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Order in Chaos

Order in Chaos: The Memoirs of General of Panzer Troops Hermann Balck

HERMANN BALCK
David T. Zabecki
Dieter J. Biedekarken
Foreword by Carlo D’Este
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 578
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14qrzg3
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  • Book Info
    Order in Chaos
    Book Description:

    German general Hermann Balck (1897--1982) was considered to be one of World War II's greatest battlefield commanders. His brilliantly fought battles were masterpieces of tactical agility, mobile counterattack, and the technique of Auftragstaktik, or "mission command." However, because he declined to participate in the U.S. Army's military history debriefing program, today he is known only to serious students of the war.

    Drawing heavily on his meticulously kept wartime journals, Balck discusses his childhood and his career through the First and Second World Wars. His memoir details the command decision-making process as well as operations on the ground during crucial battles, including the Battle of the Marne in World War I and his incredible victories against a larger and better-equipped Soviet army at the Chir River in World War II. Balck also offers observations on Germany's greatest generals, such as Erich Ludendorff and Heinz Guderian, and shares his thoughts on international relations, domestic politics, and Germany's place in history. Available in English for the first time in an expertly edited and annotated edition, this important book provides essential information about the German military during a critical era in modern history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6127-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Carlo D’Este

    Many of the German generals of World War II were superb battlefield commanders who not only understood mobile warfare, but also were masterful strategists and tacticians. Erwin Rommel, Erich von Manstein, Albert Kesselring, Hans Guderian, and Hasso von Manteuffel are among the well-known successful German generals that have garnered considerable attention for their exploits. Yet, one name is conspicuously missing from the list of successful generals: General of Panzer Troops Hermann Balck.

    One of the means by which we learn is through a study of history and the lessons it teaches us. There have been few better ways to learn...

  5. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
    David T. Zabecki and Dieter Biedekarken
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Fate propelled me into the world during an era of historical development in Germany that other peoples had long since passed through. Peoples pass through many levels in their development. The Germans, the English, the French did not exist in the beginning. Single tribes and personalities often united based on geographical conditions. Fighting erupted at the tip of the growth, which eventually led to fighting of all against all else. This is the state of particularism that forcefully forms into a unity of violence and cruelty. The developmental stages with all their unpleasant side effects are the same everywhere. In...

  7. 1 1914
    (pp. 9-32)

    Much has been written about the reasons war broke out in 1914, and most of that based on the politics of the day. Much of what has been written is not very deep. The German-English differences were fundamental. In a letter to my father, the German crown prince wrote: “I am concerned with the ever increasing contrast between Germany and England. This concern increased when in conversation with King Edward VII,¹ who was always especially friendly to me, he openly expressed to me on several occasions that the differences had to be overcome one way or another. England would not...

  8. 2 1915
    (pp. 33-48)

    On 1 February the troop train left Goslar. We were stuck on it for days. In Leszno, where we sat for twenty-five hours, I had the waiting hall of the train station cleared and the floor covered with straw to give the troops a chance to stretch out. In Rzepin I bought meat with coupons. We already had been without rations for more than twenty-four hours. The supply situation was a long way from its standard high state of professionalism.

    We finally arrived in Skierniewice, where the 22nd Reserve Jäger Battalion was resting. The unit had just changed commanders. The...

  9. 3 1916
    (pp. 49-54)

    Things became deadly quiet. Wire obstacles and improved positions had put an end to the search and destroy [Jagdkommando] raids on both sides. Our priorities now became the further improving of our positions and logistics. We collected mushrooms, planted vegetables, and raised chickens to provide the machine gun crews with a nice daily dietary supplement. The battalion tasked me with establishing a mess hall. I took an unorthodox approach to that task as well. I drove to Warsaw, where I enjoyed the Russian emperor’s ballet dancers, saw Puccini’sToscain Polish, and developed economic ties with a Jewish businessman who...

  10. 4 1917
    (pp. 55-78)

    On 12 April I returned from my leave. I had planned to transfer in Rudka for Budapest, but the connecting train was not running. The station master told me that there was a very nice train waiting on the other track which was going not to Budapest but to Košice.¹ From there it would be easy to get to Budapest. Along the way I could enjoy the views of the High Tatras, and see Košice, a very nice place. So, I thought, why not?

