23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 19 September 2013
Ms Gerasimova believes the general public is not aware of the scale or the importance of the fighting for the control of the Rzhev-Viazma salient that began in January 1942 as an extension of the Moscow counter offensive and lasted until March 1943 when the Germans skillfully pulled back to shorten the line and to prepare for Operation Citadel.
As an academic and professional historian these series of battles over this 15 month period and the subsequent impact it had on the war has intrigued and obliged her to studied this time period in great detail. This depth of research and dedication shines through with the level of details and commentary presented.
The level of the author's knowledge is not only impressive but is backed up with the inclusion of snippets from other historians as well as comments by notables like Stalin, Zhukov, Vasilevsky, Grossmann, Model, von Tippelskirch etc.
The book has seven chapters; the first six are divided into the separate phases of battle that occurred during this period and the final chapter is conclusions and results. The books begins by explaining the basics: the size and location of the salient, how it came to be as well as the importance of controlling this ground so close to Moscow. This is not a daily battle chronicle which projects constant fighting but an overview of the separate offensives intermixed between relative periods of quiet refit and preparation for the next surge of fighting. For example the very first phase of Soviet fighting that lasted from January to April 1942 was the longest and most costly of the entire period and dwarfs all the other phases including Operation Mars. The next Soviet phase begins to escalate in July though the Germans squeezed in a small counter between these two Soviet offensives.
I've read "Zhukov's Greatest Defeat" by David Glantz so some knowledge of this fighting has been garnered beforehand but I wasn't aware that as many as two million Russians and a quarter that number of Germans were casualties in this epic series of battles to destroy the bulk of Army Group Center.
While the main theme of this book is strategic in nature, both militarily and politically, there is also coverage in broad strokes of the ground events. It was a hectic time with many armies involved covering many attacks and counterattacks. Ground was gained and lost with the next counter. A salient was formed within the larger salient and fighting was occurring in all directions on all fronts. Some anecdotal experiences are also provided to help show the brutality of the fighting within the salient. The Soviet perspective is prevalent though the German side isn't ignored, with key commanders like General Model and key battle facts included. There is greater analysis and criticism of the Soviet side for having a larger force yet couldn't eliminate the salient while the Germans wanted it.
Included are eight colored maps that are some of the best I've seen and will be indispensable in helping the reader follow the give and take action that changed the salient with each passing phase.
In addition to walking the reader through the battle history, the author points out the weaknesses of the Red Army in 1942. Things like poor logistics, consistently not having enough food, ammo, medical supplies weighed heavy on the Russian soldier. Commanders that regularly showed no respect to their troops or poorly trained and or ruthless field commanders that didn't care if they sent their forces to an early grave following an untenable battle plan or a dictator that over extended his resources by insisting on attacking along the whole front so soon after losing so many millions in the fighting of 1941 and giving the Germans a reprieve after being pushed back in December 1941.
I recently finished reading the intriguing "The Viazma Catasttophe, 1941" which covers the brutal fighting in the Viazma cauldron in October 1941 that saw a million Red casualties. The Rzhev Slaughterhouse though formatted differently is a creditable sequel for it shows the Soviet's response to the earlier tragedy as well as Stalin's obsession for revenge and the need to eliminate the large German concentration so close to Moscow. Its an ideal combination that provides insight to this important period of the war.
The last chapter is a summary of key results as well as a brief synopsis of how this important period is still remembered and celebrated by the locals and the country alike. An extensive Notes Section, Bibliography and Appendix are provided if you want to delve deeper. A scattering of statistical tables and a unique photo gallery that covers key officers and battle scenes are also provided.
This is a small book but Ms Gerasimova is efficient and precise and a lot of important ground is covered. The battle history of this period is concisely covered as well as the thoughts and opinions of key people involved in the conflict. The author also includes how the fighting in the Rzhev-Viazma salient also effected the rest of the line at the time as well as its impact on how the rest of the war was prosecuted. The maps are also a key ingredient that will help when reading this book and other related books. I enjoyed it, learned from it and recommend it to all interested students of the Eastern Front.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2014
The Rzhev Slaughterhouse by Svetlana Gerasimova is a fantastic book in many ways. First of all it brings new information to the fighting in the Eastern Front and secondly it presents a very balanced view of the struggle without some of the all to frequent Soviet/Russian "adjustments" to history.
