41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
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"BARBAROSSA DERAILED: THE BATTLE FOR SMOLENSK 10 JULY-10 SEPTEMBER 1941 VOLUME 1: The German Advance, The Encirclement Battle, and the First and Second Soviet Counteroffensives, 10 July-24 August 1941", by historian David Glantz, is his latest work on the eastern front, this time covering the complex battles in and around Smolensk. This is the first volume of a planned four volume effort, with volume two to cover the German offensives on the flanks and the third Soviet counteroffensive from 25 August-10 September 1941. Volume 3 will be literal translations of specific orders and reports, while volume 4, if published, will consist of maps, archival and otherwise, with hopefully some in color.
The study begins by briefly covering the fighting on the Eastern Front up to 10 July and providing the strategic plans for both sides. The detailed coverage basically begins on 10 July, with the Germans advancing towards Smolensk. As the campaign progresses, and in addition to describing and analyzing the on-going combat and tactical situation for both sides, Mr Glantz provides actual orders, communiqués, and unit diary entries down to the divisional level (sometimes paraphrased) to show what the units and commanders were actually thinking, what their morale was, what orders they gave/received, and how they played out. This adds greatly to one's understanding of the complete picture of the campaign, but it also adds a lot of complexity to the book. But nothing in life comes free. Volume one also includes a lot of maps, and using them as you read along is critical to understanding what is happening. Some of the maps are almost too small or "smudged" to be readable, but they're generally adequate for their purpose. (Hopefully bigger and better maps will be included in volume four.) Volume one basically takes you up 24 August 1941, which is where volume 2 should begin.
If you're never read a book by Mr Glantz and are not a somewhat serious World War II buff, this probably isn't the book you should start with. In his preface, Mr Glantz says that this work should be studied and read, which is the right way to approach this book. Mr Glantz is "the" foremost expert on the Soviet side of World War II, and is probably first and foremost a serious historian and secondarily a writer, so his books typically contain very little "I was there" sort of anecdotes, and are not easy reads.
I own the majority of Mr Glantz's books. A criticism of some of his earlier works was that he relied too much on Soviet sources, and that by relying primarily on Soviet sources, some of his facts and analysis could have the same type of inaccuracies as those works that relied primarily on German sources. However, Mr Glantz has incorporated more and more German sources into his books, and his more recent works contain large (or should I say massive) amounts of archival data from both sides. While in my opinion Mr Glantz remains slightly skewed toward the Soviet point of view, much the way that most American Civil War authors marginally favor either the North or the South position, I do not feel this mild bias impacts his presentation and expert analysis. (Most, if not all, World War II authors also do the same.)
This is a very hard book to rate. Mr Glantz provides information, data, and analysis that you cannot get anywhere else, and his access to and utilization of the former Soviet archives is literally second to none. If you're a serious World War II history buff, you must have his books on your shelf regardless of whether or not you agree with his analysis and conclusions. However, you'll often have to work hard for what you get. I have to admit that while I own most of Mr Glantz's books, I haven't finished all of them, as sometimes his writing is too dry or takes too much effort for what to me is just a pleasurable hobby. However his books are indispensible in getting a clear view of operations from the Soviet side, and I'll keep buying them as long as he keeps writing them. I give the book four stars, and highly recommend it to the grognards among us.
57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
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This is the first of a two part series covering the strategically important battles for control of the Dvina-Dnepr River defense zone which includes Smolensk, the important communication center and gateway to Moscow. Smolensk, on the Dnepr, and the surrounding area that is bracketed by Velikie Luki / Toropets to the north and Krichev / Roslavl to the south is the primary battle zone.
This is the area Stalin, with the help of his new reserve armies, wanted to stop and destroy AGC led by Guderian's 2nd PzG and Hoth's 3rd PzG and supported by the 9th, 4th and 2nd Armies. Though having greater manpower, the Red Army had fewer modern tanks to stop the panzers but the lack of T-34s was compensated for by effective artillery. Involved with their fragmented defense and the eventual counter offensives would be the Western, Reserve, Bryansk and Central Fronts.
