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After Hitler: The Last Days of the Second World War in Europe
After Hitler: The Last Days of the Second World War in Europe
by Michael Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars After Hitler: The Last Days of the Second World War in Europe, 4 Feb. 2015
I have to admit that sometimes I ask myself, 'How much of the Second World War continues to remain mired in myths and legends?' Each time I get tired of reading monographs on this time period I find a volume that reinvigorates my interest. Michael Jones has managed to do this with every book he has put out on the war. I can confidently say that I, someone who has been reading on this period for over a decade, continue to be amazed by the information he manages to convey and unearth. While not everything that's found among these pages is original research, the narrative Jones has crafted is compelling and once more shows that even if some believe this time period has become over-saturated (every now and then I find myself among those 'some'), there are still areas that need more focus, attention, and rigorous research.

The premise of this text relies on looking at the last ten days of the war after Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his bunker. There are numerous vignettes that build a narrative based on information about events from earlier years of the war, but in one form or another they all follow the threads that Jones weaves to come back to these fateful and climactic ten days. One of the more controversial issues the author deals with is rape on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. This is a subject that has yet to be fully explored by scholars for many reasons, but slowly more pieces of the puzzle are making their way into recent monographs (two recent examples are: "The Soviet occupation of Germany" by Filip Slaveski and "What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France" by Mary Louise Roberts). My biggest issue is the broad brush that's often used to paint the entirety of the Red Army as guilty of some rather large arbitrary number of rapes in either Berlin alone or all of Germany. Jones adds to the puzzle by showing that the situation was much more complicated as, with one example, Polish forces under Red Army command perpetrated their own brand of justice on the Germans. Before the storming of Berlin the 1st Polish Army 'was forced to draw up a disciplinary ordinance to curb the wilder excesses of its soldiers' (44). Similar orders were read out to the Red Army as well, and for good reason. There were also instances when justice took the form of on the spot executions as when a Red Army colonel found an NKVD soldier guilty of rape and offered him his pistol with one bullet to end his life within a minute 'with some self respect', or else he'd finish him off as the 'coward' he was (54-55).

Throughout the text one of the main themes the author continues to stress are the choices made by the western allies and the Soviets in regards to actions on the ground, which had major consequences for each side. For instance, the promises made to the Soviets by Roosevelt and his administration in regards to Lend Lease were soon called off by Truman who attempted to utilize Lend Lease shipments as a bargaining chip, a move the Soviets were loathe to entertain. Furthermore, Montgomery's move at Lüneburg Heath was co-opted by the Dönitz government to fulfill their needs and treated as an armistice rather than an unconditional surrender, something the Soviets were angered by but allowed in lieu of being able to sign an unconditional surrender for the remainder of German troops still operating throughout Europe at a place and date of their choosing. Still, even those wishes were upset by the signing of the surrender of the German Wehrmacht at Rheims instead of Berlin, and more so by a lowly Soviet representative who was simply available, rather than Marshal Zhukov. In part the signing at Rheims was the fault of Eisenhower who was keen on ending the war as soon as possible and wanted peace yet needed to simultaneously keep in mind the wishes of his Soviet allies, who were not always as forthcoming as they should have been.

Aside from the above, some of the more interesting discussions revolved around the Prague Uprising and the role of Vlasov's Russian Liberation Army in helping the resistance fight their German occupiers until they could no longer hold out with the Red Army making its way to Prague for a liberation of their own of the last Eastern European capital still under German control. Additionally, the resistance of a Georgian Legion battalion on the Dutch Island of Texel was a complete surprise to me, as was how the Soviets treated the survivors and the memory of this incident. Overall, I can't praise the author enough for what he's done in this volume. Taking a look at the last ten days from the point of view of Soviet, American, British, German, and even Canadian eye-witness accounts brings an original look at the chaos of the final days of the Second World War. On May 8 and 9 a reprieve for many occurred as VE Day was celebrated. And soon enough the alliance that so many worked so hard to form will crumble as old issues creep up once again to create a new threat in the form of a Cold War (one whose language in many ways becomes recycled, by both sides, from the rhetoric they worked out so well during the Second World War).

There were some weaknesses that I encountered. I am disappointed in the system of 'endnotes' used here as it made tracing information more difficult than it needed to be and I believe footnotes would have been the better alternative as this is to a large extent a scholarly work. There were references to the Warsaw Uprising (August 1944) but they were somewhat inaccurate and dismissive of the Red Army and Stalin. In many ways this is a perfect example of an area that continues to wait for further scholarship as current volumes are still vague and greatly lacking when it comes to the Soviet side of things. Finally, some of the material here is gathered from various internet websites that, while overall presenting useful and interesting information, are not always accurate. Aside from these minor issues, this is a highly recommended volume and a great addition to literature on both the waning days of the Second World War and the foundations that were being set by the western allies and Soviet Union in what would become the Cold War.


Barbarossa Derailed: The Battle for Smolensk 10 July-10 September 1941 Volume 2. The German Offensives on the Flanks & the Third Soviet Counteroffensive, 25 August-10 September 1941
Barbarossa Derailed: The Battle for Smolensk 10 July-10 September 1941 Volume 2. The German Offensives on the Flanks & the Third Soviet Counteroffensive, 25 August-10 September 1941
by David M. Glantz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £35.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The derailment of Barbarossa, 11 Oct. 2012
Volume 2 of 'Barbarossa Derailed' picks up pretty much where the first volume left off. Throughout both volumes Glantz's goals have been the following: to show that the Wehrmacht was suffering before the beginning of Operation Typhoon and the defeat it experienced at the gates of Moscow could be seen written on the wall throughout the Smolensk engagement Army Group Center found itself suffering through; the Red Army, while taking grievous losses throughout its multiple counteroffensives against Army Group Center, performed better than previously thought and consistently bloodied numerous German infantry, motorized, and panzer divisions; finally, the German (more so Hitler's) decision to continue battling Soviet forces on the flanks of Army Group Center - eventually leading to the encirclement at Kiev - was consistent with Hitler's initial orders for Operation Barbarossa and eliminated close to 1 million Red Army men from Army Group Center's front and flanks that might have done a great deal more damage if left in place with an early German offensive toward Moscow.

