Thursday, July 30, 2009

Zitadelle: The German Offensive Against the Kursk Salient 4-17 July 1943 by Mark Healy

The Battle of Kursk has seen more than its fair share of myths but more than half a century later there is still room for a study that takes into account sources, both primary and secondary, from both sides. Sadly, this is not the case with this book. The bibliography is very limited and there are NO footnotes/endnotes. I cannot tell if this was decided on by the publisher or the author, but this is simply unacceptable and truthfully makes this book almost worthless as a source (not to mention that it takes the work done by others and omits the credit they are due). The two 'original' takes offered up in the book are not very original to begin with, both can be traced, and are, to the works by Steven Newton and Niklas Zetterling (Kursk: The German View and Kursk: A Statistical Analysis, respectively). Specifically, the author questions the Soviet interpretation of why Hoth moved his forces toward Prokhorovka rather than Oboyan and how many tanks were actually lost at Prokhorovka. The answers can be found in the aforementioned volumes (the author names and quotes Newton to give specifics for the former assertion). Also, the idea that Hoth, before the Kursk battle began, wanted to move toward Prokhorovka is also discussed in Russian literature today.

Overall the volume is interesting but lacking in numerous ways. The author's style is repetitive, as if each chapter (and there are close to 50 of them) was written on its own, thus overlapping with information from other chapters or when the author really wants to make a point. For instance, the move toward Prokhorovka rather than Oboyan is discussed in the beginning chapters and then has an entire chapter devoted to it later on in the book. I read and understood it the first time, I do not need it repeated ad nauseum. Aside from the repeating there is the ever present imagery the author is trying to draw. I do not care how the sun looked in the sky on the morning of July 5th, 6th, or 7th. I do not need to know how the clouds bunched together to produce precipitation or how rockets from both sides criss-crossed in the sky with their respective smoke trails. Get to the point.

There are countless grammatical errors throughout the book, sloppy editing to say the least. A single name is spelled two different ways within the same paragraph, we have "Rukosuyev" and then not 3 sentences later "Rokuseyev." And yes, he is talking about the same commander of the 3rd Anti-Tank Artillery brigade (p. 285). Bad spelling also rears its head when the reader is presented with an artistic rendering of a T-34 which supposedly has "Lenin" written on the side of the turret in Cyrillic. Sadly, the author of the rendering has spelled out "Lenim." A claim is made that two Red Army Mechanized Brigades were made up of 250 tanks (p. 234), that seems like overkill since some Red Army Tank/Mechanized corps in their whole (that is 3 brigades of tanks/mechanized forces) usually contained less than 250 tanks. At least one assertion I found untenable: "The surrender of the Axis forces in Tunisia in May had resulted in greater losses than at Stalingrad" (p. 368). Yes, more POWs were captured, but this of course overlooks how many Germans, and other axis forces, died getting to Stalingrad, trying to take Stalingrad, and trying to keep it. It also makes the case that the author considers Italian soldiers on par with German troops, as the majority of those surrendering in Tunisia were Italian, not German. Not a credible statement in the least. The author is also keen on repeating Cold War era propaganda as evidenced by the following: "Punishment battalions, the use of charging infantry to 'clear' minefields, the continuing policy of identifying retreat with treason, and the coercive presence of NKVD security units stationed in the rear to 'encourage' the front line troops to fight well..."(p. 104) Aside from these statements being wholly generalized and lacking context some of them are simply wrong. Thus, in general, the Red Army is underrepresented nor are the plethora of sources that have come out from Russia in the past few years (at least 5 volumes on Kursk) analyzed. Undoubtedly the author lacks Russian which is why this entire text is simply a repeat of what has already been written on the subject for an English speaking audience.

