The Battle for Königsberg, 1945
256 pages. 16 pages of B&W pictures. 1 map. Index.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Königsberg Chronology
1 - A Land of Quiet Austerity
2 - The Shameful Peace
3 - Voting for the Nazis
4 - A Fresh Beginning
5 - The Jews of Königsberg
6 - The War
7 - As You Sow...
8 - Under-Estimating the Colossus
9 - The Time for Repayment
10 - 'A Vast Flood of Human Misery'
11 - Fortress Königsberg
Isabel Denny presents, in this volume, the story as preserved by the survivors of the destruction of Königsberg in the final stages of World War Two. She assumes that her readers have no familiarity with the history of the war, and so includes a general history of WWII as part of her writing. (Most wargamers will find themselves flipping past the parts of the book which simply re-tell the familiar history.)
The book's title is therefore misleading, as this is not a book primarily about the battle that occurred in this city, but the story of the population of the city and its environs during the course of the war. While the battle is indeed described, there is much here which has little to do with the fighting itself - such as the background of the people who lived here, their conservatism and their support of the Nazis, and their attitude toward the Jews that lived among them.
The book explains that the city was destroyed, not initially by the advancing Soviets, but by a pair of British aerial bombardments in August 1944 that wrecked the major buildings and bridges. The survivors learned to live amid the destruction, as the politicians forbid evacuation as "defeatism," and the propaganda assured them the Russians had been stopped... despite the evidence of growing numbers of wounded soldiers brought to the city, and the first refugees coming from places further east.
In fact, the Soviets had made a strategic decision to advance elsewhere, and so the city had a calm before the storm. It was not until January 1945 that the attack on East Prussia came, and in two weeks the armies advanced to the outskirts of the city. The author goes into little detail about the fighting, as her focus is on the stories of people fleeing the destruction.
The final chapter begins as the city is surrounded by the Soviets for the first time, relating what life in the city was like until the Soviet assault ten weeks later, followed in days by the city's surrender. The book concludes by describing the fate of the survivors, and the history of the city as it was renamed and incorporated into the Soviet Union.
Those looking for a better understanding of the fate of the population of East Prussia at the end of WWII will find this book useful, particularly with respect to the plight of so many refugees.
Those looking for a military history, however, will be disappointed. There is no attempt here to identify specific military units or describe their progress, and most of the military anecdotes concern civilians forced into the Volkssturm. The city's defenses - its line of forts, and its hasty defensive lines - are barely explained, and are located outside of the area depicted on the book's map. The actual battle for the city is described in only a portion of one of the book's ten chapters. There is no way to form a coherent picture of the battle from the contents of this book.
And a quibble: Yes, Königsberg was surrounded by a series of forts, and Hitler did designate it a "fortress" - meaning that surrender was not allowed. But it was only one of many such cities, so the book's title is again misleading.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .