Top positive review
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Mixed feelings, still interesting
on 8 March 2011
Like the other reviewer of this title I'm a great fan of Mr. Glantz's work. For me his best book was Zhukov's Greatest Defeat, where Mr. Glantz does very well what he's so good at: describing a major operation in great detail, but in a compelling manner. It therefore makes me a tad sad that I cannot give this title the full five stars. I have a number of reasons for that, that I'll try to clarify by comparing this title with Zhukov's Greatest Defeat.
The first thing I want to mention is that this book is the first I know of to deal with the earliest part of Barbarossa in this level of detail. The focus is mainly on the Soviet side, and this is really new. What I feel comes across is that the Soviets fight according to a plan. The problem is that their forces don't have the quality they need, so they regularly fail to obey orders (or they are defeated). The underlying plan is to separate the Panzer spearheads from the bulk of the German infantry divisions, so they can be fought on something of equal terms. In this manner the most powerful elements of the German army can be weakened, giving the Soviet state more chance for survival later on. This plan is nothing new, though, as I've known this for over ten years. What's new is the way you get to see Timoshenko in action to make the plan work. This is great.
The trouble is you'll have to put some real effort into doing this, as the narrative is continually interrupted by daily reports from commanders. This breaks up the storyline and makes reading the book difficult. This is also the main difference between Zhukov's Greatest Defeat and this title. In the first title Mr. Glantz digested all these daily reports himself and made them a part of the story. This translates into an exiting read where you can easily follow what's going on. In the Smolensk title he no longer does this, and leaves it to you, the reader, to do this. This is the major reason I can't give the book five stars. I feel this approach has to do with the speed with wich Mr. Glantz is publishing books at the moment. This book feels somewhat rushed into publication. I've also noted this in the number of errors I encountered (like stating that Nevel' is 26 kilometers south of Leningrad). The book would have been worth five stars if the reports were not included literally, but worked into the text.
Two other issues are worth mentioning. The first is that I noticed that going down into the minute details of day to day operations has some risks. I first noticed this in Mr. Glantz's Stalingrad Trilogy, but it happened to me here also. By going down to the lowest level of combat and by dealing with them from day to day, or hour to hour, I often got drawn into the story so much that I lost sight of the bigger picture. So it can happen that you read of Soviet success after success, only to find that at the end of a couple of days fighting (and after reading perhaps a few dozen pages), the Soviets are defeated. This then came to me as a major surprise (and perhaps to the Soviets at the time as well). What I mean is that you have to make an effort yourself to keep the big picture in the back of your mind while reading the text, or you run the risk of losing sight of it.
The other issue I have to mention concerns the maps. Mr. Glantz has access to numerous maps, that show troop locations on a day to day basis in great detail. These are in themselves great sources of information. The trouble is that these maps are included in most of the books in photocopy quality. This means the print is grainy, and a lot of detail is lost. It then takes a lot of effort from the reader to make some sense of them. I've found myself redrawing some of them in colour, just to clarify the situation. This also is a problem that occurs in most of the titles Mr. Glantz publishes.
Now, do the above comments mean I don't like this book? No. I can say that I still like the title very much, like I did the Stalingrad trilogy. I just wanted the book to be written more in the style of Zhukov's Greatest Defeat, with clearer maps. Including the daily reports and daily orders separately as reference material would to me have been a more charming approach, where the storyline would be fluent, but the reader still had access to the reports. What's here now, however, is still very interesting and certainly adds to my knowledge of the early period of Barbarossa. This is especially so because this is the first time I've seen this period covered from the Soviet side, let alone at this level of detail. So if you can accept the above limitations and have an interest in Barbarossa, I do feel you should consider this title.