    On the train I made friends with an Austrian captain. That evening we ate dinner in...

  11. 5 1918
    (pp. 79-102)

    After my Christmas leave I rejoined my battalion near Bruderdorf, the area of the Battle of Lorraine in 1914. Every step of the way I passed French and German grave sites. The number of dead on the French side surpassed the Germans by a ratio of at least three- or four-to-one. In 1914 the French infantry had bled needlessly and anonymously, forcing the decision on the battlefield by attacking without regard for losses and in total disregard of the effects of modern weaponry. The limp French attacks during the Battle of the Marne and the subsequent Race to the Sea...

  12. 6 Retrospective on World War I
    (pp. 103-114)

    Before I continue with my memoirs, I would like to take a look back on World War I. For years I have been occupying myself with the analysis of its problems. I have read almost all of the literature foreign and domestic. The thinking of today is considerably different from our thoughts, our feelings, and our awareness in 1918.

    Could we have continued the war? Contrary to our feelings then, today this question has to be answered with a clear “No.” After the collapse of our allies the southern flank of the Reich was unprotected. The forces necessary to use...

  13. 7 1919
    (pp. 115-130)

    Goslar suffered the same fate of all the German garrison towns: a ban on shooting, the appearance of sailors, the expelling of officers, the opening of the prisons, the looting of uniform and rations warehouses, and the election of a soldiers’ council. Some of the old NCOs prevented the worst excesses. The situation in the Reich was completely unresolved. The SPD [Social Democratic Party of Germany] and the USPD [Independent Social Democratic Party], which was the former strongly left-leaning wing of the SPD, had formed a temporary government. In all reality, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils were governing, often in...

  14. 8 1920
    (pp. 131-136)

    In the middle of the night our troop train stopped outside a station at Buldern, on the edge of the Ruhr district. Somebody from the unit was supposed to get on the phone. Hientsch and I started walking between two tracks toward the station. There was a train coming toward us from the opposite direction. Just by chance I turned my head and saw another train approximately one hundred meters behind us. I pulled Hientsch to the side and we stood there clutching each other in the narrow space between the two tracks as the two locomotives met exactly where...

  15. 9 1921
    (pp. 137-150)

    The remnants of the 57th and 59th Infantry Regiments and the 8th Jäger Battalion had already been attached to the 10th Jäger Battalion. On 1 January 1921 we were reorganized as the 3rd Jäger Battalion, 17th Jäger Regiment, of the newReichsheer. Originally formed as the Royal Prussian Hannoverian Jäger Battalion, the Goslar Jägers had made military history, well known throughout Germany. Highly competent officers from all over Germany had been attracted to the unit. Rommel had been a commander in Goslar. It was a special honor to be part of the Goslar Jägers. When we were reorganized we still...

  16. 10 In the Third Reich
    (pp. 151-166)

    The Weimar Republic ended in perpetual crisis. In the end the choice was between Communism and National Socialism. All other parties had ruined themselves and had no more support among the people. The last attempt by Kurt von Schleicher¹ to split National Socialism and thus build a sustainable majority failed because of the hostile attitude of the unions. Democratic means were depleted. What remained was a choice between a military dictatorship and a civil war. No one wanted the latter, and in any event, it would have been impossible to conduct a civil war with a one hundred thousand-man army....

  17. 11 World War II
    (pp. 167-198)

    Hitler’s tense voice on the radio was deeply excited as he announced to the German people the start of the war and the fact that Italy had remained on the sidelines. Events clearly had overtaken him. The reason for this could have been the fact that he had approached Austria, Czechoslovakia, and now Poland always with the same tactics. This time the enemy had been prepared. Hitler played with open cards against the enemy’s hidden cards. A change in tactics toward Prague through a peaceful cooperation with the Czechs would have been quite possible, because of the Czechs’ increased animosity...

  18. 12 Greece
    (pp. 199-216)

    When I walked into my office on 12 December 1940 my reassignment orders to take command of the 3rd Panzer Regiment lay on the desk. I was not at all happy to leave my great 1st Rifle Regiment, to which I had grown so attached over the last few years. Nor was it easy to leave my adjutant, Braune-Kriekau. He was energetic, independent, and always stood by his opinion fearlessly. You do not find an officer like that often.

