Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Battle of Moscow 1941-1942: The Red Army's Defensive Operations and Counter-offensive Along the Moscow Strategic Direction Translated and Edited by Richard W. Harrison

The Soviet General Staff's study "The Battle of Moscow, 1941-1942" is in some ways essential reading.  For those familiar with David Glantz's operational histories, much of this study reads similarly.  There is no real narrative for the German side and the Stalinist narrative of the war that was crafted during the war itself is very much evident throughout the pages of this text.  That is really, for this reader, the most important aspect of this volume.  This is a glimpse into a historical document that shows what was allowed to be said and written about during Stalin's time in power, even in a confidential General Staff Study, and what had to go unmentioned.

There are some frank admissions made throughout in regards to Red Army weaknesses, both for the rank-and-file and in terms of commanding officers, which would undoubtedly be absent from any literature that was released on the war during Stalin's lifetime for the general public.  But, for the most part, what you have here are pages of descriptions of defensive operations in the lead up to the Red Army's Moscow Counteroffensive, usually described under the umbrella term "active defense," and the ensuing counterattacks along the Moscow direction by a few fronts and the armies under their command.  Attention is also paid to logistics, party work among soldiers, and some of the heroic acts performed by Red Army soldiers.  Stalin's name is featured here more than any other, as would be expected in some respects, with the likes of Zhukov, Rokossovsky, Dovator, Belov, and a few others making a rare appearance.

There are numerous tables offered for the sake of reference and some of them are quite eye opening, especially when it comes to the number of troops in divisions.  There are a few mentions of the losses sustained by Red Army forces but numerous instances of German losses, which are undoubtedly inflated.  Whether they were inflated by the authors of the study or the primary reports they were based off of is a separate question.  Finally, I have often believed that Red Army forces operating on the Moscow direction were capable of inflicting a greater defeat on the Wehrmacht that what actually occurred in the winter of 1941/1942.  In part I am still of that mindset but, in reading this volume and following the numerous maps and information included, I am also more aware of the difficulties Red Army forces encountered and the limits they were up against.  In some ways this is a very important work but one that speaks more to its limits as a document created under Stalin than an analysis of the Battle of Moscow.

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