This is a much-needed book, essential in understanding how Axis armies fought on Don River battlefields during critical winter 1942-1943. Mr. J. Trigg’s fresh look and different perspective of pretty neglected aspects of this monumental World War II campaign, often overshadowed by epic battle of Stalingrad that influenced the course of war, is brought alive under the form of an interesting and compelling study (his fifth book about WW II).
In a world with so many accounts about German forces in WW II and so little known about its Allies, finally we have probably one of the best books about Germany's allies, including here Romania (ROU), Italy, Croatia, Slovakia and Hungary (plus, to a lesser extent, Bulgaria and Finland).
This book is organized into 10 chapters preceded by Introduction, Prologue and Notes on the text sections. The major factor of this study which separates this volume from a host of others that detail the exact same operations is that the author did not implement the well-known and wrong thesis of the sudden collapse of the Axis forces during Soviet offensives. The final result is a not a detailed but rather highly needed study, objective, that excludes the usual generalizations, clichés and myths about the performance of the Axis Allied armies during Soviet winter offensives found in the traditional literature about Stalingrad battles. Their performance and conduct was far better than it is generally known in the books inspired from German or Soviet sources.
Surprisingly, the author did not dive rapidly into the heart of operations that virtually destroyed Axis armies deployed along Don River, but made a pretty long presentation of different aspects (policies, economic, armaments development, doctrine, etc) of the Axis forces involved in operations. I believe that not all were really necessary, not to mention there are few debatable statements, plus minor errors.
The first chapter (“The politics of the Axis”-) deals with political events after WW I, geopolitical aspects and the formation of the Axis. On page 22, the author must know that ethnic Hungarians were never more than 8-9% of the entire population of Great Romania and never more than 900.000 inhabitants (see 1922 or 1930 censuses) and I completely disagree with his conclusion that treaties signed after WW I and inter-war misunderstandings “contributed in no small way to the disaster of its armed forces suffered on the Don in 1942/43” since it has no support. This was a fully German strategic error! Another mistake is that the author mentioned that Romania and Bulgaria contested the whole province of Dobruja, which is false: actually, the disputed area lays in the southern part of this province (Cadrilater).
Chapter two (“Waging war”) describes the status of Axis armed forces, the creation of the Romanian First Panzer Division and other details regarding the Axis armaments industry. In the largest chapter (Ch. III - “Operation Barbarossa”, 43 pages) the author shows the operations of all Axis nations in 1941. In particular, the Romanian participation (Operation Munich-retaking Romanian lost lands or Odessa siege) is well-written and accurate, giving new and interesting information, but also surprising, since there are no Romanian books or archives mentioned. Mr. Trigg concluded, rightly, that “It would be Romania who would make by far the greatest contribution of forces to the struggle in the east in 1941, and indeed would continue to do so in 1942…”
In the fourth chapter (“The death of Ostheer”), the shortest, Mr. Trigg pays some attention to the strategic situation at the end of 1941 and beginning of 1942. Here, I found incredible the figure of 500.000 German POWs taken in 1941(!) cited by the author on page 99.
Chapter five (“Hitler’s Case Blue”) highlights the main operations of the 1942 Campaign conducted in the Southern part of the front by the Axis “”League of Nations” armies. Apart from some minor mistakes concerning the Crimean campaign of 1942, there are no notable observations. Romanian forces involved in both Crimean operations (Kerch and Sevastopol) were part of the ROU VII Corps (not ROU IV Army) and the total casualties did not exceed 10.000 soldiers.
Starting with “Stalingrad”, the title for chapter VI, we are finally introduced in the heart of this famous battle. The author did not devote too much to the battles in the city itself, concentrating to the covering flanks of the “adventurous arrow” – German 6th Army. Mr. Trigg’s observations are accurate and fully supported: all Axis armies received unbelievable large sectors of front, poor equipment and resources and virtually weak panzer reserves. The latter were to make the difference both in Mars and Uranus operations - in the first case, powerful operational panzer reserves repulsed Soviet attacks in Rzhev area and in the second case, the lack of credible panzer reserves made possible Soviet success.
Chapter VII pages (“Winter on the Don”) are filled with assessments, balance of forces and some critical aspects concerning Romanian forces, comments that I described as very isolated and present in all armies. Moreover, the author did not provide a table with all forces involved in Uranus operation and forces ratio (2 to 1 in personnel, but 9 to 1 or 14 to 1 on main axis of attack, aprox. 1000 tanks against 200 etc). Also, not mentioned, the Soviet bridgeheads opposite ROU 3 Army were seized during Soviet August offensives against Italian forces, later relieved in place by Romanian forces and moved to the north.
