An Interview with Military Historian David M. Glantz – Book Review
I recently had an opportunity to briefly correspond with military historian Col (Ret) David M. Glantz. He is the author of numerous works on the Second World War and his studies on various Eastern Front battles are among some of the most in-depth and accurate works currently available. His work in this area continues and we were lucky enough to get him to take a brief timeout from his busy schedule to talk to us.
Don: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
David: I am a retired army colonel and a native of Port Chester, NY. I graduated from the Virginia Military Institute, the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and a variety of Army schools, including the Defense Language Institute, the Command and General Staff College, and the Army War College. My 30 years and six months of service included duty in Europe and Vietnam and extensive travel in Europe, Japan, and the former Soviet Union.
Don: Your passion for history obviously runs very deep. How did you come to first be interested in history?
David: It is in my genes. My father taught history in high school for 35 years, history books always surrounded me, and I have always been fascinated by the subject, especially about Soviet military history, principally because it was so obscure and impenetrable.
Don: You were the founder and former director of the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office. As a military historian, it must have been somewhat of a “dream job” to have these kinds of resources available to you. Can you tell us a little about that?
David: It was indeed a dream job, in essence, a reflection of the times, when the U.S. Army and military was undergoing a renaissance (from 1978 through 1992). It was a rare time when far-sighted military leaders permitted, and, in fact, encouraged basic research in military subjects, as well as “outreach” to the militaries of other nations, in particular the Soviet Union. I began my research of the Red Army as a product of such cooperation with the Japanese from 1979-1983, when, as part of a military history exchange, the Japanese asked us (the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth) to research Soviet subjects such as the Soviet Manchurian offensive, August 1945 and Soviet wartime airborne operations. This work got me started on the subject, and, having researched the last chapter of Soviet wartime experiences, I was naturally drawn to investigate the entire story of the war, which I have been doing ever since. Sadly, this renaissance ended abruptly in 1992 and is only now beginning to resume.
Don: It’s probably fair to say you’re best known to readers for your contributions regarding the Eastern Front in WWII. You’ve written a number of in-depth books on the subject and provided fresh interpretations on many aspects of the major campaigns there. Debunking some of the more popular myths about the Eastern Front could not have been popular with everyone. Have you faced any criticism or resistance to your interpretations or ideas in this regard?
David: During the first 10 years of my work, when I focused on researching and revealing military operations that took lace from 1943-1945, which history books usually passed over very quickly, many Germans were annoyed, although not the Wehrmacht veterans I worked with, most of whom never realized what happened to them and their army and why. During the past seven years, however, many Russians are equally annoyed over my investigation of so-called “forgotten battles,” most of which were Red Army defeats.
Don: Since the fall of the Berlin Wall more and more Soviet archival material has been made available to Western historians, is it reasonable to say that we now have a fairly complete understanding of the major events on the Eastern Front, or is there still much more to learn that is still hidden from us?
David: There is certainly much more to be learned. Having said this, there is now enough archival material available to permit us to reconstruct the 40 percent of the war record that has been missing. Sadly, however, there are not enough historians working to do so, and it is far too hard a job for one historian to complete, even in three lifetimes.
Don: Your research on both Operation Citadel and Operation Mars was quite extensive. While researching these battles, did you discover anything that really surprised you?
David: I was amazed over how little we really knew or understood about these and most of the other more famous operations (Moscow, Stalingrad, Belorussia, etc.). I was also amazed by how much of their history Soviet (and even Russian) historians have covered up and the staggering amount of incorrect Soviet-based materials, which have made their way into German-based and other Western accounts (on Stalingrad, for example, where Westerns have relied on Chuikov’s books).
Don: Can you give us a hint what works we might expect to see from you in the future?
David: My most important task is to complete volumes 7 and 8 of my series, “Forgotten Battles” of the Soviet-German War (the summer and winter campaigns of 1944 and 1945 and the spring campaign of 1945) and redo and expand volume 1 of this series (on Barbarossa). Sadly this will have to wait until I complete three other projects. These are: a two-volume, 1,600 page study of Operation Barbarossa am preparing for the U.S. Army Center for Military History, which is taking 10 hours a day for 6 days a week (until March 2005); a Red Storm over the Balkans: The Red Army’s Invasion of Rumania, April-May 1944 on the 1st Iassy-Kishinev offensive, which is complete but without maps; and a single-volume, 800-page study of the Battle for Stalingrad, which is half complete.
Don: Any final comments?
David: Please encourage your readers to become involved in the process of researching and writing on this subject. At a time when the sources are finally available to reconstruct a more accurate history of this (and perhaps other) wars, the study of military history in modern American academe has become taboo and is being replaced by social history. This is indeed a tragedy, and an insult to the memories of the many millions of Red Army and Wehrmacht soldiers who died on forgotten battlefields during the struggle.
Don: We will indeed do so sir. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us and answer our questions. Your various articles and books have been instrumental in helping us to refine our understanding of the momentus events of the Second World War, and your research into previously unknown or misunderstood battles has been invaluable.
by Don Maddox
5 November, 2004