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Posted on Dec 10, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Moscow 1941 – Hitler’s First Defeat – Book Review

By Gerard A Proudfoot

moscow.jpgBook Review: Moscow 1941 – Hitler’s First Defeat

Robert Forczyk’s “Moscow 1941, Hitler’s First Defeat” is one of the many small campaign books published by Osprey and as such is not what one would or ever could call a ground breaking piece of historical research. Yet its still has its value and despite its brevity can make the reader pause and take note.

As with all Osprey publications this book is well stocked with photographs, numerous well drawn maps and illustrations (paintings) by Howard Gerrard. While the photographs and maps are well done, the illustrations actually add little to the book and the space would have been better used in expanding the discussion of points raised by the author. Structurally, the book is quite short and can only give the briefest of overviews of the campaign covering Operation Typhoon. Of some 87 pages between the start and finish fewer than 60 pages are predominantly filled with text and this is perhaps what hurts the books value the most. A close second in weaknesses, would be the total lack of any sort of footnotes or references to the books listed in the bibliography, which makes checking any of the information almost impossible without wading through the few major pieces listed in the bibliography.

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The book itself opens with a brief coverage of the Barbarossa campaign up to the Kiev encirclement and the debate within the German command over the objectives for the remaining months of the year. The author goes on to list a fairly complete order of battle for the opposing side for units of division size and larger, including the names of corps, army and army group/front commanders. There is also a section covering the biographies of the major commanders for both sides which adds some understanding, or perhaps, justification, for some of the claims made by the author later on.

The examination of the campaign itself is fairly standard coverage with a few noted exceptions that will be covered a little later on. Readers will very quickly pick up on the fact that Robert Forczyk will be giving little credit to the Red Army as in the first twenty pages he uses the word “clumsy” three times in describing Soviet deployment, planning or execution of tactics. As one reads through the coverage of the battle, the author lays out how the Germans were defeated before Moscow by their own operational errors during Typhoon, including the well known inability to completely seal encirclements. In fact, Professor Forcyzk saves his heaviest criticism for Guderian in detailing the German failures to push through the Tula defenses and Kluge for failing to launch his army soon enough to aid Typhoon’s final attempts at Moscow. In all of this there is little mention of the effect that the Red Army’s resistance had on German operations, with perhaps a backhanded nod to the fight at Mtensk, used to reinforce his critique of Guderian. One could almost think that the Red Army is only cast in a supporting role in the greater story of Germans errors.

There are three points that do save this small book from being a complete disappointment. The first of these is a fairly detailed, considering the size of the book, examination of German logistics and the problems they had supplying the troops advancing on Moscow. Unfortunately, the lack of footnotes makes it difficult to check the statements without recourse to the full text used (which the reader must discover for themselves). While this does not defeat the argument it does distract from it impact.

The second point examines the recorded weather of the fall of 1941 and compares it to the norms for previous years. Here it was quite surprising to discover that the weather for that year was unseasonably mild in both temperature and precipitation. The discussion goes to show that while certain areas were badly hit by rains and later, frosts, others were not so badly effected until well after Typhoon had run its course. The point is raised that perhaps the claims of poor weather were something of an excuse on the part of Germans to help explain away other failings on the battlefield.

The final point raised by the author that was quite interesting was the role played by the Red Army transfer of divisions from the Far East and interior military districts. The argument is laid out in two parts of which the first details the Red Army’s intelligence failure prior to Typhoon where Stavka, believing that there was no longer time remaining in 1941 for a drive on Moscow, directed the bulk of its reserves to the rebuilding of the Southwest Front after the debacle at Kiev. This movement of troops away from the Moscow axis removed reserves that would be badly needed in the coming weeks. The second part of the argument is better known but perhaps cannot be repeated enough is the fact that the bulk of the November and December transfers to the Moscow theatre were not seasoned veterans but instead divisions that were simply still fully manned and equipped. Further, the bulk of these divisions were not thrown into the fight for Moscow but were withheld for the counterattack.

In summary, this book does provide good information for those looking to learn the basics of what happened before Moscow in 1941 and does raise some interesting points, however, it cannot be a considered a major source. It is a good starting point to a more in depth study of the Battle of Moscow and that is probably all it is intended to be. At just under $20 US it is not be too steep a price to be paid.

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