Along with the above background info, Mr Glantz describes prewar doctrine, the plans for Operation Barbarossa, lists opposing forces, casualties to date, and the disadvantages the Germans would face in Russia then highlights the phenomenal advance of the Panzer Groups in the first weeks of war before starting the battle action. Stalin's plans to stop the Germans at the Rivers with his reserves is then discussed. This preamble is not only interesting but an imperative for most of us. In addition to the big picture, the ebb and flow of the daily sometimes hourly maneuverings will be presented through sitreps with the thoughts, concerns and reactions of the key commanders as they counter the enemy's advance. I find this coverage of this micro planning process most engaging, making the battle more real, personal but the author takes this practice to the limit. Any more of these reports and it would overpower his own narrative.
The main coverage begins on July 10th as the Germans were advancing on the key towns of Vitebsk, Orsha, Mogilev near the Dnepr River and will continue until August 24th. By that time the city of Smolensk and parts of the surrounding area had been captured but there is much left to do to secure the surrounding areas around the important towns of Yartsevo, Yelnya, Roslavl as well as liquidating the surviving pockets before diverting to Kiev. The tactical description is very good. Units of both sides are included as is the impact of terrain and weather conditions, logistics or if artillery was involved.
The author will show in his usual competent style, backed by diary entries and situation reports of all levels the operational details, usually down to division level, of these horrific battles that would cost both sides severely. Especially noteworthy is the coverage of the siege of Mogilev, closing the Smolensk pocket and the fanatical fighting in the Solovevo corridor. Also important is the Velikie Luki Counter, the assault on Geyr's 24th PzC, the Timoshenko's Offensive of 7/23, the Counter at Yelnya and the Dukhovshchina Offensive in mid August to name just a few. The Russians made little gains for their trouble but inflicted high casualties and demoralized the German forces. It gave Stalin time to form more armies to protect Moscow. The Russian resistance was so severe, it persuaded Hitler to go after easier prey on the flanks and had AGC slow the offensive in the center (Directives 33, 34) and sent Hoth north and Guderian to Kiev to help AGS.
Besides good coverage of the command decisions of Hoth and Guderian, the author also discusses Kluge, Bock, Weichs and Strauss as well as Timoshenko, Rokossovsky, Zhukov, Lukin, Kachalov, Kurochkin, Yeremenko and Konev on the Soviet side. Prior to the actual battle, the author presents the plans of the offensive giving the reader a better understanding of how the battle is to be prosecuted. Using communiques from dictators to the battlefield, Stalin's obsession to always attack and Hitler's impatience, indecision and changes in objectives is well covered. Its interesting to watch Hitler and Halder go from highly confident to seriously concern as the German war machine gets shredded. Hitler realizes the Soviets were far from vanquished and at a time when his panzer strength was at its lowest level and their supply lines the longest.
In addition to the extensive ground coverage, Mr Glantz also provides poignant analysis and conclusions throughout the book to help the reader gain a fuller appreciation of the battle action and the ramifications that will emerge from those battles. Some of his conclusions are: the Germans had tactical momentum but the price they were paying for their gains was too high and was unsustainable. Besides the lengthy delay and high casualties, supplies were exhausted, the panzers and trucks that remain were worn out and in need of major repairs. These shortages so early in the war would not bode well as the war stretches beyond the limits of Barbarossa. Both 3rd and 2nd PzGs, besides needing time to refit, had been delayed in redeploying to the flanks to help take Leningrad and Kiev respectively. As AGC moved further east the front line expanded, placing greater strain on its forces not to mention the ever growing supply lines.
