Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Kursk 1943: The Greatest Battle of the Second World War by Roman Toeppel

Numerous volumes have been published on the Battle of Kursk and yet there are still numerous myths and legends associated with this clash of men, armor, and planes in the summer of 1943 on the Eastern Front. In this slim volume (less than 200 pages) German historian Roman Toeppel has tried to demolish some of those myths and offer a more nuanced understanding of this battle. My guess is that this is an updated Master's Thesis that the author worked on two decades ago. In either case, it's a welcome addition to any library devoted to the Eastern Front.

Toeppel utilizes sources from the German and Soviet side although undoubtedly most of the attention is on the German side. Readers should keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive history of the Battle of Kursk, rather, it is a selective study of the lead up to the various battles in the summer of 1943 which include the defensive and offensive phases of the Kursk battle from the Soviet side and Operation Citadel and the follow up defensive operations for the Germans. Going through the planning phase, the author goes to some lengths to show that it was less so Adolf Hitler making all the decisions but rather he was working on concert with his commanders and high command to figure out what the possibilities for the spring/summer season might be on the Eastern Front. Due to various circumstances the decision was eventually taken to delay any type of serious action until early July. 

There are numerous chapters devoted to the actual battles and operations that took place in the summer and although the author tries to address some of the most contested subjects (tank/material and human losses) he is not always successful, at least in my opinion. I have yet to see, in any work devoted to the Battle of Kursk, a worthwhile breakdown of German tanks that were knocked out and destroyed, including how many were repaired and reentered service, etc. Most likely these type of details are impossible to ascertain today with the amount of lost files and documents, but without those details a full understanding of what happened during the summer months of 1943 will be impossible.

I was somewhat surprised to see limited mention of Valeriy Zamulin's work but later in the volume Toeppel discusses why he distrusts some of the information/claims that he encountered in Zamulin's work and he might very well have a point. This only increases our need for additional studies of these summer 1943 campaigns. However, at the same time, Toeppel gives a lot of credence to another Russian author, Boris Sokolov, who has often made questionable claims when it comes to Soviet losses and has corrected himself on numerous occasions. Having read both Zamulin and Sokolov, I would approach the latter with a lot more caution than the former. 

Nonetheless, this is a worthwhile supplement to the various in-depth studies of the Battle of Kursk that are available today and the author raises important questions about how we should evaluate and collectively remember the series of offensive and defensive operations that took place in the summer of 1943, which undoubtedly set the stage for what happened throughout the rest of the war.

No comments: