Smolensk 1943: The Red Army’s Relentless Advance

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Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Author: Robert Forczyk Illustrator: Adam Hook
Other Publication Information
Soft cover
Product / Stock #
CAM 331
Company: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
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Osprey’s Campaign series of books is a well-established line covering some of the more famous campaigns in military history. The series started 29 years ago with the Normandy landings and with this installment, Smolensk 1943 being one of their latest releases.

As the battles around Kursk were winding down, Joseph Stalin began setting his sights on the next largest German army on the Soviet’s Western front the German Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Center). Operation Suvorov would launch the Soviet Western Front and Kalinin Front armies against the numerically inferior German forces concentrated around the city of Smolensk. The Soviet forces consisted of over 1.2 million soldiers, outnumbering the Germans by a ratio of nearly 3:1, but the Germans had held the area for nearly two years prior to the Soviet offensive and were able to prepare strong defensive positions that Soviet reconnaissance and planning had not accounted for at the time of the attack. The Soviet offensive launched at the start of August of 1943, but ultimate Soviet victory was not achieved until early October costing both sides huge losses of men and materiel.

This book is excellent overview of a largely overlooked campaign on the German eastern front that continued the Soviet successes from the battles in Kursk 1943, and began Germany’s retreat towards Berlin. The book provided many interesting photographs of troops and equipment in action, as well as battle maps, and excellent artist’s renderings of Soviet attacks and the German retreat. Although, severely outnumbered in both manpower, artillery, armor and aircraft, the German tactics, defensive preparations and logistical support leveled the playing field to a nearly even match on the ground. The book provides excellent overviews of the major commanders on both sides of the struggle, covering their experience, personality traits, as well as their flaws. It also provides an excellent summary of the armies and equipment for the Germans and the Soviets facing each other on the battlefield.

There were a couple of takeaways from this book for me. One, the Soviet’s lack of planning, particularly in the area of reconnaissance and logistical support, led to them not being able to follow up on breakthrough and local successes on the battlefield. There were many instances when a lack of fuel, or ammunition, required to Soviets to pause operations on the brink of breaking sectors of the German lines. These pauses allowed the Germans to regroup and reinforce areas further drawing out the fight.

Secondly, both sides were using equipment that had really become somewhat obsolete by late 1943. The Soviets armored forces were still using a number of lend-lease M3 Lees committed to front line infantry support, and they were using M1910/37 152mm howitzers, which did not have the range or mobility to provide much help to front line operations. On the German side, I found it interesting that they were still using a number of Stug III Ausf C/D/E assault gun units conducting infantry support. I had incorrectly thought that by the summer of 1943, all or most of the operational Stug IIIs had the upgraded guns since production on the shorter barreled C/D/E models had ceased in early 1942.

Overall, Soviet success was achieved by force of manpower rather than planning or strategic maneuvering. As was the often the case, the Soviet solution to defeating strong German defenses was to send more and more men at the position, and win through a battle of attrition. This tactic, while successful in the end, led to massive losses in Soviet equipment and personnel. By the end of the battle, the Soviets had lost over 40 percent of their original troop strength, over 860 tanks, and 300 airplanes. Their lack of a quick victory provided time for the retreating Germans to leave the city of Smolensk as a pile of rubble and burnt buildings. The book finishes with a short description of the what the battlefield area is like today.

Overall, this was a quick and interesting read. While the book did include numerous interesting photos, diagrams, and maps, I’m all for more photos. Still, I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the Soviet campaign in Smolensk, which has been largely overlooked due to it being overshadowed by the Kursk campaign.

Thanks to Osprey Publishing and IPMS USA for this review copy.


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