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Kursk, 1943

by Lloyd Clark

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1908-7
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

A leading British military historian reconsiders the events of World War II—this time, on the decisive yet less-trammeled Eastern Front.

The “lack of appreciation” in the West regarding the Soviet Union’s massive resistance to the Nazi onslaught from June 1941 through July 1943 is gradually giving way to better understanding thanks to the opening of archives behind the former Iron Curtain. In this deeply informed overview, Clark (Crossing the Rhine: Breaking into Nazi Germany 1944 and 1945—The Greatest Airborne Battles in History, 2008, etc.) offers an authoritative appraisal of the “total war” engulfing both Germany and the Soviet Union. Clark begins with two comprehensive yet succinct chapters situating “The Origins of Annihilation” for both Germany and the Soviet Union from the end of War World I onward. When Hitler seized power, his aim to destroy the Soviets was unmistakable and clear. Meanwhile, Stalin’s purges of the military, just as it was emerging a more modern, professional Red Army by 1937, rendered the Soviets vulnerable to Germany’s aggression. While Germany began its eastern expansion in 1939, the Soviet Union was actually providing it tons of raw materials and grains, perversely allowing Hitler to establish the “timetable for attacking.” Once the shock of the German blitzkrieg gave way to action, the Soviets gradually established a defensive belt that allowed them to hold off the Nazis from Smolensk, Moscow and Stalingrad. The “qualitative gap” between the German and Soviet armies was immense, but what the Soviets had were men to throw into the maw and an impressive production capacity—astutely moved east of Moscow. Gen. Georgy Zhukov’s strategy of drawing out the Germans’ advance to exhaust their resources, miring them in winter, essentially turned the conflict into “a slogging match”—it worked, but to the toll of 10 million Soviet dead.

Vigorous depictions of German and Soviet military leaders alternate with the words of ordinary soldiers and richly described specifications of military hardware.