Lastly, while the Kursk 'eipic' is told well enough, the above (and what follows) is enough to reduce the work to 3 stars, perhaps 3 and a half at best. I found it quite helpful to have, every now and then, the numbers of tanks on hand and those in need of long/short term repair. It helps to explain why at times Soviet claims are so exaggerated. While some Soviet claims are simply propaganda meant for the population, at other times it becomes understandable why Tiger tanks are constantly being encountered, along with Panthers and Ferdinands. While at times Pz. IVs and StuGs could be confused for the former (Tiger and Ferdinand respectively), the regular appearance of repaired Tigers, Panthers and Ferdinands when they were knocked out just a day or two ago can easily lead to over-counting. At times there were only 3 Tigers, out of some two or so dozen, left within a unit. The next day the number would jump to 20. Sadly, no one took the time to explain this to Red Army soldiers who counted a knocked-out or disabled tank as such. Simultaneously, I found it quite annoying to be told that the Germans lost only 17 tanks at Prokhorovka but yet the Red Army, losing some 600, still retained their positions. Really? If the Germans continued with the supposed 200+ tanks at their disposal just on the Prokhorovka sector then what kept them from advancing? The problem here, it would seem, is that many of the German tank counts day in and day out are dependent on tanks coming out of long/short term repair, meaning that the real losses, be they total write offs or those lost for the moment, cannot be accurately gauged as tank stocks are regularly replenished each new day by those coming out of repair. Hence, the author asserts that on July 13, the day after the Prokhorovka battle, divisional returns totaled 251 tanks and assault guns for the SS Panzer Corps, a difference of 43 machines from the total of 294 which were available on July 12 (the numbers given for the 3 SS divisions are 70, 103, and 121 tanks and assault guns). First off, a tank out of action is one that's not going to be taking part in combat thus there is a real difference between 17 and 43. Secondly, from those 251 tanks and assault guns we are not told if any came from repair; if they did, then the number 43 would go up. Considering newly repaired tanks were regularly being delivered this is something I'd like to see taken into consideration. Somehow the Germans seem to be the only ones for whom we count 'write offs' as the only losses they endured. More so, we have the claim that Totenkopf could deploy 121 machines on July 12, but the next day the division was fielding 54 serviceable tanks and 20 or so Assault guns, what happened to 43 less tanks for all 3 SS divisions? The Liebstandarte on the next day was said to have "fallen" to a strength of "just 50 panzers and 20 Assault Guns" how can it fall to that strength if that's what it started out with on July 12?! Supposedly, it is on July 13 that Rotmistrov, commander of the remnants of 5th Tank Army, halts both the Liebstandarte and Totenkopf in their tracks with the remainder of what was his 800+ tank armada. Interesting, he couldn't do it with 850 tanks, but with some 150-200, it's not a problem. Right, thanks but no thanks. I'll be waiting for the next volume that demolishes some more 'Kursk Myths.'


nova said...

It sounds like you have been reading some books that have been a bit lacking.

Any recomendations on the Baltic area? Especially the period from 1944 to 1945?


T. Kunikov said...

Sadly, nothing off the top of my head. The latter period of the war I have not concentrated on as much as I should have, sadly. Operations in the Baltics are also seen as secondary fronts to what was going on in the Polish/German direction.

christof139 said...

Hi, First Healy said LAH had 54 pz. & 20 AG's, than he said that on 12JUL43 LAH had 50 Pz. & 20 AG's, so that is a drop of 4 tanks as 54 does not = 50 & Healy is correct in that LAH's strength dropped. Later it rose because of the repaired tanks that were returned to LAH (the Germans had an excellent field repair system, and the percentage of tanks etc. actually destoyed in comparison to those temporarily knocked out is rather low in most battles).

In Tunisia, Allied sources state that ~130,000 Germans & ~120,000 Italians surrendered, and some German sources place the number of Germans that surrendered as high as 160,000. So, more Germans surrendered in Tunisia than Italians. In Sicily the opposite was true to a much greater difference. Glantz' book on Kursk is more accurate as are German military unit records & some official & until recently undisclosed Soviet accounts written by USSR commanders of the units at Kursk. Many of the actual Soviet reports are quite honest but they were not published for the general public due to the Cold War Era etc., just as many published Western Allied accounts written during WWII & the Cold War of fighting in the Med., NW Europe & the Pacific, the CBI, etc. tended to underplay Allied mistakes, casualties, material losses, setbacks. etc. & over exagerate Axis losses to some degree or other. It's the same with fighter pilot kill/victory claims during WWII, in that everyone undeliberately & deliberately exagerated their victories & the enemy's losses. Another point about the Eastern Front is the fact that even at the time of Kursk ~30% give - or take a little - of the Soviet tanks were light T-70s & even some T-60's were still in use & perhaps some BT-7's since Bt-7's were produced up into early 1943. So, Soviet tank losses would almost always be higher than German losses because of these light armored & armed light tanks being more easily knocked out, & the Soviets still unfortunately suffered from a lack of radios in all their tanks (as well as in their aircraft). Back to the Med.: the Italians also had some very good units, both ground, air, & sea contrary to the stereotype of their troops not fighting & just surrendering, but it was unfortuante for them that they didn't have better tanks & small arms & leadership (their arty. was good, their pilots were good & planes OK & some good but not enough of them, their navy was actually good but poor leadership helped destroy it,). The Italian navy was also not too fond of Mussolini.

