13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 15 March 2014
Mr Forczyk, a popular historian and author as well as tank specialist, has written another fine book on the Russo-German war that has armor as its main theme. As the author explains this book is not a comprehensive battle chronicle but a select look at key armor engagements that will show why the Germans had an advantage at the opening of the war but by the end of 1942 had lost their advantage through heavy attrition, poor grand strategy, slow tank development and inadequate industrial capacity among other considerations. It will also be shown that while the Soviets made mistakes and had problems, they also had certain basic advantages that would turn their disastrous unprepared beginning into a long term opportunity to turn the tables on their enemy and to eventually achieve final victory.
The two chapter introduction is important and the foundation for the rest of the book. It briefly describes the interwar history, battle strategy and tank doctrine of the two dictators and their armed services and while the author touches on command level aspects, the author is never far away from tank characteristics or ground level armor tactics. He is as comfortable discussing Hitler's misguided view that the Soviet Union could be defeated in six weeks or Stalin's Five Year Plans and attempting to divert conflict with Hitler until 1942 or 43 as he is in explaining why Germany made a mistake in not building a high torque diesel engine for their Tiger, Elephant and Panther heavy tanks or comparing Blitzkrieg with Stalin's Deep Battle strategy. The German advantage of having radios and better optics in their tanks during this period is discussed as well and many other features of the leading tanks of the war - Pz IV, Tiger, Panther, T-34 .
The rest of the book covers armored battle history of the war from Operation Barbarossa to von Manstein's attempt to relieve 6th Army in the Stalingrad cauldron. The coverage includes specific engagements within these larger operations and in addition to Barbarossa that talks about Minsk, Bialystok, Kiev, Smolensk, Uman, Rzhev, also discusses the advance toward Leningrad, Operation Typhoon and the drive toward Moscow, the capture of Kharkov, Operation Blue and the advance to the Volga. There is also much discussion on command decisions made and assessments on how those decisions played out. A small example of commanders discussed includes Guderian, von Manstein, Hoth, Hopner, Model and Kliest as well as Pavlov, Kirponos, Timoshenko, Zhukov, Konev, Rokossovsky for the Soviets. The format of the book is driven by the German offensive and is broken down by the three main Army sectors and the four main panzer groups but there is plenty of coverage of the Soviets. Soviet fans will not feel slighted.
Though having read this period before, I still enjoyed and appreciated this presentation for its concise, crisp and detailed manner. There is plenty of details about battle history that not only includes key officers and units for both sides but also discusses deployments, terrain, weather and the type of armor involved for each engagement. It also discusses the level of readiness for each side as well logistic considerations in prosecuting the engagement.
In addition to the narrative, there are also ten maps, most are small scale in nature that bolster some of the covered engagements. There are also pertient tables and a no nonsense Appendix that includes an OB, production lists closing out the main narrative. A small photo gallery, Notes, Bibliography and Index round out the book.
This book targets two key groups: history fans of the war and tank enthusiasts. This straight forward narrative is applicable to novice and pro alike. For the novice its easy to follow and there is a lot of info to learn and for the long term student there is good information on the different tanks, their barrel sizes, choices of ammunition, other characteristics and enough other gems of knowledge running through the book that you'll be able to add to your knowledge base. Highly reccommended.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 7 June 2014
i loved this...its easy to read, and offers new insight into the eastern front in 1941- end 42. The book looks at the conflict from the point of view of the tanks used by both sides. This is an important perspective, for tanks were in a predominant position in 41-2 that they lost in 43-5. The hordes of Russian infantry couldnt stop the german tank concentrations ('schwerpunkts') in 41-2, and
the german infantry's weapons (except the few '88's) & their tanks couldn't stop the T34 & KV tanks until early 42. So tanks were the deciding factors in 41-2 battles, not the amount of infantry. Forczyk analyses tank production, doctrines, tactics and the battles in a chronological progression from June 41 to Dec 42. He does it in a very readable, engaging, flowing narrative.
Many other excellent recent studies have revised our understanding of the conflict, with Glantz et al opening the russian archives and destroying many nazi inspired myths; "the russians used mass over tactics", "the germans were defeated by the weather" etc. What a lot of these new studies concentrate on are the remarkable regenerative powers of the russian army, that despite losing most of its western armies in the 1st 5months, managed to increase from approx 2.5million men to 6m by december. It is even said that the germans had lost the war by july 41, because of general slowness & their personel losses around Smolensk. But just looking at the infantry numbers misses the huge importance of the tanks. Forczyk shows how crucially important they were. He shows how the massive numbers of russian infantry were not "guaranteed" victory after July 41, how in fact they had to keep struggling, losing, reforming, until over a year later (end 42) when they finally learnt how to stop a full bloodied german panzer schwerpunkt.
The quality of the belligerents tanks varied greatly; the mass of 10,000 or so russian T26 & BT were practically useless and didnt last long. The new T34 & KVs were simply the best tanks in the world in 1941. The german Pz.3 & 4 were serviceable, but with inferior mobility, armour and guns to the T34/KV. The 1500 or so excellent T34 & KV tanks available at the start of the conflict were nearly all lost due to simple errors: no fuel, no 76mm ammo, crews not trained at all, no spare parts & no one trained in maintenance, no radios, no plan, no orders. The T34 & KV built sfter june41 were so desparately needed to shore up the anti-tank capability of the infantry, that they were nearly all parcelled out in small groups of 5-20, in infantry support roles, not concentrated into larger schwerpunkts where their advantages could overwhelm the panzers. And the hurried deployment meant level of training of russian tankers was still abysmal. This meant the germans could largely deal with the few T34 & KV by using their own few 88mm guns & Stukas.
