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The German army in World War II: Its moral and military failure

A public lecture by Ben H. Shepherd, 2016 Fred Alexander Fellow and reader in History at Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland.

Ben ShepherdThe German army is widely regarded as having been the most skilled and effective land-based fighting force of World War II, but also one whose reputation is massively tarnished by its involvement in Nazi crimes. These crimes included the extermination of Europe’s Jews, the mass death of Soviet prisoners of war, the ruthless economic exploitation of occupied territory, and anti-partisan warfare that claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives. The army committed such acts in large part because it subscribed to the ruthless ideological programme of National Socialism. But it also committed them because it saw in them a way of compensating for its own military weaknesses, something that gives the lie to its much-vaunted combat superiority. This lecture examined the particular ways in which weaknesses in areas such as logistics, manpower, mechanisation and military intelligence contributed to the army’s involvement in Nazi crimes.

Ben H. Shepherd is the 2016 Fred Alexander Fellow, hosted by History at UWA. He is a reader in History at Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland. He has written extensively on German counterinsurgency during World War II, and has co-edited two volumes on guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency across Axis-occupied Europe. His most recent single-authored book, Hitler’s Soldiers. The German Army in the Third Reich (Yale University Press, 2016) is a major, general work examining the army’s military performance, relations with the Nazi regime, and involvement in occupation and war crimes.

The Fred Alexander Fellowship is dedicated to the memory of Professor Fred Alexander (1899-1996), the founding Head of the History Discipline (then Department) at The University of Western Australia.