The German command were arguing terribly and losing cohesion among themselves over the current battle and the plans for Moscow regarding diverting to Kiev. The German Command was clearly irrational, desperate; their forces were exhausted and poorly supplied, machinery poorly maintained and the rainy season and then winter fast approaching. Hitler and his generals were well aware of how Napoleon lost his Army in 1812 but they ignored all logic and history and pursued the impossible dream: Moscow. Its also pointed out that by August with German over-extension and with panzer divisions at less than half strength if Timoshenko had better communications, coordination and logistics with his armies, the German losses would have been greater. With Mr Glantz's level of detail and insight, the ramifications of this battle was having on both sides is clearly spelled out. In the final concise "Conclusion" chapter, the author hints at what is to come in the second volume due to Hitler's decision to move his armor to the flanks.
The many maps show the daily progress of the German pincers slowly, hypnotically closing around the Soviet armies near Smolensk. Maps for August show the little progress at the line that includes Yartsevo, Yelnya and Roslavl. The key cities and rivers are shown and will be handy landmarks from which you'll be able to follow the action. These maps will be essential in following the densely packed narrative and are spread out throughout the book so that the proper map is always near. Map pointers are given to show the relevant map. Some of the maps are recent creations and cover the sector while smaller area maps are original German maps. The newer maps have better clarity but less detail, not showing all the locations in the narrative. A few maps are slightly darken or blurred and are harder to study. Some maps have text typed over the map that blocks out features. A number of sector maps were missing Army boundary lines. There are also 28 photos of the key commanders; many photos are only thumbnail in size.
There are extensive Endnotes that provides additional ancillary info and an Bibliography if further study is desired. Knowing German or Russian will help. Within the Appendix and throughout the book, there are abbreviated Orders of Battle for both sides. These OBs are an excellent reference if needed. A useful Index is also provided that break down commanders, units, battles, cities and rivers.
This critical sector saw some of the harshest, complicated series of attacks, counterattacks and pocket liquidations that were sending troops in every direction, making an operational nightmare for the officers in 1941 but Mr Glantz does an excellent job of simplifying these complexities and with the use of the many maps and tables an interested reader will be able to follow the action and gain a true appreciation of this strategically critical struggle that saw the Soviets, despite the costs, succeed in slowing the German advance and eliminate the ability of Germany to win the war in 1941.
This book nearly rivals the author's "Armageddon" for comprehensiveness and definition but for those who enjoyed it should still like this one as well. If you're new to reading Glantz, you should be warned that this book is technically challenging requiring your full attention and with little anecdotal experiences may be considered dry. In providing a few aspects of the battle, I've tried to show the potential reader a glimpse of how much information the author has researched and choreographed into his book. Though it must also be said that the Russian side dominates this book and while the German side is not overlooked there were times throughout the book when, I felt, there could have been more to the German side. A prime example concerns the assault on Mogilev. While the details of the Russian garrison to hold the city and the relief attempts to free that garrison was comprehensive, the German maneuvers to take the city were clearly lacking. You had to see some of the German assault vicariously through Russian eyes. In a few instances confirming data was thin. This is the area where "Armageddon" has the edge. Despite the minor criticism, the volume of info presented is far above anything I've read before, making this book five stars.
From my perspective and despite the criticism, I recognize and appreciate the author's huge effort and time invested in providing the history of this pivotal campaign and for anyone who is seriously interested in the eastern front, this is a must read book and is highly recommended.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
R. A Forczyk
- Published on Amazon.com
Over the past two decades, David M. Glantz has not only proven himself as a prodigious researcher but has almost single-handedly managed to re-write large chunks of the history of the Eastern Front 1941-45 for English-language readers. While still immersed in producing the final volume of his magnum opus trilogy on the Stalingrad campaign, Glantz decided to embark on an equally ground-breaking four-volume project on the Smolensk campaign of 1941. I doubt any other historian alive would attempt such gargantuan tasks simultaneously and certainly few are capable of this depth of research. Barbarossa Derailed is the first volume in this new series and it covers the fighting from 10 July to 24 August 1941, while the second volume will complete the narrative and the last two volumes will provide archival documents and more maps. This book is not for the faint-hearted and it is a serious, ultra-detailed piece of archival research, but readers who can successfully traverse its 581 pages will find a large dose of fresh information on the Smolensk campaign that has not heretofore appeared in English. As a piece of research, this book deserves six out of five stars. However as a piece of history, Barbarossa Derailed is seriously undermined by three basic problems. First, about half the book consists of translations of Soviet army-level daily reports, which are tedious to read after awhile and often not very informative. Second, the author presents a hypothesis about the meaning of the campaign based upon the damage inflicted upon the German forces involved, but never fully supports this with quantitative data. Finally, the author never really delves below the division/corps level, so needless to say, there is no human component and relatively sparse tactical detail. It is difficult to convey the ferocity of combat without adding soldier perspectives. Overall, this is an essential book to have for anyone seriously interested in Eastern Front history, but it is really a dump-truck full of facts about the Red Army's operations in July-August 1941, but with limited balance from the German side, marginal effort at analysis and no heart.
