BOOK REVIEW: Tank Battles in East Prussia and Poland 1944-1945
by Igor Nebolsin
Covers the battles of Wilkowyszki, Gumbinnen/Nemmersdorf, Elbing, Wormditt/Frauenburg, and Kielce/Lisow in mind-blowing numerical precision using data primarily from Soviet archives, but including German archival data too. As you can guess from the title, Nebolsin concentrates on tanks and self-propelled guns.
Whereas many battle histories mention units and insert first-person anecdotes that may or may not include numbers, Nebolsin includes every bit of quantitative tank and self-propelled armored vehicle data on a unit-by-unit basis on a virtually a day-by-day basis. Data includes: tanks and self-propelled guns operational and in repair shops; vehicles and material lost, bogged down in marsh, and captured; daily supplies of fuel and ammo; personnel losses and POWs captured; and so on.
Random examples: 'On 15 October 1944 26th Guards Tank Brigade had 1,386 men: 236 officers, 554 non-commissioned officers, and 569 enlisted men. The Tank Brigade had the authorized 65 T-34/85 tanks and was fully equipped with wheeled vehicles.' (p.116)
This was at the start of the battle. After many pages of German data and official Soviet combat reports: 'Over the day of combat on 19 October 1944, the 26th Guards Tank Brigade lost 11 T-34/85 tanks destroyed and 3 T-34/85 tanks knocked out. Manpower losses were 24 men killed...and 40 men wounded. In return, the enemy lost up to 70 soldiers and officers, and 3 tanks, 1 self-propelled gun, 4 anti-tank guns, and two bunkers destroyed. One enemy self-propelled gun and 3 villages were captured.' (p149)
After a couple pages of memoirs, including noting that orders filtered down from 0800 to 1000 on October 20 and artillery prep fire lasted from 1040 to 1100, on comes the result of combat exploits: 'As a result of the combat over the day of 20 October 1944 the 26th Guards Tank Brigade destroyed 13 enemy tanks and self-propelled guns, 8 cannons, two batteries of 88mm Flak guns, 70 vehicles and their loads, and killed up to 100 Nazis. Over the same time, the 26th Guards Tank Brigade lost 11 T-34/85s destroyed and 2 T-34/85s knocked out. Casualties included 16 killed and 23 wounded. By the end of the day, the brigade had 38 operational T-34/85 tanks.' (p 152).
It's all augmented with memoirs, first-person accounts, and anecdotal events to bring a little life into the dry recitation of the numbers. These also provide tactical and operational factoids, including a surprising number of effective air strikes by Stukas still flying in late 1944 and early 1945.
You can pretty much open the book at random and pull out an OOB for a scenario. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it's not that far off. If you find yourself in a memoir that reads like Soviet propaganda, then flip forward or back to get to the hard numbers. You can even pick out march rates, combat formations, mine-clearing times, artillery barrage lengths, and other ancillary data for a scenario.
Three points of caution: First, as this comes from Soviet archives, propaganda intrudes. If you don't believe that, consider this excerpt from Combat Report #33 after a successful August 5, 1944 German counterattack: 'Almost all tanks of the 26th Guards Tank Brigade were destroyed by the enemy...I believe there is no basis to put the officers of the 26th Guards Tank Brigade on trial...' (p35-36). What do you think such officers put in their combat diaries?
Sure, the Soviet steamroller was rolling by late 1944 and early 1945 and we all know who took Berlin, but some of the combat report and memoir entries read a little too rosy at times. German generals did the same thing, but you always have to keep an open mind, or healthy skepticism, about some of those pronouncements.
Second, sometimes I wonder about the numbers. I figure Nebolsin reported them accurately, but sometimes, it makes you wonder about what was written into the archives in the first place. For example, Chart 3.3 (p279) listed January 12-18, 1945 Soviet 4th Tank Army losses at 217 tanks, with 98 irrecoverable losses, but Chart 3.4 (p288) lists January 12-18, 1945 Soviet 4th Tank Army losses at 272 tanks, with 77 irrecoverable losses. A couple tanks, no problem, but that discrepancy is about a fully-equipped Tank Brigade worth of tanks. Is somebody in 4th Tank Army tweaking reports for more replacements and spares?
And third, while I applaud offering a central section of 24 color maps, all the maps of tactical operations lack a scale. For example, Map 7 (Gumbinnin battle, October 20, 1944) lacks a scale, so I have no idea of the distance between small villages or hamlets, or how large is the woods between Perkallen and Plicken. Every battle sports a paragraph or two or three about the terrain, and I especially appreciate it when Nebolsin provides a river's width and depth, but a map scale for every map is needed.
Included within are 373 black and white photos and 56 charts/tables -- some of the charts/tables are but a couple rows long but some stretch over multiple pages.
I cannot praise Tank Battles enough for providing numbers, numbers, and more numbers. Sure, sometimes it reads like a compilation of numerical data in paragraph form, but East Front treadheads, especially those with scenarios on the brain, will drool over the detail. I'd like to see an infantry version, too.
Whaddaya say, Igor? Exceptional job. Enjoyed it.