Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Defence of Moscow 1941: The Northern Flank - Jack Radey and Charles Sharp

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in Sabretache Journal. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the Journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact:  Website for the Journal is:
Title: The Defence of Moscow 1941: The Northern Flank

Author: Jack Radey and Charles Sharp
Publisher: Pen ad Sword
ISBN: 978-1-78159-070-6
Pages: 278
Photographs: 20 b/w, 10 maps


The Battle of Kalinin has never received the degree of attention from history that it deserves. Serving as the first reverse of the Wehrmacht by the forces of the Soviet Union, it has traditionally been subsumed by the larger Battle for Moscow itself; from a strategic perspective, it represented a critical reversal to ultimate German success. Had the Wehrmacht succeeded in their plans to launch a pincer movement between Army Group North and Centre forces (thereby trapping six Soviet armies and the Novgorod Operational Group - a force numbering larger than the 600,000 taken at Vyazma) they would have succeeded in rendering an irrecoverable hole in the Soviet lines. As it was, German overestimation of their own capabilities and a gross underestimation of the state of the Russian forces facing them, a desperate and driven defence by scratch Soviet forces thrown into the fray, the weather and perhaps most significantly, a failure of the German logistical system all combined to undermine the German plans. 


The KTB (kriegstagebuch - daily combat report) of the 3rd Panzer Group clearly indicates that the German's had not planned or stockpiled fuel for operations past Vyazma. This is key to understanding why the Germans failed. All of the other aspects/influences upon the battle, while individually significant, would not have prevented the Germans from succeeding. The fundamental key to German success up to this point was decentralized control and speed. The ability to undermine Russian command and control and continuously stay ahead of their ability to effectively react was the cornerstone of German dominance. Once the Germans had outrun their logistical support lines, they enabled the Soviets time to consolidate forces and to mount an effective defence. Having said that, the authors acknowledge that all intelligence indicators for the Germans at this time seemed to point to a fundamental collapse in Russian defensive capability; this would explain why it was that they were willing to continue to extend their lines of advance despite a clearly recognized identified logistical risk.  


The authors have done an admirable job of tracing the battle as it unfolded over the period 7 to 25 October. Emphasis and perspective is given equally to both parties as the Russians and Germans grappled with the rapidly changing situation. It is fascinating to witness the degree of confusion emanating from HQ’s as intelligence analysts and commanders struggled to stay ahead of the unfolding tactical situation. The difference in the doctrinal nature of German decentralized and Soviet centralized command concepts manifested themselves in the ability of the Germans to continue to advance in spite of crippling logistical shortages and the Soviets throwing Brigades into battle with no operational picture whatsoever. 


The authors have provided extensive end notes and detailed orders of battle outlining all of the units engaged in operations during the Battle of Kalinin. Additionally, both Soviet and German orders and reports relating to the operation are reproduced verbatim with individual evaluation by the authors. It is very enlightening and sobering to read about individual German soldiers holding signs on the sides of the road asking for a trade: 10 litres of spirits for 1 loaf of bread (and this when they were still advancing). 

This book reads extremely well and is a very noteworthy evaluation of a little known aspect of the drive on and the defence of Moscow. It also represents a fitting testament to the competency of the individual fighting soldier at the tactical level on both sides. It is also an extremely interesting study on the critical role that logistics plays in defining the line between success and failure. A great book, very highly recommended.

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