Monday, January 19, 2009

The Bloody Triangle: The Defeat of Soviet Armor in the Ukraine, June 1941 by Victor Kamenir

There are already a few narratives that deal with the beginning phases of the war on the Eastern Front. Some in more detail than others, but they are available if you know where to look. Yet with the flow of new literature coming out of Russia regarding WWII, I would be remiss if I said even a tenth of what has come out has been covered in the west. Thus, if you have an interest in the border battles between the Red Army and Wehrmacht in the South during late June and early July of 1941, then this book will prove invaluable in many respects, for others, a very good start to understanding the Eastern Front in general. The majority of the narrative deals with the Mechanized Corps of the Kiev Special Military District: specifically the 8th, 9th, 15th, 19th, and 22nd Mechanized Corps. Their strengths and weaknesses are analyzed by the author so that a better context is given for what would happen when the Germans invaded on June 22, 1941. In the background there is also mention and discussion of the 5th and 6th armies, amongst others, as well as the command staff of the Kiev Special Military District.

A lot of the information presented here is interesting, at times little known, and when looked at in an objective light helps explain what happened to the Red Army in 1941. Were German forces opposed on the border or did they simply walk over Soviet border guards and the forward-most Red Army military formations in their way? For those that like to gloss over this question and move on to the eventual German encirclements that took place throughout the rest of 1941, you will be surprised. Red Army resistance was quite heavy and the Germans paid a large price in the south with both dead and wounded. Their forces were also held up in various locations with in depth defenses by the likes of the 1st Antitank Artillery Brigade and "Task Force Lukin." Commissar Popel's dash through German lines toward Dubno is described in great detail, as well as the German perspective of how this affected their advance(s).

I was glad to see the author mention the lack of communication between various units including divisions, corps, armies, and even what would become a front. This is one of the biggest reasons for the misuse of the Mechanized Corps; for example, the 8th Mechanized Corps traversed hundreds of kilometers before it had a chance to engage the enemy. The Corps moved from one location to another as orders were constantly changing. Army commanders issued one type of order while their higher ups, not privy to real-time information, issued orders that directly contradicted those of the army command. The chaos that ensued comes through full force within the pages of this text, and for that the author deserves a big thanks.

1941 is especially interesting for me because as a student of the Eastern Front I strive to understand what exactly happened. Sadly, this book was at times a disappointment. Because the Mechanized Corps are the main focus of this narrative not a lot of attention was given to the information presented in regards to the intelligence Stalin was receiving on the eve of the invasion. I thought, overall, the author's analysis of what agents were sending to Stalin and his actions in response were at times weak and lacked substance. The sources used were also very limited. Within the text there are a few incorrect details that few will be able to spot, but still, basic research into what you're going to put into a book should be a must in all cases.

The editing this text went through is horrific. Practically on every page there is a missing word, misspelled word, etc. Amazingly you'll get used to it. The sources used, in my opinion, were lacking. Some were excellent, but a lot of information and books have come out that I did not see cited here, from both Russia and the West. The author needs to cite better, there is an immense amount of interesting information throughout the pages of this book without any citations! How are we supposed to guess where all of this data is coming from? Russian sources are also translated instead of being transliterated in the bibliography, I thought that was a minus. And in at least one instance there is an endnote citation of a book that is not listed in the bibliography.

Because of the above this book is at rare times useless as a source. A lot of the information here I'm familiar with but when I came to interesting discussions and events I had never heard of, I was at a loss as to where they came from. How can I cite this book if it only leads to a dead end? Still, I know the author isn't simply making it all up and because of that I can still recommend this narrative to those who have an interest in the Eastern Front, 1941, and what happened to the Mechanized Corps of the Red Army during the initial border battles. These were the battles which eventually set the stage for the rest of the operations undertaken by the Red Army in 1941, if not the entire war.

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