Stalin’s Revenge

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Stalin’s Revenge: Operation Bagration and the Annihilation of Army Group Centre by Anthony Tucker-Jones (4 Stars)

This is a well researched and well written book for those of us who have a great interest in the Ost Krieg or the war on the Eastern Front between Germany and the Soviet Union. According to the book jacket and the forward, the author is a former defense analyst for the British government, the former Soviet Union being one of the countries he followed. His background shows in this “just the facts” volume.

I add this disclaimer: this book is written for a narrow audience with a strong grounding in the German-Soviet war and not a general audience. The small universe of readers Mr. Tucker-Jones is writing for, and the audience his publisher markets to, are readers who want to know the minutiae. The detail is one of the many strengths of the book.

I give this book four stars because it is a welcome addition to the very thin scholarship on the critical battle of Operation Bagration/Collapse of Army Group Center. The author does a very sound job of placing this battle in its proper context of World War Two as well as discussing the major political and military decisions made by both sides prior to the battle. The author finishes the book with an analysis of why this battle literally broke the German Army as a fighting force.

It is hard to imagine the scale of this battle, although one gets a major clue given the battle is also known as “the Collapse of Army Group Center.” Suffice it to say that while the Allies lost 3,000 men KIA on D-Day, that same number of German soldiers killed in a day would have elicited neither action or comment at an Army Group command level of German forces in the East. (Usually three army groups controlled all German forces in the East: Army Group North, Center, and South.)

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Overview of military operations conducted by the red army during Operation Bagration (22 June 1944 – 29 August 1944).

This critical battle, launched on the night of 21/22 June 1944, the third anniversary of the German attack on the USSR, is far, far more important than D-Day which occurred just two weeks before. Operation Bagration has attracted few authors because of the paucity of research materials. One of the main reasons for the lack of information is this: within the first five days of the attack, upwards of 27 German divisions, along with their upper echelon command units at corps level, and even army level, simply vanished.

For purposes of clarification this is how the German Army was organized (there always being exceptions to the rule, of course): three divisions reported to a corps HQ, three corps HQs reported to an army HQ, and three or four army HQs reported to an Army Group HQ, which itself reported directly to German Army High Command (that being OKH and not OKW).

Over 300,000 men were KIA or WIA or MIA in just five days with all military organization collapsing including communication. These units were never heard from again. No war diaries, radio logs, or reports of any type survived. It would be as if the United States lost the entire US Marine Corps in five days and never found out what happened to them. We don’t know anything of these German units destroyed in the first days of Bagration other than they were overwhelmed. Few of the men made it back and very few were taken prisoner – on Stalin’s specific order.

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Soviet soldiers assault the town of Jelgava on 16 August 1944.

The Germans, by then almost completely dependent on horse transport, could not retreat fast enough from the Soviets who, in addition to their incredible advantage in numbers of tanks, self propelled artillery, and assault guns, were highly mobile at that point in the war with hundreds of thousands of American trucks. Indeed the Soviets advanced so quickly that Minsk, headquarters of Army Group Center, was one of the cities taken within the initial five day period of the battle and it was over 100 km from the main line of resistance. Army Group HQ staff and rear echelon support units barely had time to evacuate and some of them never made it out.

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Surrender of Major-General Alfons Hitter and Lieutenant-General Friedrich Gollwitzer to Marshal of the Soviet Union Aleksandr Vasilevsky and Field Marshal Ivan Chernyakhovsky after the battle of Vitebsk during Operation Bagration.

 

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German Feldgendarmerie patrolling.

Memoirs of German soldiers who made it through that period confirm this chaos. In several of these memoirs, the authors even come clean and state that retreating combat units simply shot the German Feldgendarmerie trying to stop them.

The Soviets released very few documents on World War Two giving us nothing but heavily censored memoirs by a handful of well known generals. The Russian Federation allowed scholars access to many original documents on the war but shut that window of opportunity after a few years and even reclassified material previously released. Hence, information is very hard to come by.

Additionally, it isn’t clear to those of us who are keen students of this period in history whether the British and the Americans have declassified all of their records from this time including all the Enigma intercepts which have a bearing on this battle and others. This is frustrating since “we don’t know what we don’t know.”

It is impossible to understand World War Two in Europe without understanding Operation Bagration/Collapse of Army Group Center. This battle shattered the German line on the Eastern front and they were never able to re-establish that line. The operation ended with Soviet armies on the doorstep of Warsaw and East Prussia.

Should you have an interest in the Eastern Front, and already have a solid foundation of knowledge, then you will find Stalin’s Revenge a valuable edition to your library. I have read several other books by Mr. Tucker-Jones and found them very solid as well. This book is no exception and I highly recommend it.

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Soviet infantry on a SU-76 self-propelled gun in Minsk, Belarus after the liberation of the city during Operation Bagration. 3 July 1944.

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia and Flames of War.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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