Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Book - Kursk: The Greatest Battle

Lloyd Clark

Product Description
A monumental, enthralling work charting the greatest land battle of all time which changed the course of World War Two, by a highly regarded military expert

5th July 1943: the greatest land battle of all time began around the town of Kursk in Russia. This epic confrontation between German and Soviet forces was one of the most important military engagements in history and epitomised 'total war'. It was also one of the most bloody, characterised by hideous excess and outrageous atrocities. It was a monumental and decisive encounter of breath-taking intensity which became a turning point, not only on the Eastern Front, but in the Second World War as a whole. As Churchill noted, for Russia, 'Stalingrad was the end of the beginning, but the Battle of Kursk was the beginning of the end'. Using the very latest available archival material including the testimonies of veterans and providing strategic perspective alongside personal stories of front line fighting, Lloyd Clark has written a lucid, enthralling and heart-stopping account of this incredible battle. 

About the Author
Lloyd Clark is a senior academic in the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Professorial Research Fellow in War Studies, Humanities Research Institute, University of Buckingham. He is the author of several books, including Anzio: The Friction of War and Arnhem: The Greatest Airborne Battle in History, has contributed to numerous others and lectures on military history all over the world. He is a frequent guide to battlefields on four continents and often works on radio and television as both historical adviser and interviewee. He lives in rural Hertfordshire with his wife and three children.

A Very Good Narrative Account of Kursk
In his book; "The Battle of the Tanks", the author, Lloyd Clark, has provided the reader with an admirably told and well-presented account of the climactic battle of WW2; Kursk, that occurred on the Russian steppe in July 1943.

The author has produced a well-researched, easy to read and easy to follow account of the massive clash between German and Russian forces at Kursk during Operation Zitadelle.

With the use of numerous first-hand accounts, diaries, letters and after-action reports the author's style of writing easily puts the reader in the heart of the action, this is from the first page:

" ..... The Tigers advanced, their engines whining as they climbed a low rise before juddering to a halt. The 100 tank Soviet wave sped towards them in an attempt to get close enough for their guns to penetrate the panzer's armour before the powerful German 88mm guns had an opportunity to pick them off. The Tiger gunners peered down their optical sights at the olive-green armour a mile away, but even as their cross hairs settled on a target, the T-34s dipped into a gentle fold in the ground like an armada sailing on a rolling sea. A tense minute passed before the enemy rose again and now they were just half a mile away. Anticipating the breaking wave, the Tiger commanders gave the order to fire. The 63 ton beasts jerked as their high-velocity guns blasted off their armour-piercing rounds.

The T-34s were devastated. An intense white explosion stopped one dead, another slew to the right before coming to a blazing stop while a third was ripped apart and disembowelled with appalling ease. The German intercoms were alive with impassioned voices as commanders sought to break up the enemy formation and the five-man crews fought for their lives. The T-34s plunged on as the Tigers found new fire positions and unleashed more destruction. Wittmann's skilful gunner, Helmut Graser, took rapid aim and loosed off. The round buried itself into a victim and dislodged the turret. The Tiger was re-positioned, the gun erupted, another hit.

The Soviets closed within a couple of hundred feet and returned fire on the move. Wittmann's Tiger was hit twice - the tank, ringing like a bell, was saved by two inches of steel - and four from his company were disabled. The field was littered with burning wrecks sending plumes of black smoke into the steel grey sky. The officer of one T-34 lay dead, slumped across his hatch as flames licked around the turret and his crew screamed from within. The acid air hung heavy over the charred corpses and the broken bodies of the wounded."

Nor does the author forget the human aspect of this gigantic struggle, this account is from a Russian soldier moving to take up a new defensive position against the advancing Germans:

"We were marching towards a river where we were to take up a defensive position in June 1942. We passed through a small non-descript place and it seems as if the entire population had crowded onto the road to stare at us. There was no cheering although one or two shouted encouragement for they knew that we were doomed. They also knew that if we were taking up positions close to their village, that they were doomed as well .... As we were leaving the village a middle-aged woman ran up to me and handed me a loaf of bread and kissed me on the cheek. She had a tear in her eye and sobbed, `For my son - my lovely boy'. I never saw her again but in that moment realized what terrible pain the nation was suffering as families were being torn apart. It reminded me of my family so far away. I tucked the bread into my jacket and began crying myself. I did not realize the stress that was building up in me. It was a release."

The book is full of these personal accounts and at no stage does the narrative bog down in too much detail but just drags the reader along to the next clash of arms. This following account is one of the better descriptive accounts I have read for some time about what happens when a tank is hit:

"After an hour of fighting, the fields was covered in blazing hulks, Any survivors of the initial calamitous shell strike had just seconds to evacuate the tank before it was engulfed in flame, which threatened to ignite the fuel and ammunition. Nikolai Zheleznov was knocked to the turret floor when his T-34 was hit. The white-hot explosion had shattered his driver's head, torn the loader's arm from his body and sent scores of large metal shards into the gunner's unprotected body. A fire sucked the oxygen out of the compartment and set light to Zheleznov's uniform as he struggled to open the commander's hatch. Eventually pushing it free as the flames leapt up around him, he fought to pull himself out of the void but his leg had been broken at the knee. Passing comrades pulled him clear of the tank just before it exploded but he sustained horrendous burns."

Here are two accounts from the fighting that occurred during the first few days of Kursk as the German formations fought their way through the Russian defensive positions:

"At the tip of the Das Reich, for example, acting Panzer Grenadier company commander SS-Untersturmfuhrer Kruger spent six hours leading his unit in hand-to-hand fighting during which he was twice wounded. Remaining with the company, he continued to lead his men as they wrestled with several T-34s. Darting forward with a magnetic mine grasped tightly between muddy hands, Kruger was grazed by a round, which ignited a smoke grenade in his pocket and set his trousers on fire. Ripping the flaming cloth from his legs, he continued his attack on the T-34 in his underwear and succeeded in knocking out the tank."

And the German Tiger tank again:

" .... The Tigers, despite their lack of mobility, proved difficult for the Red Army to stop. Once again, well-aimed rounds achieved little more than shaking the tanks' occupants, although when Obersturmfuhrer Schutzs' Tiger took a direct hit and the driver's glass vision block struck him in the stomach, he needed more than a couple of minutes to compose himself."

Overall this is an excellent story, not as detailed as David Glantz's account but still a worthy effort and should be in the library of anyone who has an interest or passion for books covering the war on the Eastern Front.

No comments:

Post a Comment