Review of Where the Iron Crosses Grow: The Crimea 1941–44 by Robert Forczyk (Osprey Pub, 2014)
The Crimea has long been fought over. Robert Forczyk provides a brief summary of number of conflicts as context for his main focus: the period between Russian Revolution and the Second World War, and in particular WWII itself. While the contextual material covering the pre-WWII is a little sketchy, the war and the various actions and battles between 1941 and 1944 are covered in depth. The Germans and Romanians entered the Crimea in force in September 1941, occupying most of the territory with the exception of Sevastopol. Kerch was briefly taken back by the Russians in December for five months. The siege of Sevastopol lasted 250 days before it finally fell. The Russians held a toe-hold at Kerch in late 1943 and invaded in force in April 1944, occupying the whole territory by early May, with the Germans conducting a Dunkirk-style evacuation of troops from Sevastopol. The scale of the battles meant thousands of troops and civilians on both sides were killed or captured during the fighting or subsequent ethnic cleansing. Further, during the German occupation, many Crimean Tatars sided with the Axis, paying a heavy-price after war being sent to labour camps or being murdered en masse.
Forczyk provides a blow-by-blow account of the war in the Crimea in what often reads as a list-like battle diary. There is no shortage of technical terms, but very little personal testimony or a sense of key personalities beyond identifying them. Moreover, while there is an extensive detailing of the places where battles occur, there is not a single map, let alone detailed battle maps. Further, the narrative seems a little unequal, with the balance of attention focused on the Germans. This is also reflected in the title – ‘Where the Iron Crosses Grow’ – despite the fact that the Russians were often just as brave and certainly lost more personnel in the conflict. The result is an account that is somewhat dry and distant. The last handful of pages concerning present day conflict in the Crimea is thin and strays into political reporting. Overall, a quite technical, dry account that details all of the main events.