Marshal the Facts

In his notorious review of Andrew Roberts’s Storm of War for the Times Literary Supplement, which is discussed at length by Jeremy Black on page 25, Richard Evans lists among the “many inaccuracies and errors” the following: “Goering was not a Field Marshal, he was given the title of Reich Marshal, which may have sounded grander but meant a lot less in reality.” A reader in America pointed out that in one of his own books (The Third Reich in Power) Evans had also described Goering as a Field Marshal. So, if Roberts was in error, so was Evans.

Goering was indeed a Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) until Hitler promoted him to Reich Marshal (Reichsmarschall) after the fall of France in 1940. This medieval title was revived by Hitler to indicate to his generals that Goering was senior to them in the chain of command — a seniority of considerable symbolic importance, given the Nazis’ fear of a military putsch of the kind that was attempted in July 1944.

By venturing into the arcane field of German military ranks — one about which he was evidently ill-informed — in order to destroy Roberts’s reputation for accuracy, Evans did himself no credit. The word of a Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge is likely to be taken on trust when he pronounces on an obscure matter of historical fact, especially if the subject — here, Nazi Germany — is one on which he has written several books. It was therefore incumbent on Evans to check his facts before making such damaging charges. Evans did not merely criticise “this deeply inadequate book”, but suggested that it should never have been published: “It does both author and publisher [Allen Lane] a disservice, as well as the reading public.” As it happens, the public has taken a different view: the book is a runaway bestseller. It is, rather, the Regius Professor whose egregious attempt to crush a non-academic rival has done a disservice to his profession.

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