The book itself contains dozens of maps and battle orders and reports, same as the first volume. And just as in the first volume, while many of the documentation is dry and repetitive there are always some interesting facts that come out. For instance, every now and then there are reported losses from various units, yet more interesting is what these reports don't say - a lot of the time the 'missing' are themselves missing. The majority of reports only mention dead and wounded. The numbers themselves are interestingly but offer only a glimpse into Soviet losses, which Glantz details himself quite well throughout the book and in the concluding chapter. In truth Glantz's commentary is often the most interesting as many will have a hard time following the action on the maps included or through the orders and reports as the numerous locations mentioned (from groves, to hills, rivers, villages, towns, cities, etc.) will make little sense even if you are familiar with Soviet geography.

Overall, Glantz's mission with these two volumes is readily accomplished. Repeatedly it is evident that the Red Army was put in an unenviable position as Stalin and STAVKA sent out orders that most of the units in the field could not fully accomplish. The cream of the pre-war Red Army facing Army Group Center was lost during the first two weeks of the war in the Minsk encirclement and follow-up operation(s) and the armies that took the field in their wake were made up mainly of reservists and/or conscripts with little training compared to the soldiers they faced in Army Group Center. Thus, the stop-gap measures consistently employed by Stalin and his commanders became part of an attrition strategy that bloodied dozens of German divisions and forestalled another complete encirclement at Smolensk. With Panzer troops leaving behind their infantry counterparts, the encirclement at Smolensk was weakened by Red Army troops attempting to break out and in simultaneously. Some 50,000 escaped to fight another day and Army Group Center's panzer forces needed time for rest and refit, yet were continually denied it as Soviet counteroffensives against Army Group Center grew in intensity. Here is where volume 2 continues the story with offensives launched by three fronts under the command of Timoshenko, Zhukov, and Eremenko. The majority of readers familiar with the Eastern Front will have heard of Yelnia (El'nia) and the success Zhukov's troops enjoyed. But as Glantz shows, this was less of a victory than Timoshenko's troops experienced. The latter inflicted greater casualties on the Germans and captured more territory than Zhukov's Yelnia operation, yet it has been overshadowed by the moral victory that was the Yelnia offensive (most likely because of Zhukov's presence and the propaganda that the victory generated). Today even Russian historians can see that Yelnia, while a moral victory, did little to hinder future German action in Operation Typhoon. It seems the worst performance was that of Eremenko's front. In part it was the fault of the commanding officer, but it seems more so that STAVKA and Stalin continually pushed Eremenko who in turn pushed his army commanders to needlessly waste lives in operations that were doomed from the start because of numerous reasons (including lack of logistics, tanks, artillery, aircraft, surprise, etc.).

The concluding chapter is in many ways the most interesting as Glantz ties up various loose ends. It's true that there are still many 'white spots' in the history of the Eastern Front, and unlike the latter years of the war, 1941 was riddled with chaos, defeat, retreat, and propagandized heroism. That propagandized heroism all too often has eclipsed the actual history of 1941 and more so the tangible victories that Red Army forces achieved, although too often by paying a high price in blood. Thus Glantz has shown how the encirclement of Smolensk, which is usually seem as a 'bump in the road' to the encirclements at Kiev and Operation Typhoon, was in fact a prelude to Germany's defeat at the gates of Moscow. The casualties sustained by the Wehrmacht were not made good by the time Operation Typhoon was launched and while the Red Army suffered more than their German counterparts, and in some ways allowed for a weakening of the forces that would face Army Group Center in October, the end result was the buying of time for more forces and material to make it to the west to face the Germans. The victory that awaited the Soviets outside Moscow, that much, at least, the Red Army was able to achieve in part thanks to the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands around Smolensk in July, August, and September.


Under Himmler's Command: The Personal Recollections of Oberst Hans-Georg Eismann, Operations Officer, Army Group Vistula, Eastern Front, 1945 (Wwii ... # 2) (Helion WWII German Military Studies)
Under Himmler's Command: The Personal Recollections of Oberst Hans-Georg Eismann, Operations Officer, Army Group Vistula, Eastern Front, 1945 (Wwii ... # 2) (Helion WWII German Military Studies)
by Hans-Georg Eismann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Army Group Vistula, 27 Aug. 2012
The last year of the war for Germany is comparable to the first year of the war for the Soviet Union. The chaos and destruction is hard to describe and keep track of but more importantly any new piece of information is a welcome addition to our knowledge and understanding of the war, and in this case, the Wehrmacht and the Nazi Party. Hans-Georg Eismann's account cannot be readily compared with the likes of Manstein, Guderian, Raus, etc. At least in these recollections, he was not a commanding officer but part of the general staff of the army group and had to deal with a variety of issues and complications that can make for dry reading for non-specialists. Overall the book is some 134 pages of text, including about a dozen pictures of various commanding officers (which is highly reminiscent of the Red Army in 1941 when commanding officers were constantly changed in hopes of a different outcome) and a few maps sprinkled throughout. The recollections of Himmler's role in Army Group Vistula are interesting but they say more about what Himmler wasn't than what he was. This was obviously not a man capable of commanding an army group and his sojourn as commander is riddled with mind-boggling orders and ideas, including the sending off of an entire battalion to attack the Red Army and hold them until a future attack by further German forces was arranged. Lacking any communication or contact with other German forces and finding themselves in the open countryside, the battalion was never heard from again.

Interestingly enough, the same post-war attitudes that one finds in the memoirs of top German commanders are in evidence here as well. For instance, the author argues in favor of the myth of the 'Wehrmacht with clean hands' when he claims the Wehrmacht on its march to the east never participated in the type(s) of crimes he was accusing the Red Army of perpetrating. Another similarity is that of the missed opportunity that Manstein is so famous for (hence the title of his memoirs, "Lost Victories"), Eismann also goes into some detail about the numerous missed opportunities the Wehrmacht squandered throughout the war, including 1945. Included here is a mention of a division made up of 'Vlasov's men' that participated in one advance and was then viewed as too unreliable and removed from the front. Eismann argues that more should have been done with not only Vlasov's formations but also Ukrainians from the beginning of the war, the Germans could have had a million-man Ukrainian army! How they would all be armed is a separate question he obviously ignores, and considering the Germans could hardly provide any type of support/weapons for their actual allies (Romanians, Hungarians, etc.) it seems quite far-fetched to believe that a million Ukrainians could be readily equipped to fight. Thus, continually one seems the divergence between the military's thinking and that of the Nazi Party, which could never fathom arming so many 'subhumans'. Overall, this book was an interesting read and a nice addition to Eastern Front literature. The one real problem I had with the book was due to the translator's decision to include a plethora of German verbiage where a simple English translation would have sufficed, this decision at times took away from the overall readability of the book.


