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By Dennis E. Showalter. Random House. 368 pages.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
In general, volumes on military history sort themselves into two categories: those intended for popular readership, and those for the professional student. A glance at the title would give even the casual buyer a strong clue as to which basket this one belongs. And in the introduction, one finds an even more positive indication of the author’s aim:
“The general intention of this book is to synthesize the material and the perspectives that have in some cases been upheld and in others modified, reshaped or revised.” Perhaps so, but it also makes for heavy reading.
Showalter, a long-time professor of history at Colorado College, and lecturer at both the U.S. Military and Air Force academies, spares no effort to demonstrate his deep knowledge of the subject, diligent scholarship, painstaking research and classically academic style of exposition. Precise, but not exactly sparkling.
(As an aside, most historians would term the failure of Nazi forces to take Stalingrad — since renamed Volgograd — and subsequent encirclement and destruction of von Paulus’ Sixth Army, as the real turning point in the war for continental Europe. And while the Soviets were valiantly defending that city, British and American armies were cleaning house on Axis legions in North Africa, thereby denying needed troops and resources to the Eastern Front.)
When in June 1941 Hitler ordered his very formidable panzer (armored) forces, supported by devastating air strikes, into the Soviet Union, at first they swept all before them. “Blitzkrieg” — “lightning war” — was a new and frightening term, and it seemed that the Nazis were unstoppable. Yet after weeks of the bitterest fighting, the Red Army managed to stabilize the front, and laid plans for a powerful counteroffensive centered on Kursk, in southeastern Ukraine.
“Armor and Blood” tells that story in all its horrific detail, which culminated in the greatest tank battle that ever took place. The author provides 34 pages of chapter notes, eight pages of photos (all German, interestingly enough), 11 pages of maps, and as substitute for bibliography, a mere six pages of “ further readings.”
In the nearly 70 years since the end of World War II, many books have emerged, some well-researched and well-written, others disappointing hack-work. This climactic battle between Nazi and Communist forces leaves one with little to cheer for on either side, yet it led to the extinction of one of the worst tyrannies in the bloody annals of mankind, and, unhappily, the rise of yet another.
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