Top positive review
9 people found this helpful
A very good, well illustrated book, with some minor glitches
on 26 April 2008
I must say that I really liked this book and I warmly recommand it to all those who are interested in WW II and especially the Eastern Front. It gives a relly clear, interesting and complete description of this great and still not well known battle.
For me personally it also was an occasion to clear the picture of this battle in my mind, because I had many occasions to hear and read about it, but from unreliable sources. How come? Well, unlike the previous reviewers I grew up in a communist country and when I was a child, at school we heard a lot about the "heroic defense of Sevastopol by Red Army". In the 70s, the official soviet propaganda was focusing a lot on this campaign, because the soviet ruler in this time (Brezhnev) took part in fighting in Crimea, although later, in 1943, during the operations which are beyond the scope of this book. Nevertheless, for Soviet propaganda in 70s, all battles on Crimea during WW II were a "cool" topic, because by focusing the attention on the campaigns waged there, it was possible to increase ipso facto the importance of Brezhnev's achievements during the Great Patriotic War.
Clearly however we were not told about some of the important episodes, very unconfortable for the Soviet regime - and they are all very clearly and precisely described by Robert Forczyk in this book. Three of them seem to be the most important:
- the astonishing Von Manstein victory during operation "Trappenjagd" (8-21 May 1942), when he recaptured all the Soviet bridgeheads in the eastern part of Crimea (Feodosiya and Kerch), destroying totally 9 out of the 18 divisions of Crimean Front and forcing the rest to an evacuation, in which all the artillery and armor were lost. In books published in communist countries until 1989 this battle was simply ommitted
- the way in which on 29 June 1942 Germans managed to breach the last and the most important line of defences of Sevastopol, at the last moment before their air support was recalled to other duties. The fact that it was done by an extremely daring (and very risky) nightly naval landing, using only relatively small and vulnerable landing crafts against an easily defensible position as well as the fact that Soviets were caught totally "with their pants down" on this occasion, all of that was totally dissimulated in official history during the communist times. Even more important is that if this German attack have failed, Sevastopol would probably hold and never be taken...
- the escape of top level commanders and communist party officials, including admiral Oktyabrsky and general Petrov, on 1 July 1942 when in the same time soldiers were ordered to fight until the end and die rather than surrender; this was totally occulted before 1989
This is a relly good book and you will not regret buying it. As for things that could be improved, I have only minor remarks.
The first one concerns the air and naval operations. Robert Forczyk described both of them very well, but surprisingly slipped on two important points. The magnificent soviet destroyer "Tashkent" (nicknamed "The Blue Cruiser", because of her hull colour, size and firepower) which made more runs to Sevastopol than any other warship during this siege, is shown twice on pictures (and desservedly so), but NO mention is made, that on 28 June 1942 Luftwaffe finally got her - she managed to make it to Novorossiysk, but finally sank there on 2 July 1942 and was declared a total loss. Also, author mentions that the cruiser "Chervona Ukraina" was "crippled with three bombs" by Luftwaffe on 12 November 1941, which is confusing - in fact "Chervona Ukraina" was more than cripled, she was sunk. And that is an important point because a) it was the only Soviet cruiser lost in WW II b) it was the biggest loss of Soviet Black Sea Navy in all the war and c) it was the second most serious loss of all Soviet Navy in all WW II (the first being of course the sinking of battleship "Marat" at Krondstadt on 23 September 1941).
The second remark concerns the use by Germans of the giant 800 mm rail guns "Dora" and "Gustav". Author is perfectly right in describing the failure of those gargantuan contraptions to achieve expected results, mainly because of the poor choice of targets. However, by trying to deny them any sucesses at all, I believe he went a little bit too far. It is commonly accepted that the ONLY real success in all the career of those two monstrous guns was the destruction of the White Cliff ammunition dump next to Fort Maxim Gorky I. German accounts describe an explosion so huge, that a small coastal freighter coming at that moment out of Sevastopol bay sunk because of it. Author however explains doubt, writing about the destruction of White Cliff ammunition dump "claim that may be exaggerated". This statement is very problematic, because not only it goes against the generally admitted story, but it contains also a logical problem - it is very hard to exaggerate the destruction of an ammunition dump... If it is not hit, then it is not hit. You missed, period. But once it is hit, it usually makes a really BIG "Kaboooom!!!" and then it is hard to exaggerate the claim of destruction, considering that the only thing left is a hole in the ground...
Finally, there is the point about the soviet guerillas on Crimean Peninsula after the fall of Sevastopol. Author states very strongly, that the Soviet claim, that some garrison soldiers took to the hills and became guerillas, "simply is not true". Well, on that one I am not so certain. Of course, as I already wrote above, I am quite familiar with soviet propaganda exaggerations, but on another hand there is no doubt, that in 1942 soviet soldiers would try really strong not to get captured if they had an occasion to do so, especially considering, that many units defending Sevastopol (especially naval regiments) shown proof of exceptional fighting spirit. In the chaos which always accompanies the fall of a great fortress with a strong garrison, some elements always will find an occasion to slip through the net - and Soviet soldiers were strongly motivated to do it, because they already knew well how horrible can be their fate in German captivity... Then also, it is widely known that Soviet soldiers tried to oppose Germans EVERYWHERE, and those who escaped the captivity could form (or join) guerillas in the most unexpected places... one of them being Yougoslavia, where Tito had a Soviet batallion formed only with escaped prisoners. The existence of a guerilla group in quarries and catacumbs (!) of Odessa under German occupation between 1941 and 1944 is also a well documented fact... Also, a couple of pages later, author gives an information that contradicts his statement, describing the two following years of German presence in Crimea as a long killing spree by SS and Police troops under SS-Gruppenfuhrer Ludolf von Alvesleben - well, that hardly supports the idea of an unopposed occupation... Not willing to succumb to the old communist propaganda, I read a little too much about the existence of soviet guerillas in Crimea between 1942 and 1944 to totally discard the fact of their existence. I am however all willing to accept that their actions were little more than a nuisance.
Those three minor points notwithstanding, I liked this book very much and I am certain every WW II passionate will find it precious.