When I was a kid in Elementary school, I studied World War II history like no other subject. I totally exhausted our school library’s books on the topic.
Some even called me a warmonger (What? We were in 3rd grade).
That love of studying military history has never gone away. It’s just expanded to other eras.
But World War II is still my favourite.
So when I saw The Bloody Triangle by Victor Kamenir (2009), I had to pick it up.
This book is about the first days of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, namely a triangle of land stretching from the cities of Lutsk, Dubno, and Brody in the Ukraine. It’s considered the 2nd greatest tank battle of World War II, but it’s not really talked about much other than in general overviews of the German invasion.
It’s also well worth a read.
The book tells the tale of the first two weeks of the war in this cauldron of tank fire, artillery, and confusion (at least on the Soviet side).
At 0300 hours on June 22, 1941, German forces stormed across the border into the Soviet-occupied area of Eastern Europe absorbed by them in 1939-40. While the invasion was over a very broad front, The Bloody Triangle takes an operational view of just one sector of the invasion, in the Kiev Military District on the road to Kiev, Ukraine.
Almost everything in the book is taken from memoirs of men who were there, from Soviet generals to a German soldier, though it mainly concentrates on the Soviet side. The German information is pretty interesting as a reaction to the total confusion that seems to have been a major part of Soviet operations at this point.
Kamenir explores the preparation of both sides just before the invasion, how Stalin was trying desperately to avoid war and thus seemed unaware of the brewing conflict. A lot of the clear signs that Germany was going to attack he put down as provocations to force the Soviets to act (and thus give Germany the excuse to go to war) or as lies by the West to get Germany and the Soviet Union fighting.
The book is very detailed, with a complete Order of Battle that is broken down into not only what the strength of forces were on paper but what they were actually. There are numerous tables scattered throughout the book that give information like this. Kamenir outlines where each division was situated on both sides of the border, giving readers a clear picture of the starting lines.
The Soviets had a clear numerical advantage on the German army, but between Stalin’s military purges and his reluctance to put the country on a war footing (thus trying to avoid provoking Hitler), the Germans had the clear quality advantage. Soviet mechanized forces were under strength and full of obsolete tanks that had very little armor, some with just machine guns as armaments.
They did have a few brand new tanks (the T-34 and the KV1) that could stand up to German panzers (at least at medium to long range), and one of the highlights of The Bloody Triangle is a first-hand account of when some German soldiers encountered them for the first time.
But there was a shortage of these tanks, and many of the crews were untrained. They were prone to mechanical breakdowns and sometimes they were drawn into close-quarters fights with German 88mm cannons that could actually penetrate their armor. Other times they were swarmed and knocked out that way.
Lack of fuel and ammunition was also a problem.
The main trouble with the Soviet forces, as outlined throughout the book, is the lack of communications. Some units were relying on civilian communication networks to talk with other units, and most of these were bombed or sabotaged and destroyed very early in the war.
Coordination of forces for either defense or Stalin’s demanded counterattacks was impossible in most cases. Commanders couldn’t get any information from their subordinates, or other unit commanders. They would have to send runners to find out what was happening, and sometimes they didn’t come back. Even if they did, this caused massive delays.
Locally, communication was also a problem. In armoured formations, only the command tank had a radio. Other tanks were informed of orders via signal flags. This caused tanks to sometimes group together around the command tank, making them easy targets for German bombers or anti-tank guns.
If the command tank was knocked out, there was very little unit cohesion possible after that.
The book is fascinating as it talks about the initial invasion, Soviet reaction to it, the chaos that surrounded almost every unit involved. Some units were cut off and surrounded, others retreated and regrouped. Fighting was fierce.
One of the problems with The Bloody Triangle is that chaos, however. The reader definitely gets a strong sense of what these units were going through, but the story is told in almost as chaotic a fashion as what actually happened. Kamenir jumps around from unit to unit (thankfully, these sections are clearly identified) and it can get confusing just where these units currently are in the action.
It can be very easy to lose track, though the narrative still grips you.
Another major issue is the editing. Many times it reads as a bad translation (and maybe it is, I don’t know whether it was originally written in English or not). The lack of definite articles in the book made it hard to get through sometimes, just to name one thing.
Still, The Bloody Triangle is a gripping read for anybody who is interested in World War II history, especially the Russian front. Many books have been written at the strategic level of this classic conflict, so it’s nice to read an operational level book that highlights just one section of it.
This was the first large-scale tank battle of the war, and Kamenir does a great job putting the reader right in the middle of it. While the Germans did swarm over the border and the Soviets reeled back in surprise, this was also the first bloody nose that the Germans took.
There would be many more.