christof139 said...

Hi Again, I also noticed you point out Healy's huge error about the tank brigade strenth etc. (Whew. That's a bad one.)

However, you tstaed that TO&E for Soviet Tank & Mech. Corps was 3 tank brigades but the Tank Corps also had a Motroized Rifle Brigade and the TC commonly had additional seperate tank &/or SPG (SU) regiments &/or battalions attached to it. The Mech. Corps had 3 Mech. Inf. Bdes. each with an organic tank regiment and 1 Tank Bde. plus additonal units as in the Tank Corps. The Motorized Inf. Bde. of the Tank Corps I don't believe had an organic tank regt. or battalion.
However, some Tank Corps only had 2 Tank Bdes. due to tank shortages but most usually they had 3 Tank Bdes. At the time of Kursk, there were 2 official establishments for Tank Bdes: 1) With ~ 50 - 54 tanks or so, 2) with 60 - 65 tanks. makes things more confusing. The USA's 1st & 2nd Armd. Divs. each kept their own original, eperimental, & different TO&E's, and subsequnet Armd. Divs. were mainly termed light or heavy with two more different TO&E's. The Germans had differnt TO&E's for many of their Pz. & Pz. Grnd. Divs. thoughout the war, & the Brits were also somewhat just as confusing at times.

Two other things that lead to conusion etc. about the East Front: 1) Soviets included sick as well as wounded in the same category, medical casualties but basically what the West termed wounded, whereas the USA did not include sick in the number of wounded. Sometimes Soviet commanders would clearly state the number of wounded & sick & not just combine both figures into medical casualties. So, due to the frequent inclusion of the number of sick troops with the wounded troops, the number of Soviet wounded is frequently stated as being higher than it actually was. 2) The Soviets would also include the number of mortars in the total number of Arty. pieces whereas the Western Aliies didn't include mortars in their tally of Arty. pieces. A big mess when trying to somewaht accurately sort things out.

Happy New Year & Russian/Orthodox Christmas.

christof139 said...

Hi, First Healy said LAH had 54 pz. & 20 AG's, than he said that on 12JUL43 LAH had 50 Pz. & 20 AG's, so that is a drop of 4 pz. as 54 does not + 50 & Healy is correct in that LAH's strength dropped. Later it rose because of the repaired tanks that were returned to LAH (the Germans had an excellent field repair system, and the percentage of tanks etc. actually destoyed in comparison to those temporarily knocked out is rather low in most battles). In Tunisia, ~130,000 Germans & ~120,000 Italians surrendered, and some German sources place the number of Germans that surrendered as high as 160,000. So, more Germans surrendered in Tunisia than Italians. In Sicily the opposite was true.

christof139 said...

Hi again, BTW, I see where he Healy does state LAH had 70 pz. & Ag's and then he states that its strength fell to 70!!, as you stated. I wear bifocals & my eyeballs are somewhat burned-out (28-inch monitor). Sorry about that. Glantz gives more accurate figs. for the Germans since the actual German unit reports have been available since the end of WWII (except for most detailed 9th Army records that the Soviets captured in their entirety). Point is though that the German & Soviet tank strength fluctuated on a daily basis due to hurridley repaired tanks being rushed back into combat. German recaords are quite good at recording this, but there still are gaps & errors in those orignal records/reports. Every war's records & accounts & subsequent interpretations are not 100% accurate. They all are a big, usually to some degree confusing & conflicting mess.