Book Review: Red Christmas: The Tatsinskaya Airfield Raid 1942
From a Russian perspective, Paul Robinson gets an interesting look at a raid during the winter of 1942 on the Eastern Front.
Author: Robert Forczyk
Publisher: Osprey Publishing, 2012.
Wow! This is a superb offering from Osprey Publishing’s Raid series; a series which sets out to provide “Detailed, authoritative analysis of the greatest raids in military history”. This volume covers a relatively small scale (in Russian Front terms) action that formed part of the broader Siege of Stalingrad and Operation Uranus campaigns-the raid by the Russian 24th Tank Corps on the German operated Tatsinskaya Airfield. In doing so it manages to include everything from tanks shooting up Junkers Ju 52’s, to armoured trains versus armoured cars! All of this is set within one of the turning points, if not thee turning point, of the Second World War!
The author is Robert Forczyk who has written a number of Osprey’s books covering the Russian Front (eg. Moscow 1941: Hitler’s First Defeat; Sevastopol 1942: Von Manstein’s Triumph; and Leningrad 1941to 44: The Epic Siege). He is a retired Lt. Colonel from the US Army Reserves having served 18 years in the US 2nd, 4th and 29th Infantry Divisions. There is some artwork by Johnny Shumate within the book, a “newish” but burgeoning Osprey contributor; however the Raid series books tend to have less colour artwork than the others (eg. the Elite, Men at Arms or Campaign books).
The book is eighty pages and appears to have a similar format to others in the series with chapters on the ”Origins of the Raid”, “Initial Strategy”, “The Plan”, “The Raid”, “Analysis”, “Conclusion” and “Bibliography”—although I note from the few others I have in the Robinson library that the format seems more flexible than other series (this may be because it is still relatively new). It is supported by forty-nine black and white photographs, three detailed operational maps, one bird’s eye 3D view of the attack on the airfield, and two colour plates of original artwork. The text is also interspersed with some detailed info-boxes on the Russian commanders, unit organisation and a nice description of the T-70 light tank. It is worth briefly digressing that whilst the T-34 is the headline grabbing Russian tank of the war in 1942, the Russian tank forces were still made up of large numbers of sub-optimal vehicles like the T-70. For example, the 24th Tank Corps had sixty-three of these tanks compared with ninety-six T-34s!
The book is exceptionally well written with Mr. Forczyk moving with ease from a short, but amazingly detailed, description of the development in the 1930’s of the Russian “Deep Battle” and “Deep Operation” operational doctrines by Isserson and Tukhachevsky, to a comprehensive coverage of the actions of the 24th Tank Corps and its opponents—which is the main focus of the book. The former covers not only the development of these doctrines but the impact on the pre-war development of Russian tanks in a “doctrine shaped weapons development” programme and the effect of Stalin’s purges on the Russian Armed forces.
The raid itself is a fascinating insight into the development of Russian tactics during the war and how they went through a hard school of development-defeat-improvement; which eventually lead to the formation of the tank armies that led the way to Berlin and the Operational Manoeuvre Group concept of the Cold War period. The attack on Tatsinskaya Airfield formed an important part of that evolutionary path.
Even though written from the Russian point of view, the actions and tactics of the German (plus some Italian and Romanian) forces are not “short changed” by the author who provides fascinating detail of how the German Kampfgruppen process helped to impose a level of operational friction on the Russian forces that had an impact on the outcome of the raid. Don’t fear for those unfamiliar with the end result, I won’t give the game away here. But I will say that, overall, this is one of the best Osprey texts I have read for quite some time!
The photographs offer excellent support for the text. However, it is unclear whether a number of them are actually from the Tatsinskaya operation. I am assuming that many are not, as they are not specifically labelled as such (but I am happy to be corrected on that). However they are all of the correct time period on the Russian Front and show the correct troop types, etc... There are also some interesting bits of unusual kit (weapons) on show, from a MG-15 being used in a ground role for airfield perimeter defence to the German armoured train on page fifty-four.
The maps are the usual high standard you would get in any Osprey volume, as is the bird’s eye 3D view of the airfield—no complaints there. The two pieces of original artwork by Mr. Shumate are great—action-packed and full of movement—and I think I see more than a “nod” to the Soviet propaganda art of the period. However, they are not labelled, which seems a bit of an odd oversight. Having said that, it is fairly clear what part of the story they are highlighting; one shouldn’t expect to be spoon fed here
Having set out my opinion of this book already, now I must now point it in the direction of the right type of reader. Well, the most obvious thing that springs to mind is that it offers an amazing wargames scenario, both in the attack on the airfield and the various other actions that formed part of the raid. With the airfield attack the book provides enough detail on numbers and types of troops, etc..., to do a great “what if” scenario. The book will also appeal to the “Russian Frontniks” amongst wargamers giving as it does a different perspective on the Stalingrad campaign and detailing an operation that usually only gets a paragraph or two in more general histories. Highly recommended!
Review written by: Paul Robinson, Staff Writer
About Paul Robinson
Paul Robinson is a wargamer with over 30 years of experience in figure wargaming. He has interests in all things military from the Ancient Sumerians to the British Army in Afghanistan. He is an obsessive collector of books from Osprey Publishing and has contributed widely to the Field of Glory wargames rules franchise. A confirmed “Trekkie”, he also regards Babylon 5 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as great TV! He lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children, one cat and a large collection of wargaming figures.