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Red Army Tank Commanders: The Armored Guards (Schiffer Military Aviation History) Hardcover – January 1, 2004
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The six Generals are Katukov, Bogdanov, Rybalko, Lelyushenko, Rotmistrov and Kravchenko.
Katukov would follow Stavka's war council directives the closest. He was friendly with his staff and accepted collective decisions. He would give a free hand to his subordinates in executing their orders and would use sarcasm to motivate his people. He would rely on maps to help create battle plans.
Bogdanov would rely heavily on his Chief of Staff to initiate plans but would make the final decisions after hearing the facts. He wasn't real close to his staff and would supervise them in the execution of their orders. He would rely on maps to help create battle plans.
Rybalko was friendly with and valued his staff's input but would make the final decisions. He would closely supervise his staff in executing their orders. He also had the capacity to retain the entire battle plan in his head and could make adjustments quickly when needed.
Rotmistrov who was friendly with and confided with his staff, allowed them to share in the decisions. He liked to keep a tight reign on his staff, requiring constant feedback during battle. He had to actually see the battlefield before capable of making plans.
Lelyushenko was friendly with his staff but made all final decisions. He would give his staff a free hand in executing orders but had a habit of lecturing to improve results. He also had the capacity to hold battle plans in his head and to adjust quickly when necessary.
Kravchenko was an independent that made all his decisions and interacted less with his staff but would try to inspire them by example. He would also give his people freedom of action in executing their orders. He had the ability to keep entire battle plans in his head as well.
The author also provided a good battle summary for each person. The coverage would include their entire war record, even before they were promoted to Army level.
Katukov was involved in the following battles: Klevan, Mtsensk, Kshen River, Rzhev, Oboyan, Tomarovka, Zhitomir, Lvov, Posen, East Pomerania and Berlin.
Bogdanov saw action at Pilishchi, Slutsk, Mozhaisk, Moscow, Kaluga, Vytebet River, Stalingrad, Kotelnikovo, Kursk, Uman, Yassy, Op Bagration, Warsaw, Vistula And Oder Rivers, E Pomerania, Kustrin and Berlin.
Rybalko was involved at Donets River, Kharkov, Kozelsk, Voronezh, Olkhovatka, Krasnograd, Kursk, Dniepr River, Kiev, Zhitomir, Ternopol, Lvov, Vistula, Silesia, Oder and Berlin.
Lelyushenko fought on the Finnish line, Daugavpils, Dvina River, Dagda, Mtensk, Moscow, Klin, Krasnograd, Kursk, Dniepr River, Ternopol, Dniestr River, Kamenets, Lvov, Koltov, Kielce, Breslau and Berlin.
Rotmistrov saw action at Kovno, Kalinin, Klin, Voronezh, Don River, Stalingrad, Chir River, Belgorod, Lyubotin, Krivoi Rog, Uman, Korsun, Bug River. In addition he was an advisor to Stalin.
Kravchenko was in Finland, Vinnitsu, Klin, Moscow, Solnechnogorsk, Stalingrad, Chir River, Kharkov, Kursk, Dniepr River, Desna River, Kiev, Zvenigorodka, Korsun, Yassy, Bucharest, Ploiesti, Debrecen, Lake Balaton, Vienna, Prague and Manchuria in August 1945.
In addition to learning a lot about these officers, you will also read a very good operational summary. It was interesting to read about these battles from the Russian perspective. The author usually provides couple maps per man on the key battles. They were simple maps but helpful. There were photos of each General. There were Notes, an extensive Bibliography and a helpful index.
This was an impressive study and is highly recommended to anybody who is interested in reading about the leading Russian tank commanders, Russian command structure or wants to read about key battles from the Russian perspective.
Except for Rotmistrov (thanks to his involvement in the culminating point of Zitadelle) all the other names are probably unfamiliar to all but few people, even among those interested in the history of the Russo-German war of 1941-45. Recently the situation has somewhat improved, but even today is difficult to dispel the myth that only the Nazi Army had "real" generals, their Soviet counterparts being skilled only at the very top of the military structure (thus the focus on the "usual" Zhukov, Koniev and Rokossovsky), while at the operational and tactical level the Red Army was lead by faceless robots alway following orders, and more inclined in launchhing costly human wave attacks than dealing seriously with the art of war.
Of course, this was not (at least, not always!) the case, and "Red Army Tank Commanders" explains superbly why. All the six personalities are analized using a large array of documents, and at the end each commander is judged in the bigger context of the Soviet military evolution in the conflict.
What does emerge is that not only these people where as able and proficient as their German or Western "colleagues", but that they faced and overcame in huge variety of tasks and difficulties, nearly always displayng a great deal of flexibility and ingenuity (not the kind of thing you could expect from your stereotypical "soviet-leader-pushed-on-by-a-pistol-welding-political-commissar"). So, Rybalko and Katukov emerged as true masters of battlefield stamina (the later being almost reckless at times!) while Rotmistrov (a well learned and perceptive theoretician) tended to fight "by the book". Bogdanov was impulsive, adept on taking decisions in a snap second and commanding always "on the lead", a la Guderian. Kravchenko was the most conservative and cautious of the lot, with a strong sense of the past military tradition of the Russian army, and an meticoulos planner. Leylushenko excelled on flexibility and improvisation (something he shared with Rybalko) and often reorganized plans and disposition literally on the move.
All of them faced - very often - incredible hardships and risks. Being a commander in the Red Army wasn't easy - fighting a though, powerful and ruthless enemy, and under pressure from an High Command that rarely forgave failure. In this sense their career was quite unique in the context of WWII - a darwinian selection where only those learning from battlefield reality could hope for survival. Armstrong does a great job analysing each commander performance during the major operation in which the Red Tank Force was involved. Not always thing went well (like Rybalko's bloody failure during the Third Battle for Karkhov), but each commander learned from previous failures, and their performance invariably improved as the war progressed. The exception to this seems to be Rotmistrov, who was sacked after 5th GTA less-than-perfect performance during Operation Bagration - to be "kicked upstairs" and become the Deputy (later overall) Commander Of The Red Army Armoured and Mechanised Forces. Anyway Armstrong seems uneasy to decide if he losed his battlefield touch or was the victim of a clash of personalities with his superiors. After mature consideration, I incline for the latter version
It's always wrong to make comparision in the tricky business of warfare history (and even more so in the slippery arena of Eastern Front history!), but it's human to be tempted to compare these general with more famous names like Rommel, Hoth or Manteuffel (or, why not, Patton!). My take is that in their own way these men where all as good as commanders as those well known armour specialists - and if we take in account the difficulties they had to deal with, I suspect they could have been even better. This book could explain you why.
Just for the record, I've some complain. The first is that the writing is not always as good as the content. The most curious thing is the translation of the dialogues (nearly always taken from Soviet sources). They are all written in a very "wooden" english, the variety you learn from at school, and the sintax is - at least - a bit stilted.
The second critique is on the lack of a decent pictorial support (a minor sin), and the lack of decent maps. What we have in exchange are bare-boned diagrams that seems to have been made with Powerpoint. Well, could be a good excuse for a major reworking in a future second edition.
The bottom line? Buy it! It's one of a kind stuff - hope it will be reprinted sometimes in the future...