The second volume of Glantz's dedicated to Smolensk battles is depicting, largely, the Third (September) General Counteroffensive organized and conducted by Western, Briansk and Reserve fronts along the strategically vital Western axis between 29 August-12 September 1941.
After the presentation in the first volume of the first two offensives (Western Front's Operational Groups offensive and Western and Reserve Fronts offensives at Dukhovshchina and, respectively, Elnia, plus Timonshenko's Offensive in July 41), the author concentrated on the largest and the most ambitious of these strategic operations launched by three fronts in the sectors of Dukhovshchina, Elnia and respectively Roslavl-Novozybkov, aimed to stop or delay the German advance towards Moscow.
The planning of this three-component offensive was facilitated by the departure of both Panzer Groups to the AG North (Hoth to Velikie Luki operation) and South (Guderian to Kiev operation) according to the Hitler's orders, eventually consistent with his original concept for Barbarossa.
Shorn of its offensive cutting edge, AGC thus had to remain on the defensive until the operations on its left and right flanks concluded. The defensive battles waged by AGC from July through September 1941 are also instructive for being the first German attempt in WW II to sustain a large-scale positional defense after several offensive "spurts".
When the Russians realized that the Germans were not going to follow their Smolensk triumph with an immediate drive on Moscow, Soviet counterattacks again flared up along the central part of the front. Finally, the German passivity offered the Russians the unique opportunity of battering the entire AGC under conditions of Soviet choosing, Red Army launching four successive counteroffensives, each of far larger and more significant scope and scale than the previous one.
German combat power was adversely affected by logistical considerations as well. By late August 1941, German units were too dispersed, overextended and their combat potential too diminished to repeat the impressive feats of the beginning of Barbarossa.
As we noticed in the first volume with the first two counteroffensives, Mr. Glantz clearly demonstrated that all three distinct operations were far stronger and inflicted far more casualties on AGC troops than previously thought. Mr. Glantz description is comprehensive, covering all components of the last Soviet offensive almost in the same manner, with many operational details, orders and schemes of maneuver of both sides.
As most Russians counterattacks during early weeks of Barbarossa, these were also uncoordinated, lacked tactical sophistication and the Germans' experience in mobile war to reach their designated strategic and operational objectives, but inflicted damage and panic among Germans troops and HQs. The real success of these strategic operations lay in sapping the German strength and planning. Russian strategy, like the German, had been too ambitious and should better have concentrated on one objective, perhaps the destruction of the Elnia salient.
As a rule, each element of the Soviet counteroffensive or German attack/action has a chapter dedicated to it (from 2 to 9) consisting of planning, phases, main actions and conclusions/postscript.
According to Soviet estimates shown in the book, during these three offensives (10 July-10 September 1941) the German forces suffered 101.000 casualties (out of which 20.000 were unrecoverable-KIA, MIA, POW), while the Red Army experienced appalling casualties - almost 760.000 (over 486.000 unrecoverable!) - overall, a still favorable ratio. The problem is that the Russians had changed the German blitzkrieg into a gigantic (Russian) war of attrition. They accepted huge losses, allowing their units to operate with half or less of authorized strengths. While the Soviets still had the manpower to replace these losses in men, the Germans never fully recovered from the initial battles of Barbarossa.
Even the Germans suffered a little over 100.000 casualties, but lost precious time, the Soviet part gained time, but suffered much higher casualties, which left many of their units depleted, unable to stop the German onslaught when Typhoon began a month later. Red Army forces facing AGC' formations were themselves weakened from the battles of July-August and early September and they used this time to try to restore their own strength before Typhoon.
Albeit the derailment of Barbarossa at Smolensk caused, undoubtedly, some troubles to the Germans, I believe that also Minsk, Byelstock, Roslavl, Mogilev, Brest Litovsk and Vyazma or Bryansk pockets later, exacted a heavy toll and derailed the German planning and made them to lose time and men, and eventually the Eastern campaign. Personally, I still believe that Kiev operation, with the stubborn defense of the Soviet 5th Army, is much more responsible for the real derailment of Barbarossa (a controversial decision identified by General G. Heinrici in this book, p.514). The prolonged and complex battles for Smolensk, in particular, excellent described by Mr. Glantz, are still difficult to estimate if they were more successful than other clashes in thwarting the Wehrmacht on its way to the Soviet capital.
I personally believe that if Hitler had listened to his generals and continued toward Moscow in August-September, instead of assisting AGS in the Kiev encirclement, the city would have fallen, but certainly the Soviets would continue the war (by the end of the year 1941, Red Army still possessed between 6-8 million men!). Even in possession of Moscow, the Germans would still have been overextended and exposed in winter of 41-42; therefore Germany was not likely to end the war in 1941, whatever strategy was adopted (going towards Moscow or Kiev). I noticed a key questions on page 515:...if the German Army proved unable to protect its front and flanks in early December 1941 against 4,1 million Soviet soldiers, would it have done much better defending a significantly longer front in November 1941 against a Red Army force much better in excess of 6 million soldiers?
Obviously, if no diversion had been made, AGC could have renewed its advance towards Moscow in mid-August rather than the end of September. Had AGC continued to advance on Moscow in August, the Russians would have lost their capital before December. But I believe they would not have surrendered. Therefore, as a conclusion very well outlined by Mr. Glantz, the defeat of the Soviet Army suffered at Kiev encirclement actually facilitated AGC's subsequent advance during Typhoon a month later!
However, without Moscow as a starting base, the Russians could not have launched such a powerful winter offensive against AGC in December 1941. However, based on newly released archival materials Mr. Glantz state that the Wehrmacht's best opportunity for capturing Moscow occurred in October and November rather than September
Therefore, considering the above reasons, the continuation of the German advance and the winning of the Eastern Campaign (the seizure of Moscow included) depended also on other key factors, not all related to the Ostfront: undertaking of a two-front war (almost 60 German divisions were deployed elsewhere), inadequate preparation for war (all-out wartime production), Russian climate and geography, unexpected toughness of the Red Army; also, they underestimated the effects of distance on their operation and never planned for a winter campaign at all.
Concentrating entirely on the Battle for Smolensk, the author made no diversion from the scope of the book, the description of the Kiev encirclement stopping after the Guderian's initial move to the South.
Referring to the maps, they are satisfactory, in general; I assumed that Mr. Glantz tried the best he could do to provide the orientation and to visualize the maneuvers and actions of both sides. For some maps I will seek clarification in the fourth (atlas) volume of this series dedicated to these battles which will contain newly-commissioned colour maps.
Despite I bought and read the first volume, which has only 6 pages of conclusion, I waited for the second book, since I know Mr. Glantz's habit to keep the best for the final. The second's volume conclusions (chapter 10, with no less than 45 pages!) are among the best sound conclusions ever concerning Barbarossa in general and Smolensk in particular, with clear and captivating judgments. The logical and gripping way in which they are presented to the reader, the support coming from many tables (extracted, chiefly, from Russian archives) showing opponents' actions and results, comparative damage and losses sustained by both sides, strengths, etc is really impressive.
I was also impressed by the skillful and perceptive postwar critique of general-colonel Gotthard Heinrici who, in an 8-paragraph text, outlined the basis of the German failure from politically, economically and military points of view.
Being clearly written, comprehensive, providing a staggering amount of details, this study ensures a valuable addition to Eastern Front literature.
This fresh account from Mr. Glantz dramatically revised and expanded history's fans understanding of what happened in the initial phase of a gigantic operation named Barbarossa.