I finally finished this massive book on the first half of the Battle of Smolensk during the German invasion of the USSR in World War II. There’s a second volume in preparation. It’s amazingly detailed look at the time when the handwriting on the wall began to be visible about the ultimate success of the invasion.
The first month was a smashing success on all three fronts, and especially in the center. But unlike the other blitz campaigns, resistance didn’t lessen, but grew. While Army Group Center managed a huge leap forward to Smolensk, but the final pockets could not be closed fully and Soviet counterattacks caused severe losses. Meanwhile, calls for support from the North and South fronts grew, as their weaker armor forces could not rout their opposition. Kiev and Leningrad were holding out, and the Moscow route was proving a tough one.
So even after the first month and a half, cracks were beginning to show in the operation. At first, all fronts could advance. Now, it looked like one front would have to go on hold in order to lend support to the others. Advancing further with Army Group Center would expose the flanks and cause supply lines to grow, so holding AGC and advancing others had some justification.
As time went on, the Germans could only make progress in narrower and narrower fronts – two-thirds to half in 1941, one-third in 1942, down to only tactical thrusts after that. At the same time the Soviet’s offensive punch was growing from failures in 1941, to counterattacks in 1942, to full offensives in 1943, and in 1944 expanded to the entire front.
Much of the book consists of the actual daily reports of the Russians, with daily situation maps showing the location of all units, mixed in with analysis. While some of the maps are difficult to make out, the book is a must-have for the student of the campaign.