Endgame at Stalingrad Book 2: David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House

The stalingrad trilogy, volume 3

This almost final book in the Stalingrad Trilogy covers the German Counteroffensives and Operation Little Saturn, and the death of the German Pocket after the failure to relieve the pocket.

The unexpectedly large pocket at Stalingrad meant that the Soviets had to re-evaluate their next offensive, Operation Saturn.  A good fraction of the forces would be tied down holding the pocket and defending against the threatened German counteroffensive from the South.  The plans were changed to Operation “Little Saturn” – a smaller offensive to broaden the offensive to the West and crush the Italian 8th Army.  Meanwhile the armored forces from the first attack would press the Chir River line to immobilize the forces closest to Stalingrad.  The strike force for Saturn’s east pincer would move to block any forces moving from Kotelnovko towards Stalingrad from the south.

The German’s counterattack ran into problems from the start as half of their force was embroiled on the Chir river and while it managed to hold ground and grind up units, it eventually had to retire due to Little Saturn’s forces threatening to cut it off.  The other pincer got off to a good start against the weak and tired forces holding the ring but were stopped and driven back by 5th Tank Army, the diverted Saturn attack force.

Even if it had made more ground, it is hard to see what could have happened.  The forces in the pocket did not have the mobility to retire across the snowy steppe in the face of heavy Soviet tank forces.  They could hold in place fairly well, but only a crushing German victory that re-established the original front had a chance of saving the forces at Stalingrad. This was not going to happen.

Little Saturn at the end of December led to both German offensives being broken off.  The focus then turns to the death of the Pocket over the next month.  It was important to the rest of the German army for these men to hold out as long as possible, to keep the Soviet forces busy.  The Germans managed to establish a new front far to the west to keep the war continuing, but the chance to win the war was definitively over.

Again, this is a very detailed, day to day and even minute by minute recounting of one of the major actions in WWII.

Advertisements

Endgame at Stalingrad: Book One – David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House

The stalingrad trilogy, volume 3

The “Trilogy” ended up being 4 fat books, hence the Book 1 and Book 2.  The first volume in the Series – To the Gates of Stalingrad – covered the “Case Blue” offensive that swept across Southern Russia to the outskirts of Stalingrad and to the Caucasus.  The second volume – Armageddon in Stalingrad –  covered the two months when the Axis tried to take Stalingrad and as the rest of the offensive petered out just short of their goals.

The third volume – in two fat books of which this is the first – covers the Soviet counteroffensive that crushed the flanking forces around Stalingrad and encircled the city with over 250,000 men inside.  This first book covers the planning and initial offensive – Operation Uranus- that provided the first successful major Soviet offensive in the war.

This is an incredibly detailed look at this battle – almost 700 pages.  It goes back to primary sources including Soviet archive documents that have only recently been revealed.  Glantz was one of the first westerners allowed to see these archives back in the 80s and 90s.  This means that the German slant in most earlier histories is mitigated. This is the most detailed history of this operation in existence.

While the Soviets did plan well, there were still some contingencies that they did not expect.  The counterattack in the city and the north side were unsuccessful.  But the breakouts further westward along the Don were very successful and managed to link up to the southern pincer.  The Soviets could not keep the forces on the Don from retiring on Stalingrad, swelling the number of trapped units in the pocket far past Soviet expectations.

This would affect the Soviet follow-on offensive plan, Operation Saturn in December, as more forces were needed to contain and reduce the city and defend against the threatened German relief attempt.

This book only covers the Stalingrad area operations. The Caucasus operations in this period are planned for a Volume 4 (!)

The Viaz’ma Catastrophe, 1941 – Lev Lopukhovsky

The Red Army’s Disastrous stand Against Operation Typhoon

In late September, 1941, the German invasion of the USSR was in the curious position of succeeding massively in some ways and failing miserably in others.  The losses of the Russians were stupendous, the land gained was impressive on the map.  On the ground, though, the army was stretched to cover an increasing front and could no longer support offensives in all directions.  Instead the eroding panzer forces had to be concentrated in one section of the front to break through.  And rather than having opposition fade with time as the plan required, Russian resistance seemed to be holding steady, or even growing. And winter was coming.

Unwilling to change any of the premises behind the invasion, the Germans instead decided to repeat the same plan that had merely given them impressive gains but no final resolution when tried in June at the borders or at Kiev in August.  And this time their forces were weaker.  Operation Typhoon was set up to lunge in the center of the front, towards Moscow.

The forces in this area had spent most of the summer attacking the Germans and were worn down and not in a position of defense.  In a matter of days, the front was shattered and most of the men in it killed or captured.  The reduction of the pockets continued for a month until the Autumn rains caused a pause in the offensive to work out supply difficulties.  This gave the Soviets time to build up a new defensive line to contest the next phase of Typhoon as the weather declined into full winter.  Again, the offensive had produced impressive victories without winning the war.

This is an immensely detailed look at a campaign that usually gets about as much explanation as I just gave it.  The view is from the Soviet side, and doesn’t spare anyone from the mistakes that led to the disaster.  It also provides evidence that the USSR has understated the actual losses by about half, and that a million men were killed or captured.

