Kharkov was the site of a series of some of the important battles on the Eastern Front, the most famous of which is probably 'Manstein's Miracle' early in 1943. This book looks at two earlier, less well known, but important battles that took place east of Kharkov in the spring of 1942. Both the Soviets and the Germans planned to launch offensives in this area in May 1942, but the Soviets struck first. Their attack made early progress, and at one point the German line was broken, but within a week the Red Army ran out of steam. The Germans then launched their own offensive, which now became something of a counterattack, and inflicted a very heavy defeat on Marshal Timoshenko's South-Western Front. The losses the Soviet's suffered in this part of the battle gravely weakened their southern armies and played a major part in the success of the German summer offensive of 1942, which ended at the gates of Stalingrad.
This is an interesting period. It comes as something of a surprise to realise just how badly stretched the Germans were as early as the winter of 1941-42 (although the Soviet winter offensive around Moscow is well known). The ability of the Soviets to launch a second massive well equipped offensive soon after the end of their main winter offensive is also something of a surprise. The Soviet offensive came surprisingly close to success, and at one point they even created a break in the German line, Marshal Timoshenko proved to be incapable of taking advantage of these early successes. The Germans were still able to conduct a skilful offensive, and were able to take advantage of those Soviet successes to launch another encirclement battle, destroying most of the Soviet formations involved in the battle.
This book contains an impressive level of detail for a book of this size, with clear narratives of each phase of the two battles, looking at the northern and southern wings of the Soviet offensive, the German attack, and the encirclement battle that followed. The narrative is supported by a good historical background and a series of useful maps. The actions, plans and commanders of both sides are well represented (by no means always the case in books on the Eastern Front, which do seem to have a tendency to follow one side or the other). The implications for the summer campaign of 1942 are also made clear, as are the weaknesses and strengths of both armies at this stage. Overall this is an excellent study of two lesser known but important battles.
Origins of the Campaign
The Soviet Offensive, 12-16 May 1942
The German Counteroffensive, 17-23 May 1942
The End Game, 24-29 May 1942
The Battlefield Today
Author: Robert Forczyk