Ch. IX (“The Italians Turn-Little Saturn Phase I”) and Ch. X (“The last of the Axis-Hungary’s 2nd Army”) describes the defensive operations conducted by Italian and Hungarian forces during Soviet offensives, a day by day presentation with many emotional stories.
In Ch XI (“Counting the cost of the Don”) the author, obviously, concentrates on the profound effects of the Don defeats for Axis and also Soviet forces, while in the next Ch XII (“After the Don-the Axis regroups”) shows the efforts conducted by all Axis allied countries to rebuild/reorganize their troops, in particular their panzer force.
I believe that the last chapter (XIII -“Aftermath”) is completely unnecessary and has no connection with scope of the book (allied conferences, politics, Holocaust, etc) and therefore I have no comments.
I left intentionally the chapter describing Operation Uranus (Ch VIII - “Operation Uranus the end of Romanians”, 30 pages) to be the last since I have some observations to highlight. Obviously, Mr. Trigg is a good researcher. But I would remiss if, in praising his book, I also do not point out a few shortcomings and to add some comments.
First thing to clarify is that ROU 3 Army had 4 Army Corps with eight infantry and two cavalry divisions, of which 1 Inf. and 1 Cav. Divs. were reserves. ROU 4 Army had 2 Army Corps with four infantry and two cav. divisions. Also, in the area there were 1 ROU Panzer div. (part of 48 Pz. Corps, AG B reserve and NOT part of ROU 3 Army as mentioned in appendix A) and 20 ROU Inf. div. (part of the German IV Corps, which was NOT part of the ROU 4 Army as mentioned in appendix A and on page 166). A simple calculation leads to a total of 18 ROU divisions in the area, not including the forces in Caucasus or Crimea (another six divs.). Therefore there were no 22 ROU divs. of which nine fled, nine were destroyed and four still intact as mentioned on page 179 and also in Manstein’s memories. On page 180, I found at least surprising that members of Iron Guard put a stiff resistance during Soviet attack! Well, the majority of Iron Guard members were arrested back in 1940 after their rebellion and their fight against ROU Army and leadership of the country; of course, after this episode nobody could find such active members in the ranks of ROU Army!
Otherwise, the author described the battles accurately, even, I repeat, there were no Romanian archives or books, only websites. As author highlighted, the vast majority of the ROU forces held their ground and fought against overwhelming odds, had not broken en masse or fled as many authors suggest in some books. Resistance of many units collapsed, due to lack of modern antitank guns, but it was not the retreat en masse! However, to be honest, Antonescu, in one letter addressed to Manstein, spoke about isolated cases of “lack of resistance”.
After first day (not mentioned in the book!), there were only two breakthroughs: one in 89th Inf. Regiment sector/ROU 13 Inf. Div. (Kletskaya) and one in 13th Inf. Regiment/ROU 14 Inf. Div. (Blinov). So, two regiments out of 24 ROU regiments! The shoulders of both penetrations were firmly held until 22-23 Nov. 1942. The disaster was amplified by Soviet tanks in the rear areas since there were no credible reserves to stop them. In the Rzhev area, Soviets tanks (MG Solomatin’s 1st Mech. Corps) penetrated German lines (352nd Grenadier Regiment/246 Inf Div.-15-20 kms wide and 30-40 kms deep), but their advance was stopped by German powerful panzer reserves (1, 12, 19, 20 Panzer Divs.)
As author stated in his book the Romanian and other allies could perform much better if provided with new equipment from Germany. It was always promised but very few arrived and too late. Finally, the German own misconduct of the coalition war was responsible for almost 2 mil. casualties among its allies.
Mr. Trigg maintained a balanced and clear objectivity for the whole book. He made good researches about different aspects written in the book concerning each country, but failed to add a critical piece of any serious study: archives from the countries involved. Oddly, the text has no foot notes or endnotes at the end of each chapter/book to indicate the sources of various statements, so the readers can verify their accuracy, consider the context, or follow them further.
Even the title is wrong: the Don battles described in the book took place during winter 1942-1943 and did not start in 1941 and concluded in 1944!
Maps are probably the weakest link of this book; there are few maps, sketchy (PC generated) and not (fully) reliable, that shows the forces deployments and course of action for some major battles.
However, there is a very good collection of 40 B&W photographs showing key military & political Axis leaders and combat actions.
Finally, there are 3 annexes and a two-page bibliography from which Romanian archives are missing and just a few books are listed as sources from the countries involved, a serious methodological problem of the work. There is also a useful index.
Nevertheless, with the aforementioned caveats, this book is recommended with a 4 to 5 stars rating for its originality, clearly departing from the classic perspective and past clichés.