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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 17, 2013
The book description claims 'Armor and Blood' is 'the definitive account of the greatest tank battle of World War II', unfortunately that's far from accurate. The author himself admits this book offers nothing new or original but is a 'synthesis' of recent literature. As someone who's read their share of literature on the Second World War in general and the Eastern Front in particular, I'm always interested in new analysis and discussions that feature the Eastern Front. Yet 'Armor and Blood' seems a somewhat pointless text to me. A synthesis already assumes that there is no original research or new evidence to present the reading audience. But a synthesis in itself can be a useful tool if crafted from the newest research and offering original analysis. But having read close to a dozen books on the battle of Kursk I simply do not see where that original analysis is, nor did I see much of a narrative crafted from the newest literature available. Instead, what I encountered among the pages of 'Armor and Blood' is another German point-of-view text about the battle of Kursk with some minor mention of the Red Army every few pages. Once more the vaunted SS panzer force loses 3 or so tanks 'written-off' while the Red Army leaves on the field of battle hundreds of T-34s and T-70s and tens of thousands of men, which are readily replaced with the next batch of cannon fodder eager to die for the motherland. Unlike Zamulin's recently translated study of Prokhorovka that provided an enormous amount of new material for the western reader to digest, 'Armor and Blood' is another quickly forgotten regurgitation of all that is already pretty well known by those who've previously read about this battle. In addition, the lack of endnotes and bibliography (as with his previous 'Hitler's Panzers') makes for a less interesting reading experience for those interested to find out where the information presented is coming from.
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
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.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2013
As an avid reader of "general consumption" WW II history, I was looking forward to learning about the huge battle of Kursk, little known to most Western readers including myself (at least in comparison to battles in France and Italy and North Africa). Armor and Blood caught my attention - it had some good reviews, and Dennis Showalter is a well known historian. Unfortunately, I finished the book frustrated by Showalter's organization, lack of any real story telling, and his sometimes tortured syntax. Regarding organization, I understand that it is a real challenge to present the enormity of this battle in a book. And I get it that much of story of this battle is perhaps lost forever due to the 50+ years of Soviet information lockdown. But a much better way to have written the book - or certainly a better way for me to have understood the battle - would have been to write it on a day by day narrative. Instead he hops around from different fronts and different units on days. I found it very hard to keep the thread of the narrative. Also, more charts would have helped to describe the numbers - of tanks, men, casualties, etc. The lack of story telling just made much of the book seem repetitive - it seemed like (e.g.) yet again Das Reich into battle without any real context. And regarding syntax, Showalter seems to want to, well, show off. e.g. "For the Germans at Kursk's sharp end, denial was not the proverbial river in Egypt". While I finished with a better understanding of Kursk, it was not an entertaining or enjoyable read, nor did I gain the level of understanding of this tipping point battle I had hoped.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The author is to be commended for attempting to present an accurate recounting of one of the most important battles on the Eastern Front of World War II. I don't agree that it was THE turning point of the war in the East, but it was certainly the last opportunity for the Germans to regain the initiative and force a political solution. It was also most certainly the matriculation of the Russian military leadership and their last major stepping stone to mastery of combined arms operations.

However, the author's writing style is strange. He is not a gifted writer of history in the style of Stephen Ambrose or David McCullough. He uses staccato sentence fragments to convey tension and activity, a technique widely employed by poor writers. He is also in love with word "condignly". Though he uses it appropriately in every instance, it is an archaic and not widely used term.

The greatest problem with this history is the lack of usable maps. What few there are are simply awful. The Battle of Kursk required the Germans to reduce many fortified villages and capture many heights - but these are essentially not identified on the few maps. The entire battle consisted of movement and trying to follow it without maps is impossible.

There are also a great many typographical errors, particularly with regard to unit identifications, which makes following the battle difficult. In one case, II SS is identified as a Soviet unit.

Profesor Showalter does ultimately provide what may be the most comprehensive and, more importantly, accurate tellings of the battle, dispelling many of the myths occasioned by Soviet secrecy, German apologia for losing and general disinterest in the Eastern Front by The UNited States and Western European countries.

Overall, it is a fairly difficult read which need not have been the case if showalter were a more talented writer - or had a capable writer. The lack of decent maps, however, is the real killer. It is a disservice to Professor Showalter not to have provided them.

Jerry
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 2, 2013
This is an excellent history of the Battle of Kursk that is both readable and accurate. It dispels all the myths of Kursk but in a very readable format. The research is excellent as all the major sources of the battle are provided in the informal bibliography. The book provides a balanced perspective of the battle from both the German and Russian perspective.

