A conversation with Nigel Askey concerning operational losses on the Eastern Front

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I had the pleasure of having some email correspondence with Nigel Askey, the author of http://www.operationbarbarossa.net/, and several works on the readiness and operations that occurred in the Eastern Front in 1941.

Issue – Operational Readiness vs Irrecoverable Losses

We had an interesting discussion on operational readiness, vice irrecoverable losses.  Personally, I have had difficulties in understanding the German “irrecoverable” tank losses, and indeed their “irrecoverable” losses when compared to the change in their actions often do not appear to make sense.  I asked myself if each nation defined all tank losses equivalently?  Did the Germans and Allies have the same definition of “Beyond Economic Repair” and “irrecoverable” or were the Germans more willing to repair their tanks as the cost of shipping and repair was less then building a new tank?  Were the allies more willing to simply replace a broken tank as it was cheaper then repairing?  

Discussion – Loss in Readiness

In all of Nigel’s articles, he only ever uses ‘irrecoverable tank of AFV losses’. In this sense irrecoverable can be defined as ‘the vehicle is permanently destroyed or written off, or is captured by enemy forces’.  When developing ROCP (Relative Overall Combat Proficiency) calculations he treats both sides both sides are treated the same (i.e. measuring irrecoverable losses only).  Nigel defines the term ‘loss in readiness’ as something that could be corrected by internal supply and repair which contrast with irrecoverable losses which could not.

A clear example of an irrecoverable loss.

For example, if a unit with 100 tanks moves 100 miles from point A to B had 10 tanks break down so in simplistic terms the unit has only 90%  of its tanks ‘operational’. This is without coming close to any enemy forces at all. The unit has not ‘lost’ 10 tanks at that point in time but lost 10% of its ‘operational readiness’. Depending on the ‘operational ROCP’ level of the unit (i.e. its trained support infrastructure) and the level of supplies and spares available, the unit will recover its readiness. A high ROCP unit will fully recover in a day, but a lower ROCP unit will recover much slower.  No matter what a combat unit does, as soon it moves or attacks it will suffer significant operational readiness loss (and fatigue, which is a whole separate issue).

Therefore, in his view, in the early tank battles in Barbarossa, and indeed, up until Kursk when the Germans typically remained in control of the battlefield their tank losses were insignificant by there measure, but the operational effectiveness of their divisions greatly decreased.  Nowhere is this more apparent then the initial weeks of Barbarossa.  The German Panzer Divisions began at full strength, but by August, 5 short weeks latter, most Army Group Centre German Panzer Divisions tank elements were near, or below 50% due to a combination of combat and mechanical losses.

He postulates, that any individual unit report on its % operational readiness is almost useless in establishing any sort of ‘actual irrecoverable loss’.  A unit continually defending against overwhelming forces had no choice but to remain even if its ‘operational readiness’ has drooped to almost zero. This would not necessarily mean the division has taken particularly heavy ‘irrecoverable losses’. This can only be determined by divisional strength reports, and replacement sent or/and received reports, to HQs at a later date.


In Nigel’s view, we should forget unit operational readiness loss percentages if you want to talk about irrecoverable losses. Especially if this is the only data available. You have to go beyond individual unit reports and short time frames to get the real numbers for battles and campaigns from higher level command reports (eg corps or higher, or totals over a campaign) over longer periods.  I would like to express my thanks to Nigel Askey for his insights and sharing his opinion.  While I may not completely agree with his view to only consider irrecoverable losses I believe that this discussion has provided me with a new perspective to consider and shown the knowledge and extent of consideration he has given to this issue.

With Sincere Thanks,


1941 - Eastern Front

22 June 1941 – Soviet Mechanized Corps in the Kiev Special Military District

Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union commenced 22 June 1941.  It was the largest invasion to ever occur in European History and included not only Germany, but Italy, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Finland invading the Soviet Union that was aided by the Commonwealth and United States through lend lease.

Prior to the commencement of Barbarossa, the Soviet theory was that the German attack would focus on the south into the Ukraine where the majority of resources were located.  When the invasion occurred, the German emphasis was on the centre region (Western District) through Army Group Centre.  In the Ukraine, the Kiev Special Military District had 7 Mechanized Corps attached to it.

The questions I would like to examine are focused on the effectiveness of soviet mechanized corps in June/July 1941.  In particular:

  1. Formation of the Mechanized Corps
  2. Location at the commencement of Operation Barbarossa
  3.  Readiness of the Mechanized Corps prior to June 1941
  4.  Operations that occurred during June/July 1941
  5.  Effect in stopping/slowing down the German forces in June/Jul 1941
  6.  Limitations
  7. Lessons learnt from the engagements and how they were incorporated into future mechanized and tank corps doctrine



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.


Historian, SIGINT, Soviet Radio Reconnaissance, Uncategorized

Learning About the Past

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the conflicts that occurred on the Eastern Front during World War 2.  The size and scope of it is beyond my comprehension.  Conflict stretching from the Arctic Circle to the Black Sea, from Stalingrad in the East to Vienna in the West.  Millions of people fought and died in these four years, not just Germans and Russians, but Finish, Romanian, Italian, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Polish, among a host of nationalities.  It was a conflict that drew combatants from all across Europe and Asia but was not limited to military combatants.  It drew civilian and military alike into the conflict.  It was a conflict, the likes of which I hope is never seen again.

I want to understand how this war was fought.  I would like to understand not just the why but the how, and what occured to the best of my ability.  To this end, I will ask questions, seek insights, and hope that the community at large can assist me in finding answers that will hopefully shed some insight on how, why, and who fought in this conflict.

Thank you for your time, and I hope that these questions, comments, and posts I put forth inspire, entertain, and inform you.