by Prit Buttar
London & New York: Osprey Bloomsburg, 2022. Pp. 464+.
Illus., maps, personae, notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 1472851811
Fighting for Rzhev
Detail sometimes poses problems for the reader when considering literature on the Eastern Front, as in the excellent, but sometimes somewhat indigestible, works of David Glantz. Already the author of excellent studies on the conflict in Ukraine and further north, Prit Buttar gets the balance correct by providing not only detail but also a repeated engagement with central questions of effectiveness and evaluation. This book captures the situation for both sides, which is not generally done, and also ranges, notably in the discussion of the background of Operation Mars, to include key issues of intelligence, notably the extensive Soviet penetration of German intelligence operations. Buttar also offers a very valuable treatment of the post-war historiography both on the Soviet side and on that of the Germans. He does so in order to interrogate myths on both sides, both about Stalin and concerning the Wehrmacht.
Buttar argues that the Mars and Uranus offensives were intended to take part in parallel and that the subsequent attempt to present Mars as a diversion is implausible. Buttar also demonstrates that the Soviet choice of the Rzhev Salient for a winter offensive, regardless of whether it was intended as a serious attempt o defeat the Wehrmacht or was purely intended to tie down German forces, was a poor decision, notably as previous attacks there had failed and the problems posed by terrain and communications were well understood. Indeed, a parallel to Hitler’s obsession with Stalingrad is offered in the shape of a determination by Zhukov and possibly Stalin to eliminate this salient west of Moscow. However, alongside the Soviet losses the German suffered badly in terms of both casualties and commitment, and this is presented as weakening the possibilities both for a Stalingrad counteroffensive and for the Kursk operation. The obfuscation of the campaign continues as with Vladimir Putin’s June 30, 2020 speech unveiling the memorial.
Some of the ‘face of battle’ literature is weakened by its inability to confront adequately serious questions about capability, effectiveness, and, separately, strategy and intelligence. Buttar is to be richly congratulated for not only avoiding the problem but also offering a model coverage, one that is a vivid and gripping account but also a searching and scholarly one.
Our Reviewer: Jeremy Black, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Exeter, is also a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of America and the West at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is the author of an impressive number of works in history and international affairs, frequently demonstrating unique interactions and trends among events, including The Great War and the Making of the Modern World, Combined Operations: A Global History of Amphibious and Airborne Warfare, and The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon. He has previously reviewed The Return of Marco Polo's World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-first Century, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, War: How Conflict Shaped Us, King of the World, Stalin’s War, Underground Asia, The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps, The Atlas of Boston History, Time in Maps, Bitter Peleliu, The Boundless Sea, and On a Knife Edge. How Germany Lost the First World War.
Note: Meat Grinder is also available in e-editions.
StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium