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War in History

Book Review: Kharkov 1942. Anatomy of a Military Disaster Through Soviet Eyes

James Sterrett War In History 2001 8: 365 DOI: 10.1177/096834450100800316

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Book Reviews

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Documents relating to the discussion of policy, strategy and alterna- tive plans are given less room. In part this reflects the shorter length of the underlying documents, but some of these are much reduced. Thus the prime minister’s General Middle East Directive of 16 August 1940, whose 18 paragraphs occupy three and a half pages in Church- ill’s own history, is reduced here to ten lines. In addition, there are only ten relatively brief extracts from the minutes of the meetings of the Middle East C-in-Cs at which overall policy was discussed and decided. By taking July 1939 as his starting point, Simpson has also excluded Cunningham’s pre-war contribution, as DCNS, to Mediter- ranean strategy. The numerous exchanges between Cunningham and Pound are, perhaps, the most interesting, revealing the myriad problems that con- fronted the C-in-C, particularly after the arrival of German air and land forces in early 1941. It is in these personal communications that Cun- ningham’s often critical opinions of his fellow C-in-Cs are expressed. However, the frosty relationship between Cunningham and Churchill only occasionally surfaces. Only 11 of the documents are direct com- munications between them, and it is a pity that room could not have been found from Cunningham’s initial appreciation of 23 May 1940, the prime minister’s critical minute about this, and the resulting tele- gram that Churchill caused Pound to send. This initial exchange led to much of the subsequent distrust, which is more clearly seen in the prime ministers’ minutes in the PREM files at the Public Record Office. This volume is, nonetheless, long overdue. It wil help the reader to strike a balance between the 1950s accounts of these events published by Cunningham and Churchill, and to from an independent assess- ment of Cunningham’s achievements during a period when Axis power seemed irresistible.

Douglas Austin

Kharkov 1942. Anatomy of a Military Disaster Through Soviet Eyes. By David M. Glantz. Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan. 288 pp. £21.99 boards. ISBN 0 7110 2562 2.

The Soviet offensive towards Kharkov in the spring of 1942, driven in part by Stalin’s general desire for offensive action, ran afoul of ill for- tune. The main Soviet blow came from the Barvenkovo bridgehead south of Kharkov. However, the Germans had been independently planning to encircle and destroy that salient, in order to lay ground- work for their intended offensive towards Stalingrad and the Caucasus. The Soviet offensive towards Kharkov was a surprise to the Germans, but it fit all too well with the planned German offensive. The Soviet offensive met disaster, with the attacking forces and salient encircled and destroyed, significantly weakening the Soviet forces on the road

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to Stalingrad. Kharkov 1942 presents an excellent resource for under- standing this operation. By a mild twist of fate, both the events of this book, and the events that eventually caused half the book to be written, took place in the spring of 1942. Although it was an unrelated decision, as the Soviets planned and executed the Kharkov offensive, they also decided to dra- matically expand their apparatus for the analysis and study of combat experience. Nine years later, in 1951, that apparatus produced An Account of Operations by Southwestern Front Forces on the Kharkov Axis in May, 1942. That General Staff study forms the skeleton of this book, fleshed out by extensive commentary by David Glantz. The studies the Soviets prepared, especially those written in wartime, set a high standard of candour and detail, all too often absent in Soviet popular histories. The Kharkov study, like the others, is highly detailed, with extensive commentary on planning and the course of operations accompanied by a large number of maps. It thus forms an excellent resource for those wishing to understand the battle from the Soviet perspective. The publications of a straight translation would provide a useful resource, and some of the General Staff studies are being pub- lished thus, by Frank Cass. However, the source of the study also creates problems. As Glantz explains, when written in 1951, it could not place any blame for the defeat with Stalin, which became increasingly problematic as Soviet historiography wound along its twisting path. While originally classi- fied, the study was declassified in 1964 as part of Krushchev’s de- Stalinization program. That opened the path to counterclaims against the conclusions of the study, which blamed, among others, Generals K. S. Moskalenko and I. Kh. Bagramian. In 1969, Moskalenko was per- mitted to publish a memoir which placed principal blame on Stalin. A few years later, Bagramian was able to publish his memoirs, in which he defended himself and blamed Stalin and the High Command for the failure of the operation. Both Moskalenko and Bagramian revealed previously unavailable information. Moreover, the 1942 Kharkov fail- ure became the main Soviet-acknowledged failed Soviet operation of the war, and Stalin became the official target for blame. As a conse- quence, articles continued to appear in the Soviet press examining the operation, providing more details and points of view. Thus, while the details of actions in the study were generally unchanged, the con- clusions were not. The study has other problems as well. Scintillating prose it is not, and indeed the casual reader will find it soporific. Much of the text is written in militarese and assumes a familiarity with Soviet force struc- tures and doctrine. Without such familiarity, a reader may have dif- ficulty following the actions described. The text is written strictly from the Soviet point of view and sometimes errs in its understanding of German actions. In regard to all these troubles, Glantz comes to the rescue. He takes

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all the various Soviet accounts, adds a number of German accounts, and weaves them all together to create a far more complete and bal- anced study. The translation of the General Staff study is printed with a tinted background, and Glantz alternates blocks of the study with blocks of its own text. The length of the blocks varies, according to the degree of necessary explanation, from paragraphs to pages. In this manner, Glantz is able to bring the reader up to speed on a variety of topics and provide alternate points of view. The longest inclusion covers the overall strategic situation, Soviet planning, German planning, and Soviet force structures. During the course of the account, Glantz provides both German viewpoints and additional Soviet material in the form of both expository text and selec- tions from eyewitness accounts of the fighting. In the process, Glantz has made few changes to the original study. The original Soviet maps have been cleaned up, corrected in a few places with the use of German materials, and a small number have been added, bringing the total to 37. Furthermore, Glantz added the names of participants in the numerous places where the original study did not name them, and added a nineteenth appendix which details the fates of the prominent Soviet survivors of the operation, both additions serving to make the participants less anonymous. All of Glantz’s various additions to the basic study sum to an immense improvement of the value of the underlying General Staff study. While the publication of the translated study alone is of use as a source on the operation, Glantz has woven in the other available materials to create a more rounded, accessible, and ultimately much more valuable account. Our understanding of the war would be richer if other translations of similar studies followed the lead set in Kharkov 1942.

James Sterrett

Documents on the Rape of Nanking. Edited by Timothy Brook. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1999. viii + 300 pp. $39.50 boards, $15.95 paper. ISBN 0 472 11134 5 boards, 0472 08662 6 paper.

More than 60 years after it happened, one of the worst atrocities of the modern era is beginning to be discussed in the English-speaking world. The telling of the story of the Rape of Nanking has had strange twists. For decades after the war crimes trials which condemned the Japanese military leaders at Nanking (Nanjing), there was silence, an inability in China and outside to deal with the horror during which an unknown number of Chinese, possibly a quarter of a million, were killed. Some of the earliest attention actually came from within Japan, where a bitter controversy erupted on the question of Japanese war guilt in the media, in memoirs and in academic circles, with right-wing apologists on one end of the spectrum and academic researchers on the other. In China the attempts to deny wartime atrocities stimulated

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