Review: Battle for White Russia
- Published: 01 May 2010 01 May 2010
- Last Updated: 12 July 2013 12 July 2013
Gerd Niepold was the 1st General Staff Officer of 12. Panzerdivision when the war against the Soviet-Union started. He has also written a history of that division, and has published, or otherwise contributed, to our understanding of the war in the east, in particular the German reaction to Soviet offensive operations, where he has delivered two seminal works, one of which is ‘Mittlere Ostfront 1944’, first published at the height of the cold war in 1984.
The book is a day-by-day account of the battle for Byelorussia, based on German war diaries on Korps level or higher. For every day until the 7th of July, Niepold explains the actions undertaken by higher command authorities, and the operational situation on the battlefield, with the Korps as his primary unit of analysis. At the end of every day, he uses Soviet secondary sources to show the Soviet intelligence and operational situation. By necessity, these sections are much briefer then those of the German side, due to the scarcity of Soviet material at the time (this was before the Soviet archives were opened in the 1990s).
The book begins with a very detailed overview of the situation of Army Group Centre in June 1944, and the German expectations. This is a very useful section in which frontages down to battalion level in some cases, strength comparisons along the front, and the German strategic overview are explained, providing the setting for the drama that was to engulf the Army Group in a few days at the end of the month. What follows is a daily account from 22nd June to 7th July. The book ends on an analysis of the events of the summer of 1944 and their relevance to 1980s military operations. It is commendable that unlike so many other German authors, General Niepold acknowledges the operational skill of the Red Army at this stage of the war.
There are no detailed combat descriptions in the book – the narrative stays on the dry, and impersonal level of the operations. This is a great strength, because it allows the reader to follow the situation as it unfolds (numerous maps are provided to help with this), without being distracted by battle vignettes that hamper the flow.
This is a great work, dealing in a very cold and analytical way with one of the worst defeats that the Wehrmacht suffered at the hands of a Red Army that had significantly grown in proficiency by the summer of 1944. The book is a must-read for any serious student of the war in the east. It adds considerable to our understanding of the complete failure of the Wehrmacht to hold the line in the summer of 1944.
It is a pity that the only English copies of this book that are currently available are second-hand and very highly prized. In the German second-hand book market the prizes are far more reasonable, ~US$30 including P&P.
(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)