Another thread in this history is of the survivors of the fallen.  The author lost his own father in this battle and explains that body recovery and identification of the fallen in these battles is still going on today.  Former POWs are still being ‘rehablitated’ when these studies can prove that they did not surrender without cause.  Part of the reason for the author wanting an accurate list of losses is to keep the process going until all the fallen are recognized.  It adds a sobering thought that the impact of these battles isn’t over even so long afterward.

 

Utah Beach – Joseph Balkoski

Utah Beach is a companion volume to the author’s previous Omaha Beach. Like its companion, it follows the first day, June 6, 1944 on this second American Beach in detail. It moves from conception as a late addition to the invasion to widen the front to the end of the first day.

The terrain at Utah was not as imposing as Omaha, with its high cliffs, but in many ways less suitable for an invasion. There was a fine beach, but the land behind was so low and flooded that all traffic inland had to cross narrow causeways.  These could be defended by as little as a handful of men with some guns indefinitely.  The planners tried to avoid this by having two airborne divisions drop behind these causeways at night before the invasion and seize the inland end that night to keep defenses from being set up.  So in addition to the complexities of a naval invasion of a defended coast, the plan needed to add airdrops and plans to relieve these troops as soon as possible.

Mass airborne attacks were a new thing, and like most new things they did not go off as planned.  There were high winds and mistakes in locating the landing zones that led to the two divisions being scattered all over the region.  While not as bad as the debacle in Sicily the year before, a confused series of battles broke out as the two airborne divisions landed in the middle of two German divisions. While the confusion in the US troops was considerable, with units in the wrong locations and often fragments of the planned size, the Germans found the situation incomprehensibly confusing, as there were pockets of paratroopers all over the place.

The dawn invasion did not go off like clockwork either.  The tides led to the landing craft drifting a mile off course.  This meant that units were not at the planned locations, so that attacks had to be reorganized on the fly.  Luckily, it was quickly done and the fire on the beaches was much less than at Omaha.  It was easier to reorganize without the severe losses at that beach, but it was just as essential to clear the beaches and move inland.

When the nearest causeways were reached, they found that the airborne forces had managed to regroup in the night and take the far end, allowing the troops to move inland rapidly and rescue the isolated paratroopers farther inland.

The first day lodgement was six miles inland, and would expand deeper when pockets of the 82nd Airborne were linked up with.  Casualties were only 800 for the sea landed forces – but the airborne forces lost but when you add in the airlanding the losses rise to 3450 men,  about half dead or captures.  This is approaching the losses at Bloody Omaha beach that same day.

Ghost on the Throne – James Romm

The death of Alexander the Great and the war for Crown and Empire

Alexander the Great’s sudden death in 323 BC left his infant Macedonian Empire in an impossible position.  There was no clear military heir but several candidates, and no heir of the blood but more than one candidate for a figurehead – a simpleton half-brother of Alexander and an infant child.

This book is less of a straight history than an episodic one.  This give a more scope for some of the anecdotes recorded by ancient historians to come out, but does make the flow of the wars harder to understand.  This book is more a people story than an army story.

It isn’t strange that war broke out, as some generals that were left out of the initial division of the Empire into districts found themselves decided to make their own way.  Some decided to opt out of the empire entirely – the most successful, Ptolemy, not only managed to claim Egypt for his very own but also steal Alexander’s corpse away from the others on its journey back to Macedon.

Some Greek cities, also, tried to take advantage of the supposed weakness of the Macedonian empire and reclaim their independence.  This turned out to be a mistake, as even the rump fragments were able to turn on these city-states and defeat them between contests with each other.

But for the most part, the remaining generals and Macedonian royals continued contending for a unified empire under one or another legitimate ruler for a long time. They tried to pick each other off in battles or plots like a Greek “Game of Thrones”.

But in the end the single Empire split back into European Kingdoms and an Asian Empire, with Egypt independent.  A multilateral “Hellenistic” age had begun.

A Warrior Dynasty – Henrik O. Lunde

The Rise and Fall of Sweden as a Military Superpower, 1611-1721

This book is an overview of the short period when the tiny nation of Sweden became the not only a superpower in Europe, but nearly the arbiter of Germany and the Baltic.

This period was punctuated by the short careers two famous warrior kings – Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII.  Gustavus is famed for his intervention in the Thirty Years War and major victories that stabilized the situation and kept Protestantism viable in Germany.  Charles XII is noted more for his struggles against Poland and Russia in the Great Northern War.

Sweden early in this period gained a technology advantage over standard military practice which gave their armies more flexibility in battle and attached light artillery that could pound the unwieldy square pike formations then in vogue.  This advantage and the ability of Gustavus Adolphus led to a crushing victory at Brietenfeld and moved he theater of war from the Baltic Coast to south Germany.

While the able general Wallenstein was able to fend off Gustavus for a time, a second victory at Lutzen confirmed the superiority of Swedish arms.  Sadly for Sweden, the king Gustavus was killed at the battle and the war was put in the hands of a Chancellor while a young Queen waited to grow up.

Continue reading