on 11 June 2011
This is a remarkable though select study of the battle to reach Kursk from the southern salient. Though demanding and requiring your full attention, an enthusiast could read this operational treasure-trove over and over and never tire of it. It was intriguing but also challenging to read about the same engagement from different perspectives; usually two sometimes three different viewpoints discussed. The fighting on the 12th against the LAH and the 18th and 29th Tank Corps was especially involved. The commentary and analysis is superb and will give the reader a better understanding of the campaign. This book is Russian-centric and it spends more time discussing Soviet plans, assaults and manuvers than on the German perspective.
In the introductory chapters, the author describes the political and military situation in spring 1943 when Hitler and his generals were discussing what the summer offensive should be. The Kursk salient was quickly proposed, debated and then chosen over the objections of some key people. On the Soviet side summer planning was also being debated. The second chapter provides the defensive preparations of the Soviet side for the southern half when it was decided to attack only after the German offensive exhausted itself. Due to the importance of Rotmistrov and his 5th GTA in stopping the 2nd SS PzC, the final chapter before combat coverage begins provides a profile of the General and his Tank Army. The author also explains how Rotmistrov and his Army had just arrived in sector from nearly a 200 mile force march and how he had to cobble an attack plan together when he learned Hausser was much closer to Prokhorovka than expected. On the German side, you will read about Hoth's decision to shift the axis of his SS panzer corps from Oboyan to Prokhorovka among other background info.
The fourth chapter is a summary of the 48th PzC action on the western flank through the 9th of July as well as the opening moves of the 2nd SS PzC. (The initial assault by the 48th PzC on the afternoon of July 4th seems to be missing.) A key issue discussed is how the performance of this corps in not reaching the Psel had on the 2nd SS PzC. Another issue that was enjoyed is the terrain features the 48th PzC had to deal with that slowed their advance: The Pena, Vorskla and the Vorsklitsa Rivers and their corresponding swampland were definite deterents. The many fortified villages and hills were an even bigger impediment. The reactions of 1st TA's and 6th GA's attempts to stop the advance are also covered. The strengths of the two rivals are also presented and compared. The Soviets had the advantage in men, tanks, guns, vehicles. The author also emphasizes here and for the rest of book of the timely entry of Soviet reinforcements into battle.
The next 402 pages of this 630 page book revolves around the highly detailed events of the Russian attempts in preventing the 2nd SS PzC from capturing Prokhorovka and the Psel River basin. A good summary of 3rd PzC's drive north and its eventual retreat through 7/16 is also included.
Many key people are mentioned but the discussion details the impact these people's decisions, actions or communications had on the outcome of the battles. While some anecdotal experiences of a strictly personal nature is conveyed, the overwhelming amount of information is operational.
Also included with the narrative are 12 colored maps. These are some of the best maps I've seen though I do have minor criticisms which I'll explain in a minute. Three maps are topographical and show the key villages, rivers and hills that are included in the campaign. The roads are presented but not labeled. The last nine maps are tactical and are broken down in the following manner. The first map shows the German deployment of the Orel and Kursk salients. The next map depicts Vatutin's estimate of the ideal route for the German offensive and succinctly shows Hoth's error in planning the 48th PzC's deployment. The next maps include: the penetration of the first defense line by the 2nd SS on 7/5; the advance of the SS to the Prokhorovka axis on 7/6; combat operations southwest of Prokhorovka on 7/10 and again on 7/11; Kempf's drive through 7/11; combat operations of the Soviet counterattack on 7/12 and the last map concerns Kempf's pullback from 7/13 to 7/16.
These maps are new computer generated color maps that have great eye appeal, many details and are easy to study. The German side is depicted to division level while the Soviet side is shown in corps, division, regiment, brigade level as required. These are some of the most useful maps available but wish there were more maps. While these very detailed maps are the most important, showing the general progress of the SS advance on the 7th, 8th and especially the 9th plus the advance of the 48th PzC would have been very helpful, allowing the reader to graphically see the whole campaign in the south. Though gaining less ground than the other two SS divisions, the deployment of the Das Reich division could have been more extensive.