    On 17 December I arrived at my new regiment. I immediately liked what I saw. The unit’s first commander, Colonel (later...

  19. 13 Russia
    (pp. 217-240)

    I had just been appointed the commander of the 2nd Panzer Brigade when I was called to Berlin to report to General von Schell, to the Organizational Directorate headed by Lieutenant General Walther Buhle, and to Colonel General Friedrich Fromm, who was the de facto minister of war. I had resisted vigorously all efforts to get me to come back to Berlin to work on the issue of organizing the motorization of the whole army, but my luck eventually ran out and the problem finally caught up with me again. On 7 June I returned from Berlin, and I recorded...

  20. 14 1942
    (pp. 241-276)

    The build-up of a powerful mechanized army for 1942 was more than difficult. Endless amounts of materiel and countless tanks, trucks, and weapons had been left behind during the withdrawal from Moscow. I estimated the loss equal to at least one or two armies worth of equipment. This indicates what would have happened to us if the withdrawal had not been brutally halted. A further foul-up was the so-called Via Sacra.

    On 16 October a close associate of mine, Major General Alfred Baentsch, earlier the chief quartermaster and now commander of the 82nd Division, told me about it. In December...

  21. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  22. 15 1943
    (pp. 277-296)

    Nothing changed much between 1 and 23 January 1943. Our first reinforcements arrived. The Russians had been hit really hard and in some ways the situation had stabilized. But according to my journal there were only three days during that period we did not fight and, of course, days off did not exist.

    The engagements mostly followed a common pattern. The Panzergrenadier regiments moved into an extended position, and the Panzer regiment attacked to the front of them and destroyed everything that moved toward us. Then we would have some peace while the Russians turned toward an adjacent unit, which...

  23. 16 The Gross-Deutschland Division
    (pp. 297-374)

    I was just about to depart for Slovakia when I was called off the train. I was assigned to command one more time, this time in the coming battle for Kursk as acting commander of the Gross-Deutschland Division. On 4 April I found myself back in southern Russia, in Poltava. The attack, however, was delayed repeatedly. We spent a quiet time in a beautiful setting that reminded me of Pomerania and Mecklenburg. I was able to do quite a lot with the division on training matters. The division surgeon initiated for his physicians a small frontline medical school that I...

  24. 17 Commander in Chief, Army Group G
    (pp. 375-410)

    I had been home just four days when I received a call from the Fuhrer Headquarters, “Report immediately! Then proceed to the West.” Hitler appointed me asOberbefehlshaber¹ of Army Group G and explained the following:

    “Owing to logistical difficulties the Allies will come to a standstill at about their current line. This must be exploited for a counterattack. The Americans have nothing behind them. No reserves. If we break through anywhere they have nothing to throw against us. On the side of the Allies it is a complete campaign of deception. I hope to be able to attack in...

  25. 18 North of the Danube
    (pp. 411-442)

    While we were attacking south of the Danube from west to east, the Russian Sixth Guards Tank Army on 6 January broke through north of the Danube and penetrated deeply into the LVII Panzer Corps from east to west. We only managed to stop their penetration at Komorn¹ by committing FLAK batteries. Göring had issued an order forbidding the commitment of FLAK units in the front lines, but the withdrawal of the V FLAK Corps was prevented by the timely intervention of Luftwaffe General Hans-Detlef Herhudt von Rhoden. Guderian was visiting me at the time, and he allowed me to...

  26. 19 Looking Back
    (pp. 443-454)

    The aggressor in any war is always the side that loses. Personally, I am not certain that it really was not English politics that forced Hitler into the war. Some respected voices in America have expressed this opinion, and documents recently made public in England support this argument.¹ Hitler had no intentions in the West.² On the contrary, he considered the British Empire a guarantor of the continuation of Western European culture. What is certain is that after our victorious campaign in France in 1940 the hardliners in Churchill’s circle blocked any rapprochement with Germany that had been sought by...

  27. Appendixes
    (pp. 455-474)
  28. Notes
    (pp. 475-514)
  29. Index
    (pp. 515-542)