The Battle for Smolensk 10 July-10 September 1941
655 pages. 107 maps, 14 tables, 28 photos, 7 appendices
The German Advance to Smolensk, the Encirclement Battle, and the First and Second Soviet Counteroffensives, 10 July-24 August 1941
This is the first volume of a planned set of four. The first two books will chronicle the battle, the third will include translations of Soviet orders and reports, and the fourth will be an atlas.
To say that this book is about the Battle of Smolensk is a bit of an understatement, as the first 133 pages start with the Barbarossa invasion and describe all the fighting on this front which led to the Battle of Smolensk. I found this preliminary material just as interesting as the description of the battle itself.
The book then dives into the encirclement battle (16-23 July), the first Soviet counteroffensive (23-31 July), the fighting on the northern and southern flanks, reduction of the Smolensk pocket, Guderian's strike to the south, and concludes with the second Soviet counteroffensive and its ultimate failure.
The author's approach is unusual in that he provides an analysis of the fighting from a strategic viewpoint, then gives us a fact-filled narrative surprisingly free of operational or tactical commentary. Much of the narrative consists of summarized Soviet daily situation reports, with entries down to division level. This is dry reading, but packed with information. Soviet and German maps are reproduced, but are often blurry, locations mentioned in text are missing or hard to find, and the symbology is unexplained.
Those interested in wargaming the campaign will rejoice in the unprecedented level of detail. Those seeking to understand the campaign may be frustrated, as the book is better at telling which units are moving where, and less successful at providing an understanding of why some Soviet formations are successful while others under-perform. Where the author succeeds is in explaining Soviet strategy for the campaign, and showing how the battle ground up the precise units the Germans needed to continue their advance on Moscow.
For anyone who wants to study this battle, this book is highly recommended. Those less willing to commit to study may want some other book...
The second volume is now out and on my shelf, waiting to be read.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .