Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Battle of Kursk: Controversial and Neglected Aspects by Valeriy Zamulin, Translated by Stuard Britton

Valeriy Zamulin has made a name for himself in his histories relating to the Battle of Kursk in both Russian and now English.  His work, although devoted to just this one crucial battle on the Eastern Front, offers a taste of what is often missing from both general and specific studies when it comes to the Eastern Front.  He is able to utilize archival information in both the US and Russia related, respectively, to German and Soviet units, and offer an in-depth discussion that contextualizes and offers a critical analysis of actions undertaken by both sides.  Usually historians are limited to just one set of documents and, for westerners, Russian ministry of defense archives are almost always off-limits.  So Zamulin's contributions are very much welcome, but more so, they are a lens into discussions rarely found even in Soviet/Russian publications.  

This specific text deals with, as the subtitle makes clear, controversial and neglected aspects of the Battle of Kursk.  Personally, the most interesting chapter was the first, which dealt with the historiography of the battle during the Soviet period and into the post-Soviet period.  Detailing how Soviet historians, official histories, and veteran high-ranking officers attempted to both describe the battle and their roles in it is just as, if not more interesting, than chapters detailing the battle itself.  The Battle of Kursk proved a contested engagement where reputations were made and sustained but also gave voice to numerous myths that continue to haunt the pages of histories up to the present.  Zamulin details much of that process and traces where some of these myths began and how they were sustained.  Although the writing itself is not the most engaging or readable, in part due to Zamulin's prose, but the information is worth its weight in gold.  

The same can be said for the numerous chapters that make up this volume.  They include a discussion of the preemptive artillery bombardment and its impact on German forces, what intelligence Soviet units acquired on the eve of the offensive from deserters, why did Rokossovsky's Central Front have a seemingly easier time stopping German forces than Vatutin's Voronezh Front, and a critical look at some Soviet units and their commanders to try to explain the numerous difficulties they encountered 'behind the curtain.'  These and the other chapters offer western readers a look at aspects of the Eastern Front that are rarely examined in popular histories or even operational studies as historians and scholars simply do not have the access to the archival material that Zamulin does.  He is able to critically analyze both sides and offer worthwhile commentary that helps explain the situation both German and Soviet units found themselves in, including their strengths and weaknesses, and is happy to dispel myths and legends whenever he runs across them.  This is a highly recommended volume for all of those interested in the Battle of Kursk or the Eastern Front in general.

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