It can be argued with some conviction that the war on the Eastern front was the war during World War II. Any study, be it brief or detailed, can’t fail to note the incredible amounts of material and troops that were employed in the unrelenting struggle, nor the nearly inconceivably level of casualties that were generated on both sides of the front over the four years of conflict. The number of offensives, counter-offensives, sieges, encirclements, and defensive stands can boggle the mind. Some of these battles have for whatever reason become obscured over time and have not gathered the same popular following as some of their more famed counterparts such as the battles of Stalingrad, Leningrad, or Berlin.
To help rectify that situation Osprey Publishing has for several years been producing their “Campaign” series which provides a history of different campaigns that lies somewhere between the potted Wikipedia type histories and a full-blown historical treatise of the subject.
The most recent battle to be given the full Osprey treatment is the conflict in the Demyansk sector from late January 1942 until February 1943 by author Robert Forczyk and illustrator Peter Dennis. To provide my own potted history for those unclear as to what happened in this sector of the war as the German offensive of 1941 ground to a halt the Soviets prepared for a counteroffensive to drive the invaders out. This counteroffensive, which began in early 1942, created a salient around Demyansk that the Germans held on to with a tenacious defense. The Soviets were not able to completely eliminate the bulge until February of 1943. The events between these two chronological points provide the material for the book.
Contents: Demyansk 1942-43; The frozen fortress, by Robert Forczyk is number 245 in the Campaign series from Osprey Publishing and the most recent to hit the shelves. The book is in the soft cover format that Osprey has used for the entire series with what seems to be a fairly standard 96 pages.
The contents of the book also follow the standard layout that Osprey seems to prefer; sections or chapters with the following headings:
The Demyansk Campaign
The Battlefield Today
Of these the bulk of the book is taken up with the ‘Demyansk Campaign’ chapter which is subdivided into seven sections that outline distinct periods of the battle such as the airlift operation in May and siege of Kholm (or Cholm if you prefer) to name but two.
The book is peppered with a number of excellent photographs, full colour maps, and what Osprey terms battlescenes. By my count there are 6 full colour maps that do an excellent job of conveying the ebb and flow of the front as well as the movement of individual units on the front. In addition all but one the maps are keyed with a chronological legend that helps to further explain what was happening and when it occurred. The maps all use standard military symbols to depict each of the units involved. The one map which is a bit different provides supporting information in the airlift section and shows the location of different types of airbases and the distances involved.
In addition to the standard maps are three of what Osprey calls three-dimensional ‘birds-eye views’ which provide a more detailed view of a smaller part of the battlefield. I’m not sure that I agree with the 3-D thing, they are simply closer looks with the axes of the map slightly tilted with large blobs of color showing the location of various units rather than using the standard military symbols. Nevertheless, they do provide a slightly different view of a smaller piece of the conflict in a more colorful way.
The ‘battlescenes’ by illustrator Peter Dennis are well done as well. Dennis provides us with three two page layouts of full-color aspects of the battle from a more up close and personal aspect. The first depicts the Soviet paratroopers’ ground assault on the Dobrosli airstrip during the night of 19 March 1942, an illustration that is also used for the front cover of the book. In addition to this piece, Dennis has full two page illustrations depicting the Soviet’s assault on the Kholm pocket on 24 March and the battle for the Ramushevo corridor of 17 July 1942. Mr. Dennis has clearly produced each of these works with a discerning eye toward their historical accuracy as is evidenced by the full page which reproduces the work in black and white and explains and points out what is happening and who is involved in each of the illustrations provided.
The book also contains fifty-three different period photographs shot during the campaign. The photos come from a number of different sources, the Russian International News Agency, Stavka Military Image Research (a photo resource for publishers and researchers), Bundesarchiv, and several private collections including the author’s. What this means to the reader is that many of the photographs will be new to many readers. In addition there are another eight photographs that I term as portrait type pictures of the various commanders as well as another eight photos of the area today.
The book itself is easy to read and flows quite well. The author does a more than credible job in providing some sense to the battlefield and the moves made by each of the combatants. In addition he does a good job in attempting to understand the difficulties that both sides operated under, both on the battlefield and from higher headquarters and political involvement. The narrative never really slows down except in the opposing forces section with the detailing of the relative strength and equipment of many of the involved units; of course I understand that this may be precisely the type of information that many modellers in particular are looking for!
The book would be a good place to start for anyone interested in the campaign, but shouldn’t be considered the final word, really more of a primer. For the modeller it may be a bit more limited, while it can provide a good bit of background into the campaign the photos do not really provide the sort of detail that is often needed. Despite the lack of detail shots the photographs are almost all of a very high quality with only a few fuzzy shots.
Highs: Good quick look at the battles that raged around Demyansk for a full year. Information presented in a number of different formats. Lows: No real detail photos for modelers. Verdict: Recommended for those interested in the subject matter.
About Rick Cooper (clovis899) FROM: CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES
I have been modeling for about 30 years now. Once upon a time in another century I owned my own hobby shop; way more work than it was worth. I tip my opti-visor to those who make a real living at it. Mainly build armor these days but I keep working at figures, planes and the occasional ship.