On A Knife’s Edge - The Ukraine, November 1942-March 1943, Prit Buttar

On A Knife’s Edge - The Ukraine, November 1942-March 1943, Prit Buttar

This book covers one of the  key periods on the Eastern Front, starting with the German still on the offensive in Stalingrad and the Caucasus, moving on to the Soviet offensive that cut off the German Sixth Army, the Soviet liberation of Kharkov and large parts of the Ukraine and ending with Manstein’s ‘miracle’, the German counterattack that saw them retake Kharkov after the Soviets over-reached themselves, thus setting the scene for the last major German offensive on the Eastern Front, at Kursk in the summer of 1943. At the start of this the Germans still held the initiative, but they soon lost it to the Soviets, who almost got into a war winning position before they got over-confident.

Both sides emerged from this dramatic period with something to celebrate - on the Soviet side the victory at Stalingrad, the destruction of the German Sixth Army and the forces of several of Germany’s allies and the liberation of large areas of Soviet territory and on the German side the successful withdraw of their troops from the Caucasus and Manstein’s skilful counterattack. At the same time both had reasons to be disappointed - the Germans for obvious reasons, the Soviets became at one point they believed that the Germans were effectively beaten and could be forced a long way out of the Soviet Union during the summer of 1943. Both sides suffered from overconfidence at some point during campaign, each believing that the other was defeat and being proved wrong.

The author doesn’t ignore the atrocities committed on both sides, and makes a particular point of listing the war crimes associated with various German commanders when they first appear in the story, making it clear that the idea of a ‘clean’ German army was false.

The author also makes good use of eyewitness accounts on both sides, with an understanding of the flaws in most Soviet and German sources, each of which had their own narrative of the war to tell (with many German accounts attempting to defend their war as a defensive one, ignoring who started the fighting in the east, and Soviet accounts limited by whatever the orthodox view was when they were written. The author also ranges easily from the demands of the high command to the level of individual combats without losing the thread of his narrative.

This is another impressive work from Buttar, who is one of my favourite authors currently writing on the Eastern Front of both World Wars.

1 - The Road to Crisis
2 - The Hammer Falls: Uranus
3 - A Paper-Thin Line
4 - December: Winter Storm
5 - December: Little Saturn
6 - Now or Never
7 - A Desperate Christmas
8 - The Ostrogoszhsk-Rossosh Operation
9 - The Struggle for Balance
10 - February: Retreat from the Don
11 - February: A War of Movement
12 - February: The Swing of the Pendulum
13 - Kharkov
14 - Pause for Breath

Author: Prit Buttar
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 464
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2018

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