Book Review – Porter, David Order of Battle: The Red Army In WW II
The magnitude of the Russo-German conflict spanning four years (1941-45) is not easy to fathom and even more difficult a task to be described in words. It not only set precedence for future conflicts in the plains of Eastern Europe but also, transformed the very fundamentals of ground battle and manoeuvre warfare. A peasant's army which was forced into battle at Khalkin Gol in July 1939, the Red Army transformed itself into an indomitable army of the modern era. David Porter has tried to unravel the order of battle of this mammoth army during Second Great War.
The book begins with an introduction to the Red Army from its inception as a force protecting the new Communist government in 1918 to the outbreak of WW II. Thereafter in a chronological manner all the battles of WW II are addressed giving a brief description of the campaign as also the various formations taking part in them. Not only does the author highlights the order of battle for the Red Army but gives an insight into its composition during these campaigns. More over the author has taken the liberty to criticise the Russian HQ for the ineptness in dealing with various situations and does list out the reasons for the same.
The strength of this book lies in its simplicity to be able to convey its point to a lay man who would have little or no knowledge of warfare during the Great War in the eastern plains of Europe. The book is well structured divided by campaign and offers detailed organisation of Soviet armies to fight on the Western Front in World War II. Printed on high quality paper giving general organisational tables, the book generates a number of facts which highlights the author's arguments as also fulfils the basic demand of the book. Full colour diagrams help the reader easily grasp the composition of Soviet ground forces in key campaigns, listing every unit from top down to divisional and brigade level. More over it has pictorial maps for most campaigns giving a schematic layout of turn of events during each of the campaign. The author has painstakingly tried to give the starting line up of the Soviet army at the start of each campaign, as also the structure of the various armies at different point in times. At regular intervals during the course of the book the author has given character sketches of some of the most influential Russian military leaders and their contribution to the success of the campaign. With extensive organisational diagrams and full coloured campaign maps showing the disposition of units, Order of Battle: the Red Army in World War II is an easy to use guide to Soviet ground forces in World War II. The book is an essential reference for any serious student of military history particularly the war on the Eastern Front. A tabular depiction of the force structure of the Red Army during the various offensives gives a clear insight into the sheer magnitude of the battle fought. Spread through the book are sample unit structures which illustrate in detail the makeup including the personnel and weapons strengths of various types of units, including infantry battalions, artillery brigades, mechanised division and tank armies.
The book in general fails to live up to its title of "Order of Battle", as it is a thin on material to support its title. On the contrary it's a brief description of the sequence of events during Operation Barbarossa along with the various formations which participated during the major battles. Rather it is a general summary of the main campaigns fought by the Red Army. It rarely goes into details of any of the formation never touching the raising, the composition and reason for ORBAT (political and military compulsions) the command structure, the losses suffered due to various factors as also the accolades it won. More over each formation was led by different leader who had their own peculiar style of command which did have an overall effect on the final outcome, hardly finding a mention. Being the Red Army which was a means in the hands of the communist government, the effect of the commissar's rule finds a faint mention. The book could be useful as a reference however; it falls short of being a book on the "Order of Battle".
Given the gigantic size of the Red Army without any background of its adversary, would leave a reader rather bewildered as to the ineffectiveness of the organization. It would have been prudent for the author to give the opposition faced at the beginning of each campaign to justify the employment of such an array of formations. Furthermore, given that the same tank sketch has been repeated 54 times to highlight the point that there are these many tanks in an armoured regiment has only increased the size of the book without adding value and could have been avoided. Furthermore the sheer size of the campaign demanded bigger maps to be able to comprehend the complexities.
The author has a life long association with the military as he not only holds an interest in World War II as a student of military history but has also followed the Soviet war machinery as a hobby since childhood. A career spanning over three decades in the British Ministry of Defence has provided him a sneak peek into the Red Army at its best, moreover he has been associated with a number of research projects during the cold war permitting him to widen his horizon on the subject. Having retired in 2006 David has undertaken a number of literary projects with particular leaning towards the Soviet ground forces. He has contributed articles and book reviews to the BBC History Magazine, the British Army Review and the Royal Engineers Journal. He is the author of The Essential Tank ID Guide: Soviet Tank Units, 1939-45, his first work.
With approximately 200 pages of fully coloured tactical maps, reference tables and organisational diagrams the book justifies a price tag of Rs 1300. However, it is expensive for a military history student but would be just right for a World War II fanatic, who collects all that information pertaining to that era. A paperback edition would be more appreciated from an Indian publisher thereby keeping the book within range of most.
A well researched book into the organisation called Red Army, considering the curtain of secrecy which surrounds all things Soviet. More over David himself, is an authority in all things military during WWII particularly those which deal with equipment. This book would serve a history buff well, to be able to understand the colossus called Red Army.
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