Alf R. Jacobsen
ARRSE Rating
3 Mushroom Heads
On 22 June 1941 The Germans unleashed Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia. The vast majority of the assault was from occupied Poland, aimed at Leningrad, Moscow and the Caucuses and led by the Panzer armies. This has been written about exhaustively. A lesser known assault was launched form Northern Norway and Finland, aimed at Murmansk. This book describes that campaign.

The German forces were predominantly their mountain corps, comprising predominantly 1st and 2nd Mountain Divisions. The Russians had a motley collection of border guards, the Murmansk Garrison and the 52nd Division. The German forces had by that time conquered most of Europe whereas the Russians had been purged by Stalin. With Murmansk only 100 miles or so from the Norwegian border there was not much depth for the Russians to defend.

But of course, the Germans faced two serious problems; the terrain (tundra, with steep hills and impenetrable scrub and major fivers, including the Litza and very few roads), and a lack of mechanisation. As ever, their initial success led to logistic problems and increasingly vulnerable flanks. While on the steppes the panzers were able to smash forward, maintaining the initiative until motorised and foot borne infantry secured the flanks and completed the huge encirclements that characterised the 1941 campaign the foot borne mountain corps simply did not have that speed. It all ground to a halt, well short of Murmansk and that was that.

The author does a good job of weaving the various parts of the thread together; German feuding, Britain’s concern that the Russians might collapse and the Soviet Union’s vulnerability to Stalin’s delusions. Unfortunately he is hampered by his style; at times this reads like a Mills and Boon military history; we don’t quite suffer “..the rosy fingered dawn” or “heaving breasts” but we get endless “fanatical Nazis”, “the great warlord” and “icy waters”. Of course, this may be to your taste but it ain’t to mine; at times I was playing cliché bingo.

The second, unforgivable, flaw is a lack of clear maps. Some older ARRSE members may be familiar with Northern Norway, possibly even bits of the Murmansk area and the Finnmark. I’m not and in the age of digital printing there really is no excused for poor illustrations. The maps that are provided are German military ones, not translated and printed at a resolution that makes them almost illegible.

Finally the entire tone is a bit breathless -as is betrayed by the title. There was no “miracle.”An under supported infantry assault was fought to a standstill in arduous terrain.

All of which is a shame as the core tale is one that deserves telling. Had the Germans captured Murmansk, and been able to hold it, then the Soviet Union would have been isolated from its allies and the cast tonnages of materiel that flowed through it would not have been available.
Amazon productI’ll rate the book as three; better written and illustrated it could easily have been a five.
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