Red Army Tank Commanders: The Armored Guards
Richard N. Armstrong

The Red Army was interested in mechanisation and motorisation of warfare from very early on. Nor did they fail to take notice of airplanes and airborne troops. The Red Army was quick to adopt doctrines of large mechanized units operating independently and striking and the depth of the enemy’s positions while simultaneously working with airborne formations and using aircrafts. However Stalin’s purges of the officer corps during the late thirties removed many of the advocates of large armoured formations. When Red Army advisors returned from the Spanish Civil War their conclusion was that tanks should only be used as infantry support. The campaigns in Poland and Finland in 1939 and 1940 brought further scepticism towards large armoured units. However, observations of the successes of the German panzer arm came to change that view and led to a reinstitution of the large mechanized forces.

When the Soviet Union was invaded the armoured forces of the Red Army would prove to be undeveloped and suffering from many problems. By time, however, it would mature fast and the gap between doctrine and practice would narrow. Breakthrough and exploitation would be polished to tactical art. In May 1942 tank armies were finally instituted as permanent operation formations. Three years later, in May 1945, with the Axis forces finally defeated, there were six tank armies in the Red Army. Richard Armstrong’s book tells the story of six of the eleven generals who came to command those armies; Katukov, Bogdanov, Rybalko, Lelyshenko, Rotmistrov and Kravchenko.

This book will be invaluable for those wishing to have an insight into the leadership of the Red Army tank armies and the tactics and creative solutions developed by its commanders. It also provides a very good insight of the development of the mechanised forces of the Red Army, especially the doctrines. Although the focus is on the six generals it doesn’t mean that the lower level is forgotten. At the same time one can read about the relationship with higher command, including Stalin. Armstrong has relied mainly on Russian language sources- articles and books, including memoirs by the generals. This provides the reader with excellent first-hand material. To the downsides of the book the maps are very poor and there are very few images. The publisher, Schiffer, should correct this in the future. Armstrong’s own analysis and conclusions make for interesting read and it would have been positive if the last chapter with conclusions had been more thorough. Nevertheless, this book is well worth acquiring.

(Reviewed by Daniel L)

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