VITEBSK The Fight and Destruction of the Third Panzer Army

VITEBSK The Fight and Destruction of the Third Panzer Army

Otto Heidkamper ( translated by Linden Lyons)
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4.5 Mushroom Heads
The origional draft of this book was written by Otto Heidkamper in 1954, at a time when NATO was studying the German conduct of the war, and no doubt seeking to learn everything they could about the Russian psyche and fighting.methods

Otto's rank of Chief of Staff of the 3rd Panzer Army meant that his view of the battle and the fighting would be related in the terms on which he saw it, ie as a leader and not directly in the thick of it, so the tone is slightly distant, like a directors report, but nonetheless accurate and concise

The 3rd Army come across as a well trained and well ordered team, the tanks crews, artillery and infantry all work together well and even rear echelon troops and senior officers come forward willingly to assist when really pushed

Many times in the narrative he relates how when asking for re enforcements, ammunition, weapons or to pull troops back to a better position, the complex and strained system of leadership grinds to a halt, as everything rests on the decision of the Fuhrer often he is asleep, or the moon is wrong, or personality clashes cause a break in the communications constant changes in leadership do not help either.

At one point it was decided that Vitebesk would become a fortress and no surrender or retreat was possible , in spite of repeated messages, the order stood firm

The Russian army continually refreshed itself with an inexhaustible supply of troops, weapons, artillery aircraft and tanks , railway lines were severed and 3 divisions of 35,000 men and their weapons and equipment were lost to the Russian army

The Intelligence gathered by the German Army was very good and many times they were able to annihilate whole divisions of Russian troops, destroying 30 tanks in one session but still the Russians came onwards
also assisting them were the Soviet Partisans or bandits, they infiltrated behind the lines, shot troops from behind, concealed themselves in dugout and in ditches, springing up to cause mayhem according to the authors view, no recriminations or ill treatment was carried out on captured partisans, however it does state that they could be executed after summary trial if found guilty of terrorist offences, I would guess that many did not make it that far Eastern European troops were also suspect many changing sides, and losing morale and defecting

Of course winter slowed things down, and captured troops who were interrogated gave much valuable information, but in the end the Russian onslaught was unstoppable,they were fighting on their own ground , and using the weather and terrain to their advantage , and continually moving in and probing any weak spots

Between 22nd June and 15th July 1944 the 3rd Army Group lost 380,000 Soldiers, wounded, killed or missing as the Russians pressed forward and kept attacking

And yet the German 3rd Army had better trained and disciplined troops, better tanks and Artillery and a brotherhood between all the units fighting, including the Luftwaffe but still they failed ?

Had the management of the battle been left to the 3rd army directly, and if they had been supplied with replacements and ammunition, and not had several divisions removed for fighting elsewhere then they may just have retained their ground, although given the intensity of the Russian army and their victories on several other fronts, it would only have been a matter of time

One omission from this book and one that would improve its reading is a Map showing the Location of Vitebsk in relation to other battle fronts ( I had no idea of its location)

I resorted to using good old google maps to give me an idea of its Location

Vitesbsk is a city roughly north-east Belarus, better know as the birthplace of Marc Chagall

It straddles the Daugava river and sits approx 300Km NNE of Minsk.There are no pictures, other than the front and rear of the cover, however 20 high quality maps of the battle are included along with English translations from the Russian

Hardback and covering 176 pages, in a clear easy to read font

Overall a very good book, not however an easy read , this is due to it lacking the human element, and the narrative being more in the style of a regimental diary, and I presume the author using his own diaries to good purpose
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The author only joined the Third Army in May of 1943 and the battle was virtually over by the end of the summer in 44,

An incisive and accurate account of the 3rd Army, and an excellent translation by Linden Lyons.
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