This is the second in Firefly Books' 'Combat Camera' series which concentrate on a particular aspect of a particular campaign. The book, which is written by Karl Berne is Onslaught - the German Invasion of Soviet Russia. This latest title follows the format established by Firefly - A4 Format, cardcover, with 34 pages. The back page gives some neatly executed profiles of PzIIIs & Stug III (Ausf Bs). The inside (back) cover presents images of 42 German Divisional Insignia.
The book begins with a single page introduction. This is not really a brief history of the campaign, rather an explanation of the approach the author takes in presenting the initial stages of the Ostfront through the eyes of the combatants. In this, we are very fortunate. In Germany, in the Pre-War period, amateur photography became a national obsession (matched only by the U.S.A.) and many conscripted Germans took their cameras to war with them. Unlike the situation of British troops, where we have to rely on the 'Official' photographers, much of what has become available to publishers and historians was taken by the troops themselves. The book is a collection of these images which show some very interesting aspects of the initial days and weeks of Operation Barbarossa.
From the introduction, which is followed by a list of the order of battle, we move onto the substance of the book, the images. It's pretty difficult to accurately 'date' the images (not having time/date stamps in their cameras) but it's a reasonable safe assumption to make that the images cover late spring/summer 1941 due to the dryness of the terrain and the amount of foliage on the trees. As many of the subjects are in shirtsleeves while 'off-line' this serves as another useful indicator. So, why is this of such seemingly overwhelming importance? In my opinion, too many books - whether through laziness on the part of their editors or a rush to get into print, frequently results in contradictory images of vehicles or uniform details which go against the 'logic' of what is supposedly being presented. In Berne's book, the images are recognizably Russia and the weather seems to confirm the 'heavier' or 'official' histories of the campaign.
Reflecting the German Army of the time, there are a large amount of different vehicle and weapon types within the images. Many of the more familiar types are documented with a few lesser known types also there. There are a few images of knocked-out (or abandoned) Soviet vehicles such as that of a KVII - which REALLY deserves to be done as a diorama. However, the majority of the images are of German infantry mainly taken on the march or at rest - with the vehicles being more or less 'backdrops'. Some of the photos, although taken by 'amateurs', conveys the feeling that the photographers were aspiring 'staffers' on Signal - they really are quite dramatic.
Firstly, although some of the books by Firefly cover completely 'new' ground, this isn't really one of them. This is not a criticism per se, rather it's a comment of the quantity of books which have been published covering the Eastern Front. The reality is that it's VERY difficult to bring something radically new to the subject. Using 'personal' photos and backing them up with some good, informed captions IS the way to go. In this, the book succeeds convincingly.
As to the quality of the images, although they go from 'adequate' to 'good' they could, in my opinion, do with some deeper contrast at the time of scanning. The images are clear, only one or two could be considered 'muddy' and in general they show good detail. Few of the photos give the impression that they were taken in the 'heat of battle' - once again, this is completely understandable. Many of the 'action' photos which we have become accustomed to over the years were carefully posed for propaganda purposes and were taken hours or days after the event. A case in point was the famous image of the flag being hung over the Reichstag - that was taken the day AFTER the assault... It's a good collection of photos which are a valuable source of inspiration and information.
In conclusion, it's a good book. The editing of the captions (in particular) is first class. The care the author has taken to present accurate details (or logical assumptions) is also noteworthy. It won't (and I don't think that's the author's intention either) increase one's understanding of what was to become a VERY bloody campaign, but more importantly, you'll get a good 'feel' for it. Well worth adding to the bookshelf.
Highs: The more 'personal' aspect through the lens of what were essentially amateur photographers. This contrasts nicely with the more 'professional' (and posed) images which are seen in the majority of books of this type.Lows: The quality of the images could have been so much better in many cases. Detail is there but some of the images could do with a little more sharpness of contrasts.Verdict: A good book which is well worth adding to the bookshelf of anyone interested in this (and particularly the early stages) of the Eastern Front campaign.
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About Jim Rae (jimbrae) FROM: PROVINCIA DE LUGO, SPAIN / ESPAñA
Self-employed English teacher living in NW Spain. Been modelling off and on since the sixties. Came back into the hobby around ten years ago. First love is Soviet Armor with German subjects running a close second. Currently exploring ways of getting cloned to allow time for modelling, working and wr...