Book Review – Claus Neuber, Marching from Defeat (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2020)

Marching from Defeat: Surviving the Collapse of the German Army in the Soviet Union, 1944 is the personal narrative of German Army artillery Lieutenant Claus Neuber and his journey back to German lines after being trapped behind the Soviet positions.

Neuber served in the 1st Battalion of the 18th Artillery Regiment that was part of the 18th Panzergrendier Division.[1] On 23 June 1944, Red Army launched Operation Bagration, a massive offensive that destroyed the German Army Group Centre deployed in modern-day Belarus. Neuber manned one of the most easterly points in the German line and his unit was encircled and cut off. His account relays his journey west on foot seeking to evade Soviet forces and partisans.

His story carries the reader through the despairing actions fought to stem the Soviet juggernaut and to break out of cauldrons between Minsk and the Beresina River. He was captured but managed to escape. In total, he spent 42 days on the run making before reaching German forces on 6 August.

Insignia of the German 18th Panzergrenadier Division,

The narrative contains many of the themes found in many other veteran accounts: that Soviet forces were evil, cruel and inhuman and German forces were far less brutal than reported.[2] For example, Neuber says the Nazi ‘Commissar Order’, to execute Soviet Red Army political Commissars, was not widely implemented by front-line soldiers [3]

However, the thing that I found interesting was how soldiers adapted to the disintegration and dislocation of the command structures and forces caused by the Soviet attack. Neuber shows how units got progressively smaller, the further west they went, natural leaders emerged and how groups sought to maintain discipline when the formal military hierarchy ceased to exist.[4]



[1] Claus Neuber, Marching from Defeat (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2020), p.1.

[2] Ibid., pp.23, 82, 98.

[3] Ibid., p.48.

[4] Ibid., pp.92, 88, 111.