This is an interesting book with a somewhat deceptive title. This is not an account of the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, and of the operational events in between. Rather it is an overview of the development of the Red Army from the early 1930s through to 1943, with particular emphasis on the development of its strategy and its operational doctrine. Admittedly Stalingrad and particularly Kursk feature heavily, but only within the wider context.
Jukes presents numerous tables of data, particularly of comparative strengths and losses, to demonstrate the growing strength and competence of the Red Army over the course of the first two years of the war. Much of the information in the book's two-hundred pages is either relatively new or is established information presented with an interesting slant, and it covers topics ranging from Red Army desertion rates to the smoke-and-mirrors world of counter-espionage.
Jukes sets himself the task of addressing what he sees as ten of the most controversial topics of the war on the Eastern Front; such as whether Operation Mars was intended as a strategic diversion. In this regard Jukes uses newly acquired information to draw conclusions that that others might dispute. (For example Jukes uses the fact that Soviet counter-intelligence on 4 November 1942 gave the Germans advance warning of an impending offensive on the Rzhev axis as prime evidence that Operation Mars was never intended to be more than a diversion from the Stalingrad offensive. However Jukes omits to mention that the Germans had been expecting an offensive on the Rzhev axis since the end of October and would have been suspicious of any intelligence source that suggested otherwise).
Readers new to the topic of the war on the Eastern Front, may find this book a little esoteric. Readers already familiar with the issues discussed by Jukes, whether they agree with his conclusions or not, are likely to find the book more than a little thought-provoking.
The author opens his book by asking: "With thousands of books already written on the war, is it really necessary to have another?". His response was an emphatic "Yes". With information seeping out of Russian archives plus the easing of censorship, Russian authors have brought to light a better picture of the war and its advisable to read the new books. Though much of this period is already well documented, the clarity of presentation and the new information delivered plus the myths uncovered and laid to rest makes this book definitely worth the time to read. Mr Jukes was already an acknowledged authority of Russia and the war and this book will clearly add to his legacy. The author has created a list of ten key questions that have been debated since the war and will proceed to answer them throughout his narrative. I won't list all ten but a sample includes: Did the 1937-38 purges decapitate the Red Army in 1941. Was Barbararossa an pre-emptive invasion. Was Operation Mars the primary offensive in 1942 or was Operation Uranus. Who won the tank battles near Prokhorovka. Was American Lend Lease Aid helpful. Besides talking about these questions throughout the book, they will be specifically addressed in the final chapter with his other conclusions.
This study while mentioning some tactical coverage is predominately presented from command level. The main protagonists include Stalin, Zhukov, Vasilevsky, Vatutin and Rokossovsky for the Soviet side and Hitler and von Manstain and to a smaller extent Paulus for the Germans. Zhukov by far has greater coverage than any other and the author presents him in a most favorable view. Even when describing the importance but also the differences of Operation Mars and Operation Uranus, Zhukov is shown as a "brute force" kind of guy but also as insightful and not the instigator of poor planning of Operation Mars as some may think. Mr Jukes' views on Operation Mars are intriguing but may be controversial to some. (Zhukov was promoted to Marshall so Stalin couldn't have been too mad at him.) I won't describe the situation in more detail but Mr Jukes describes the planning and execution of these Operations in good detail and even the more experienced students of the war may learn something new from this discussion.
The first two chapters, which cover 67 pages, presents pre war history of the two countries dating back to the end of the First War and works it way up to the first months of war. It includes the 1920s and early 30s when Hitler and Stalin worked together and moves into the late 30s when both dictators became more aggressive and started annexing countries which igniting suspicion and concern on both sides. It also describes tank theory, the importance of industrial production and the preparations being instituted for war. A comparison of the two armies is made and a judgment that the Red Army was not ready for war being poorly trained and with equipment poorly maintained. Most Russian tanks on the line were light tanks and couldn't hold its own against even the Mk IIIs and were easy prey.
The coverage of the war begins in May 1942 when Timoshenko attempts to retake the Kharkov sector and destroy 6th Army but is defeated from a German counter-offensive and will work its way to Sept 1943 that includes the Soviet offensives that took place after Citadel ended. However the planning, officer influence, results and future impact of the war from the battles of Stalingrad and the relief attempt, in the Rzhev Salient and at Kursk dominate the book. The Soviet attempt of pocketing 1st PzA in the Caucasus, Manstein's retreat from the Don to the Donets are also covered but to a lesser degree. AGN at Leningrad and the fighting in southern Ukraine during Citadel is also mentioned. A brief glimpse of the Soviet advance is extended into early 1944 is also made to show how the disparity of Soviet/German power widen. A brief but interesting discussion and comparison on tank features is also delivered with special attention to the T34 with its evolution of improvements including the more powerful 85mm gun. The author covers a broad spectrum of key issues including tanks destroyed at Kursk and his explanation of strategic planning and the analysis of battle results is noteworthy. There is also coverage of the Axis allies and the invasion of North Africa and Sicily and its impact on Hitler and the war effort in the east. Finland's attitude and posture on invading Russia and on Hitler is brief but well laid out. Intelligent failures and coups are also mentioned.
In addition to the narrative, there are 23 tables, many showing casualties (men and tanks) of different engagements, that add to the overview. A summary table of casualties for all key Soviet engagements was especially interesting; another table shows ground gained of the major offensives. Production figures of weaponry, raw materials and foodstuff are also included. While Mr Jukes is a Russian specialist his balanced criticism of both sides is commendable. While he praises Zhukov and Rokossovsky he criticizes Vatutin at Kursk. Hitler and Manstein are not forgotten either.
There are four general purpose maps, an impressive Source/Notes list, an Index and a small photo gallery. Mr Jukes had diligently studied this period for decades using primary source material as much as possible and this insightful study is the result of that effort. Mr Jukes takes full advantage of this new information coming out of Russia (archival and secondary sources) and provides a clear overview of key events and the key people that shaped those events in this transitional period. Even if you've read about these events before you should still consider reading this book for the narrative is crisp, informative and it will probably include new material for you to learn. Its highly recommended.
Very well written and some telling points about previous histories and myths. Most books about the war on the Eastern front written before the last decade need huge revision anyway as more information comes out. Some of his main themes do bear a lot more investigation, but the two that seem strongest are - Stalins purge; the book argues a very good case that the main problem for the soviets early on was less Stalins purge than the huge army expansion that had just taken place. Secondly the suspicion that soviet intelligence breakthroughs (post stalingrad and the potential captures of 30 odd enigma and other devices) were behind a lot of the early decisions that the Stalin et al made in April in the build up to the Kursk battle do suggest that there are still huge untapped areas of history of the Eastern front waiting to be discovered. Though he does make good points on the Mars/Uranus operations they are not enough to sway the argument completely