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Demolishing the Myth in Style,
This review is from: Demolishing the Myth. The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943: An Operational Narrative (Hardcover)
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.