on 26 November 2011
This has been a good year for Operation Citadel fans for three good books have been published. Mr Nipe's is the last book published and its one of the best that I've read. It competes quite well with Zamulin's "Demolishing the Myth" (= Myth), though Nipe's book is from the German perspective and Zamulin the Soviet perspective. The comparison gets even better for both authors choose to concentrate on the 2nd PzC. Nipe takes the offensive side of the SS Corps while Zamulin handles the defensive side where the Soviets try to stop the SS. I've only had the Nipe book a short while but I've read numerous engagements of fortified hills and villages that are common to both books. I can already tell that the coverage of both books are very good and reach near equality with each other. I intend to acquaint myself with "Blood, Steel and Myth" (= Steel) on a much closer basis before I seriously compare the two books on overall coverage and understandability.
"Steel", which has the same outside dimensions as "Last Victory in Russia" but has an additional 118 pages, opens with two introductory chapters which describes the legacy of Stalingrad, describing the losses the Germans suffered while they were forced back to the Donets River. You also learn about the Soviet Armies that did the pushing and which ones will ultimately be confronted in the summer. The second chapter details the officers and men of the three divisions making up the 2nd SS PzC. Some of the strengths and weaknesses are discussed among many other topics like preparations and deployments. The section was good but the Soviet General Staff Study translated by Glantz is more complete on the Soviet side in this area of prep and deployment. Special attention on the German side reminds the reader that German forces had still not fully recovered from earlier fighting in the year and that their panzer divisions were far from established levels. Hausser had far less than the 1000 or more panzers and assault guns legend claims he had. Hitler made things worse for Hoth when the dictator gave a battalion of Ferdinands to Model that were slated for the south.
On the Soviet side, it emphasized how the Red Army had greatly improved and enlarged their tank assets since 1941 along with having some of the toughest officers around. They would be going into this German offensive with a large plurality in tanks, guns and men. The fact that the Soviets had months to prepare defenses also tipped the advantage to the Soviet side. These chapters will give readers a decent backdrop when the campaign starts.
The rest of the book covers the fighting and is divided by chapters for each day. The daily events are usually broken down by hour as well so the reader can have a clearer perception of battle events. It starts on 7/4 and ends on 7/17. This book has greater coverage than what the subtitle implies for the author does provide a daily summary of the activity of 48th PzC and 3rd PzC which provided flank protection for 2nd SS PzC which turned out to be the primary spearhead. Each key division has its own section in the chapter; Mr Nipe is trying to make this book, with all its many facets, as easy as possible to follow. This book is easier to follow than "Myth" and the Kursk book by David Glantz though thats a very good book also.
Much of the time the engagements are discussed at division/regiment level but in a few instances battalion or even company level is covered. Much of the book covers the ground action but coverage of the air operations for both sides are also included.
Though this book is German centric, Soviet defenses and deployments are well covered but not to the same depth as the German side. You will know which rifle division or tank brigade or corps the Germans are going up against. You'll also learn other things like why 7th GA put up such strong resistance against 3rd PzC. The level of detail is comparable to the author's two earlier works. Mr Nipe does a nice job describing the operational movements and engagements as well as the targets and objectives. Key officers and men are also mentioned for the contributions made in leadership or bravery to each specific engagement. Strachwitz, Peiper, Wittmann, Frey and many others are discussed.
As the story of the offensive unfolds, the author sometimes pauses his narrative to discuss and explode myths, misconceptions and falsehoods that have evolved over the decades. Items like how many and types of panzers the SS Corps had. When it was decided and why the SS turned toward Prokhorovka or the number of tanks the 5th GTA and the SS deployed on the 12th and how many were destroyed. Issues concerning 24th PzC and the number of panzers it had and why it never fell under Hoth's control are also covered.
One issue that was covered in "Myth" but not here is the pros and cons of the route chosen for 48th PzC and the new Panther Brigade that was having mechanical trouble even before starting the campaign. The rugged and sometimes marshy terrain in Vorskla/Pena River sectors was a bad choice for a Panzer Corps and especially with nearly 200 Panthers having transmission problems. Vatutin expected a heavier response from the Germans east of the Donets which had better lanes to travel for panzers.
Quotes from prominent historians like David Glantz as well as fragments from primary documents are interspersed throughout the book. These sidebars, which are usually more operational in nature than personal, are helpful but are not as plentiful or as personal as you'll find in "Myth".
In the final chapter, "Myths and Conclusions" among other issues points out and destroys the myths that have grown in popularity. He also compares the Reserves that were available for both sides. The Germans, in reality, didn't have reserves while Vatutin could fall back on Konev's Steppe Front. Konev still had four armies, four corps and an Air Army left which could have been used if Prokhorovka had fallen to LAH. That never happened so Konev's forces were used on the major counteroffensive.
