Most helpful positive review
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Good commentary and analysis though nothing new
on August 31, 2013
This book which is a synthesis of earlier works has many good attributes that warrant recommendation but from my perspective there are also negatives that prevent it from receiving five stars. The rest of the review will explain my reasoning for the good and bad.
The book can be viewed or conceptualized as having two main parts. There is the tactical events or micro history as the author calls it and the author's commentary and analysis.
In regards to the tactical: there are literally dozens of battle events missing from the narrative and the ones included are not given their full due. I realize this book is a summary and is not meant to provide in-depth coverage but there should be enough tactical/operational information provided to give the reader a true picture or magnitude of the campaign. Even on a tertiary or even secondary level I don't believe this requirement was met.
There are so many hard fought battles for control of key villages, hills, river crossings that are missing that if were present would give the reader a better handle of the fanaticism that both sides displayed or the level of aptitude and in some cases inaptitude that was displayed by some of the commanders.
In the northern salient, coverage stops on the 9th if memory serves. In the south the first five days are also skimpy. Starting with the 10th, a few more details are provided and it improves a little further on the 11th and 12th but with the 13th onwards, the details are back to skimpy.
The details of the extensive defenses erected were short changed as well. This information would give the reader the lengths the Soviets went to prepare for battle and the efforts the Germans were driven to overcome these obstacles. These erected kill zones that include PakFronts, dug-in tanks, elaborate trench systems, bunkers etc were an engineering marvel and should be understood to see the whole picture. However, the frequent discussions on Panthers, T-34s and armor in general were welcomed. Also welcomed was coverage of the air war. The exploits of tanker Rudolf Ribbentrop were presented but surprisingly not of Michael Wittmann.
The second part of the book is the author's commentary and analysis and that was very good and worth five stars. The key commanders are discussed often, describing the problems facing them and what they could do to overcome them. In this instance the battle engagements mentioned are blended nicely with the commentary to provide a valid impression of a particular aspect of the battle. By the end of the book, the collective body of commentary will provide a reasonable but not exhaustive understanding of the campaign and should satisfy all but the most demanding students of the campaign. The comments on Hoth's diverting the SS away from Oboyan toward Prokhorovka as well as the arrival and preliminary preparation of 5th GTA before launch were especially interesting.
The last two chapters move away from the micro history of the battlefield. In "Crossovers", the invasion of Sicily is mentioned, the closing down of Citadel, Manstein's desire to continue the advance against 69th Army. Appraisals of Manstein and Vatutin are also given. It was good. In the last chapter, "Watersheds", casualties are discussed and the impact of the campaign had on the rest of the war is provided. It was a transitional battle that saw the Germans go strategically on the defensive and the Soviets on the offensive. There was greater depth than this; the chapter was very good and should not be skipped when reading the book. The two chapters added to the overall experience and understanding of the war.
There are also 11 maps to study. These B+W maps range from the entire front line to sector to battlefield scale, including the Orel salient. These maps are very basic and provide minimal details.
The narrative is 279 pages but when you deduct the two extensive introductory chapters of prewar history and war history of the first two years plus the last two chapters, there is probably only 150 pages directly related to Operation Citadel.
There is no Bibliography or Appendix but there is a useful Suggested Reading List, Notes Section and Index. There is a small but worthwhile photo gallery.
One last word and I don't mean to demean but it makes a difference. I found seven typos, mostly concerning unit designations that confused the battle situation. Two examples: On the southern salient the 167th ID was fighting alongside Das Reich in the latter stages but it was stated the 176th ID. If one didn't know any better, you would think the Germans had an additional division in the fight. On the northern salient the 17th Rifle Army was mentioned but there was no 17th RA. Perhaps the author meant 70th Army or 13th Army or more likely the 17th GRC. All three units were fighting in the general area being discussed. Don't think me picayune but these tactical miscues, even as small as they are, were glaring to me that knocked a little glitter off this book; my immediate reaction was wishing Mr Showalter or his staff had spent a few more difficult days proofing the book.
Even with my criticism, I still recommend this book. The commentary and analysis was good and what I call the weak part of the book, the tactical and in some regards the operational, plus the maps can be supplemented by books from Glantz, Nipe, Zamulin and a few others. If you're more interested in the analysis, as traditional as it is presented here, than the micro history then definitely get this book for the author has gathered the bulk of the latest academic thinking of this key campaign.