Barbarossa Derailed consists of twelve chapters, seven appendices and 107 B/W maps. The author spends only a modest 22-page chapter describing German and Soviet pre-war planning and the opening border battles before jumping right in to the German advance toward the Western Dvina and Dnepr rivers in early July 1941. Each chapter thereafter tends to cover about a week of campaign time. As mentioned, the narrative is heavily based upon Soviet daily reports from the Western Front and its constituent armies but oddly, there is no effort to use German daily reports to provide balance. Thus, Barbarossa Derailed is very heavily skewed to the Soviet perspective, which has been noticeable in many of Glantz's previous books. However at this point in the war, Soviet commanders were routinely executed for tactical failures and many of the reports seem to be deliberately disingenuous or outright deceptive, particularly when Soviet troops lose ground. The author does add his own commentary and analysis between reports, but often fails to challenge obvious falsehoods such as outrageous Soviet claims to destroying hundreds of German tanks or entire regiments. If he had checked the German records, this could have been a ne plus ultra piece of historical work, but the consistent one-sidedness eats away at this volume. Instead, the author relies on sources such as Halder's and von Bock's diaries, which lack the statistical data necessary to assess tactical operations. Furthermore, the author also makes a number of casual errors in German nomenclature, such as referring to the Grossdeutschland regiment as an SS unit, and Panzergruppe 2 as `Armeegruppe Guderian.'
There is a considerable amount of fresh information in this volume, ranging from the siege of Mogilev, Guderian's destruction of Group Kachalov, Timoshenko's counteroffensive in August 1941 (three chapters) and the fighting around Velikie Luki. Much of this information is pure gold to specialist readers (all six of us?). There is no doubt that Glantz succeeds in demolishing previous myths about the Red Army being little more than a speed-bump at this phase and showing that the Germans became enmeshed in a grinding 2-month battle of attrition around Smolensk.
The author's main hypothesis and conclusion is that despite impressive tactical triumphs in the opening weeks of the campaign, the German Army Group Center was first brought to a virtual halt east of Smolensk and that the Soviet Western Front inflicted painful damage upon a number of panzer and infantry divisions which had repercussions later when the Germans made their drive on Moscow. Unfortunately, the author does not really back up these assertions with hard numbers. For example, the author claims that both the 7th Panzer Division and three infantry divisions (5, 28, 161) were all decimated at Smolensk, yet none of these units were pulled out of the line. The assertions of damage inflicted on these units appears derived primarily from Soviet, not German sources. Even if the Soviets succeeded in mauling four German divisions at Smolensk, the Germans had 136 divisions in Russia, so these losses could hardly be sufficient to "derail" Barbarossa. Indeed, closely reading Glantz's narrative reveals that the Germans were inflicting grossly disproportionate losses on the Red Army for much of the Smolensk campaign - on the order of 20-to-1. Even Soviet losses are not well addressed, although it is clear that the Western Front was badly hurt at Smolensk and left without much armor or artillery left. At the strategic level, the author is more successful making his case that the stiff Soviet resistance encouraged Hitler to turn away from Moscow and follow the path of `least resistance' toward Kiev. Although the author sees Kiev as a gambit, he concludes that it was the `correct' move at the time.