Skip directly to content


German Operations West of Kiev 24 December 1943-31 January 1944 Volume's 1 and 2, by Stephen Baratt, Helion & Company Ltd, 2014, Hardcover, $61.69 (per volume with each volume including accompanying map book), each volume approximately 300 pages (with accompanying map books another 400 plus pages in total)
Review Type: 

Stephen Barratt's two-volume set Zhitomir-Berdichev (sold separately) should go down as the definitive look from the German side of the hill at the critically important combat operations on Army Group South's left flank during the lead up to the far more famous Battle of the Korsun Pocket.  Well-researched, these books are an excellent starting point for understanding how and why the German 4th and 1st Panzerarmy's were unable to stop Soviet General Nikolai Vatutin's 1st Ukrainian Front from driving Axis forces away from the western approaches to Kiev, ultimately creating preconditions that would lead to the final ejection of Axis forces from the Ukraine. 

To that end both volumes of Zhitomir-Berdichev are clear in explaining this is a German centric view of the 1st Ukrainian Front's successful December 24, 1943 - January 10, 1944 offensive (book one) plus the German counterstrokes carrying through January 31, 1944 (book two). Thus a reader should not expect a parallel narrative focusing on events from the Soviet perspective. That said the author draws on several solid sources in fleshing out the scope and form of Soviet planning; as well as the structure and condition of the 1st Ukrainian Front's component forces before and after the campaign.

Barratt's work is organized around synthesizing primary source German documentation. This primarily revolves around presenting the narrative told by individual Kriegstagebuch (or unit war diaries) created by the Operations Staff (the Ia staff) of the various German commands, as well as the Morgenmeldung and Tagesmeldungen (morning and evening reports) generated each day. Keep in mind this represents a tremendous amount of information. To break down and present it in a coherent narrative represents a wonderful service to readers trying to understand the scope of combat operations in the Western Ukraine during the five weeks covered by these two volumes. However Barratt is up to the task. He clearly lays out how the German response unfolded as the 1st Ukrainian Front pressed home what would end up being a costly but successful offensive.

Each volume is broken down into well delineated parts. These sections flow across the front from east to west describing the combat operations of the German 4th and 1st Panzerarmee's component corps, divisions, and lesser units plus the machinations of Army Group South's brain trust (led by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein). As mentioned above in Volume 1 the first three weeks of Vatutin's offensive show the clear victory won by the 1st Ukrainian Front as well as the German scramble to patch up their tattered lines. This leads into Volume 2 where we learn about the German counter attacks to restore a front line, and somewhat surprisingly deliver a painful blow to Vatutin's forces, albeit one shrugged off as the latter pages describe the western portion of the Soviet drive to form the infamous Korsun pocket.

The two-volume format chosen by the author and his publisher represent wise decisions. The sheer scale of information made available is made much more digestible for even the advanced students of the German-Soviet war at which the author's work is undoubtedly targeted. Another solid choice came from the creation of the map books accompanying each volume. The level of detail is extraordinary, with every day broken down into a larger corps level overview map and several supporting maps showing at the divisional scale where the day's events unfolded. In addition, by creating stand alone map books the author has made it far easier to follow the action without having to flip back and forth within a particular volume.

The biggest cricitism has to be the lack of analysis. That said the author is up front about the reasons for the decision to forgo it. But the analysis of German actions provided in the epilogue to Volume two is of such a quality it almost begs for additional insights from a researcher who spent years examining the German archives.

Nevertheless what these archives reveal are more than interesting enough. Not least of which being how it was that German infantry divisions with the combat strength of regiments, and panzer divisions deploying on average barely more than a dozen operational tanks on any given day were able to avoid total collapse in the face of overwhelming numerical odds. Furthermore though not detailing the Soviet perspective one learns much about the Soviet use of combined arms to drive the Axis forces west. Overall these volumes are welcome additions to the bookshelves of those interested in this aspect of the Second World War, particularly for readers with a special interest in armor heavy combat described at the operational level.


Post new comment


  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.