The Reckoning – the Defeat of Army Group South 1944, Prit Buttar

The Reckoning – the Defeat of Army Group South 1944, Prit Buttar

This is third part of a series looking at the southern flank on the Eastern Front in the aftermath of the battle of Stalingrad. The first focused largely on Manstein’s counterattack, which restored the German line in the east, and the second on the costly liberation of the central Ukraine in 1943. This third entry in the series looks at the fighting in 1944, a year that saw the Soviets complete the liberation of the Ukraine and then advance into Romania, triggering a switch of side by the Romanians. The most famous battle of 1944 on the Eastern Front was Operation Bagration, which ended with the collapse of Army Group Centre, but as this book demonstrates the Soviets also achieved significant victories further to the south.

The main recurring theme in this book is that the Germans were repeatedly encircled, or threatened with encirclement, and were increasingly unable to find the forces to rescue any trapped forces. After a brief encirclement around Kirovograd, which the Germans were fairly easily able to break, two full corps were trapped on the Korsun pocket. Unlike at Stalingrad, an attempt to rescue the trapped forces was combined with an attempt at a breakout, but the results are uncertain to say the least! Once this battle was over the Soviets immediately attacked again, leading to yet another encirclement, this time of an entire army! This is a sign of how the initiative on the Eastern Front had permanently been lost by the Germans. The only real pause in the fighting came when the spring thaw made movement almost impossible, and by this point the Germans had been forced back out of the southern part of the Soviet Union. As the year went on the Soviets became increasingly skilful at taking advantage of these encirclements, eventually defeating entire German armies

One of the many advantages of having access to the Soviet archives is that it allows the author to paint a more accurate picture of Soviet unit strengths during these battles. Post-war German accounts almost always claimed that they were overwhelmed by the Soviet hordes, by limitless reinforcements etc. The reality was that most Soviet units were also operating well below their full strength, and although they did receive more replacements and reinforcements than the Germans, the new troops were often inexperienced.  On the downside any detailed examination of the records suggests that most memoirs produced by the veterans of the fighting were fairly unreliable, with German authors tending to pass the blame for every defeat onto Hitler and skipping over their own setbacks, and Soviet authors having to obey whatever the orthodoxy of the day happened to be. However the many eyewitness accounts of the fighting produced here do give us an impressive feel for the nature of this conflict,

One unusual feature of this book is that much of the fighting covered here took place in areas where there had been active resistance to the Soviet regime, so the return of the Red Army wasn’t universally popular. As a result there were active partisans fighting against the Soviets in parts of the Ukraine, and one senior Soviet commander, General Vatutin, was even fatally wounded in a clash with them. In addition this book covers the re-conquest of the Crimea, which was followed by Stalin’s genocidal attack on the Crimean Tartars.

This is a compelling account of some of the most brutal fighting of the Second World War and a splendid contribution to the literature on the Eastern Front, using modern access to the wartime archives to produce a much more accurate picture of the fighting than was possible until fairly recently.

1 – The Protagonists
2 – The Kirovograd Encirclement
3 – Watutin and the Cherkassy-Korsun Encirclement
4 – Another Stalingrad
5 – Mud, Snow and Hill 239
6 – Kamanets-Podolski: The Encirclement of First Panzer Army
7 – Malinovsky’s Offensive
8 – The Wandering Pocket
9 – The Crimean Peninsula
10 – The End of the Leash
11 – Preparing for Summer
12 – The Lviv-Sandomierz Operation
13 – The Disintegrating Axis
14 – The Approaching Endgame

Author: Prit Buttar
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 496
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2020

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