Stalin's Favorite: The Combat History of the 2nd Guards Tank Army from Kursk to Berlin: Vol 1: January 1943-June 1944, Igor Nebolsin

Stalin's Favorite: The Combat History of the 2nd Guards Tank Army from Kursk to Berlin: Vol 1: January 1943-June 1944, Igor Nebolsin

The 2nd Guards Tank Army was a Soviet armoured formation that was formed over the winter of 1942-3, took part in the defensive battle of Kursk, and then played an increasingly impressive role in the successful Soviet offensives that ended with the conquest of Berlin in 1945. This is the first part of a two part history of that unit, covering the period between the Army's formation over the winter of 1942-43 and the campaign in Moldavia and Romania in the summer of 1944. Volume two will take us from Romania to Berlin.

The introduction rather gives the impression that the book would be triumphalist in tone, but the main text is much more even handed, looking at the Army's failures as well as its successes. Some of the contemporary documents also give a feel for the rather Orwellian atmosphere within the Red Army, with every setback seeming to require blame to be allocated somewhere

This isn't a terribly readable book. The author's own text is frequently interrupted by extracts from wartime documents and post-war memoirs (with the tone of these changing depending on their time period) as well as an impressive collection of tables covering a wide range of topics from unit strengths to reasons for tank losses. While these all add to the value of the book, they also detract from the flow of the main narrative. I would have liked a more detailed introduction, explaining the structure of the Red Army in 1943, to give some idea of what size the 2nd Tank Army should have been, how that compared to reality, and the sort of roles it was expected to fill.

The Army changed size quite dramatically over the course of this time period. In late February 1943 it had 187 combat ready tanks, including 31 Matildas and 18 Valentines, making it similar in strength to a German Panzer Division. According to the author on 17 March 1943 the Army was the size of one rifle division and two tank brigades. Just before the battle of Kursk it peaked at 600 tanks (although this figure doesn't distinguish combat ready and other), while after heavy fighting in 1944 only a handful of operational tanks were left. The Tank Army title is thus a bit misleading, and the unit looks to have varied between corps and division strength.

This volume also ends rather abruptly, at the end of an extract from the memoirs of a senior sergeant. Again, a conclusion and summary of the Army's activities would have been useful, although this may come at the end of volume two.

This sort of detailed unit history is fairly common for German, British and American units, but this is the first example I've seen for a Soviet unit (presumably there are plenty in Russian).
It is interesting to see lend lease equipment in use - in particular the British Matilda and Valentine tanks. At the start of 1943 these were the main types used by NN, but as the original tanks were lost they were replaced by Soviet equipment. The original Matildas and Valentines (also designated as the Mk II and Mk III are gone by), but a later version of the Valentine (Mk IX) appears in 1944 (where it appears to have been used by Motorcycle battalions, perhaps replacing the T-70 light tank, which has disappeared by this point). The T-34 is the mainstay of the Army at all times, but by the end of this time period it has been joined by the IS-85 (IS-1) and various powerful self propelled guns, as Soviet industry began to produce vast numbers of armoured fighting vehicles. 

There is a splendid section of clear full colour maps illustrating the most important combats, and an impressive collection of wartime photographs, including some convincing combat photos (and some rather more staged looking pictures), as well as large number of portrait photos. The wartime orders, reports and other documents are also of great value.

This is a very valuable piece of work, providing a good well researched view of the fighting from the Soviet side. This is invaluable, as so much of the English language work on the fighting on the Eastern Front is distorted by its reliance on German works, which often exaggerate the size of the Soviet forces involved in individual battles. Overall this is an excellent reference work, and helps provide a much more balanced view of the fighting on the Eastern Front.

1 - The Origins of the 2nd Tank Army
2 - In the Battle of the Kursk 1943
3 - The Orel Offensive Operation, 1943
4 - In the Sevsk Operation, 1943
5 - Vinnitsa and Korsun'-Shevchenkovskii, 1944
6 - The Uman' Operation
7 - The Army's Battles in Moldavia and Romania, 1944

Author: Igor Nebolsin
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 504
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2015

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