Friday, 15 September 2017
The Sword Behind the Shield - Norbert Szamveber
This review has been submitted to Strategy and Tactics magazine.
Title: The Sword Behind the Shield
Author: Norbert Szamveber
Photos/ Maps: 0/16
In early 1945 the world’s attention was focused on the tightening vice on Berlin as the US and British drove in from the west and the Soviets from the East, relatively little attention was given to the fighting in the southeastern region around the besieged Hungarian capital of Budapest. It was in this region that, in an effort to both relieve the garrison as well as keep Hungary in the war, that the Germans (with Hungarian forces) launched a series of operations dubbed Konrad I, II, III. Ultimately they proved to be unsuccessful at relieving Budapest but not for operational or tactical reasons; it was the strategic decisions made in Berlin that ultimately undermined the ability of the Axis to succeed. While the Axis came close to succeeding, the direction that the garrison was not to attempt a breakout to meet up with the relief efforts as well as Soviet pressure in the direction of Berlin that resulting in forces being withdrawn that ultimately prevented operational success.
It is the attention that the book brings to the continued operational effectiveness of the German forces even as late as February, 1945 that stands as one of the most interesting aspects of the narrative. The German ability to continue to plan and execute combined operations effectively is underscored, as an example, by the fact that the Luftwaffe and Hungarian air force was flying up to 455 sorties per day in ground attack and air interdiction operations in support of Konrad. This at a time when it was assumed that the Luftwaffe was a spent force. Szamveber shows through his use of combat reports and other primary source material that, despite logistical as well as material shortages that the Axis were able to execute deep penetration operations against the opposing Soviet forces.
He balances his narrative very effectively by analyzing Soviet capabilities and efforts to block the German advances. The Soviet forces continue to prove themselves masters at the art of battlefield camouflage as well as the use of prepared defensive positions (anti-tanks nests had multiple overlapping weapon systems for example). The author notes that the Germans still felt themselves to be more than equal to the Russians in weaponry and operational/tactical skill sets but that there was a definite improvement in the Soviet capability at the junior and senior officer level; the mid-level officers still were a weakness. Also, it is interesting to see that the Soviets were also suffering significant challenges as the quality of their infantry was markedly lower as the war progressed; a result, no doubt, of the appalling casualties of the previous three years.
Szamveber’s work is an outstanding operational and tactical analysis of the German efforts outside of Budapest and the Soviets determination to thwart them. A detailed map section helps to visualize the operations (although a separate map book would have been better). The author has provide detailed summaries of tables of equipment and casualty rates to show the deltas under which the units were operating. This is a book for the reader with an eye for operational and tactical detail. Helion continues to provide outstanding quality in its book production.