The German invasion of the Soviet Union was the turning point of the Second World War, the starting point of the campaign that would end with the total defeat of Nazi Germany. In 1941 that all seemed very unlikely as the German army overran the Soviet border armies and drove into the heart of Russia. Although the Panzers get much of the attention, most of the hard fighting was done by the less glamorous infantry.
This book starts with a brief history of the two armies, looking at the formation of the Red Army during the Russian Civil War and the revival of the German army between the World Wars. We then look at the training, organisation and armament of the infantry divisions, before moving on to the battles themselves.
The battle section covers some of the early battles, in which many Red Army units were overwhelmed by the advancing Germans. The three battles chosen were all part of the key Smolensk campaign – one looking at the German advance towards Smolensk, one at the fighting in the city itself and one at an unsuccessful Soviet counter attack that still managed to disrupt the German timetable.
As the detailed battle accounts demonstrate, that didn't mean that the Germans had things entirely their own way. The battles examined here involved German mobile infantry divisions, which soon got ahead of the bulk of the army. As early as late July this meant that they were sometimes almost under siege, and in the last battle examined here the Germans were nearly overrun by much larger Soviet forces, before being reliefed by a fresh machine gun battalion.
The key problem on the Soviet side emerges as political interference. This was at its worst before the war, when Stalin's purges eliminated large swaths of the senior leadership of the Red Army, and continued during the war itself, with political officers equal to their military colleagues, and orders from 'on high' forcing Soviet troops into many pointless sacrifices.
This book helps answer two of the key questions of 1941 – first, how did the Germans get so far into the Soviet Union so quickly and second, how did the Red Army survive and prevent the Germans from reaching Moscow.
The Opposing Sides
Zhlobin, 6 July 1941
Smolensk, 15-23 July 1941
Vas'kovo-Voroshilovo, 23-27 July 1941
Author: David Campbell