Barbarossa Through Soviet Eyes: The First Twenty-Four Hours
Barbarossa Through Soviet Eyes: The First Twenty-Four Hours
by Artem Drabkin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Barbarossa Through Soviet Eyes, 20 July 2012
Artem Drabkin and Alexei Isaev are well known to Russian/former Soviet readers of the Great Patriotic War. Drabkin has taken on the mission of interviewing as many veterans of the war before they pass away and making their reminiscences and memoirs accessible to the public (including publishing a few as full-length books) while Isaev is a well known military historian with close to a dozen titles to his name, ranging from the opening phase of Operation Barbarossa to the battle of Berlin. This very slim volume (some 175 pages of text) makes for a compelling account of the first twenty-four hours of Operation Barbarossa that Nazi Germany unleashed on the Soviet Union. Some of the newest research is included but overall for those familiar with the Eastern Front there is nothing so compelling that one could say it is a must read (especially when weighing the price of the book against the information offered). A plus is the intermixing of the historic account with eye-witness testimony (here the cooperative efforts of Drabkin and Isaev are at their best). Unfortunately, for those unfamiliar with the war between Germany and the Soviet Union much of what's presented here will be interesting but much more will be without adequate context to situate the reader with the needed knowledge of the various personalities, events, and ideas being presented. On the one hand I cannot say this is an original work as there are no new arguments being put forward. On the other hand the authors do address some of the myths that have persisted to this day that revolve around the first day of the war and showcase Soviet mistakes and German hubris, including some of the initial disasters that befell Red Army men and the civilian population in general. So, overall, a recommended book for those with some knowledge of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front who are interested in seeing what the newest research has to say on the opening phase of Operation Barbarossa from Russian historians and eye-witness accounts from those on the ground.


Cataclysm: The War on the Eastern Front 1941-45
Cataclysm: The War on the Eastern Front 1941-45
by Keith Cumins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £29.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In-depth operational history of the Eastern Front, 29 Nov. 2011
In "Cataclysm: The War on the Eastern Front, 1941-1945" Keith Cumins assembles an operational history of the Eastern Front from the perspective of both the Soviet Union and Germany, which he rightfully points out is rare to find. Cumins acknowledges that this study is further concentrating solely on the military operations on the ground, forsaking the seas and air, to say nothing of the political, economic, social, and cultural nature of the war. Although the book is only 300 pages, these are very dense pages, to say the least. The enormity of the Eastern Front defies explanation, and in reading this book the reader will discover, or rediscover, how insignificant our knowledge of the clash between the Red Army and Wehrmacht is to this day.

Setting out to write an operational history means that much of what the author presents lacks context. For those familiar with the Eastern Front, that might not be much of a hindrance, but for those new to the topic, they might want to immerse themselves in general histories before they pick up this tome. While the operational history presented by Cumins is very much all-encompassing, he regularly focuses on battles/engagements that most histories of the Second World War omit, they are not contextualized well enough to give the reader a better understanding of their significance. "Cataclysm" can be compared to works by David Glantz, Chris Bellamy, and Evan Mawdsley; all are experts in their relative fields (be it history in general or military history more specifically), but it is true that their narratives are skewed toward the Soviet side. Thus, the advantage of this work is that the author draws the reader's attention to the German side and incorporates some of the newest secondary literature available.

Reading "Cataclysm" reinforces the fact that our knowledge of the Eastern Front, the Red Army, and even the Wehrmacht in the latter period of the war, continues to be in need of further study and analysis. There remain too many unanswered questions and operations/battles that do not carry the significance of Kursk, Stalingrad, or Bagration are too often left out of the narrative even though casualties suffered ran into the hundreds of thousands. These battles are evident as early as the first weeks of the war, where the Red Army continually offered resistance and launched counteroffensives that slowed or bloodied German forces but could never achieve any type of initiative or take it away from the Wehrmacht. If Cumins showcases anything, it is that an operational history can only tell us so much about the Eastern Front; there remains a need for further research, contextualization, and analysis, even today, over half a century after the conflict has ended.

When taking on a topic such as the Eastern Front, the author will have to contend with decades old myths/errors. Cumins contextualizes some well enough, but others are reiterated, unfortunately. For instance, the author continually references Far Eastern divisions during his discussion of 1941 and the Moscow counter-offensive, but fails to point out that divisions from all over the Soviet Union were called up and that Far Eastern divisions were activated as early as June/July 1941 with orders to move to the west. Cumins also has an outdated view of Operation Mars when compared to Geoffrey Jukes's latest book, which offers an original and compelling view of what happened around Rzhev during the Stalingrad offensive (Operation Uranus). Finally, the author is mistaken when he claims that the commander of the 1st Polish Army launched a crossing into Warsaw in 1944 during the uprising without Front or STAVKA authorization and was later removed as a result. Recently published document collections prove that it was in fact an order from the Front that allowed Berling to launch a crossing into Warsaw by the 1st Polish Army; Berling's statements to the contrary after the war are disingenuous at best, although unfortunately reaffirmed here.

The publisher has included over 30 maps, with references next to various paragraphs that refer to specific maps for the reader to consult. Very helpful, but considering this is a book on the entirety of the Eastern Front, even 30+ maps are not enough! There is also a photograph section; although Hoth and Bock are mislabeled (Hoth's photo is listed as Bock and Bock's as Hoth). Overall, the book is well written even if at times there are thick descriptions of units/locations. Additionally, there are rare instances of grammatical errors/mistakes, but they hardly take much away from the reading experience. My bigger complaint is the fact that there are no footnotes/endnotes and the bibliography seems wholly inadequate when compared to the amount of information the author has accumulated. To be of use to academics - granted it is a rare thing to find an academic immerse him/herself in operational histories - there needs to be a line to original source material(s)! For instance, the author claims that the Red Army's battlefield performance in 1941 was inhibited by strict obedience to orders, which allowed the Germans to anticipate and counter their actions (79); unfortunately, no examples are offered and no source is listed. Thus, for those interested in an in-depth operational history of the Eastern Front from the perspectives of both the Soviet Union and Germany, this is definitely recommended, although keep the above caveats in mind as you immerse yourself in this twentieth century `slaughterhouse.'
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 29, 2012 12:48 PM GMT


Total War
Total War
by Michael Jones
Edition: Hardcover

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Total War on the Eastern Front, 13 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Total War (Hardcover)
It's quite rare these days that a book on the Eastern Front will surprise me once, almost never more often than that. Having read on this war for over a decade I thought I knew the majority of what went on and what one could expect to find on a book entitled 'Total War'. With this work, however, Jones has built on what he's done previously and in many ways this might be his best work to date, easily rivaling his first foray into the Eastern Front with 'Stalingrad'.

As with his previous volumes, Jones tells the story of the Eastern Front through the voices of the soldiers, commanders, and civilians who participated in it, willingly or unwillingly from both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Woven through the accounts he presents is the regular question of how Red Army soldiers and the civilian population of the Soviet Union kept up enough morale to endure the chaos and defeats of 1941, the demoralizing situation around the siege of Leningrad, and the battle for Stalingrad in 1942. Thus, 'Total War' begins with the initial situation around 1941 and moves through battles for Leningrad and Stalingrad, onto the eventual Soviet defeat of the German sixth Army and continues through their victories at Kursk, Bagration, etc., all the way to Berlin.

The question here is less about military prowess, tactical, operational, or strategic decisions (although various details of individual operations are discussed and contextualized) but revolves around what the Red Army and civilian population endured, witnessed, and remembered up until their entrance into East Prussia and Germany proper. Jones sets the stage for the infamous events of the Red Army's 'liberation' (a contested term to say the least) of Eastern Europe and Germany. The initial chapters dealing with 1941 and Stalingrad are readily covered in Jones's other books on the Eastern Front so they presented little new in the greater scheme of the Eastern Front. It is only when we get to 1944 and the German scorched earth policy as they retreated before the Red Army that events and information I had never heard of before first began to appear. As the Germans withdrew from Belorussia they ran up against large swamp areas, on these territories they began to herd the local population, encased them in barbed wire, and trucked in typhus patients. They dumped them all in one of these 'camps', let them lay on muddy ground and allowed hundreds of cases of typhus to break out so that they might be passed on to the liberating troops of the Red Army. According to the commander of the 65th Army, whose soldiers were at times unable to control themselves as they ran to liberate these locals, an entire corps had to be quarantined because typhus ran rampantly through Red Army units as they tried their best to liberate these hastily established camps. Luckily the spread of the disease was readily contained and presented limited problems for the Red Army advance.

The Red Army's crossing over into Germany proper brings much debate and controversy. What Jones attempts to do, and in truth does very well, is contextualize what Red Army soldiers perpetrated on German territory. In showcasing what Red Army soldiers witnessed on their way to Germany, the enormous amount of death and destruction they came through during the liberation of Ukraine and Belorussia, the liberation of camps like Majdanek and Auschwitz (both of which are discussed by Jones in this book), as well as the regular propaganda campaign waged by the Soviet Union in order to keep up Red Army morale and encourage them to 'kill' the occupiers of their territory and the murderers of their families and friends, there is reason to suspect that such bent up anger and hatred would have an outlet once the German border was crossed. And this is exactly what happened. But Jones also gives voice to those soldiers who attempted to curb the violence, looting, raping, and murder that was going on. He continually implies that this was a minority within the Red Army that contributed to the 'total war' mentality of the time and shows orders coming from the high command and army command that attempted to curb any type of violence and looting against the local population, changing the propaganda of the time from 'destroy the fascist beast in his lair' to a voice claiming the Red Army is an army of liberation. There are some heartwrenching stories presented of Red Army soldiers taking out their hatred on the German population, all too often women, but in each case Jones attempts to contextualize the atmosphere these events occurred in and the reaction of Red Army soldiers to these events, which after the initial euphoria of revenge passed quickly into condemnation, contempt and a questioning of their methods. Many soldiers even attempted to protect the local population, forgetting or at least putting aside the propaganda they had been exposed to for years.

A minor weakness in these chapters is the fact that Jones mentions little of the fact that the Red Army at this point was operating with allies, like two Polish armies, who at times had more reason to hate Germans than Soviet troops, who can account or separate for crimes they perpetrated? Additionally, Jones takes the time to show how the Germans themselves exaggerated Red Army atrocities on their soil. Goebbels created something called 'atrocity propaganda' that exaggerated everything 'in order to strengthen the deterrent effect and the German people's will to hold out' (224). More so, at times the Germans themselves were given orders to destroy a village or town while the population was expelled, only to then have German film crews and journalists bussed in to "survey the ruins and to record the imagined ravages of Soviet soldiers...The swans in the town park were shot, and it was then announced that the 'Asiatic hordes' had killed and eaten them' (225).

As I reached the end of the book I found myself speechless. The epilogue Jones includes is a mere five pages, and the last page simply found me questioning myself and my knowledge of the Great Patriotic War/Second World War as well as the costs that the Soviet population had to bear. I don't want to give anything away but Jones shows once more that we continue to merely scratch the surface of the Eastern Front and there is still so much left to learn and understand in this encounter between Germany and the Soviet Union.

A few minor mistakes are evident, Soviet units should be listed as 'rifle' but in various instances they are described as 'infantry brigade' or 'infantry corps' rather than rifle or if this was a naval unit it should have been 'naval infantry' rather than just 'infantry'. There is also a mention of a fortieth 'tank army', but only six existed and they were named first through sixth. Additionally, the Soviet commander Chernyakhovsky is misspelled as 'Chernyakovsky'. Lastly, I have to say that the notation system in this book leaves much to be desired. While Jones lists his sources there are no endnotes/foodnotes in the traditional sense and at times it makes for a very hard time when attempting to locate the source of a specific comment/description/event.