There are 11 gray maps. Four maps are double page so you may consider 15 maps in all. There is a map for each day for 48th PzC and 2nd SS PzC. These maps are large and cover not the entire battle range but just a little more than just the area of that day's advance. These maps carry almost all of the key hills and villages discussed in the narrative as well as the key deployments for both sides. These are some of the best and most useful maps you'll find. They will help you follow the tactical progress of the offensive as well as helping the reader determine where the hard fighting centers were situated which were along the defensive belts that were built prior to the offensive. For some reason the 3rd PzC had minimal coverage on these maps. The areas of Shakhovo and Rzhavets were incomplete. "Demolishing the Myth" has a good map of 3rd PzC advancement. I had a little trouble reading the German spellings but it does appear that several key villages located along the southern bank of the Psel that TK had to capture were missing. In this instance, "Myth" maps can supply those villages. You will find that both books have areas of coverage that will supplement the other book at times and is a good reason to have both books if you're an avid fan of the campaign.
There are 312 photos and the gallery is excellent in showing key German officers, soldiers, panzers and battlefield destruction.
The Appendix is also noteworthy for its useful information. It includes an abbreviated Order of Battle for both sides (Myth's OBs is better), panzer breakdown by division and type, SS Division organization, a Panther profile, German casualties, and mini profiles of 58 SS officers who fought in the operation. It closes with a Glossary and Rank Compairson. End Notes and a Bibliograpy of Primary and Secondary sources are included. The Bibliography is not as lengthy as I imagined but its replete with noted historians. A useful Index completes the book.
Mr Nipe has spent years studying the critical battles in the sectors north and south of Kursk and his three books are excellent examples of that hard work. For approximately eight months of 1943, the author covers the critical battles at Kharkov early in the year and follows that with his latest book in the southern Kursk salient. His third book covers the important German defensive in the Mius/Mearla Rivers sector, south of Kharkov, of late July, August period which was a critical period after Citadel was canceled. The combined trilogy is most informative and insightful to the serious student.
Mr Nipe's new book, even though some of the "new", myth busting information presented had already been discussed by Zamulin and Lloyd Clark in their new books, presents an overall nice package that includes pertinent operational historiography that's easy to follow, helpful maps and great photos. This would make a solid learning tool and great collector item for all Citadel fans and is highly recommended.
on 16 March 2014
Just one comment to add to the excellent reviews of this work that have already been written, so really no need to elaborate on them further.
The fact, now well attested, that Stalin and Stavka knew every detail of the German Plan for Citadel almost immediatelt after it had been finalised and decided upon, and well before any of the German field commanders knew about it, should be borne in mind when reading any account of Citadel. The Soviet intel network in the 3rd Reich made this battle significant only in one respect; that it was in practical terms the swan song of both the Wehrmacht in Russia and the Waffen-SS in Russia. Th Germans lost huge amounts of irreplaceable men and material for ultimately no good reason. And it was for the Soviets the springboard that eventually, 18 months later took them into Germany, with the Wehrmacht collapsing all around them. The fact also that Hitler cut this campaign short in order to withdraw units to deal with developments in Italy, seems to reflect how desperate the 3rd Reich's situation had become even by then.
I think it is important to understand the wider significance of Citadel even while the reader enjoys the detail in this well written and researched publication.
on 4 November 2013
I say half of the story because I think this book should be read as a companion to "Demolishing the Myth" by Valeriy Zamulin. This titanic battle is still in living memory and passions are still there, and will be for years to come. It is too soon to write an accurate and disspasionate account of this battle, as it is of the war in general. Generations must die and more honest evaluations made by those for whom these events have no living connection or emotion. However, what we have here is a stunning account of the Prokhorovka battle from the German side, and it is clear that Nipe is on their side. His book moves the story on from that of others before him, including the excellent book on the battle by Glantz. After reading this book you come away thinking you know everything there is to know, and from the German perspective you probably do. Though as I said, it is the German perspective only and that should not be forgotten. I think the perfect book on the Prokhorovka battle would be a fusion of this book and that of Zamulin, which I think is the more balanced of the two.
A word on the book description that too much about this battle has been from the Soviet side. This is nonsense, there has been far too much from the German side over the years. The cold war and what I call the "Sven Hassel syndrome" being responsible for this. A major reason has also been the excessive secrecy from the Soviet side. But since 1991, gradually the war diaries have been released allowing a much clearer picture to emerge, particulary about Stalingrad. To me, Beevor's book, while excellent, is out of date because the war diaries of 62nd Army and the personal accounts of Chuikov and his cheif of staff have been released since Beevor's book was published.
on 23 November 2013
This book does exactly what it states. It is an in depth look at 2SSPz Corps during the battle of Kursk, in doing so it exposes several myths about the performance of the German army and the number of tanks that fought and were destroyed on the battlefield. That said it also balances out with enough info on the lead up, the flanks and the Soviets side of the battle. A great read full of photos and offering a unique perspective.