Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review 278: Thunder on the Dnepr

THUNDER ON THE DNEPR: Zhukov-Stalin and the Defeat of Hitler's Blitzkrieg, by Bryan Fugate and Lev Dvoretsky. 415 pages, illustrated. Presidio paperback, $22.95

My usual practice is to read a book completely before reviewing it, but rarely one is so bad that it isn't worth finishing.

Such is the case with “Thunder on the Dnepr.” I got 100 pages into this ridiculous work before quitting.

That was more than sufficient to understand the thesis of Bryan Fugate and Lev Dvoretsky: They believe that Stalin, who had been committed to defense by an offensive into the enemy's territory, was converted by three war games in January-February 1941 to a concept of defense in depth – great depth, about 500 miles.

There are more than a few problems with this concept, even before looking at Fugate and Dvoretsky's evidence. For one thing, it meant giving up about three-quarters of the USSR's productive capacity.

The evidence presented is both thin and silly.

We are to believe that everything turned on a war game conducted in February at some unknown location. This produced a map which (on page 65) we are told was so closely held that no one (except the 10 officers at the war game) saw it for 56 years; although (on pages 66-67) we are told that the Germans obtained not just one but two copies, including one that was, curiously, stored in a “Komsomol House” in Ukraine.

In fact, defense in depth would have been a good strategy, and it was used successfully in 1943. Even with two years hard experience, the Russians were so unskilled that their victory at Kursk in 1943 cost them four times the casualties of the Germans.

Fugate is pretty close to tinfoil hat territory.

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