The Book presents a short but comprehensive description on what took place in front of Moscow during 1942 and early 1943. This is a part of the front that for many is a sideshow to the more well known Battle for Stalingrad. Ms Gerasimova shows that what actually took place was a gigantic battle that in some ways were even larger than the Battle of Stalingrad. It is hard to write about a campaign and the battles that took place without getting bogged down in huge number of details but Ms Gerasimova manages this splendidly. Her story is both to the point, clear and still she manages to present details making you understand what took place.
More than two million soviet soldiers became casualties in these battles. The Enormity of it all is staggering. Of course no book can bring full justice to something that big but this one stakes an important first step.
Ms Gerasimova also dares direct criticism to one of the major Soviet heroes of the war, Marshal Zhukov, for his conduct of the battle. This is not the first time this is done but it is done very seldom from a Russian writer. She also brings up how the Soviet forces by using tactics from the first world war (frontal assaults from the same direction again and again) almost by themselves created their own losses. Some of the personal stories that she tells are such that you have to ask yourself how it was possible. One example is a rifle company that attacked a German position and everybody in the company was killed except one soldier. The Russians killed him themselves after the battle since they claimed that he had fled the battlefield!
The Book has a lot of photos and also a number of good maps.
I hope that Ms Gerasimova will return with more books on the Eastern Front battles. I will buy and read them.
on 20 April 2015
I've read a history of the Battle of Moscow, in which it was plain that Hitler, in failing to take Moscow in December 1941 and thus knock the Soviet Union out, had lost the war. The mopping up by the Allies took a painful 42 months. The Battle of Moscow cost about 2.5 million casualties, mostly Russian, as the defenders threw everyone to hand into the battle.
After Moscow, the Wehrmacht's Army Group Centre was left occupying a salient running from Rzhev in the north to Vyazma in the south, 150 to 200km west of Moscow, and this book details what was largely left out of history by the Soviet Union. In early 1942, Tsar Stalin told General Zhukov that he wanted an offensive to drive the Germans away from Moscow, and the debacle began. Zhukov failed to persuade Stalin to delay the offensive (knowing that the troops were exhausted) and so the attacks began. The Germans had dug in, and so if a frontal attack on their strongpoint failed and attacking regiment was wiped out, the Russians just sent in another regiment, and then another... Plenty more men where they came from. Tanks without radios, and so without Command and Control, sent off to do their own thing and usually die? The factories will send us more.
Armchair generals know that you don't send tanks into action unsupported by infantry, but the Russian generals didn't learn this. If the frontal infantry assault didn't work, can we attack from the flank? No-one bothered to think laterally! The book is a horrific tale of fifteen months incompetence by amateur officers learning on the job, much of which is still undocumented because the Kremlin still hasn't declassified all the Soviet Union's WW2 era files! The author estimates Russian casualties at two million, and German casualties at 350 - 400,000, a similar butcher's bill to the Battle of Moscow. Eventually, the successful Russian campaign to re-take Stalingrad enabled the German generals to persuade Hitler to allow them to withdraw from the salient; at least the Red Army in the south learnt from its mistakes.
It's well worth reading.
on 18 May 2015
This is not a specific military history examining in depth each combat. It is however a superbly created reference that amply and graphically describes the horror of "Verdun on the Volga" as it were. With carefully considered text discussing the almost unbelievable sacrifice from both the Soviet and Axis forces deployed around this critical area, this book illuminates, informs, and horrifies in equal measure.
No student of the Nazi/Soviet war should be without this book, and it come highly recommended by me. My heart broke when considering some of the scenes described in the book. Read it as I cannot do justice to this title.