Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Viaz'ma Catastrophe - Lev Lopukhovsky

This review was submitted to the Global War Studies Journal

Title: The Viaz'ma Catastrophe
Author: Lev Lopukhovsky
ISBN: 978-1-908-91650-1
Pages: 576
Illustrations:  21 B/W, 15 maps
Publisher: Helion Publishing

1941 the armed forces of the USSR were on their heels. Pushed back to the approaches to Moscow they continued to fight a tenacious and increasingly desperate rearguard action against the cream of the German Wehrmacht. Drawing upon seemingly endless resources of men (and material) the Soviets strove to crush the German advance through a series of Army level counterattacks. The Wehrmacht, for their part, continued their grand enveloping maneuvers, encircling and crushing the Russian forces in their path. The Battle of Viaz’ma and Orel-Briansk represented for the Germans what they assumed to be the final barrier to their final advance on Moscow. Between these two battles of encirclement over the first three weeks of October, 1941 the Russians lost between 900,000 and 960,000 men; a crushing defeat by any standard.

​Lopukhovsky is another of the new wave of Russian historians who have taken advantage of the relaxation of the archival access laws in order to draw upon primary source material from the Russian/Soviet perspective. Commencing with a detailed synopsis of the events leading up to the commencement of Operation Typhoon (the final German drive on Moscow), the author provides the reader with a comprehensive baseline of the situation facing the Soviets. This is one of the few histories of this battle written in the post-Soviet era, from the perspective of the Russians. The level of detail is staggering and the accompanying maps and tables add a degree of clarity rarely enjoyed in a book of this complexity. Stuart Britton who has undertaken the translation of this book from its original Russian is to be commended for another outstanding endeavor.

​The author identifies key themes relating to the Soviet performance:

1. The reluctance on the part of senior commanders to both provide and accept factual information thereby undermining decision making and situational awareness;
2. the ferocity and tenacity with which the Soviet soldier defended their positions against overwhelming German superiority; and
3. the reluctance of Soviet commanders to make and take responsibility for decisions.

Additionally, he author interjects into his narrative with personal observations relating to his efforts to clarify questions with the senior Soviet commanders in the postwar Soviet era. It is fascinating the degree to which these efforts were met with official roadblocks whenever any 'questionable' positions were challenged. Notwithstanding this fact, it is also interesting how, despite the position officially of the State, candid ex-senior commanders were willing to be in correspondence with the author.   

Overall, an outstanding book and a highly recommended addition to those seeking to expand their understanding of the challenges that the Soviet's struggled with in trying to contain the German Typhoon of 1941. It is a sobering and humbling rendition of the sacrifice of the Russian soldier and the dysfunction of their leadership.

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