The topographical maps are also visually appealing and helpful but they are presented in a less than perfect layout with gaps in the terrain. Different mileage scales and orientations increases the confusion. Unless you're an expert or invest a lot of time to study these maps, it will be difficult to take advantage of them. An additional map or two here would have been helpful culminating in a two page layout of the entire southern salient to tie the assortment together would have been nice. Also there are several villages and hills that are discussed in the narrative that are missing on these maps. Most are in 48th PzC sector but since they were mentioned it would have been nice to see them on the maps. The missing includes Gertsovka, Krasnyi Pochinok, Kalinin, Krasnyi Poliana, Kalinovka, Kruglik, Lutovo and especially Novoselovka. Hills missing include 260, 244 and 222. Some of these locations had bitter battle action.
The last chapter which is quite extensive. Besides summation of the campaign, the author deals with the myths and realities of the Campaign and especially on the tank battles of 7/12 that have been generrated over the decades. Mr Zamulin describes the true scale of the separate tank engagements that TK, Das Reich and especially LAH found itself in as they launched their attacks that early Monday morning toward Prokhorovka. They weren't expecting the five+ corps would be attacking them that did prevent them from achieving their objectives. An interesting discussion by the author and several other historians are included on the tank casualties of both sides. The number of operable tanks 5th GTA had weren't as many as some claim but Rotmistrov did lose 80 pct of them in the next couple days. Human casualties for both sides is estimated as well. The importance of the results of this campaign for the rest of the war are also briefly discussed. There are also 34 informative data tables running throughout the book concerning key statistics that will help the reader understand the scope of this campaign. (There is a handy list to help you find the data you need) There are no wild claims; in fact the author downplays the scale of the tank battle but not the importance of 5th GTA arriving in the nick of time.
There are many good photos of the key people from both sides but many more Soviets, as well as battlefield scenes. It was nice attaching a face with a name that you've read about for years. Some of the photos are in color and show the current fields where men died and tanks destroyed in 1943.
Also appreciated is the detailed Orders of Battle that were included. With so many units discussed, it was studied often while reading the book. There is also a competent Notes Section and Bibliography that includes primary and secondary sources. Most entries are Russian related. A helpful Index that will speed your research closes out the book.
Displaying a good understanding of strategy and tactics, Mr Zamulin does an excellent job of explaining the engagements as well as providing the significant results and ramifications of each that will add to the reader's understanding of the campaign. The author explains the terrain features, different defensive belts, why certain days the Germans made good gains and on other days few gains. He also discusses the strategic errors made by Hoth in planning, deployment of his forces and the poor utilization of the new Panther brigade that jeopardized the entire campaign. Vatutin's tactical errors that cost his armies dearly are also explained.
Hundreds of communiques, after action reports, divisional diaries and personal diaries from both sides are blended nicely into the narrative. You'll get a real feel and understanding of what each side was thinking, experiencing.
This is a specialty book that excludes the northern salient and gives only a summary to the 48th PzC and 3rd PzC sectors but its extraordinary when it comes to the 2nd SS PzC's drive toward Prokhorovka and its attempt to control north of the Psel River.
The summary of the resistance and escape of the remnants of 48th RC from the encirclement between the two Donets Rivers when Kempf loosely linked up with Das Reich was also done well as is the attempted encirclement of 48th PzC by the 6th GA and 1st TA from the 12th on.
While trying to judge this book critically, I found only trivial issues to mention. This book is solid, dramatically adds to the knowledge base and would ideally complement the other serious campaign books by Mark Healy, David Glantz and Franz Kurowski and is highly recommended to all Citadel fans.
