by: Bill Plunk [ ]
Introduction Operation Bagration was the code name for the Russian summer offensive in 1944 aimed at the German Army Group Centre. Overshadowed for years by the Normandy landings and campaign, Operation Bagration encompassed one of the most catastrophic defeats inflicted on the German Army yet it is likely to be one of the more unfamiliar battles, particularly to western readers. “Operation Bagration: The Destruction of Army Group Centre June-July 1944, a Photographic History” focuses in on this important aspect of the fighting on the Eastern Front, using a large number of previously unpublished photos to illustrate the different phases and nature of the combat.
The book This edition, published by Helion & Company in December 2007, is hardbound 9” x 12” with 144 pages printed on high quality glossy paper. The text is written by Ian Baxter, a well-known military historian specializing in German twentieth century military history. As a photographic history, the book contains 176 black and white photos and one line drawn map showing the battle lines as they shifted during the June-July period. 10 of the photos are credited to Wydawnictwo Militaria and 1 to Michael Cremlin.
Review The book is organized into multiple sections and appendices with the emphasis being on the photos and their captions vs. the written text, appropriate enough considering the book is billed as a photographic history.
The first section consisting of 9 pages (4 text, 5 photos), “Prologue: Prelude to Destruction, Army Group Centre 1941-1944” provides a very high level overview of the history of Army Group Centre and its participation in the different campaigns prior to Operation Bagration. It does include a nice table reference showing the Order of Battle for Army Group Centre for each year, giving some insight into the ebb and flow of combat on the Eastern Front up to 1944. It also provides a brief description of the strength of the opposing Red Army forces to set the stage. The photos included in this section are somewhat generic to the Eastern Front during the 1941-44 time period.
Next comes “Part I: Operation Bagration Unleashed 22-28 June 1944” which contains 38 pages (6 text, 32 photos). The lone map in the book is found in this chapter on p. 11 and the text provides some substantial detail on the overall chronology and decisive battles taking place in this 6 day period.
“Part II: Fighting for Survival 29-June – 6 July 1944” covers another 35 pages (4 text, 31 photos) and details the retreat by Army Group Centre and its eventual disintegration. Some of the photo captions in this section contain some errors, for example a Flak 30 2.0 cm gun is incorrectly referred to as a 3.7 cm Flak anti-tank gun, a Sdkfz 250 is incorrectly labeled as a Sdkfz 251, and a photo with a crewman preparing food on a Tiger I turret says it’s a Pzkpfw IV. While not huge errors considering the large number of photos and captions in the section, it does remind the reader that printed captions can’t always be trusted.
“Part III: Destruction 6-13 July 1944” and “Aftermath” cover 29 pages (5 text, 24 photos) discusses the final battles and the resulting destruction of Army Group Centre as a cohesive fighting force. This section also contains a couple of caption errors, the same error repeated on different photos referring incorrectly to a “quadruple 3.7 cm flak gun” when in fact they are quadruple 2.0 cm flak guns.
Rounding out the book are several appendices containing information about typical German Army organization structures in 1944 and brief descriptions of the principle vehicles used in the Panzer divisions at the time. Hitler’s Operation Order No. 8 is also provided, translated into English, detailing the orders to Army Group Centre during Bagration. Additional appendices are included showing the Army Group Centre order of battle at different phases before, during, and after Bagration as well as the order of battle for the Red Army. Closing things out is a short Table of Ranks showing the German Army and Waffen-SS ranks and their British Army equivalents.
Conclusion As a photographic history, the book does a good job of portraying the events in question with the selection of photos showing a wide range of equipment, personnel, and combat situations. The vast majority of the photos focus on the German Army with only a very small number of photos showing Soviet equipment. The text provided is brief but informative and the photos are printed large, often 2 to a page, to provide good quality reproduction and illustrations. Diorama builders in particular will find a wealth of possibilities in the photos. The captions do suffer in some places from inaccurate information and the vehicle identifications aren’t specific beyond generic labels such as “Sdkfz 250” or “Pz. IV”, so the utility to the strictly vehicle modeler will be limited. After reading through all the captions, some of the wording tends to get a bit repetitious about the circumstances but that’s due to the large volume of photos more than anything else. Recommended as a source of inspiration for those looking for photos for the June-July 1944 period of combat on the Eastern Front. The price, even though it's a hardbound volume, at nearly $60 will limit the appeal and utility for most.