This is a remarkable book. As a vivid reader of literature on WW II in general and on the Eastern Front in particular, I am always interested in new analysis and discussions that feature the battles on this front, especially coming from Russian historians. The main reason is that while the Western and other countries archives were analyzed in a great extent for different studies, the Russian/Soviet archives still held the veal of secrecy. Future studies will probably benefit from this key information when they will be open to the public, clarifying some aspects of the struggle, not to mention some details of so-called "forgotten" battles (actually they are "covered lost battles"). Therefore, much of key information about WW II is still in Moscow.
As a prelude to the main story, Mrs. Gherasimova outlines a different "battle" with the official Russian historians about the place, role, casualties and significance of the 15-month Battle of Rzhev in the context of the Great Patriotic War. The controversies and debates are restated throughout the book about all aspects of the operations involved. We can discover a silent clash between generations of historians, and between official perspective (much still anchored in the traditional Soviet-era view) and the new Russian scholars.
Admitting that there is a real and time-consuming problem in solving all the aspects of this epic campaign author modestly claim that this book is a mere "skeleton" of an "unrecognized battle". Moreover, author accused "those who keep sources classified" for possible mistakes and wrong assertions in the book.
For the above reasons, at the end of the Introduction, the author asked a legitimate question "So, the Battle of Rzhev-is it a myth or a reality?"
In the chapter I (only 9 pages) author described the formation of the salient, the importance for both sides, troops involved, fortifications and the formidable size of German lines of defense.
Chapter II is dedicated to the First Rzhev-Viazma Offensive (8.01-20.04.1942), one of the largest operations on Eastern Front, which never received full and objective coverage from historians. With respect for the sides strength (page 28), I have some doubts (Soviets 688.000 men, 10.900 guns, 474 tanks vs. German 625.000 men, 11.000 guns and 354 tanks!), but the figures were extracted from latest edition Military encyclopedia, which explains many.
Combat during operations Hannover and Seydlitz (May-July 1942) are described in chapter III (20 pages). These less known operations, showed the Wehrmacht effort (23 divisions involved out of 77 units in AGC) to mop up the rear of AGC.
The second attempt to eradicate the salient was the First Rzhev-Sychevka Offensive (30 July-30 September 1942) fully described in chapter IV. In spite of trying to achieve the factor of surprise and to deploy overwhelming forces on the main axes of attacks on both fronts (Kalinin and Western), the Soviet offensive achieved only tactical successes (some attributed to the formation of blocking detachments and penal companies!) unable to achieve its final goal, sustaining almost 300.000 casualties.
The famous Operation Mars - "Second Rzhev - Sychevka offensive" (25.11-20.12), in the book- is analyzed from both operational point of view and impact. I was particularly interested about the success of Solomatin's 1st Mech Corps in penetrating 20 to 25 km of the enemy's lines and the powerful reserves provided to the German forces, in contrast to those provided to Romanian 3rd Army at Stalingrad. Large portions of the chapter discussed the casualties of the Russian forces (335.000 men), author stating that neither Glantz nor H.Grossman offered any figures for German casualties (p.122). It is true that D Glantz didn't mention the extent of the German casualties in his book, but in a subsequent article he wrote about 40.000 men.
Chapter VI (22 pages) is dedicated to the liquidation of the Rzhev salient (2-31.03.1943), largely a pursuit operation, that cost about 140.000 Soviet casualties. Both sides actually benefited from these operations and Soviets eventually regained this much-disputed territory. A year earlier (1942) a German retreat from this region could have saved them from Stalingrad debacle - shortening the front and making some reserves available. Moreover, an attack launched in 1942 from this held Axis regions towards Moscow, still within German reach, would have a telling effect instead of an offensive in south. A major offensive in this area would therefore have given the Germans a far better chance to deal the Red Army a knockout blow than an operation in the south.
The last chapter (Results of the battle) is the largest (36 pages), the most controversial and analytical. The debates from the beginning of the book are restated concerning both casualties and the place/significance of the battle. Author treated both issues presenting the perspectives different documents, comparative data from various versions. The discussions about casualties range from about 1 million to more than 2 million which make this battle one of the bloodiest in WW II, exceeding Battle of Stalingrad in many respects.
On the other hand, German casualties still remain to be tabulated.Efforts were made to arrange some German cemeteries and much work was done by the search teams to bury to discover and bury the remains of the fallen heroes. Some stories are compelling and emotional.
The importance of the Rzhev bulge in immobilize an increasing number of German divisions, the influence of the last offensives in sapping German 9th Army strength before its participation in Battle of Kursk were also discussed. Also, the question if this 15-month campaign is or not part of Battle of Moscow or it is an independent battle remains unanswered, largely because of official opposition.
There are about 120+ photographs which do an excellent job at showing various actions, pieces of military equipment and the environment the battle took place in. After the main chapters 36 appendices are describing various Stavka and General Staff concerning matters of the combat operations and even appointments (dismisses) in the area of the salient.
In addition to the excellent narrative, the author presents 8 quality colored maps showing the main operations described in the study. The book also includes 8 tables, an impressive 14-page Bibliography (unpublished documents from TsAMO, wartime periodical literature, scholarly works etc), a short note section and closes with an index.
I really enjoyed this book. It really does offer the reader a completely different perspective of some important events. Mrs Gherasimova (plus S.Briton fine translation) presented an excellent academic work.
I highly recommend this book.