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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Remarkable Book Scrupulously Researched, 2 July 2013
By 
Dave History Student - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Viazma Catastrophe, 1941. The Red Army's Disastrous Stand against Operation Typhoon. (Hardcover)
This is a remarkable though select study of the initial battles of Operation Typhoon. 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 commentary and analysis is superb and will give the reader a better understanding of the campaign. Though this book covers both sides, it is Russian-centric and it spends more time discussing Soviet plans, assaults and maneuvers than on the German perspective.

This very sentiment was first expressed nearly two years ago when describing "Demolishing the Myth" by Valeriy Zamulin but it also exactly describes "The Viazma Catastrophe, 1941" for the two books and authors have many comparable attributes: both authors spent many years researching, verifying material and writing their books; both researchers had access to material not readily available to the public; both authors have a firm grasp of tactics and can express battlefield operations succinctly as well as analyze the results of those battlefield actions. Both authors can also empathize with the key commanders and can describe accurately the thoughts and motives of those commanders as they prosecute the battle; they also have the ability to hunt down and assemble material from different sources describing the same event or happenstance, allowing the reader to have a more well rounded experience. Both books were also translated by the same person, Stuart Britton, and he did a marvelous job of converting a complex Russian text into an enjoyable, understandable English narrative.

The book begins not in October but on June 22nd with the invasion of the Soviet Union. This brief overview describes the strategic advantages the Germans had at the beginning and garnered over the first few days of the invasion. It also covers the unpreparedness of the Red army and its front line defenses as well as the inability to cope with the scale and voracity of the attack all along the line, even if they were better prepared. Coverage then jumps to August where the Soviets begin to slow the Germans along the Dukhovshchina-Elina line with a number of fanatical counter-attacks, culminating in reducing the Elnia salient.

With the stage set, Chapter three begins the actual coverage of Operation Typhoon when Guderian's 2nd PzG launches in the last days of September in the general northeast direction between Briansk and Orel against the tired Bryansk Front commanded by General Eremenko. In the opening pages of this chapter, the disposition of enemy forces are disclosed with intended objectives enumerated. Colonel Lopukhovsky, using primary records of both sides then recreates the move by move process by which German armored spearheads smash through Soviet lines, foiling every major attempt of Eremenko in stopping the blitzkrieg. An explanation is provided for practically every decision and order covered. This format is seen throughout the entire book. The coverage is so good, so personal that you get a true feeling how desperate Eremenko felt when he had to deliver a situation report to Stalin, lying to save himself from execution. This empathy lasts throughout the remaining nearly 350 pages of the campaign as the pockets at Viazma and Briansk are erected and the trapped men fight fanatically for their survival. It was in a Viazma pocket that the author lost his dad and was the primary motive for researching this campaign; this campaign was very personal to the author and it shows.

Interjecting excerpts from war and personal diaries, orders, communiques and phone conversations the author supports his commentary as well as making the story more interesting. This empathy lasts throughout the remaining nearly 350 pages of the campaign as the pockets at Viazma and Briansk are erected and the trapped men fight fanatically for their survival. It was in a Viazma pocket that the author lost his dad and was the primary motive for researching this campaign; this campaign was very personal to the author and it shows.

In the closing pages of the book a discussion is made of the human costs of the initial weeks of this campaign to the Soviets. The calculations are dizzying and the results are not 100% conclusive but latest estimates are that even with as many as 200,000 soldiers avoiding entrapment that approximately 900,000 Soviets were killed, wounded or imprisoned. German casualties are then discussed; while the numbers are much less, they're still considerable. The author then extends his thinking on how these huge losses impacted the fighting closer to Moscow in November and how the Soviets were able to go on the offensive in early December.

In addition to the excellent narrative, the author provides an excellent map set that includes 19 well chosen tactical color maps that are chronologically displayed. The first maps include the difficult fighting along the Smolensk line of August and the counter-attack of the Elnia salient. The remaining maps cover the key attack sectors of Operation Typhoon through mid October. The maps support the text well and add considerably to the overall value of the book. The author includes map pointers to allow the reader to quickly find the right map though this feature could have been more liberally used. I personally would have liked to have seen one additional map. It would be a topographical map that was heavily populated with towns and villages; this map would aid the reader in following the battle action better when the combatants were fighting through small towns. There were a few instances where the capture of small towns were discussed but couldn't be followed easily because they were missing from the maps. I admit my obsession to this mapping feature; it shouldn't be a major problem for most readers.

Besides the maps a photo gallery of nearly 60 photos shows key officers as well as some battle scenes.
Another useful feature in addition to the seven tables running throughout the narrative is a 20 part Appendix that includes comparative strengths of different categories, various losses sustained as well as key documents and orders pertinent to this campaign. There is also a German Unit Organization description but no Order of Battle.
The book closes with a competent Notes Section, Bibliography and Index.

For anybody who likes to read a detailed operational study on the order of a Glantz or Zamulin presentation then this book should definitely be considered. In fact this book would be the perfect extension to David Glantz's two volume set, "Barbarossa Derailed". Its a great read, highly detailed and highly recommended.
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