Hitler’s First War. Adolf Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment and the First World War by Thomas Weber.

Oxford University Press. 2010 (paperback 2011 £10.99), 450pp Illustrations Bibliography ISBN 978 0199226382 
The recent trend towards the publication in English of books on aspects of German perspectives on the Western Front has been rightly and warmly welcomed.

First published in 2010 this book is an excellent addition to that growing catalogue.

Thomas Weber is an academic principally based at Aberdeen University with additional posts at a number of universities in the USA. His book was very well received on publication with deserved praise from such well known historians as Sir Michael Howard, Andrew Roberts, Norman Stone and Sir Ian Kershaw.

Weber has conducted extraordinarily detailed research in archives both in Germany elsewhere, focussing on the experiences of members of Hitler’s unit, the Bavarian 16th Reserve Infantry Regiment. His approach was to set the story of Hitler’s personal experiences between 1914 and 1918 (and the consequences beyond) into the context of the role of the regiment which was known as the List Regiment after its ‘founder’ Colonel Julius von List who died of wounds in 1915.

The author had two main reasons for this method. As he put it, there is a major problem with the ‘almost complete absence of wartime documents on Hitler’. Secondly we are very well aware of the difficulties of making sense of post-1918 writing about or by Hitler, whether self-serving or damnatory. Much of the latter has sought to explain how his time at the Front created the Hitler he became; this is a thesis that Weber examines very carefully. He meticulously tries to avoid hindsight in arguing that studying ‘Hitler’s regiment will allow us to determine what role his Great War experience played in ‘making’ him.’

Part 1 has nine chapters giving a chronological account from August 1914 to November 1918.

Part 2 has four chapters covering the interwar years and the Second World War. The illustrations are mainly unfamiliar and both the index and bibliography are detailed. ‘Hitler’s First War’ is a revelation and a most welcome addition to our understanding. 

Review by Chris Robinson