Stalin's Favorite Volume 2
I previously reviewed and endorsed Volume One of Igor Nebolsin's two-volume set entitled Stalin's Favorite. Here, I shall examine what Volume Two has to offer (subtitled "From Lublin to Berlin, July 1944-May 1945). Like Volume One, Volume Two offers Second World War armored enthusiasts a treasure trove of information about one of the Red Army's top combat armies and the mechanics of tank warfare in general.
Continuining where he left off Nebolsin takes the combat history of the 2nd Guards Tank Army (hereinafter referred to in this review as the 2nd GTA) into the war's final year (and well into the Cold War for that matter). Volume Two is organized into seven chapters, each covering the army's participation in many of the Eastern Front's salient final year campaigns including: The Lublin-Praga Operation during the summer of 1944, The Vistula-Oder Operation of January 1945, The Pomeranian fighting of February and March 1945, and the final assault on Berlin in April/May 1945.
Nebolsin once again does a superb job of providing a digestible format allowing the reader to absorb the sea of reports, tables, photographs, and analysis. To that end each chapter follows a near identical format featuring the 2nd GTA's organization and strength (with full TO&E) at the beginning of a given campaign, the objectives assigned to the army, the German opposition, and the terrain. This is followed by daily reports on the army's; movement to the front, prep for battle, and day's combat. Each chapter ends with a detailed analysis of not only each side's losses and efficacy in meeting their objectives, but archival reports describing the army's successes and failures. Once again, each chapter includes first hand accounts from the 2nd GTA's officers and men, as well as a description of notable citations won during combat. This is done for each of the army's major engagements, with a slew of tables (on average ten tables per chapter) provided to help make the text more accessible. Again there are also suberbly chosen photographs. There are at least twenty rare pictures within each chapter. Many are from private collections, and the photographs alone do much to justify the book's price. The maps are full color and are mostly well done, but again are perhaps too few in number considering the sheer volume of content presented.
The greatest strength of Stalin's Favorite is in the analysis presented. After each campaign we get after-action reports from the 2nd GTA's leading officers explaining in stark detail as to how and why their units performed poorly or effectively. For the armored enthusiast there is a wealth of information presented in these pages. Perhaps my favorite chapters are five and six. Chapter Five covers the Berlin Operation and Chapter Six summarizes lessons learned from the fighting. Chapter five might just be my favorite chapter of the entire two-volume set. The chapter offers a near graduate level analysis of the use of armor in urban warfare and how it was that the Red Army overcame the huge Berlin Metropolis in a matter of weeks. The detail is exceptional, and does much to not only explain what it meant for the Red Army to take Berlin in a block-by-block fight - but also why the 2nd GTA was truly an elite formation by war's end:
"In order to counter the German tactics, assault groups were formed within the corp's formations and units...each consisting of four tanks, two ISU-122, one 76mm anti-tank gun, two 82mm mortars, two DShK anti-aircraft machine-guns, and two squads of motorized infantry...Two tanks led the group, firing as they moved down the sides of the street; the right-hand tank fired at the left side of the street, while the left-hand tank fired at the right side. The SU-122, following behind at a distance of 30-40 meters, fired over open sights along the street, suppressing revealed enemy firing positions. Two tanks trailed behind the SU-122 at a distance of 30-40 meters placing fire on the upper floors of buildings, again with the right-hand tank firing at the left side and the left-hand tank at the right side..."
The desription goes on, as does others detailing canal crossing operations, suppressive fire within city's using mortars, and how to use groups of T-34 to crash German defensive lines built across otherwise tough to take city blocks. Furthermore, there is extensive discussion in most chapters, but especially chapter five about the huge problems posed by German panzerfausts and the Soviet effort to combat these inexpensive but as it turns out exceedingly destructive weapons that caused roughly 40% of the 2nd GTA's knocked out tanks during the war's final months. From there, chapter six even provides a nice discussion of not only the lessons learned during the war but the decisions that led to the development of the T-54. Volume Two is every bit the equal of Volume One. I wholeheartedly endorse it for fans of not only the Second World War's Eastern Front, but of armored warfare in general.