Book Review: Dubno 1941: The Greatest Tank Battle of the Second World War

Dubno 1941: The Greatest Tank Battle of the Second World War

By Aleksei Isaev

Helion & Company

The first thing potential readers may notice about this book is the subtitle, which proclaims the 1941 battle of Dubno to be the greatest tank battle of WWII.  To those familiar with the history of the Second World War, this might cause some confusion.  Ask the average WWII fan to name a tank battle and you will probably get replies such as Kursk, Alamein, or The Bulge.  But Dubno?  It’s probably fair to say most casual readers haven’t even heard of this battle, let alone know that it was one of the largest tank battles of the war.  Fortunately, Russian historian Aleksai Isaev tries to correct this situation in his new book, Dubno 1941: The Greatest Tank Battle of the Second World War.

Before we get into the content of the book, let’s start with a description of the book itself.  This is a 244 page hardcover volume.  The book is surprisingly heavy due to the dense, high quality paper used.  The paper texture is very smooth to the touch and provides good photo reproduction quality for the several image galleries found in the book.  The galleries consist primarily of images of tanks and also pictures of some of the commanders who play a part in the battle.  The book uses footnotes rather than endnotes and contains a rather useful series of appendices, a bibliography and an index.

This book was originally written in Russian and translated into English by Kevin Bridge.  The translation reads fairly well, although every so often a sentence will come off a bit clunky.  Whether this is due to the original text or to the translation is hard to say.  One translation error that jumped out at us was the mention of Western researcher “Thomas Yentz.”  Those well read on German armor will of course recognize this person as Thomas Jentz.  The publisher provides a disclaimer at the start of the book noting that the translation has kept partisan statements such as “our tanks” and “our aircraft” in the text.  This is a Russian book written by a Russian author and as such, it focuses much more on the Russian perspective of the battle than the German.

The text of the book is relatively straight forward, starting with a description of forces on both sides of the battle forces at the onset of Operation Barbarossa.  The chain of events from the launch of the German invasion on June 22 up to the Dubno battle a week later are explained with a good deal of detail.  A few maps are provided in the text, although readers may want to get a more detailed map of their own to prevent getting lost in the various details of unit movements and dispositions.  For those looking for individual accounts of combat or Steven Ambrose style history, this book will be quite dry and unrewarding.  For those looking for a detailed operational level description of events with analysis, this book should prove enjoyable.

The book ends with a conclusion offering an overview of the events and some analysis explaining why things turned out the way they did.  Isaev provides several reasons for why the Soviets lost this battle, primarily lack of experience and training, poor communication and poor unit organization compared to their German adversary.  One other factor that seems to crop up continuously in the description of the fighting is a lack of proper artillery support for Soviet armored units due to a lack of suitable prime movers.

Throughout the text the author regularly emphasizes certain points that he sees as important for having been misinterpreted or left out of Soviet era histories.  However, since most Western readers will not be familiar with these older histories, these points by the author may seem a bit confusing.  One thing not addressed in great detail in this book is the issue of why this battle, as large as it was, is so little known.  For the answer to that question, one needs to take a dive into the world of post war Soviet historiography.  And while this book avoids that topic, the next book in our review pile fearlessly plunges into it. (The Battle of Kursk: Controversial and Neglected Aspects by Valeriy Zamulin by Valeriy Zamulin – expect the review later next week.)

For those interested in learning more about this battle, we would easily give this book a recommendation, provided people understand this is a pretty information dense book.  Those looking for some light reading should go elsewhere.  This volume is one of several Russian language WWII histories that Helion & Company have brought over to the English reading public.  We commend them for doing so and hope the keep it up.

Book Alert: Dubno 1941: The Greatest Tank Battle of the Second World War

According to Amazon, today marks the North American release of the new book Dubno 1941: The Greatest Tank Battle of the Second World War by Aleksei Isaev.  This is a 224 page hardcover published by Helion and Company.  Mr. Isaev has written numerous books on the Eastern Front during WWII, primarily in Russian.

Publisher’s Description:

In June 1941 – during the first week of the Nazi invasion in the Soviet Union – the quiet cornfields and towns of Western Ukraine were awakened by the clanking of steel and thunder of explosions; this was the greatest tank battle of the Second World War. About 3,000 tanks from the Red Army Kiev Special Military District clashed with about 800 German tanks of Heeresgruppe South. Why did the numerically superior Soviets fail? Hundreds of heavy KV-1 and KV-2 tanks, the five-turret giant T-35 and famous T-34 failed to stop the Germans. Based on recently available archival sources, A. Isaev describes the battle from a new point of view: that in fact it’s not the tanks, but armored units, which win or lose battles. The Germans during the Blitzkrieg era had superior T&OE for their tank forces. The German Panzer Division could defeat their opponents not by using tanks, but by using artillery, which included heavy artillery, motorized infantry and engineers. The Red Army’s armored unit – the Mechanized Corps – had a lot of teething troubles, as all of them lacked accompanying infantry and artillery. In 1941 the Soviet Armored Forces had to learn the difficult science – and mostly ‘art’ – of combined warfare. Isaev traces the role of these factors in a huge battle around the small Ukrainian town of Dubno. Popular myths about impregnable KV and T-34 tanks are laid to rest. In reality, the Germans in 1941 had the necessary tools to combat them. The author also defines the real achievements on the Soviet side: the Blitzkrieg in the Ukraine had been slowed down. For the Soviet Union, the military situation in June 1941 was much worse than it was for France and Britain during the Western Campaign in 1940. The Red Army wasn’t ready to fight as a whole and the border district’s armies lacked infantry units, as they were just arriving from the internal regions of the USSR. In this case, the Red Army tanks became the ‘Iron Shield’ of the Soviet Union; they even operated as fire brigades. In many cases, the German infantry – not tanks – became the main enemy of Soviet armored units in the Dubno battle. Poorly organized, but fierce, tank-based counterattacks slowed down the German infantry – and while the Soviet tanks lost the battle, they won the war.