Finest Hour 149, Winter 2010-11
Smolensk: A World War II Climacteric
Barbarossa Derailed: The Battle for Smolensk 10 July-10 September 1941, Vol. 1, by David M. Glantz. Helion Publishers, 656 pp., illus., $59.95, Member price $47.95.
At dawn on 10 July 1941, massed tanks and motorized infantry of German Army Group Center’s Second and Third Panzer Groups crossed the Dnieper and Western Daugava Rivers. Since June 22nd, when Hitler unleashed Operation Barbarossa, his invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht had advanced up to 500 kilometers into Russia, killed or captured up to one million Red Army soldiers, and reached the two rivers. This satisfied Hitler’s assumption that Germany would emerge victorious if it could defeat and destroy the bulk of the Red Army before it withdrew to safety behind the Daugava and Dnieper. With the Red Army shattered, Hitler and most Germans expected total victory in a matter of weeks.
The ensuing battles in the Smolensk region frustrated German hopes for quick victory. Despite destroying two Soviet armies and encircling the remnants near Smolensk, they were soon faced by seven newly-mobilized Soviet armies. Smolensk ultimately became the crucial turning point in Operation Barbarossa.
This is the most thorough description of Smolensk ever assembled; a second volume is coming in 2011.