The result of this is a perspective of the battle that is more like a WWI battle on the Western Front than what is commonly seen as the WWII Eastern Front. The names of the chapters are appropriate to this perception: "Grapple" and "Hard Pounding" for example. Also, the so-called greatest tank battle of all time at Prokhorovka is not what it seems to be - yes, the Russians attacked with hundreds of tanks but the Germans defended with 7 MKIV's and 4 Tigers in the 1stSS Panzer Division's sector and not much more elsewhere - and they stopped the Russians with minimal losses.

However, the counterattack by the Russians accomplished what it expected to and stopped the Germans. Although the stopping was due more to the US/British invasion of Sicily than the Russians doing as Hitler lost heart and interest in the battle.

I do agree with the review that I read in the Wall Street Journal on this book, that the Battle of Kursk was NOT the "turning point of World War II". That occurred much earlier in the war - some say December, 1941 when the Germans were stopped at the gates of Moscow and the US entered the war, and some say even earlier. The point is that, and the author even mentions this, even if the Germans had won the Battle of Kursk, they wouldn't have been able to accomplish much after that victory.

Also, the maps provided are not of the highest caliber and many of the towns mentioned in the book are not shown on any maps.

However, in spite of these issues, I do highly recommend this book for any reader who is interested in World War II history. This, in my opinion, is the best history of the Battle of Kursk being both accurate and readable.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2013
I have read any number of histories of the Battle of Kursk, and they run the gamut from the silly to the sublime. Not surprisingly in view of his previous works of military history, Dennis Showalter's retelling of the epic battle that sealed the fate of the Third Reich on the Eastern Front is a smashing good read. Showalter is particularly good at integrating his sources seamlessly and including a conscious nod towards known controversies so that what he ends up with is more than just a story. It is a story that introduces readers to salient interpretations already out there without bogging them down in so much military jargon or detail as to dull the inherent drama of his topic. Balance is important. Too many histories of this particular battle focus so tightly on technical details of tank design or outright admiration for the Reich's technical accomplishments in the "panzerwaffe" that they lose balance and perspective. "Armor and Blood" does not feel like a one dimensional tale of Hitler's failure or the Stavka's success; it is both and neither. For me, this is military history writ large.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2013
Previous reviewers have made cogent evaluations of the detail of this book. It is well organized and interestingly written for the intermediate student of military history. I consider Kursk as the final thrust of German armor which was largely used up and became irreplaceable to the Wehrmacht. If you are looking for a more detailed analysis of the battle and a much more difficult read, try Demolishing the Myth: The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943: An Operational Narrative by Valeriy Zamulin and Stuart Britton (Jul 19, 2011).

I find the maps are inadequate to gaining a thorough understanding of the tactical situation but even the West Point maps suffer the same shortcoming in this engagement. The battlefield was relatively small and much was committed in this area.

Armor and Blood is very well done for its intended audience and allows a general understanding of "The Great Patriotic War" beyond the heroic stands before Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad. The author's analysis of several personalities managing the battle is also well done for its intended purpose. Kursk may, or may not, have been the turning point but this battle was larger than anything fought by the American-British coalition. I recommend it highly for military readers beyond the Atkinson Trilogy level.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2014
Like others, I'd read some favorable reviews of this book and ended up disappointed for the following reasons:

1). I've read a couple of books about Kursk, but don't consider myself an expert. Nonetheless this book is just another German-centric account of the battle and didn't add anything to my understanding of the battle.

2). I don't think the author is a very good historical writer; maybe it's just me, but I found the author's repeated use of pop-phrases such as "heavy-lifting" and "denial not being a river in Egypt" a bit off-putting.

3) no footnotes...

4) very weak maps, In Fact it is difficult to understand why the author went to the little trouble that he did to include the rather cartoony maps included in the text.

5) while not essential, the best histories weave in some quotes or accounts of participants in the battle--this book has virtually none of such accounts.

6) the author seems rather infatuated with the SS and generally portrays the Sovs as ill-disciplined dullards, so I didn't find the book particularly objective.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2014
Showalter seems much more interested in showing off his ability to use a thesaurus rather than crafting an interesting narrative. The author's tortured style left me hating this book. I walked away with no clear image of this historic event. If only someone with the story telling ability of James D. Hornfischer would tackle the Battle of Kursk
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2013
My father was a tank driver for the German army in this battle. He along with 5000 others were captured and held as POW's.
This book does a great to help me understand the the battle scene itself and the formidable challenges both sides faced. Showalter narrates this story beautifully, in wonderful prose that makes it hard to put the book down. This was an enormous battle, yet very little exists in book form to document what occurred.
A must read.
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