Putting aside these minor errors, there is no question that Jones has created a highly important addition to Eastern Front literature. He is one of the few authors who attempts to contextualize Red Army action on German territory by putting the motivation of the Soviet soldier in a context that showcases that while some might have taken vengeance to an extreme, many others managed to control themselves and at times showed their altruistic side by protecting the local population and providing them with basic necessities. Jones continually emphasizes that it was a minority of the Red army that committed crimes on enemy soil, while the majority managed to preserve their reputation and the title of 'liberators'.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 9, 2013 4:16 PM GMT


Eastern Inferno: The Journals of a German Panzerjager on the Eastern Front 1941-43
Eastern Inferno: The Journals of a German Panzerjager on the Eastern Front 1941-43
by Christine Alexander
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare find, 9 Aug. 2011
A diary from a Wehrmacht soldier participating in the invasion of the Soviet Union is an extremely rare find, especially one this forthcoming. Hans Roth's notes, commentary, descriptions, and candid portray of the fighting on the Eastern Front are a necessity for those interested in the clash between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Most importantly, as pointed out by the editors, the grandson and granddaughter of the author, this diary was written by Roth as the events he described were unfolding, not years or decades after-the-fact. Thus, what we have before us is a depiction of the author's thoughts with little if any self-censorship. The editorial notes, evident throughout the text, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. At times they are helpful but there is also evidence of the editors' naiveté when it comes to the Eastern Front, i.e. assigning Soviet victory outside Moscow in 1941/42 to 'General Winter' and 'Siberian' divisions. Furthermore, there are quite a few editing mistakes throughout the text. Not enough to take away from the reading, but enough to be noticed on a more or less regular basis.

While what Roth sees is limited to his field of vision, there is still some validity in knowing his train of thought at any given moment. For instance, before the invasion of the Soviet Union I was surprised to read that on June 15, 1941, Roth posits that "Russian scouts were on our side of the river [Bug] last night..." (23) Having read on the Eastern Front for over a decade, I have yet to encounter any discussion of Soviet scout missions behind German lines before June 22nd, especially considering the fact that Stalin and the Soviet high command regularly had orders going out that no provocation(s) should be made against German forces. On June 17 the author writes "I now know the date of the attack" (24). This is interesting to note as it shows until what day the exact date of the invasion was, at the very least, kept from soldiers. As the date of the invasion approaches the author is excited that "The greatest battle of all times will start the day after tomorrow!" (25) It then takes three months of fighting for the author to exclaim, "When will this horrible war find its end..." (110) A statement made not in the midst of battle, but during a time of self-reflection after the Kiev encirclement is over.

Roth also exhibits evidence of the racist mentality that so many in the Wehrmacht undoubtedly entered the Soviet Union with. Trying to figure out how Soviet forces made it into Lutsk to attack his unit (after the town and its environs had been already captured by the Germans), he calls Red Army soldiers "sub-humans", "Caucasian monsters", "Asian tundra scum", and an "Asian mob" who "is sly and cunning" (31, 53, 131, 133, 161). Additionally, upon seeing some of the first casualties of the invasion, a young woman and two small children, during the first day of war, he exclaims "How wonder it is that we are able to exterminate these murderous beats. How good it is that we have pre-empted them; for in the coming weeks these bloodhounds might have been standing on German soil" (27). Here we also see the idea that the war was a pre-emptive one was very much part of the reasoning at least some soldiers used for the invasion of the Soviet Union. In general Roth displays a wide variety of attitudes toward his Red Army counterparts, many of which can be found in a variety of German memoirs (from soldiers to generals/field marshals). He discusses the precision with which Soviet soldiers are shooting at his unit, which "could have only been learned through intensive training" (67), and labels Red Army soldiers "...a dull, indifferent, soulless machine of destruction and death" who are "masters" "at digging themselves in" (51, 58).

There is also evidence that while the German invasion was a surprise, the Soviets, be they border guards or Red Army soldiers, did put up fierce resistance where they could. The entry for June 22nd also discusses how German soldiers were "...pressed hard by enemy tanks" and had to retreat with "many casualties" (27). A similar incident occurs on July 10 when an entire German infantry regiment takes "enormous...casualties" and has to retreat to its starting positions (49). (The same day a portion of the regiment is encircled by the Red Army.) On June 24, while clearing out a Soviet village, the author notes "the number of our own casualties is...high" and discusses how one house after another "must be cleansed with hand grenades" as "Fanatics fire at us until the roofs collapse over their heads and they are buried under the rubble" (28-29). Already, three days after the war begins, there is evidence of Soviet activities behind German lines as the author notes the small battles to the rear of the front and convoys being attacked by enemy forces. On June 25 Roth writes he is already "spiritually and physically totally exhausted!" (30) And as early as July 13, the author writes "We have almost reached the end of our fighting strength" (56). Interestingly, there are numerous mentions made about the Soviet air force, both bombers and fighters, harassing Roth's unit. Usually, Soviet accounts are filled with a longing for the air force to do something, simply be present. Perhaps the fact that the author is describing actions occurring in the sector of Army Group South, opposite of which were some of the larger Soviet concentrations, might explain the regular presence of the Soviet air force during the first few days of the war.

More than once the author mentions the precarious position he and his division find themselves in. It is hard to know for sure if the author's observations are accurate, but if they are then German actions need to be analyzed more thoroughly throughout the entirety of 1941. On July 9, the author claims his division has advanced so far that it will take at least an entire day for reinforcements to catch up, meanwhile the entirety of the Soviet 5th Army is standing opposite a lone German division. Roth begins to question the Soviets, "Are the Russians going to miss their big chance once again? Don't they know that their opponents are nothing more than small combat forces?" (48) The next day the author thanks the presence of heavy artillery for protecting his unit's flanks, otherwise "...the Russians would have rolled over our entire front line from the flanks" (49).

