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The Battle of Kursk: David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House; University Press of Kansas (July 2004); ISBN-13: 978-0700613359

At 485 pages, “The Battle of Kursk” must stand as one of the most detailed and carefully researched examinations of this pivotal East Front battle to ever see print. It is also well-written and clear, even for those who are not well-versed in military affairs. Using previously unavailable Soviet sources, Glantz and House expand on or correct earlier military analyses of Kursk. To do so, they incorporate amazingly-detailed, new information about the Soviet defensive arrangements, orders of battle, Front dispositions, and even the operational planning of the Red Army as it prepared to meet the final major German offensive in the East: Operation Zitadelle. This extensive body of new data is particularly welcome because it often challenges, if not directly refutes, the historical account that has emerged in the years following World War II, from those who commanded on the German side. Thus, in the process of their exposition, the authors dispel a number of misconceptions and myths that continue, to this day, to distort the true history of this battle.

Of particular note is the obvious command that Glantz and House demonstrate over every aspect of their complex subject matter. Merging strategic insight with a keen appreciation of the operational (battalion) details of the battle, the authors provide an exceptionally complete and balanced narrative of the battle of Kursk as it unfolded in the early days of July, 1943. Moreover, thirty-two excellent maps enrich the writers’ commentary and, in the process, help the reader easily follow the events of the battle as they unfolded. No potentially significant military detail is ignored; instead, virtually every aspect of the battle, whether great or small, is carefully examined by the authors. Thus, from the headquarters of the senior commanders directing the two clashing armies, to the soldiers in the trenches and tanks that actually did the fighting, no facet of this titanic struggle is left unexplored in this comprehensive account of the battle.

Everything presented by the authors, of course, is not brand new. Perhaps, the least controversial of the many ideas presented in "The Battle of Kursk," is that the German offensive was a futile waste of the Wehrmacht's dwindling reserves of men and material. In their analysis, Glantz and House convincingly show, as a number of military historians had already posited, that Zitadelle was all but doomed to bloody failure from the outset. More interestingly, they also demonstrate that last minute changes in the German plan of battle by the OKH would have had little, if any, effect on the final outcome of the offensive. Nor do the authors spare the reputations of several of Germany’s most famous generals in the book’s conclusions. Glantz and House persuasively demonstrate (using the German Army's own communiques) that even some of Hitler’s best commanders woefully misjudged the battlefield situation as it developed.

Given the sheer scale, duration and ferocity of the War in the East, it is natural that, almost from the day that the war ended, students of military affairs have debated with each other over the precise timing and causes of Germany's defeat. The German armored warfare visionary, Heinz Guderain, for example, argued that the war was really lost in front of Moscow, during the winter of 1941-42. The greater number of historians, on the other hand, have suggested that the disaster at Stalingrad actually marked the beginning of the end for the Third Reich in Russia. Glantz and House take a different and more nuanced view: they argue that, although the destruction of Paulus’ 6th Army on the Volga was a tremendous set-back for the Wehrmacht, it did not mark the final strategic tipping point in the War in the East. That historical moment, the two authors propose, would actually not come until almost nine months later, in July of 1943, at the battle of Kursk.

I strongly recommend “The Battle of Kursk” for anyone with more than a passing interest in Zitadelle: just the maps alone, in my opinion, make this book a worthwhile investment. But, of course, "The Battle of Kursk" is more than a collection of maps; it is a superb work of military scholarship and, hence, an indispensible source of historical information about the battle. Thus, for anyone just curious about combat operations on the Eastern Front, this book is an enjoyable and worthwhile read; for more serious students of the Russo-German War, however, I think that it is a MUST OWN.


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