Review: The Initial Period of War on the Eastern Front
- Published: 01 May 2010 01 May 2010
- Last Updated: 12 July 2013 12 July 2013
David M. Glantz
David Glantz is probably the foremost historian of the Soviet forces in World War 2 in the English language. When he was still in the US Army, responsible for the study of the Red Army, he ran the so-called ‘Art of War’ symposia during the 1980s. These were usually attended by then serving officers, who received lectures and presentations from German veteran officers of the fighting in the east from 1941, to 1945. Some of these officers had been in very prominent positions during the war, and other, more junior officers rose to high ranks in the Bundeswehr and NATO after the war.
‘The Early Period of War’ is an edited transcript of a symposium held in 1987 in Garmisch in Germany, dealing with the operations by German armoured forces during the early battles of operation Barbarossa. The unit of analysis is the axis of advance, and presentations are given by divisional officers of formations fighting on these axis - e.g. Graf von Kielmannsegg and Helmut Ritgen of 6. Panzerdivision present on the battles on the Siauliai (Schaulen) axis in Army Group North’s sector of advance. This is extremely valuable in allowing an insight into the divisional operations in the context of larger operations at the time.
The book covers four main axis, Siauliai, Vilnius, Byalistok/Minsk, and Lutsk/Rovno. It also analyses the battle for Smolensk. These are framed by an introduction, in which David Glantz outlines the Soviet situation prior to the invasion, and a conclusion chapter in which the relevance of the experience is discussed. The book has a lot of maps that range in quality from poor to adequate. There are tables and graphical information on German formations, again of poor quality. An index is provided.
As an avid student of the war in the east, I found this book very helpful in giving me an in-depth view of the German experience of the first weeks of Barbarossa and the problems that faced the German side. It is unfortunate that no Soviet officers did contribute, but since the seminar was held with a view to help NATO defeat the armies of the Warsaw Pact, that maybe too much to expect.
The book is certainly not aimed at the general reader, but instead at the serious student of military history. It is relatively dry, and the quality of the maps does not help much either. While it can be read as a stand-alone document, it will be more helpful to read it in conjunction with a work that deals with Barbarossa more generally, e.g. the MGFA’s volume IV ‘The Attack on the Soviet Union’. Otherwise there is a risk that events described in this book cannot be placed in context. In my opinion it belongs into the library of anyone seriously interested in German operations, and the war between Germany and the Soviet Union.
(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)