The battle sequences described are not always full of the detail that some will be looking for. That is understandable since in the midst of battle few can remember the exact details of what transpired as they are fighting for their lives. Time might either slow down during prolonged artillery exchanges, or an hour long battle might be over in the blink of an eye. Both are present in Roth's diaries; especially interesting accounts are offered in the fighting for Kiev, the immense pressure the Germans are put under by both the Soviet Air Force and continuous artillery fire. Some of the stories representative of the Red Army and partisans are hearsay while others are more believable, although some context is undoubtedly missing. For instance, the author recounts how two Red Army soldiers, the last of a 'wave' attempting to reach their target (a bridge), retreat and are mowed down by their own side. While order 227 during Stalingrad created 'blocking detachments' from NKVD troops, Red Army forces themselves were creating blocking detachments during the summer of 1941 from 'reliable' soldiers with orders that unauthorized retreats should be stopped. Keeping that in mind, this episode is quite believable.

June 26 becomes witness to the first war crime described by Roth. The initial entry of German troops into the city of Lutsk presented them with a gruesome sight, prisoners massacred by retreating NKVD troops. Roth then describes how "comrades" pulled out hiding Red Army soldiers and Jews from their hiding places and executed them (31). More interesting is the fact that Roth knew what was going on in the rear areas with Jews. During his stay in Kiev, when the executions of Babi Yar were taking place, he has an exchange with "a young SS soldiers [sic]" of the "kill commando", who tells the author of how "they 'freed' all the larger cities which were touched by our advance of the Jewish population" (111). What follows are the well known descriptions of mass executions that took place in Zhitomir. But the author admits he was "astonished" to learn about these activities taking place in the rear; he writes that "we soldiers in the first attack wave have never thought about the stuff that happens behind us in the cities we leave..."

Roth's recounting of the logistical problems his unit and the German army in general experience from the mud and cold are enlightening. Usually, it is taken as a given that the rainy weather of October held up German forces by disabling their mobility. But Roth also provides evidence that while in some areas of the front the roads became frozen by intermittent periods of frost, areas to the rear were still suffering from muddy roads. Thus, while German forces at the front might have been ready to advance, their logistical difficulties, a result of countless trucks stuck in the mud, made it impossible to advance until the winter more or less began on November 15. And on that day the author writes: "It is finally here; the ground is frozen solid. We can start" (123).

The last journal is the least detailed of the three in terms of dates (it covers June 1942-May 1943). Some of the entries are listed either under months or locations (unlike in the first two journals, where entries are listed under specific dates). There is a lot of self-reflection about the war, rear-area troops and the disdain frontline soldiers have for them, and the countless actions the author finds himself in with the enemy on a day-to-day basis. His exhaustion, and that of his comrades, is readily evident on every page, at times in every paragraph.

For those interested in aspects of combat on the Eastern Front (especially detailed scenes are depicted of the fighting for Kiev in 1941, Voronezh in 1942, and Orel in early 1943), the `holocaust by bullets' that was perpetrated in the east, the `daily life' of soldiers and civilians (men and women on both counts), this is a must read.


Through the Maelstrom: A Red Army Soldier's War on the Eastern Front, 1942-1945 (Modern War Studies)
Through the Maelstrom: A Red Army Soldier's War on the Eastern Front, 1942-1945 (Modern War Studies)
by Boris Gorbachevsky
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opening account of the Red Army, 9 Aug. 2011
Doubtfully will we find memoirs and recollections of the Second World War which won't have something of interest to share with a reader. There is no real list of "best sellers," but if there was, Boris Gorbachevsky's memoirs would surely hold a high place on it. The Second World War can and is told from a plethora of perspectives, including frontline soldiers and officers, civilians, politicians, etc. Each has their own story to share but, more often than not, the narrative is clouded by omitted facts and figures, candor is often missing, and self-serving intentions are readily evident. Gorbachevsky seems to have gone out of his way to avoid the aforementioned and, relying on memory, published works (primary and secondary), has seen fit to weave a narrative of events which will leave many speechless in its unadulterated sincerity, heartfelt openness, and uninhibited candor. A perfect example is the author's recollection of the problems Red Army officers had with desertion in 1942. Something one hardly hears about in Red Army memoirs but it is quite well known today that 1 million Red Army men served the Wehrmacht in one capacity or another. We regularly read about Soviets leaving the Germans and coming back to the Red Army, in the latter period of the war, but almost never do we get a chance to hear about who the deserters were.

This account is not full of battles and frontline action on the part of the Red Army, although in the end what Boris experienced is enough for ten lifetimes. Reading how his friends died in his hands during the first encounter and battle with the Germans in the Rzhev area will be hard to forget. From time to time this is anything but an easy read, it can be a quick read if you have the time to devote to all that the author has to share (and at over 400 pages, this is one of the larger Red Army memoirs you'll find for sale today). At least two recollections forced me to put this book down and step away from it for a few hours as I tried to put into perspective what I just read. The first battle, described in great detail and imagery, pitted a brand new division against dug-in German troops and the gruesome results that followed. According to the author, half the division was killed or wounded in the battles they would participate in outside Rzhev. The second occurred closer to the end of the war, when the division the author belonged to had been encircled and their rear area service and supply location was destroyed and the personnel massacred by German troops, in a variety of ways.

This book will give the reader a realistic view of the Red Army through a soldier who rose through the ranks and served on both the frontlines and within the political department of the Red Army. What did political officers do? What were soldiers in the Red Army like? What did they talk about? What did they do in their time between battles? Gorbachevsky shares all of this with us and more. In the end, Gorbachevsky is regularly critical of many of the officers he served under and with and offers enough reasoning as to why. Similarly, he gives due credit to those officers and NCOs who deserved it and took the time to talk to their soldiers, ensure their comfort and attend to their needs and treat them as men and not simply cannon fodder. At times their actions were downright reckless and pointless, but orders were orders, and war is war. At least one of his friends, a battalion commander, after refusing an order to attack which would undoubtedly have left the majority of his men dead, committed suicide. Also, within this book was the first time I read of how officers were afraid of their men! I had never encountered the regular punishments that were meted out to officers who had lost men to desertion.

