Reviews

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.

-A.R.-

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Reviews

Review of: Take Budapest!

Take Budapest! The Struggle for Hungary, Autumn 1944 by Kamen Nevenkin.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Kamen Nevenkin’s book “Take Budapest! The Struggle for Hungary, Autumn 1944”.  This book explores the initial Soviet attempt to take Budapest in October and November 1944.  The Soviet attempt to seize Hungary in 1944 is initiated when the coup of Arrow-Cross party led by Szalasi ended the possibility of Hungary negotiating an armistice and leaving the war.  What Mr. Nevenkin does particularly well, is focusing in on the actions of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, in particular the 46th Army spearheaded by the 2nd and 4th Guards Mechanized Corps in their attempt to seize Budapest from the march.  He balances the Soviet actions and reports with the responses by Army Group South, in particular the 1st, 13th, 23rd, and 24th Panzer Divisions, and Panzer Grenadier Division “Feldherrnhalle”, and the Hungarian Armies 1st Huszar Division and 1st Armored Division in their attempts to counterattack and halt the Soviet offensive.  Kamen Nevenkin does an excellent job juxtaposing the two adversaries’ attempts to gain control and seize the initiative in a balanced manner.  His efforts bring to light this neglected action.

“Take Budapest” commences with an introduction of the economic and political reasons that the Germans would want to fight over Hungary.  These reasons, oil, food, industry, and their last remaining ally remain valid and are a root cause as to why the Germans continue to invest resources into defend Hungarian territory until 1945.  These reasons are contrasted with the strategic and political reasons the Soviets would want to seize control of Hungary, to assert control over the Balkans, divert German forces from the central sector, and provide an avenue to quickly seize Austria, the only country that had not been divided into a post war sphere of influence between the allies.  Hungary was a central focus for Germany and a secondary theatre for the Soviets, a deliniation that Mr. Nevenkin unfortunately, does not fully explore.

The majority of the book, and its great strength, is the focus on the conflict that occurred from 28 October to 6 November 1944. Kamen Nevenkin goes into detail about the planning of the operation from the Soviet perspective, in particular providing background and context behind Stalin’s call to Malinovskii on the 28th of October and the differing reports that would have influenced Stalin’s decision.  With Stalin’s order the attack begins and the actions of each corps, division, and in some instances brigades or battalions are reported. Where this action is covered in “The Road to Berlin” by John Erickson in 3 pages, it is the enhanced view of this action enables Mr. Nevenkin to explore the importance of flak units defending Kecskemet, the introduction of the 4th Guards Mechanized Corps,  and the Attila lines are all given amazing coverage.

My primary issue with this book is a weak conclusion which leads me questioning whether or not the Soviets, and Stalin in particular made the correct call in trying to seize Budapest from the march.  I would also have liked to have read a summary of the effort that was required by the Germans and Hungarians to halt this advance.  Finally, and it is a minor point, I wish the tables and charts were slightly clearer in explaining what was being defined.

“Take Budapest” provides a cut and thrust history of panzer divisions and mechanized brigades on the road to Budapest.  For any historian interested in tactical to operational level history I highly recommend this book.  It would also be great for war gamers looking for late war scenarios of armoured combat as, especially after the first day when the German Panzer Divisions entered the fray to stop the Mechanized Corps in a series of meeting engagements.  It compliments very nicely “Tomb of the Panzerwaffe” describing the final spasms of Nazi Germany in the dying months of the 2nd World War.

-A.R.-

This book leaves me with some outstanding questions, in particular:

  1. While not explicitly stated, it could be argued, that Hungary was a critical front for the Germans due to the economic factors but a secondary theatre for the Soviets. To confirm this I would have to examine the disposition of German and Soviet formations commencing in October 1944;
  2. What information did Stalin have on the night of the 28th? While he orders Malinovskii to attack immediately vice waiting 5 days before commencing the assault (which would have resulted in an assault date of 3 November) was this because he was aware of the German troop movements or the actions to further fortify the Hungarian capital?  Both reasons would have been cause to push for an immediate assault to catch the enemy off guard;
  3. What was the lasting impact of this operation? How does this leave the situation in Hungary between November 1944 and January 1945?
Reviews

Review of: Stalin’s Favorite: The Combat History of the 2nd Guards Tank Army from Kursk to Berlin

Stalins Favorite

Stalin’s Favorite was a book that I was looking forward to reading and now that I am, I can honestly say it was worth the wait.  It is incredibly detailed, yet unique in my experience in the English langue to read such a rich history so beautifully displayed.

Each chapter focuses on a particular combat operation ending in this volume in Romania in 1944.  The chapter begins with an overview of the operation, key orders, day by day combat descriptions, the after action reviews conducted, and key combatants who received medals or recognition in that operation.  There are plenty of tables listing day by day tank and personal readiness which is a treasure trove of information.

Some surprising facts in reading this book were:

1. As much as the Germans will remark upon the mud, rain, and snow, it also affected the Soviet forces equally. In both winter engagements (Jan/Feb 1943 and 1944) the weather had an adverse effect on the Army’s mobility and supply.  This book goes into the inability to transport artillery shells to support the operation.

2. During the battle of Kursk the Army was deployed on the Northern Front and this clearly lays out the three options that were developed in response to possible German actions prior to the commencement of operations. Day by day action is recounted and when the 16th Tank Corps conducts a disorganized assault and has the 107th Brigade decimated the failure in this action is laid bare. However, subsequent actions are also shown as being more successful contributing to the overall Soviet success at Kursk.

3. The Sevesk Operation is interesting in differentiating first day casualties in causing a breach and an inability to follow through on the offensive.  The change in German tank tactics, to engaging at 1500 – 2000 m was interesting to note.

4. Korsun, I have read the book “The Korsun Pocket” by Niklas Zetterling and while he talks about the challenges facing the German army in extracting Group Stemmermann due to the weather, he rarely utilizes Russian sources to show the impact the mud had on the mobility of the 2nd Guards Army in responding to the German push. This book is a welcomed and opposing counterpoint to this novel.

I was surprised to see the continued use of light tanks in the Army until 1944. Prior to the Korsun engagements the tank formations consist roughly 1/3 T-70 and 2/3rds T-34. The first mention of SU-85’s and JS-1’s (with the 85mm) is in the battles of the Korsun Pocket. The common perception that in 1943 the USSR had SU-85’s and in 1944 T-34/85’s is, at least from this armies perspective, false. I am aware that latter in 1944 they will receive T-34/85’s and JS-2’s and I am looking forward to reading how the army sees these tanks as an improvement. There is no doubt though, that for a period of almost a year in 43/44 the German tanks outclassed everything the USSR had.

For anyone interested in the eastern front and the Russian perspective of operations at the Brigade to Army level I would highly recommend this book, from operational summaries, to lessons learnt, and notable actions it is a wealth of information. I look forward to the second volume and the continued actions of this tank army.

-AR-