In 41, both sides infantry were nearly powerless against their opponents tanks. The main Russian Anti tank guns of 4.5cm were useless except point blank aimed at a panzers sides/rear. Most of the very good russian 76mm guns were lost in the opening weeks of battle, largely destroyed by effective combined arms tactics of the Pz Divs, by using airpower and artillery. The new russian infantry divisions, though admirably filled with eager new recruits, were very short of all heavy weapons, and most Divs only had a few 45mm AT guns, and often had no 76mm AT, no AA, and very little artillery. The useful PTRD anti-tank rifle didnt appear until Jan 42, by which time many german tanks were adequately protected by increased 50mm armour. So that left the russian infantry with only petrol bombs and mines to take on the tanks, and whenever the germans managed to concentrate 150+ tanks into a schwerpunkt, their skill at using combined arms tactics to support these tanks meant that they could smash through the russians, and then use mobility to outpace the largely unmechanised russians and surround them. Only when serviceable german tank numbers fell so low in winter 41, were the russians able to triumph. Moscow in Dec 41 wasnt a battle with large tank numbers.
On The german side in 41, the infantry with mostly 3.7cm & a few long 5cm AT guns, and tanks armed with short 3.7cm, 5cm & 7.5cm guns were unable to destroy the russian T34's & KV's, except at suicidal point blank range. (The russian 76mm tank guns could defeat the thickest german 50mm armour at 1500m range, if their poor quality optics could hit the target..) The germans had some hi velocity tungsten shells which were able to defeat the russians upto 500m, but it was only in 42 that decent supplies of these rounds arrived. In feb 42, the germans finally got a hollow-charge round for their Pz.4 & Stug short 7.5cm guns, but this was inherantly innacurrate, and still struggled to destroy a KV1. The germans finally got a decent AT & tank gun with the long 7.5cm gun that appeared in spring 42, but most Pz Divs only had 10-20 tanks so armed. But by the second half of 42, when larger numbers of good russian tanks appeared, the german infantry & tanks could now master them.
Forczyk shows that in 1941, the germans could win whenever they could muster 150+ tanks and supply them. The good russian T34 & KV's werent available in sufficient numbers, but when those few available were well lead, they could stop the germans dead, as at Mtsensk in Oct 41. In 1942 the german tanks had evolved, and could master the russian tanks by using new ammo and longer guns. The Tanks of both sides could be pivotal, THE most important element on the battlefield, and it is important to understand their influence to be able to judge the potential of both sides. This book is of UTMOST importance to understand the eastern front, 1941-2. It redresses the recent vogue of infantry based assumptions that has the germans defeated by august 41, and Forczyk shows how the course of the war wasnt decided until the end of 42.
As a "For instance" to show how precarious the russian position was in 42, if Hitler hadnt meddled in the plans for Blau, and hadnt diverted resources massively towards Stalingrad, the German tanks COULD have reached the oilfields around Grozny/Baku,(or got near enough to bomb them) and wreck those wells. This would have cut 66% of russian crude oil production for at least the 12 months it would take to reopen the wells, and reduced overall production for years (e.g. Maikop didnt produce properly again until into 44). It is hard to imagine that the huge mechanised russian offensives of 43-4 would have been remotely possible with only 33% of their crude oil. What a difference no large russian tank offensives in 43-4 would have made..
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 9 May 2014
I've just finished reading this title. I took it along on a short trip abroad, and it has kept me well entertained. The book describes the early phase of war on the eastern front, but with the focus full on armoured warfare. As such it misses the pure infantry actions, and isn't a complete history of the war in the east. But it doesn't claim to be, so that's allright. It adds something as well though, and that's more detail on the armoured combats during the first year and a half. I noticed this because the author continually gives numbers of tanks involved in armour battles, and specifies them by type. In every order of battle that's mentioned this is repeated, as it is when losses are mentioned. So we're not talking rough numbers, but quite specific numbers of specific types, and on both sides! In the appendices there is a table with tanks available to both sides in 1941 and one for 1942, and there are production tables for both sides for both years as well (listing production per month in each). I think this is a nice level of detail not easily found elsewhere.
The action reads nicely, as the story has a steady pace to it. I found the author did his best to explain the intentions of both sides before each action. He also evaluated the results in a comprehensibe manner, placing them in context, making me understand what the bigger picture was and how these results should be regarded. Inbetween descriptions of battles and campaigns the author isn't afraid to give his opinion of the main protagonists, and I really like it that he sometimes goes against common opinions. I noticed he's no fan of Zhukovs and really likes Vasilevsky. Also he heavily critises Paulus and is praising Model. But he also goes against David Glantz at a certain moment, and I can't say I disagree with his reasoning, so this title adds a new insight for me.
Is it all good news then? Well, not all. If I do have to find something to nag about it is the inconsistent spelling that's prominent in the early to middle sector of the book. The town of Pskov is suddenly called Pleskau (which I know to be the same from German books on the subject), but there's no mention of this in the text. Also the town of Tauroggen is called Taroggen and Taurogen, making it hard to concentrate on the text at times. However, in the overall impression I have of this book after reading, this is of minor importance. I'd therefor recommend the book to any east front and/or armour afficionado, as I'm sure you'll like it and you'll learn something from it.