This book is a learning experience from the first page to the last. The language used throughout the book is not the simple soldier's language many have grown accustomed to when reading memoirs of the Second World War. What we have here is a literary personality who writes with passion, experience, imagery, and most importantly, honesty. The forward by David M. Glantz is an excellent introduction to this memoir and what it means to have such a recollection available for today's generations and, more importantly, a western audience. Thus, I would be remiss if i did not point out that this is Stuart Britton's third translation/editing of a Red Army soldier's memoir. He should be commended as with each memoir he has done a fantastic job in regards to both the flow of the narrative and in helping to explain various Red Army and Soviet jargon for the western reader. Hardly any grammatical or spelling mistakes will be found. For the few that he did miss, they hardly take away from the overall reading and will surely be fixed in future editions/printings, of which I'm more than sure there will be.


Little Soldiers: How Soviet Children Went to War, 1941-1945
Little Soldiers: How Soviet Children Went to War, 1941-1945
by Olga Kucherenko
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £71.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Soviet children at War, 8 Aug. 2011
In `Little Soldiers', Olga Kucherenko contextualizes the role children played in the Soviet Union's war effort and how their appearance on the frontlines, behind the front, and on the high seas was hardly out of the ordinary in a country that was regularly bombarded by propaganda in the pre-war period predicting a future war, which all sectors of the population were expected to take part in. This is a highly researched and detailed work based on archival material, interviews, and a wide variety of secondary sources from not only the field of history, but also anthropology and psychology. Contextually, this study can be placed alongside the recently published Soviet Women in Combat by Anna Krylova and Why Stalin's Soldiers Fought by Roger R. Reese, as this is more a social than military history.

Little Children is broken into two parts. In the first part, Kucherenko focuses on the pre-war period featuring discussions of children in the Soviet Union, their education, the type of propaganda they were regularly exposed to, and the atmosphere as a whole within the Soviet Union throughout the 1930s. The second section concentrates on the war itself and the role children played in the various branches of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union.

Although rare, there are instances in the first section when the breadth of the territory the author is covering moves the focus away from the children themselves and various historical arguments and debates centering on the entirety of the Soviet Union take center stage. By no means does this mean that this text is solely written for those with in-depth knowledge of the Soviet Union. On the contrary, the amount of ground covered in the first part of the text makes for an excellent overall introduction to not only the topic of children in the Soviet Union and the Great Patriotic War, but the subject of the Soviet Union itself. Additionally, the author regularly has to walk a fine line in analyzing her sources and interviews due to the fact that around the Great Patriotic War a cult was crafted and a government endorsed `master narrative' all too often impeded a more nuanced and personalized characterization of what veterans experienced. Specifically, this means that often veterans will retain a politicized language when recalling their experiences from the war and their recollections will either mimic or regurgitate a state sponsored rhetoric. While this tells us a great deal about the society these men and women participated and lived in, it becomes a task in itself to separate their version of the Great Patriotic War from that of the state, which was regularly forced onto the Soviet population through a variety of mass media.

Estimates of how many children actually participated in the war effort range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. By no means were these youngsters instrumental in the outcome of the war as their numbers hardly made up one percent of the Soviet armed forces. Nevertheless, Kucherenko shows quite well what kind of impact these adolescents had on the frontlines in not only fighting the enemy but in boosting the morale of their fellow soldiers. For instance, when a former partisan commented on children in partisan ranks he mentioned how `tough' it was for them, but seeing that they never complained about the conditions they found themselves in `gives us strength; a march seems less strenuous, and privations not as hard' (226). Additionally, in many ways, child soldiers were an important future generation that was highly inculcated into the Soviet ethos on the eve of and during the war itself, serving as guardians of Stalinist ideology in the post-war period. Their actions during the war, however, were a result of more than just the indoctrination they, as well as the entirety of the Soviet population, underwent during the 1930s.

From an early age children participated in youth movements and were encouraged to join clubs that created an atmosphere where collective experiences permeated everyday life, teaching kids that `only through teamwork could they acquire strong socialist moral standards' (40). Furthermore, propaganda regularly stressed hero worship (be they Civil War heroes, arctic/polar explorers, aviators, etc.) and children were encouraged to give back to the state, the collective, which provided them with the `best' quality of life possible, through heroic acts. But the propaganda within which these acts were enmeshed omitted any type of suffering on the part of the hero, death itself was a topic regularly avoided, as was any `senseless destruction of a human life' (144). In some respects this idealized reliance on human heroism seems to have reinforced the misleading belief that bravery would compensate for technological backwardness, as when young volunteers for the front `recited or paraphrased' the `proverbial line: "A bullet fears the brave!"' (149) Thus, when the Soviet Union was invaded, children were eager to participate in a romanticized version of a war they could only imagine based on their interaction with Soviet media before it was too late.

There can be no doubt the Soviet state sent mixed messages to children when it discussed war. They were encouraged to actively contribute to the war effort in the rear while at the same time seeing propaganda that lauded images of children fighting. Kucherenko, however, is adamant that the education system cannot be accused of pressuring children to take part in hostilities. On the contrary, she offers more than enough proof to show how the government did everything to prevent adolescents from such participation. The front line, however, was a separate world from occupied territory. Here everyone was encouraged to take part in the fight against the enemy, although children's acceptance into partisan units was often left to the discretion of local commanders, something also seen in studies of women's role in the Soviet war effort (198). But for an age group that regularly exhibits a fascination with war, even a restrained propaganda campaign proved too much for some and resulted in adolescents actively seeking a way, any way, to get to the front and contribute to the war effort. More importantly, boys were not the only ones eager to arrive at the front. In one instance, on the third day of the war, the head of the Leningrad Red Cross complained that school girls, mothers and daughters, and even an old lady, were all petitioning to go to the front (143). Yet while boys were eager to play war, it was girls who had a greater chance of being accepted into the ranks of the Red Army since they endeavored to attain certain skills to make their presence in the armed forces a necessity.

