Osprey- Velikiye Luki 1942-43: The Doomed Fortress
Let me start out by saying that I consider myself knowledgeable in the Eastern Front of WWII. I've always been fascinated by how, despite being gutted from pre-war purges and utterly surprised by the sudden German advances into the country, the Soviet military could so ultimately reverse their fortunes and eventually after much blood, sweat, and tears dominate the Germans on the battlefield. The battles for Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad are covered extensively. That being said, Osprey continually surprises me with books on topics I have had no idea about previously. Velikiye Luki is one such place-- this is truly the first I have read of it.
It had been a vital fortress city since the 13th century and was a key rail hub in the 1800s. It was occupied by the Germans in 1941 while serving as a major supply depot for the Soviet Red Army. In the winter of 1942-43 when the focus was centered on the siege of Stalingrad, a simultaneous offensive was started to isolate and annihilate the German garrison located in the fortress city. Fighting from the increasingly ruined city, the Germans hunkered down under Soviet air and artillery attacks and hoped for rescue, sustained by German supply airlifts. Over the course of seven weeks, both sides fought supply shortages and bitter winter weather while trying to hold out against each other.
The book is arranged as is every Combat series book as follows:
- Origins of the campaign
- Opposing commanders
- Opposing armies
- Orders of battle
- Opposing plans
- The campaign
- The battlefields today
- Further reading
After brief summaries of each of the major players in command of each side, we get into what was typical in each force. Infantry, Artillery, Armor, and Air Support is covered for each side. Leading up to the campaign, the Soviet side consisted of American-leased M3 Lee tanks and T-60 light tanks, but as the engagement drew close they would see KV-1s and T-34s in support. Combat in the crumbling city brought the use of the KV-8 flame-thrower tank which was a strong opponent to German anti-tank defenses.
The biggest section in the book entails the campaign itself and is broken up into just a handful of phases:
- 3rd Shock Army Offensive Begins, 24-30 November 1942
- Initial German Relief Efforts, 1-12 December
- The Siege of Velikiye Luki, 27 November-18 December
- Gruppe Wöhler's Relief Effort Flounders, 15-22 December
- The Breaking Point, 23 December-3 January 1943
- Operation Totila, 4-14 January
- The End at Velikiye Luki, 13-17 January
Mixed throughout the section are the 3D views and color battle scenes artwork...I was unable to get great photos as they are spread over two pages, so the front and rear cover shots will have to do. Of note here with the relief efforts I didn't know about was that with the Stalingrad combat being the priority for Ju 52 airlifts, the relief efforts here were laid upon modified Ju 88 and 87 bombers to limited effect.
Content continues with the Aftermath- an analysis of the campaign. This is followed by my favorite section in these series- the Battlefield Today section. Much of the city was destroyed in the battle, with nearly 91% of the building burned out. Rebuilding took decades and until recent times there was nothing of note historically to memorialize other than an abandoned bunker. With recent emphasis on anniversary commemorations and combat films and games, more attention was put to building a memorial to boost tourism in the area and awareness of the sacrifices made by both sides.
I was humbled to learn of this brutal siege of this city I had not heard of prior to this book. Osprey continues to put out great content that instructs the reader on events that may be unknown to them. The book's arrangement make it easy to learn and not be overwhelmed at under 100 pages and the illustrations lend themselves to making things easy to decipher and understand. It is a great source for historians yearning to learn something new and inspiration for modelers who might be struggling or wanting to create something out of the ordinary.
Highly Recommended for those interested in operations on the Eastern Front of WWII.
Thanks goes out to Osprey Publishing for this review sample.
Reviewed by Michael Reeves
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