on 7 November 2011
Zamulin's study of the southern element of the Kursk Campaign is an in-depth study which is not for beginners and I shall return to this point below. However, being very interested in the Russian point of view of the Great Patriotic War, this book highlights the fact that the course of the campaign did not run at all smoothly. Thus giving a clear indication that the Red Army still had a lot to learn even though they ultimately won this campaign. These lesson were still being learned at the highest levels and I had not realised that the senior Red Army command present had to take the risky, but in this case successful, step of deflecting Stalin away from taking too close an interest in how the defence of the southern approaches to Kursk had been undertaken. Zamulin also doesn't lose sight of the German side of the battle and gives some very interesting details from the German point of view. In particular he constructs a strong argument that the almost mythic tank battle at Prokhoroka was not a meeting engagement and that the 5th Guards Tank Army crashed into an enemy which was ready for the attack and well supplied with anti-tank artillery which combined with their own tanks wreaked significant havoc on the attacking Russian tanks. He also makes the point that to focus upon Prokhorovka is to miss the overall dogged defence mounted by the Red Army to blunt the German offensive between the 5 and 15 of July. Finally he makes a good case for the battle not being the largest tank battle of WWII.
There is a wealth of detail in the book and it is essential for the reader to keep a bookmark placed in the map section. It is very easy to get lost in the deatil but I found that most of the time if I referred back to the maps I could keep track of events. However, it should be noted that there are three topographical maps as well as the operational maps. If you can't find a location on the operational maps it pays to check the topographic maps as, in most cases, if they were not to be found on the operational maps, I did find them on the topographic maps.
Two other features I thought were very good. Zamulin has provided a number of colour photographs of the battlesite today. The one which shows the ridge defended by the Red Army where the 3rd SS Panzer Division forced a passage across the River Psel shows exactly what maps fail to show; the ridge might not be particularly high but is clearly a significant obstacle to overcome. Zamulin also includes many photographs of both Red Army Officers which I had not seen before. This was a nice touch as many operational studies mention names without providing a face to the name and I thought this a nice touch. There are a small number of typos on the captions. (p.181 claims the photo dates from 1941 when the officer concerned is wearing the uniform decreed from 1943 onwards) These errors are minimal and it is a rare military history book which gets the captions 100% correct. Most of the action photos (whether posed or not) were also new to me.
Overall, this book was well worth the effort. However, if you are new to the Kursk battle I would recommend you read 'When Titans Clashed' by Glantz/House (to get a very good overview of the Russo German War of 1941-45) and 'The Battle of Kursk' by Glantz & House for an overview of the battle of Kursk before you engage with this book. If you have the time (and money) Zetterling and Frankson's book 'Kursk 1943' and the Soviet General Staff Study (translated by Glantz & Orenstein) are also worth reading; the latter in particular makes an interesting contrast when reading Zamulin.
Overall, there are some faults as noted above, but this is a fantastic labour of love and I look forward with great interest to see this author's treatment of the northern element of the battle when (I hope) it is published.
Robert N. Watt
University of Birmingham, U.K.
on 31 August 2011
This book covers the southern part of Kursk bulge battle of 1943. The book has several good things and several bad ones. I'll address them in turn.
On the plus side.
It covers battle from Soviet side, something few books so far did. At best we were able to see a combination of sides. The closest thing is John Erickson's "Road to Berlin" which suffers from age (not availability of Soviet archieves at that time) and large size so Kursk is given a short attention.
It's quite detailed. While not as detailed as Glantz's works one can picture events at low level enough.
Fresh perspective. As Soviet/Russian archives are opening new documents become available allowing us to reexamine WW2.
Good breakdown of relevant date in various tables.
On the minus side.
Maps are substandard. While they look nice my problem is that they are bunched together toward end of book so you have to switch back and forth. Existing maps are broken down into sections. While this allows us to see individual trees we miss the forest. Map showing initial disposition of forces would be nice as would a map of entire Prokhorovka axis. I wouldn't mind day-to-day break down, not just 12.7. battle. It would be much better to insert them into relevant chapters rather than concentrate them all toward the end.
Proofreading. Several times points (as in hills) are misslabeled on maps/text, couple of times text states "TK" when it's obviously "DR" division, order of battle hasn't proper indents etc.
Absence of analysis of air forces. Author several times points out importance of air power, both German in inflicting losses on Soviets and repeated cases of friendly-fire yet air force performance is absent form final analysis. At least losses should be included.
Overall, highly recomended. Drawbacks can easily be corrected in reprint but I can't give it 5 stars because of it.