by: Randy Harvey [ ]
Operation Solstice, also known as Unternehmen Husarenritt or the Stargard Tank Battle, was the code name for the 1945 German counterattack attack against the Soviets in East Prussia, and was one of the last German armoured offensive operations on the Eastern Front in World War II. The German operation took place in response to the Soviet advance on Berlin early in 1945, with their ultimate objective being the relief of Küstrin. When the Soviets began their Vistula-Oder Offensive in January 1945, they opened a large front along the German defensive lines, advancing from the Vistula River to the Oder River with Berlin as their ultimate objective.
Although planned as a major offensive, Operation Solstice was actually executed as a limited attack, and therefore was halted by the Russians. Despite some initial gains, Operation Solstice was a German failure, and as a result, the German forces were forced to retreat. Despite that failure, the Soviet military realized the northern flank of their advance on Berlin was vulnerable, and so the drive on the Nazi capital was postponed for approximately two months. The fighting during Operation Solstice brought the German King Tiger (Tiger II) tank and the Russian IS-2 (Iosif Stalin) tank together in combat, which tested not only the heavy armor technology of both Germany and Russia, but also German and Soviet theories on tank warfare.
Osprey Publications Ltd. has released King Tiger vs IS-2– Operation Solstice 1945 as Number 37 in their “Duel” series.
King Tiger vs IS-2 is a paperback book with 80 pages. Included with the text are color and black & white photographs, color and black & white illustrations, color maps, informational charts and detailed captions.
- Design and Development
- Technical Specifications
- The Strategic Situation
- The Combatants
- The Action
- Statistics and Analysis
- The Aftermath
The book is well-written and contains many excellent details about German and Russian armor and their use during Operation Solstice in 1945. Higgins has gone to great lengths to research the German King Tiger (Tiger II) and the Russian IS-2 (Iosif Stalin) tanks, and provides a very well-written and accurate history of them, including the design and development of both tanks. Other topics include the changes made to both vehicles as they evolved, as well as total numbers of vehicles produced. Discussed as well are the different armament, communications equipment, and mobility of both tanks. German and Soviet training and tactics are also examined and detailed.
In addition to the tanks, Operation Solstice is discussed in detail, including its origin, execution, and end results. Key areas of the battle are covered, and the operation is viewed from both the German and Soviets perspectives. The accompanying photographs are in a correct chronological order, and their captions include information on the King Tiger (Tiger II) and the IS-2 (Iosif Stalin).
Also included are a key to military symbols, a US/metric cross reference chart, and a glossary explaining the acronyms for the different types of tank ammunition. Separate biographies of key players include Colonel Boris Romanovich Eremeev, commander of the Soviet 11th Guards Heavy Tank Brigade, and SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Friedrich “Fritz” Herzig, commander of the German 503rd Heavy SS Panzer Battalion. Anyone interested in the German King Tiger (Tiger II) or the Russian IS-2 (Iosif Stalin) tanks, or Operation Solstice will find this book very informative and interesting.
There are a total of 40 black & white photographs, as well as 4 color photographs throughout the book. The photographs range from showing the tanks in static positions for the photographer to action photographs. Others show pictures of German soldiers conducting anti-tank training with captured Russian T-34 tanks, tank maintenance in the field, and destroyed German and Russian armor. A feature of special interest for modelers are photos of the IS-2 and Tiger II main guns and barrels, as well as their turret baskets removed from the turrets in what appear to be training manual reference pictures.
Additionally, there are interior color photographs of the Tiger II showing the driver’s position, radio racks, emergency control lever, gearbox, ammunition racks, commander’s and gunner’s positions, turret traverse wheel, as well as the cupola exterior. The black & white interior photographs of the Tiger II show the cupola, which is closed, and the turret-mounted coaxial MG-34 machinegun. All of these photographs would be of a great benefit to the detail-minded military armor modeler. Oddly there are no such detailed interior photographs of the IS-2. Other photographs that would prove of interest to modelers and armor enthusiasts (although I don’t believe it was planned as such) are of overturned Russian and German armor, which gives the reader a chance to view the details on the bottom of the vehicles.
One photograph which I find particularly interesting is of a Tiger II hull in a factory during the “Takt 4” (the desired time between units of production output) process, which involves a large vertical lathe being used to create the opening on top of the hull for the turret. To me this would be a great inspirational picture for a “home front” type of diorama showing German factory workers constructing a Tiger II.
Most of the photographs are well-done, however there are some that have an out-of-focus look to them, and some appear to be too dark. All of that is typical for photographs of this period of time. Several are stills taken from period films, which would account for the lack of sharpness. One thing that I was appreciative of with the photographs is that a good majority of them are not the same old overused images that turn up when these two tanks are shown and discussed. It is always nice to see the lesser known photographs.
There are 11 color illustrations by illustrators Jim Laurier and Peter Dennis that are very well done, nicely detailed and cover:
- Tiger II specifications
- IS-2 specifications
- Tiger II turret and Tiger II ammunition
- IS-2 turret and IS-2 ammunition
- Arnswalde perimeter near Kahnsfelde February 10, 1945
- Tiger II gunsight
- IS-2 gunsight
- Tiger II “Caterpillar” advance and “Leapfrog” advance techniques
- 3 German recruiting posters for use in German occupied areas
There is 1 black & white illustration:
- Cross diagram of the German 88mm KwK 43 L/71 barrel, which appears to be from a German military manual.
The color illustrations of the Tiger II and IS-2 turrets show cut away 3-D type views of the interior of the turrets and show the layout of the turret, crew member positions, equipment, devices and ammunition storage. Items of interest are numbered and the corresponding numbers are listed below the image explaining what each thing is. The ammunition for both tanks is also shown and explained in the same manner. Again, this type of information will be especially helpful to the detail-minded military armor modeler and the armor enthusiast.
THE COLOR MAPS:
There are three color maps throughout the book and they show operations in:
- Pomerania following the Soviet Vistula-Oder Offensive, January 28 – February 15, 1945
- Start of Operation Sonnenwende
- Relief of the Arnswalde Garrison, February 15-17, 1945
THE INFORMATIONAL CHARTS:
There are 4 informational charts throughout the book that are very well done, nicely detailed and provide information on:
- Ammunition penetration statistics, 88mm KwK 43 L/71
- Ammunition penetration statistics, IS 122mm D-25T L/43
- Order of Battle, 503rd Heavy SS Panzer Battalion, January 29, 1945
- Order of Battle, 11th Guards heavy tank Brigade, February 15, 1945
The captions are well-written, are very detailed, and explain the accompanying photographs well. They provide such detailed information as the type and model of the vehicle shown, missing and damaged equipment, track types, explanation of anti-tank devices and how they functioned, military units, officer’s names and other such specific information.
All in all, I am very impressed with the book. It examines combat between the German King Tiger (Tiger II) tank and the Russian IS-2 (Iosif Stalin) tank, and informs the reader about Operation Solstice as well. Osprey Publishing continues to release many great titles such as this one, and I would have no hesitation to add more of their books to my personal library, nor would I hesitate to recommend this book to others.
This book was provided to me by Osprey Publishing Ltd. Please be sure to mention that you saw the book reviewed here when you make your purchase.