Author: Christer Bergström
Publisher: Casemate Publishers
Date of Publication: September 19, 2014
Date of Review: January 2, 2015
Rating: 4 Stars
Christer Bergström’s The Ardennes 1944-1945: Hitler’s Winter Offensive is an excellent reference book on The Battle of the Bulge. Exquisite photos well paired with the material they appear near, are on nearly every page, portraying the faces, machines, and landscapes of this brutal assault. Hats off to Bergström for also including brilliantly executed maps, which masterfully show the positions of the troops, important topographical information, key landmarks, and the ultimate movements of the offensive and defensive lines of attack. Furthermore, The Ardennes 1944-1945 contains charts and graphs that help clarify dense text full of details.
Bergström clearly knows weapons, often using the full names of the weapons, physical descriptions of the weapons and their mechanisms, and the impact of the weapons both in the immediate sense and in the battle (and sometimes the war) as a whole. For example, Bergström goes into great detail about the Nebelwerfer’s tactical, psychological, and statistical impact in battle. Still another example of the detail regarding military weapons comes from a caption under a picture of a U.S. tank destroyer on page 144: “A U.S. M18 Hellcat tank destroyer is made ready to open fire on approaching German tanks. With its 76mm M1 anti-tank gun in a turret, the Hellcat was a most dangerous opponent to the German tanks, especially since its high speed enabled it to quickly maneuver in the side of the German tanks, where these were not as heavily armored. A weakness of the Hellcat was its own weak armor, not more than a 25mm frontal armor.” This caption under a picture is essentially a distilled version of a more detailed description of the M18 Hellcat and the 76mm M1 anti-tank guns. I personally loved that Bergström often gives the degrees of the sloped armor in addition to the thickness of the armor. (Learn more about sloped armor here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sloped_armour).
The author admirably keeps track of which troops and divisions are involved in each skirmish. He tells the reader the divisions’ names (both sides), provides a history of divisions, details their leader(s), explains their level of training and battle expertise, and goes over each division’s prior battle engagements. For example, on page 79 Bergström states: “The 62. Volksgrenadier-Division, which stood against mainly U.S. 424th Infantry Regiment, was provided with two tasks on this day of the offensive…” Later the author states, “Unlike the 18. Volksgrenadier-Division, the 62. Volksgrenadier-Division was an old and experienced German division, basically it was the 62 Infanterie-Division, which had participated in the war since the invasion of Poland in 1939.” The level of knowledge Bergström commands for both the Allies and Axis’ divisions is inspiring, and really helps the reader understand the unique challenges and strengths of each division. This leads me to another critical point and strength of this book; both sides of the “bulge” (Axis and Allies) are covered in great detail. At the end of The Ardennes 1944-1945, you will not be thinking, “I wonder how it was for the Germans?”
Bergström doesn’t shy away from controversy, arguing that it is a common misperception that the Germans suffered from a sever shortage of fuel and low productivity of military weapons throughout the offensive. Rather than lacking fuel and supplies, Bergström relies on countless sources to support his claim that the German’s suffered from a lack of maintaining adequate supply routes, particularly supply chains to the frontlines. (This idea is developed throughout the book, especially in the beginning and on pages 145-149)
A personal pet peeve of mine is text littered with phrases like “more on this later,” “we shall see,” “as highlighted in a future chapter,” and so forth. An occasional “more to come” is perfectly fine and can be justifiable, but I found Bergström too often baiting me on with promises for more information when he could have very easily summarized the important bits here and now. Funny enough, I also found the author repeating himself, sometimes spending several paragraphs re-describing something already well established just fifteen pages prior.
As for making the reader wait, it took until page 73 (Chapter 4: “Panzerarmee: Panzer March Towards the Meuse!”) to actually get to the start of the German offensive. Chapters one through three thoroughly establish the events leading up to “one of the most carefully prepared military operations in the entire war.” (p. 35); however, the reader must get through nearly 1/5th of the book before he or she reaches the start of the offensive.
Paintings and drawings by Horst Helmus, a German artist who served in the Unteroffizier in the 26. Volksgrenadier-Division, are used throughout The Ardennes 1944-1945. I found the inclusion of his art to be particularly compelling because of its beauty, simplicity, and because of the source. Bergström didn’t shy away from using art by the Germans, instead his inclusion of Helmus’s drawings, and other German art and pictures, helps to make the enemy all that more human. Frequently, pictures of war-torn Americans are juxtaposed with similarly destroyed German soldiers. While the colossal amount of detail in the text can at times feel alienating, the pictures alongside the text made this bloody battle real, relevant, and at times eerily relatable.
The photos, art, maps, charts, and graphs make Christer Bergström’s The Ardennes 1944-1945 Hitler’s Winter Offensive, a book worth checking out at the library. For military buffs looking for an excruciatingly detailed book covering both sides of the Battle of the Bulge, this may be what you’re looking for. If you’re working on your own project (writing a book? Thesis? Movie?) that involves this seminal battle, you would be remiss to overlook this book, if for no other reason than to check out its copious sources and pictures. I am a fast reader, yet this book took me several weeks to finish, both because of the high level of monotonous detail, and because the prose wasn’t compelling. For a reader looking for a fast paced, easy read on the Battle of the Bulge, this is probably not the book for you because of its immense detail, complicated terminology, and tedious prose. Overall I am giving Bergström’s The Ardennes 1944-1945: Hitler’s Winter Offensive a four out of five star rating: In several ways it earns five stars for being exceptionally well researched and full of remarkable photographs, maps, and charts; however, the actual prose is wearing and not well edited, leading me to give this book an overall rating of four stars.