The Nazi Militia and the Fall of Germany, 1944-1945
David K. Yelton
Pressed by advancing enemy armies on both fronts, Adolf Hitler played his final card in World War II by mobilizing all German civilian males between sixteen and sixty and indoctrinating them for a final apocalyptic defense of the Reich. The Volkssturm, created as much to boost national morale as to bolster sagging defenses, has been viewed as a negligible factor in the war. David Yelton counters that view with new insights into why the German high command sought this means to prolong an unwinnable war-and why so many civilians chose to fight to the bitter end.
Hitler's Volkssturm is the only book in English—and the most comprehensive in any language—on the German militia, illuminating its role and contributions to the Nazi war effort and shedding new light on the last days of the Third Reich. It examines the militia's strategic purpose, organization, training, and combat performance on both war fronts and explores factors contributing to its sporadic tactical successes and its overall failure.
“A coherent, balanced, and ultimately persuasive image of this combination militia and local defense force.”
—Central European History
“Yelton has given us the standard work on the subject. Using the widest array of sources, he deals with all the important political and military aspects of the Volkssturm. In addition, he skillfully presents a concise synthesis of his extensive sources, compiled in a (welcome) comprehensive reference apparatus. I recommend this book without any reservations.”
—Journal of Modern HistorySee all reviews...
“For anybody interested in the Nazi leadership and in German society in the dying days and months of the Third Reich, this book is a ‘must read.’ It is far more than the organizational history of the Nazi militia (though it is that too). It offers persuasive answers to some of the most perplexing riddles of Nazi Germany.”
—War in History
“All historians of the Third Reich, and of World War II, would be well advised to give Yelton’s book a careful read.”
—Canadian Journal of History
“Yelton’s argument is based on impressive research and persuasive analysis. His book offers a fascinating, readable, highly recommended case study of the political culture of a dying regime.”
“This is the only serious book on the German militia in English. . . . Indeed, it may be the most comprehensive book on the subject in any language.”
—German Studies Review
“Yelton makes a convincing argument that the Volkssturm was not simply the last nihilistic gesture of a dying regime. Instead, it was part of an ideologically based Nazi strategy to win the war. . . . . This book is an important contribution, showing how ‘Nazi ideology largely superseded reality as the basis for decision making in the Third Reich.‘”
—American Historical Review
“A valuable and deeply researched study that contributes to our understanding of the Third Reich’s final decline.”
—Geoffrey P. Megargee, author of Inside Hitler’s High Command
“Yelton’s painstaking scholarship demolishes a spectrum of myths about the Third Reichs last-stand home defense force. Ultimately, its poor performance reflected the German people’s unwillingness to follow the nihilistic demand to choose death over defeat and occupation. . . . An important contribution.”
—Dennis Showalter, author of Tannenberg: Clash of Empires
“A fascinating study that provides some big surprises for anyone who considers the Volkssturm a minor footnote to the Second World War.”
—Perry Biddiscombe, author of Werewolf! The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944–1946See fewer reviews...
Yelton reveals why the Nazi leadership chose to assemble such last-ditch units rather than negotiating for peace and also why civilians in these units were more than willing to serve. The Volkssturm was, in fact, part of a broader, ideologically based strategy intended to turn the tide of the war. Yelton tracks the impact of this ideology on Nazi decision-making throughout the war's final year and illustrates how ideological assumptions were often a major reason for the failure of Nazi policies and strategies.
In an unprecedented examination of the Volkssturm at the local level, Yelton also shows the negative impact of national power struggles and demonstrates how the Wehrmacht, industry, and public opinion exerted influence on the militia in ways often contrary to its official objectives. His extensive and insightful analysis illuminates German mobilization priorities, reveals that a substantial number of its commanders had experience in both the military and the Nazi Party, and clarifies the impact of Volkssturm mobilizations on the overall German war economy.
Pathbreaking in both scope and depth, Hitler's Volkssturm stresses the factional lines and conflicting centers of power within the Nazi bureaucracy, clarifies policy formulation and implementation in the late Third Reich, and assesses the shifting power relationships among various groups and individuals. Ultimately, it gives us a more complete portrait of the Third Reich during the final phase of a devastating war and conveys important lessons about the use of militia forces in modern warfare.