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Virtually unreadable without some good maps
on 19 December 2007
This is a moderately interesting but at times mind-numbing account of the first two years of the Russian Front during the Second World War, written almost exclusively from the Russian perspective, and at a strategic-to-army level (the Stavka high command and its relation with the army groups and the logistical services). Don't look here for accounts of what it was like for a German infantry squad or Mark IV tank to encounter a T45, or to be a Russian colonel or divisional commander during the catastrophic campaigns of 1941-42; it's all about Zhukov flying into crisis situations to sort things out and incompetent generals being called back to Moscow to be shot. I'm sure John Erikson did a fantastic job at the time this book was written to secure all the information in this book, but there's no sign of any revision and new knowledge after the opening of Russian archives post-1991, and it is simply extraordinary that there isn't a single map in the whole book. The publishers (Cassells) should be ashamed of themselves: even if there weren't any maps in the original publication, why didn't they commission some when they re-published it in paperback format? Finally this book wins absolutely no prizes for its prose style, which is workmanlike at best. John Erickson has a single metaphor for all his descriptions of military action: it's all about slicing and dicing and hacking, ad nauseum. OK, we are largely dealing with armies being moved over maps and crises in the supply chain, and Erickson is generally good at marshalling his material and guiding you through a massive war, but he very rarely gets into the blood and guts, fear and passion of what it felt like to be a general as your forces collapsed about you, with a sense of responsibility for the very survival of your country. This to me is a major failing in any work of military history that claims to be a classic or definitive.