The Soviets suffered horrendous casualties and still pushed forward. The British and Americans largely relied on overwhelming firepower and material rather than excellent leadership, tactics, or verve to win.
Hastings attributes that difference largely to the difference between democracies and authoritarian states. The Americans and British weren’t soldiers at heart and wanted to go home. Americans especially, since we’ve always been scared of maintaining a standing Army and therefore rarely have great generals like Robert E Lee, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, or Ulysses Grant. The Germans and Soviets had nothing to lose and had been listening to propaganda about the righteousness of their respective causes for over a decade, so of course they would fight harder, as Hastings makes sure to show throughout all of Armageddon: The Battle for Germany.
Finally, and I think most importantly, Hastings describes the utter devastation Germany experienced because of World War II. Allied planes, especially strategic bombers, turned its cities to ash. Soviet troops raped most of the women in Germany in a reign of terror. The war effort left its men dead and its resources depleted or strained. And it descended into anarchy as the rotten Nazi apparatus of state collapsed in the war’s final days.
Armageddon: The Battle for Germany covers almost every aspect of the war for Germany in 1944-45. I think it’s the best, most accurate military history book I’ve read about that topic.
Analysis of Armageddon: The Battle for Germany by Max Hastings
Armageddon: The Battle for Germany is a terrific book that anyone interested in military history should read. Because the timeline on it is so condensed, Hastings is able to give an exceedingly thorough account of how and why Germany collapsed into an Armageddon in the European Theater’s final days.
It does differ in some respects from other World War II books.
For one, as I mentioned above, he gives the perspectives of everyone. Soldiers on both sides, civilians on both sides, generals, everyone is included. Also, he makes sure to present both the strategic picture and personal picture of campaigns.
It is also different in that Hastings is utterly objective in Armageddon: The Battle for Germany. Rather than pay false homage to American and British troops, as Ambrose does in D-Day, he instead tells the truth. While our troops were brave and many made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, relatively few perished and the battles we won we mainly won because of overwhelming material and supply advantages. Not brilliance or overwhelming bravery. In that respect, it is similar to An Army at Dawn, which also is more or less honest about the quality of Allied troops compared to the Germans and Soviets.
Finally, it is different because Hastings is able to properly capture the enormity of the titanic struggle on the Eastern Front by comparing it to the relatively small Western Front. In my opinion, that contrast gave a much better perspective of the Eastern Front than books like Lost Victories or The German Army on the Eastern Front, which focus exclusively on the war in the East.
So, I would certainly recommend that every military history buff read Armageddon: The Battle for Germany. Your reading it will leave you better educated about every aspect of the war in and over Germany.
One thing I think many people forget about World War II is the evil of the Soviet regime. That lesson is one of the most important of the 20th Century, yet it’s oft-forgotten. Yes, the Germans also behaved horrendously. But everyone knows that the Nazis were evil; that might be one of the only well-known historical facts in America.
On the other hand, few understand how horribly the Soviets treated captive Germans. They gang raped innocent German women, murdered civilians at will, murdered their own rescued POWs for being “traitors,” and destroyed German homes and infrastructure with wanton abandon. Living in Germany during this time period would have been unspeakably terrifying and horrible, and Hastings is one of the few authors I’ve read who is able to capture that horror.
Therefore, I think Armageddon: The Battle for Germany deserves its title. Hastings shows just why what happened in Europe truly was what one would expect of Armageddon. You should read it and learn about the battle for Germany, the battle that defined a generation and led to freedom taking root where socialism, tyranny, death camps, and evil would otherwise have existed.
Nazi Germany was evil. But, thanks to the sacrifices of the men described in Armageddon: The Battle for Germany and the leadership of great men like the last lion, Winston Churchill, it was defeated. We should thank and honor them for their sacrifices. But, we can only do that if we learn about what they accomplished and under what circumstances. Reading books like Armageddon: The Battle for Germany is the way to do that, so, do it!
By: Gen Z Conservative