Armor and Blood
The Battle of Kursk: The Turning Point of World War II
By Dennis E. Showalter. 345 pp.
Random House, 2013. $28.
Reviewed by Robert M. Citino
NO ONE WRITES ABOUT the German army better than Dennis Showalter. Every one of his books is the same, in a sense, combining meticulous research with some of the sweetest prose around.
Armor and Blood is no different. Showalter recreates the origins of the great German offensive of 1943, Operation Citadel. He traces the arguments pro and con within the German high command, the repeated postponements, and the final decision to leap. He eschews the simplistic “greatest tank battle of all time” rhetoric that usually shrouds Kursk, and shows instead the initial frustration of the German attack, the relief on the Soviet side as they managed to parry the German thrust, and General Georgy Zhukov’s vast counteroffensive against the Orel salient to the north (Operation Kutuzov). The high-water mark of the German offensive came near an obscure village named Prokhorovka, and here too, Showalter is at his best, showing how a vast offensive across the front (“a two-front, army-level nutcracker”) gradually narrowed its focus to regiments and battalions and finally to a handful of desperate tank crews on both sides.
Some readers may question the “turning point” in the title. After all, that designation usually goes to the Soviet victories at Moscow in December 1941 or Stalingrad in 1942. Showalter makes a case, however, that Kursk marked the Eastern Front’s transition from a war of “decisive moments” to “a crisis of attrition.” The Soviets won in 1941 and 1942 by surviving early German success and then landing hard counterblows when their enemy was exhausted. Kursk was different. The great German offensive here barely made a dent. The Germans had perhaps already lost the war strategically. Kursk told them that they had lost it on the operational level as well.
Robert M. Citino, a professor at the U.S. Army War College, has written numerous histories, including The German Way of War, Death of the Wehrmacht, and Quest for Decisive Victory.