The End Of The Gallop The Battle For Kharkov

The End Of The Gallop The Battle For Kharkov

Alexei Isaev and translated by Kevin Bridge
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4 Mushroom Heads
This book is not really for the casual reader who merely wishes to read about what happened in Russia because it is a direct translation by Kevin Bridge of Aleksei Isaev’s extracts from Russian files. It describes changes in the philosophy of war during the series of battles around Kharkov towards the end of the operation known as The Gallop.

Operation Gallop was a Russian operation brought into being following the German invasion which had reached as far as the Black Sea and threatened Stalingrad (now Volgograd) consisting of a series of counteroffensives carried out against the Germans in order to exploit gaps in the south thus weakening the German position.

Kharkov in the Ukraine (now Kharkiv) was an important city for both the Germans and the Russians for several reasons. It was an industrial centre with considerable manufacturing equipment which could be useful to both sides, having many factories which supported the Russian war effort though early on the Russians attempted to remove as much industrial equipment as possible. It was also a centre of great logistical significance being a rail link to areas of Ukraine and Russia, including the Crimea and Black Sea. Because Kharkov was of such significance there had been successive battles, the first being in 1941 when the Germans took possession. The second wasn’t really a battle within Kharkov but further to the south east where the Germans inflicted a defeat on the Russians at the Izium bridgehead.
The third battle which is covered in this book is really a series of dramatic battles in an area which tends to be neglected where the history of the war is concerned. In February of 1943 the Russians launched Operation Star which was successful enough for the Russians to occupy Kharkov itself. Unfortunately Marhsall Popov allowed his tank troops to be exposed to a very successful counter offensive by the Germans and the Germans not only reoccupied Kharkov but also inflicted a major defeat on the Russians.

The short introduction by the author looks at the changes in strategy for both of the opposing forces and the first chapter follows with a description of the plans of both sides together with a comprehensive appraisal of the forces possessed by both Germans and Russians. Unfortunately the part covering the air forces only seems to describe those of the Germans and very little is ever mentioned about that of the Russians even though the use of air power was to have a considerable effect.

Chapters 2 and 3 cover Operation Skachok beginning to the east of Kharkov amidst considerable manoeuvring by both sides with the Russians making slow progress, possibly due to the fact that previous onslaughts and battles had made them very wary of the German forces. The German forces found themselves being slowly pushed back until both Belgorod and Kharkov were back in Russian hands. In all there were several battles over a distance of some 200 km and time and again one side would encircle the other only for the other side to find a weak link and attempt a breakout and counteroffensive.

In chapter 4 the author describes the visit by Hitler who intended to ensure that any changes necessary were made in order that Kharkov be taken again. He actually required that an SS Panzerkorps be withdrawn from another area and used to occupy Kharkov. The Russians did not fare well against the German drive, tending to prepare defensive positions rather than going on the offensive. This, the author notes, could be because of the reputation of the Panzer troops. The push by the German forces continued and chapter five describes the situation where the Germans were again attacking across a wide front in order to gain control of this important region.

In his conclusion the author recognises the involvement of the panzers and their mobility as being one of the major reasons the Russians had to change their plans but the main reason the Germans gained the upper hand seemed to be the way they would attack on flanks and destroy spearheads as they appeared. It is more likely that the Russians overestimated their ability to wage war on a wide front stretching back one hundred kilometres at times and underestimated the tenacity of the German forces and their ability to respond. This is compared with similar reasons which caused the German forces to fall back from Moscow in 1941. The final paragraph of this conclusion seems to encapsulate all the problems and failings faced by both sides. At the end the Index provides reference within the book for both people and units involved.

A very interesting book which does contain several plates of pertinent photographs which are described in the List of Photographs but let down by the fact that only three maps are included to cover all the battles taking place within this period.

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