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Operation Bagration 1944
Stephen Zaloga
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This is a splendid introductory work to the greatest of the great strategic operations with which the Red Army cleared the Wehrmacht out of Russia in the summer of 1944. In operation ‘Bagration’, named after a Russian general from the Napoleonic wars, the Red Army cleared Byelorussia, advanced into eastern Poland, to the gates of Warsaw, and in the process destroyed 17 German divisions completely, shattering numerous others, and inflicting between 300 and 400,000 irrecoverable casualties on the Wehrmacht.

This book is a comprehensive and very accessible overview of the operation. Written by one of the foremost experts on the Red Army, it does not suffer from a lack of quality, as one often sees with short works covering large, complex operations. Zaloga, naturally, gives most of the space to the analysis of Soviet actions. This is only proper in a work dealing with a Soviet offensive, in which the German command excelled mostly in failure.

The book starts with a discussion of the origin of the battles, followed by a comparison of the forces, commanders, and plans. This sets the scene rather well for the description of the battle.  Zaloga then concludes on a description of the follow-on offensive of L’vov-Sandomierz, and a discussion of the aftermath of the battle. He ends with a chronology, recommendations for further reading, and a suggestion for wargaming Bagration.

What is marvellous about this book is that, differentiating it from standard works on Soviet history (those not only assuming you are happy to attempt to decipher a seven times copied map with handwritten names of places that you somehow should know, if indeed you have a map at all), Zaloga has produced a few colour-maps of the strategic operation.  These are easily understood, even if you do not have a degree in East European geography, but also well illustrate the before and after situation on the frontlines.  Zaloga also includes a Soviet OOB down to division level, including the names of Army and Corps commanders, numerous colour illustrations of soldiers and kit, and an index.

The high point in terms of illustration are the three 3-D maps of the crucial battles, the breakthrough at Orsha, in which German 78th Sturmdivision and 256th Infanteriedivision were destroyed by 11th Guard Army’s assault, the encirclement of Minsk, and finally the German counter-attack on the Magnuszew bridgehead. These coloured maps give the reader a real grasp of the lay of the land, and are extremely helpful in understanding how the battle developed. The Osprey map editors have again done a very good job.

This book offers, at a very low price by the standards of military history writing, a good opportunity to understand the background, outcome, and relevance of this crucial battle of the eastern front. It is highly suitable both for the reader who is new to the east, and for the experienced student of that war, by offering a good reference point, and good maps and additional material that help support more in-depth works. It is required reading on my list.

(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)

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