The Drive on Moscow, 1941
Operation Taifun and Germany’s First Great Crisis in World War II
Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson
Casemate, Philadelphia, 2012, 336 pages
Book Review published on: June 2, 2017
The Drive on Moscow, 1941: Operation Taifun and Germany’s First Great Crisis in World War II by Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson is a timely read of the details surrounding Germany’s advance to Moscow. The book uses personal accounts to reinforce the larger troop movements within the context of Operation Taifun (Typhoon). Some reviewers found this style of writing challenging to the flow; however, I thought the addition of individual accounts added to the overall readability of the book. Zetterling and Frankson do a precise job of describing the actions and reactions of both the German and Russian armies during the late summer and fall of 1941. The chapters lead the reader from the planning for the operation to the encirclement of Moscow. Very little text is devoted to the buildup for Taifun or the outcome for either army following the encirclement of Moscow.
Zetterling and Frankson do not really break any ground with their conclusions on the reasons for Taifun’s successes and failures. They do apply their considerable research from both aspects of the fight. The authors had access to Russian and German primary sources, which they do a good job of working into the narrative without distracting the reader. The authors filter much of the propaganda from the accounts, which lends to their credibility. However, I am slightly critical of the overall detail of the maps. I found myself following along the narrative with a topographical map of Russia to get a grasp on the effects of terrain and distance.
The Drive on Moscow is a timely read for military personnel. The real pearls for the reader are not in the conclusions but in the overall action-reaction narrative of the operation. The density of forces in large-scale combat operations and the levels of complexity across what the U.S. Army describe as elements of combat power are unknown to many serving today. In the opening chapters, what struck me strongest were comments from a division commander who complained that his division frontage was twenty kilometers, while divisions adjacent to him defended frontages from four to thirteen kilometers. Today, we habitually train brigades at places such as the National Training Center to operate across frontages that may be up to thirty kilometers in breadth. I also enjoyed thinking through the sustainment considerations faced by both sides concerning the raw tonnage required daily to fight, the resulting maintenance demands on infrastructure, and the effects on operations of the have and have-nots. In the case of the Germans, these sustainment shortcomings eventually limited advances and delayed them from reaching their objectives. Lastly, the authors describe the effects of uncertainty on commanders. The Russian or German commanders who operated on their initiative and within the scope of their objectives were more successful than those who chose to wait or withdraw. The Germans leaders trained to operate this way. The Russians did so, largely, at their own peril. The authors capture that climate and the successes or failures that resulted.
In summary, none of what I describe above is illuminating to the seasoned military reader. The Drive on Moscow serves as a good introduction to a very complicated and broad operation. If you are looking for a book to compliment professional discussion, this book fits the bill.
Book Review written by: Robert R. Phillipson, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas