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Terror in the Balkans: German Armies and Partisan Warfare Hardcover – March 12, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


A sophisticated look at a bloody chapter in the history of World War II. Avoiding simplistic explanations, Shepherd digs deep into both the archives and the theoretical literature to produce the most convincing explanation yet for the brutality of German anti-partisan operations in Yugoslavia. He is, in particular, the first to locate the origins of the atrocities on the Eastern Front with those officers of the Wehrmacht whose careers began in the Habsburg Army in the First World War. Like his earlier War in the Wild East, Terror in the Balkans is a fresh and provocative book. (Robert Citino, University of North Texas)

Shepherd brilliantly establishes and contextualizes the Wehrmacht's central role in Nazi Germany's campaign of terror and genocide in the Balkans during World War II. Focusing on middle-level field commanders, the work convincingly traces the army's counterproductive counterinsurgency policies to the officers' experiences of 1914-1918 and their aftermath. (Dennis Showalter, Colorado College)

Shepherd's book is important for a number of reasons. The first and most basic one is the fact that it gives an additional historical dimension to studies about the war on the Balkan front which has not been granted the same generous attention by scholarly research as have other war theaters. Another aspect that Shepherd raises is that an analysis of the murderous manifestation of Nazi ideology is based on principles that had already been formulated at the end of the nineteenth century and were applied in the test case of the Balkan arena...Shepherd's careful and precise research proves that the Wehrmacht was a partner in the war crimes that Germany executed during the course of the war...His book has the ability as well to cast light on the cultural background for the war crimes and racial murder carried out during the 1990s after the breakup of Yugoslavia. (Tal Tovy H-Net Reviews 2012-08-01)

In this nuanced analysis of German counterinsurgency operations in the Balkans, 1941-43, Shepherd eschews the facile explanation that Nazi ideology and indoctrination explain the genocidal conduct of German soldiers in WWII. Instead, Shepherd concludes that a multitude of diverse and disparate forces interacted, leading mid-level German commanders to demand, and their soldiers to wage, campaigns of genocide and terror in war-torn Yugoslavia. German commanders were indeed radicalized and brutalized under the Nazi regime's tutelage, but their actions were also governed by specific social, cultural, and institutional influences that were magnified by the harsh conditions, insoluble ethnic rivalries, and ruthless enemy they encountered. Influenced by his previous work on German anti-partisan operations in the Soviet Union, Shepherd mines the appropriate primary sources and cites the most recent scholarship for this latest effort. If his apologetic qualifications regarding the extant sources create doubts for some readers, these will be quickly dispelled by his adept handling of one of the most vexing issues confronting scholars of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. (D. R. Snyder Choice 2012-11-01)

About the Author

Ben Shepherd is Reader in History at Glasgow Caledonian University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (April 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674048911
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674048911
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,992,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 54 people found the following review helpful By M. Pitcavage on April 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Terror in the Balkans: German Armies and Partisan Warfare is the new book by Ben Shepherd, among whose previous works is a look at German anti-partisan actions in the Soviet Union seen through the eyes of several security divisions. This time, Shepherd brings his approach to Yugoslavia, looking at the actions of several occupation divisions as partisan activities erupted around them.

Readers should know up front what this book is NOT about. First, despite its title, this book is not about the "Balkans." There were four countries in the Balkans in which significant partisan activities occurred (Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, and Yugoslavia). The German army became involved in three of them (all but Bulgaria). However, the book only covers Yugoslavia; moreover, it primarily covers Yugoslavia during the period 1941-1942, with a nod to 1943. The year 1944, the year of greatest intensity in terms of partisan warfare, is not covered at all.

That brings us to the second point: the book is not about actual partisan warfare at all. Essentially, you can forget the subtitle (which is just as well, because there are no multiple "German Armies" involved, either, so the whole subtitle is a bit odd) and concentrate on the notion of "terror in the Balkans." What Shepherd is really interested in is not at all how the Germans fought the partisans, but rather the nature and extent to which they mistreated civilians. Indeed, it may be fair to say that the more an incident such as an anti-partisan operation represented actual combat with partisans, the less Shepherd is actually interested in it.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By BALDRIC on July 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is excruciatingly researched (mostly from German documents) and discusses the possible motivations for the murderous, terroristic behavior of various German army formations in yugoslavia in WWII. Also discussed: the behavior of various ethnic groups (Croats, Serbs, etc.) as they fought each other and sometimes the Germans or Italians. Forty percent of the book is devoted to notes, index, etc.
This book was painful & stressful to read. I was Glad to finish.
Full disclosure: 50 years ago, as part of undergraduate studies, I presented several papers on the Balkans, culminating in a study of Josip Broz (Tito). I bought this book to refresh and possibly update information about him. There were frequent small bios on many other players in the frightful Hobsian slaughter house, Tito was only mentioned briefly in terms of military moves he ordered. His personal information was nil.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rob Fitzgibbon on September 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Ben Shepherd’s “Terror in the Balkans” is an in-depth look at German WWII anti-partisan actions. Shepherd focuses his aperture geographically, chronologically and operationally, concentrating on

- The occupation of Yugoslavia, and specifically Serbia,

- The 1941-42 period, specifically the initial occupation and the Serbian Uprising

- The operations of the German security divisions, specifically such units as the 369th, 714th and 718th Divisions

- The bibliographical details of the senior unit commanders

Unlike other reviewers, I didn’t find a problem with this approach, feeling that the author has chosen to focus his research on aspects of the Yugoslavian insurgency that are not as well-covered in other English-language works. I also think that such a focus provides a penetrating in-depth investigation that a more generalist approach would have left fuzzy.

Other reviews have complained that Shepherd’s work is too focused on crimes against humanity as opposed to the operational details of German counterinsurgency tactics. But this is exactly Shepherd’s point - terror was the heart of German occupational doctrine in Yugoslavia.

The author does a commendable job at exploring possible reasons for this strategy - or absence of a strategy - providing insight on Nazi occupation policies, the lack of specialist training and equipment on the part of the security divisions, and the inherited biases of the German Army commanders, many of which had served in the WWI Austro-Hungarian army and had inherited both brutal attitudes about how insurgencies should be repressed and distinct bias against the Serbian population.
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Format: Hardcover
Well written analysis of the German Army occupying Yugoslavia, the troubled nation of Yugoslavia itself and the strategic war on that front during WWI. While some readers might object to the extensive chapters analyzing WWI and the Interwar Period, I agree with the author that understanding the situation back then is vital to understanding why the Wehrmacht was so willing to engage in constant reprisals, why the Croats and Serbs slaughtered each other and why above all else, this war became an example of the poisoned relations that existed between the various Slavic and German nations of the 20th Century.

The myth of the clean German army is also well-analyzed. One quote from WWI stands out to me: "mildness towards the inhabitants is harshness against our Fatherland." To a nation in the midsts of total war as Germany was, exploiting and requisitioning grain and labor from the conquered provinces definitely appeared necessary. I could easily see my own country doing the same thing if push came to shove. Nonetheless, this war is very bleak. There are so many harsh and severe orders knowingly made with malicious intent to crush resistance with indiscriminate massacre. It is sad to read such things, but of course also very interesting to those who are interested in understanding WWII and the brink to the abyss Europe stood at in the 1940s.
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