“Where The Iron Crosses Grow: The Crimea, 1941-44” by Robert Forczyk

Robert Forczyk has written extensively on the Second World War, especially about the battles between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  “Where The Iron Crosses Grow” which I completed some time ago but could not review earlier due to my ill-health is a detailed account of the battles for the Crimea spread over the period 1941 to 1944. I find that Dr. Forczyk has a Ph.D in International Relations and National Security from the University of Maryland and this brings to bear a meticulous mind in researching and presenting material in his book.

From allies to enemies, the equation between Germany and Russia changed when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, sending his massive Armies of over 4 million Axis troops, to conquer a land he needed for its many natural resources. The battles in the Crimea were an off shoot of this war. In perhaps no other theatre during the Second World War did so many die on both sides. Russia and Germany had to contend with unprecedented losses of men and material, the likes of which were never seen before ( and perhaps we are unlikely to see ever again.) No one has the correct figures, but estimates put the Soviet Union’s losses in defending Rodina, their Motherland, at 4 million. The German forces are estimated to have lost about 800,000 people. In addition, thousands of civilians were slaughtered by both sides with the Germans employing their SS Einsatzgruppen, special units created by the SS for this very purpose. Apart from killing the Germans in war, the Soviets in turn killed thousands of ethnic minorities during this period as well.

The whole bloody campaign in the Crimea is traced by Dr. Forczyk, who captures the battles which swung one way and then the other over the years. What differentiated the battles in Crimea from many others was that the war was truly three-dimensional with the Navies of both combatants carrying out operations at sea in and around the precious harbours, while the Luftwaffe and the Soviet Air Force battled for control of the skies to assist the land operations even as the land armies hammered each other for every inch of space. The fighting in the Crimean sector saw the Germans lose over 250,000 of their forces while the Russians probably lost over 700,000.

The book skillfully weaves individual accounts of the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day battles and the fight for survival of the foot soldier in the trenches, while also covering the strategic and macro objectives that the leading Generals of the time in both sides started with and had to modify as the closely fought war went on. The book is eminently readable and students of military history will have a lot to reflect on as they read about the tactical and strategic moves and mistakes made by some of the finest Generals, on both sides, it should be added, in the heat of battle.

The Crimea has always had a history of war. The reader is left with the poignant thought that decades after the pitched battles between the Nazis and the Soviets, will we see the Crimea once again being engulfed in battle?


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