Blind reliance on propaganda affected not only children. When war finally did come to the sole socialist state in Europe, there resonated a belief that the enemy would be quickly defeated on their own soil. In effect, propaganda that highlighted the invincibility of the Red Army created an environment that saw utter shock when Soviet civilians learned of the advances made by the Wehrmacht against Soviet troops. The amount of children eager to gain admittance to the front, however, only increased as the war dragged on into 1942. Ultimately, the motivating factors in the actions of future child soldiers, according to Kucherenko, seemed `to be rooted in the romantic notion of one's usefulness and a sense of moral duty, a naÔve conception of war, and unshakable loyalty to the country, all of which were externalized in defiance of its enemies' (111). Transformed into acts of bravery and heroism, reckless endangerment of their own lives was something children were prone to do when working with a flawed definition of war. When a former child partisan, who at one point was arrested and beaten while on a mission, was asked if he was afraid of being tortured or killed, he replied `No. But now I wouldn't do what I did back then when I was 13' (223).


Red Army Sniper on the Eastern Front: The Memoirs of Joseph Pilyushin
Red Army Sniper on the Eastern Front: The Memoirs of Joseph Pilyushin
by Joseph Pilyushin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sniper on the Leningrad Front, 4 Dec. 2010
Unlike many memoirs, which feature soldiers and officers recalling their wartime experiences without much observation of the environment around them, in the case of Pilyushin, it sometimes feels as you are reading the account of a naturalist, rather than a book about war on the Eastern Front. But all too often, the realities of combat will once more intrude and thoughts of this being anything but a true narrative of war disappear. Few authors have Pilyushin's literary or artistic ability to portray the juxtaposition of man-made war and how it both clashes with and lives alongside nature on a consistent basis. In examining details that most would readily overlook, Pilyushin paints a picture that's often hard to forget and gives the reader the feeling of being right there with him, be it on the front fighting off another German attack or in the swamps/forests of northern Russia waiting for a target to present itself. It should also be mentioned that despite being first published in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s, Pilyushin's memoir is remarkably free of propaganda and hymns to the Party. He makes it very clear that he considers the men and women of Leningrad, and the soldiers that defended the city, the real heroes.

While this is a sniper's memoir, on more than a few occasions we witness snipers fighting as part of a regular defensive line with other troops, be they riflemen or machine gunners. Furthermore, the author himself took part in fighting tanks with grenades and Molotov-cocktails when the need arose and even went out on reconnaissance missions, something that I'm beginning to see was regularly undertaken by troops with little training (but that does not mean they weren't successful). It needs to also be mentioned that Pilyushin himself is something of a rarity because he loses his right eye and has to train himself to use a sniper rifle with his left eye after recovering.

The actions described throughout 1941, when the Wehrmacht was still attempting to advance on Leningrad, allow for an examination of defensive operations where artillery, engineers and the Soviet Air Force (VVS) were regularly supporting Red Army infantrymen in their struggle with the Germans. This is interesting to note as often times recollections from 1941 note the absence of combined arms operations (granted, this is mainly in reference to offensive operations) and a lack of air support by the VVS. Furthermore, often enough when encountering accounts from 1941, there is usually the perception that the Red Army was regularly 'outclassed' by their Wehrmacht opponents on a regular basis in terms of tactics. But Pilyushin shows that Red Army officers and soldiers were consistently able to set up ambushes for the Germans to fall into as early as the summer of 1941. It might be that the densely wooded terrain of northern Russia helped as well as the fact that Army Group North was the weakest of the three German army groups operating on the Eastern Front, but such accounts are instrumental in showcasing the abilities of Soviet officers and soldiers in the early period of the war.

One of the more humorous episodes recounted, once more from 1941, included the author with a reconnaissance team taking prisoner two men at night only to find out they were Soviet cadets escaping enemy encirclement. Another episode, which speaks to the mindset of Red Army soldiers and officers, was an exchange between a battalion commander and his company commanders. With a German tank attack and an enemy infantry battalion arrayed against them, the Red Army battalion commander was contemplating their next move. One of his company commanders became convinced the best course of action was to attack the Germans, killing as many of them as possible while sacrificing his life. In response, the battalion commander had to remind him that it was not only his life he was sacrificing, but that of his men as well. Considering the doses of Soviet propaganda the citizens of the USSR were exposed to, it should come as no surprise that individual men (and perhaps even women) were ready to risk their lives and inadvertently that of their soldiers for the defense of their motherland, and perhaps even their system of government. One cannot label such men cowards, on the contrary, their ability to readily offer their lives as a sacrifice should be acknowledged and lauded, but the fact that they could not see past their own sacrifice to that of their soldiers needs to be recognized as well. In offering up the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, they inadvertently also expose the lives of their soldiers. In some ways this might explain the numerous casualties Red Army troops took throughout the war (not forgetting that there were ignorant officers and commissars who readily let others risk their lives while saving their own) and the cults that developed post-WWII of 'heroes' and their 'sacrifices' for their motherland.

Additionally, Pilyushin recalling the various conversations about retreats also gives some insight into the mentality of both Red Army men and civilians in regards to withdrawals. It seems that the mentality the majority shared when it came to retreats was that any retreat was defeatist and should be avoided. A fighting retreat, which shortens the frontline or avoids encirclement, obviously cannot be considered the same as a headlong flight for the rear by panicked troops. Yet without a Soviet propaganda apparatus to discuss and explain away such actions, many on the frontlines and in the rear, it seems, simply lamented that any retreat reinforced the idea that the Germans were winning and Red Army soldiers were not holding themselves accountable for their actions.

Aside from descriptions of battles and the day-to-day conversations of soldiers in a combat environment, Pilyushin gives ample space and time to his visits to besieged Leningrad when either attempting to visit his family or when he was wounded. At one point the author receives a three day pass to visit his family. What follows is without a doubt one of the most emotional scenes I've ever read from the war. As well, what Leningraders in general were made to go through is given a brief description. While it is mentioned more than once that Leningrad is a dozen or so kilometers behind the battles on the frontline that the majority of the memoir is focused on, the real meaning behind those words is hard to understand without an actual 'visit' to the city. Additionally, the losses Pilyushin's unit sustains throughout the war also makes for difficult reading; these men and women who readily put their lives on the line pass in and out of Pilyushin's life all too quickly with only his memory of them serving as a reminder for what the war cost the families of the Soviet Union. I'm very impressed with the quality of memoirs that have recently been translated/published dealing with the Eastern Front, and this one makes for a great addition, highly recommended!


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