Review of: Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942 and 1943-1945

I recently purchased Robert Forczyk’s work  Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942.  Having quickly read this work I was eager to order the follow on volume that focuses on the period from 1943 through 1945.  The reason I was eager to purchase the second volume was that these books approached tank warfare from a view point other then the hard penetration tables and values by which most discussion of armoured warfare is considered.  Rather, these books provided greater attention to the the training, organization, and tactics that while not as commonly studied had a decisive impact on the innumerable battles throughout the conflict.  Robert Forczyk’s experience as an armoured officer enable him to keenly identify the differences and highlight how these differences manifested themselves on the battlefield and as an explanation for the performance of the German and Soviet Forces.

The first book largely covers the period of German supremacy as they had superior training, organization, and experience.  The first part of the book focuses on the forces and organizations of the Soviet and Germans.  However rather then limiting himself to the military forces involved he includes the economic forces such as their respective manufacturing capabilities and philosophies.  This is followed by an overview of the battles fought in 1941 and 1942 diving into particular moments and vignettes to highlight organizational differences.  While this period is largely comprised of German victories and advances, interesting examples of German setbacks are included.   I found that the strength of this work was in his assessment of tactical actions while weakest when discussing operational and strategic decision making.

The second book, Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945, predominately covers 1943 with scant attention to 1944/1945 (40 pages out of 240). While the battles of 1943 are discussed in some detail I believe that a critical analysis as to why the German formations and tactics that were so successful in penetrating Soviet lines in 1941 and 1942 were incapable from 1943 onwards is lacking.  Likewise not enough attention is focused on the development of Soviet doctrine to enable their tank corps and tank armies the opportunities to pierce and conduct deep battle operations.  The Soviet Union won the war, and the action of their tank armies were the champions of armoured combat and it is important to understand the evolution and evaluation of this product. 

While I may disagree with the conclusions reached in both books, I do appreciate the perspective that Robert Forczyk has provided.  I would recommend his first work “Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942” as in interesting introduction to armoured warfare on the Eastern Front.  However, I am less inclined to recommend the second work which I feel doesn’t fully account for the evolution of combat forces.  In both instances I appreciated the perspective he approached these works from and the insights his background was able to provide.


SIGINT, Soviet Radio Reconnaissance

The Black Hole of SIGINT

Soviet SIGINT During World War 2

A lot of information has been written about Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) during World War 2.  Movies have been made and books written about the trials and tribulations of Bletchley Park and the British effort to conduct cryptologic analysis of the Enigma machine in order to support the war effort.  Lesser known but still acknowledged are the efforts that were made by Poland prior to the war in solving German Crypto and their efforts to defeat the Enigma machine.  The efforts of the United States, in particular in defeating the Japanese Purple and Red cryptologic ciphers are published and impact considered when reviewing the battles of the Pacific.  Yet nothing is mentioned concerning Soviet SIGINT during World War 2.  There has been virtually no leaks, little mention, and therefore no acknowledgement of the efforts made by the Soviet Union in breaking the communication means of their adversaries and allies.  This lack of writing, this absence in and of itself is interesting and worth exploration.

Given this complete lack of information, there are three explanations that should therefore be considered:

  1.  The Soviet Union did not partake in SIGINT;
  2.  The Soviet Union was unsuccessful in their SIGINT and do not want their failures published; or
  3. The Soviet Union were successful and consider SIGINT a matter of intelligence to be classified and protected for a period of greater then 50 years.

My view is that the first option should be dismissed out of hand.  While there is limited knowledge of the Soviet SIGINT activities, they do exist and prove efforts were made.  My personal knowledge and bias makes me believe that option 3 is the correct option.  In particular while studying Electrical Engineering the contributions of Russian mathematicians and physicist in the 20th Century were pronounced.  Cryptographic work is heavily based in math and cryptologist are often chess players.   I would therefore be surprised if the Soviet Union did not have a large, and successful SIGINT program during World War 2.

I would propose that the Soviet Union had a successful SIGINT program during World War 2.  In particular I would like to explore the possibility that the Soviet Union was successful in deciphering German codes and the Enigma machine. I know that I will never be able to prove Soviet success as only the declassification of Soviet records will definitively prove their success or failure.  However, I hope that through an examination of Soviet capabilities both prior to, during, and after the war a technical trend line can be developed.    Further, I hope that by studying Soviet actions during the war additional evidence can be gained to prove that they had succeeded in breaking German codes.  As I discover information I will post it to the blog, and I would gladly invite comments or collaboration in this endeavour.

I will end this post by thanking Geoffrey Jukes for all the work he has done on this theory to date.