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Ruckzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944, by Joachim Ludewig, translated and edited by Major General David T. Zabecki, AUS [retired]

Lexington, Ky.: The University Press of Kentucky, 2012. Pp. xviii, 436. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $40.00. ISBN: 081314079X.

The core thesis of RUCKZUG is that while the campaign in Normandy and the liberation of France has been extensively covered in the literature of World War II, there does not exist a definitive account of the great pursuit across France from the German perspective.  It is this omission which German military historian Ludwig attempts to remedy, and does so in a most excellent fashion, his work well-Englished by retired Maj. Gen. David T. Zabecki, himself a noted military historian.

RUCKZUG is strategic account, with significant operational detail.  Although few engagements are handled at the tactical level, Ludewig mostly takes the larger view, concentrating on command decisions, major operations, logistics, and conflicts between levels of command.  The book is divided into three broad parts, the first setting the stage, with the situation in Normandy at the end of July 1944, on the eve of the great Allied breakout at St. Lo through the landings in Southern France in mid-August.  The second covers events from the onset of the German retreat, on August 20th, through what Ludewig calls the “Climax of the Crisis” on September 4th.  The third part deals with the restoration of a more or less stable German front by late September.  The book ends with the return to positional warfare as the mobile phase of the campaign ended. 

While German decisions and actions during each period are covered in considerable detail, events on the Allied side are covered more in a sense of missed opportunities.  Ludewig notes that the Allies consistently underperform relative to German expectations; they failed to promptly close the Falaise pocket, to exploit the seizure of Antwerp by following up with the clearing of the Scheldt, and by permitting German Army Group G to escape from southern France mostly intact. 

RUCKZUG also shows that from the end of August into the autumn Hitler sent the bulk of his last call-up of divisions to the West, not to the East, despite the fact that the Russians were making significant gains during the same period.  This clearly demonstrates that Hitler regarded the Western Front as the decisive front
and allocated his resources accordingly. 

RUCKZUG is an excellent addition to any World War II library and has considerable value not only as an account of the German retreat from France but also as a study of higher command in mobile warfare .

Our Reviewer: Scott Palter graduated from Stanford Law and Dartmouth.  A veteran war gamer, one of the old SPI playtesters, he is also a game developer and was founder and publisher of West End Games.  His previous reviews forStrategyPage include Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia,Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, and Normandy Crucible: The Decisive Battle that Shaped World War II in Europe .

Reviewer: Scott Palter   

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