Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Eastern Front: World War II

I have been reading this awesome memoir of Germany's greatest generals on the Eastern Front - General Ehard Raus, its called "Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945" and is compiled and translated by Steven H. Newton, a professor of history at the Delaware State University. By war's end, Raus had earned a reputation as one of Germany's foremost tacticians of armored warfare and was considered a prized catch when he was captured by the U.S. He wrote this detailed memoir in US captivity. The book is all about armored military strategy and is recommended for all who are interested in strategic warfare.

What I like about this book:
very analytical, paints a complete picture of both armies at each battle - right from the number of men, artillery pieces, tanks, reserves etc (this means remembering who is who and where they came from. For eg., 320th infantry division, 6th panzer division etc.). Before you start to groan, this book is replete with analysis, both pre and post. He gives a lot of credit to refining soviet tactics as the war progressed. He makes an analysis of what it means to invade a country and one as unique and immensely huge as the Soviet Union. He analyzes the socio-political situation in soviet Russia during those years and even comments on the economic might of the Soviet Union - its massive collosal army, the never ending tank production lines - its almost limitless industrial capapcity far outdoing Germany's resources that were stretched thin between Africa, Western Europe and Russia. He gives very good insights into how the Soviets fought and made use of the fact that they outnumbered the Germans in all modes of combat. You should read the book to appreciate this lopsided battle and how the Soviet Union rallied around and started to push the Wehrmacht out of Russian soil. Raus gives credit where its due to the Russians. He also gives you some sense of the number of soldiers required to fight and maintain a line that at one time was along the entire breadth of Russia. No commentary of the Eastern Front is complete without tales of the winter war and its telling effect on German soldiers. Raus camped 26 miles out of Moscow in the winter with his unit being hit with 800 casualties every day owing to the cold. At that rate, he estimates, that his division would have been reduced to a 'band of brothers' within 7 days! His analysis of the Russian winter counter offensives are admirable and he points out that the Wehrmacht retreat from Russia was at no time a rout. Germans inflicted huge and heavy losses on the Russians even while on the retreat but they themselves were so dimished in strength that making a stand was not a viable option.

What I don't like about the book:
Maps - a severe paucity of them renders the book very dry and leaves to the imagination of the reader battles that were fought at different cities with nothing to differentiate or identify them but general directions such as to the south of Stalingrad. You will have to read certain battles more than once to truly appreciate them.
Advice: stick to it and try to imagine it and you'll be plesantly surprised as to the wealth of information you will get.
This general obviously did not fight in all the battles and therefore some battles like those for Stalingrad and Leningrad are absent. He does make references to them of course to cite the magnitude of German losses (an entire army of around 300,000 men. I am not sure of the losses in equipment). You will find more than enough information in many other battles like those of Kharkov, Kursk (Operation Zitadelle), battles for the Ukraine, the Kiev salient, Lvov and finally Pomerania (in these battles, german panzer divisions fought at tank ratios 1:20 in favor of the russians).

Just to give you an idea of the lopsided nature of most Russian battles: consider Operation Zitadelle (the battle of Kursk). Here are the numbers for each of the armies that clashed for this city that was the industrial and economical heart of the Ukraine.
Germany:In total they assembled some 2,700 tanks and assault guns, 1,800 aircraft and 800,000 men.
Russia: The Red Army laid over 400,000 landmines and dug about 5,000 kilometers of trenches, with positions as far back as 175km from the front line. In addition they massed a huge army of their own, including some 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 2,400 aircraft.

Operation Zitadelle did not achieve the outlined objectives and is generally considered a german tactical loss.

Casuality figures: Just from the battle of Kursk, the Soviets lost 322 tanks (more than half of them beyond repair), had more than 1000 dead and an additional 2500 missing or wounded. German losses reached less than 20% of that.
Of the total casulaties from the entire operation, the losses sort of looked the same - 60,000 dead and missing (germany) and 70,330 for Russia. But what these figures don't tell you is that the Germans didn't have manpower left after taking losses that ran at roughly 3:5 in their favor. The soviets through the lend-lease program and owing to their advantage in numbers were able to bounce back.

More later. I really should change the template to include categories so that I can open one just for the Eastern Front. Anybody want to help me out on this one?


Smitha said...

Give me the specifications for the template. I will provide you the code for the template and ofcourse you have to pay for the work :)

Smitha said...

Nice Review! I now know what the Panzer book is all about !