23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2002
Mr Duffy has provided us with a definitive account of the last stage of the war in Europe. Sadly there appears to be little in the English language literature dealing with the operations of the Red Army to reach Berlin and bring to an end the war. We can count ourselves all the luckier that Mr. Duffy's book is such a gem. He sets out to tell us the operations in a seamless narrative, effortlessly switching between layers of command reaching from a German platoon commander to a Soviet Marshal and into the Fuehrerbunker. After this section, he discusses in detail the operational problems facing both armies. He does so in a very accessible way, providing references to the first section for the specific examples. Mr. Duffy has an impressive amount of sources that he draws on, and the literature list is exhaustive.
I came away from this book with a significantly increased respect for the capabilities of the Red Army that my grandfather fought. The operations described in here dwarf the Ardennes battles in every respect, and are a serious reminder as to who won the second world war, and why Europe looked the way it did for 50 years after 1945.
A must read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2014
I am wondering whether C.P.Turbett and myself read the same book.
To start with, this is a book concerned with military history. The description of military aspects – the movements as such as well as the necessary background information – is impeccable.
Concerning any supposed pro-German bias
it is simply not true that Mr. Duffy assigns positive features to Germans and mostly negative features to Russians. If he comments on Russian commanders he generally does it in a neutral or even positive way. Mr. Duffy quotes extensively from both Russian and German sources and – as every unprejudiced reader will very quickly notice – strives to give a very balanced account of this yet relatively unknown part of WW2 history.
In contrast to what C.P.Turbett seems to feel, the book is largely devoted to military history and the fate of the German civilian population does not occupy a large part of it. Mr. Duffy does use eyewitness accounts (German as well as Russian) to illustrate army movements and in chapter 24 (20 pages) he gives some background information on history and the situation of the civilian population. That is all.
Coming from a family which fell victim to Soviet conquest and subsequent ethnic cleansing in what is now part of the Czech Republic, I was already acquainted with the general picture of what the German civilian population had to endure after January 1945 and I can only say that the impression conveyed by the eyewitness accounts matches exactly what I was told by my grandparents. The Russian perspective was more or less new for me and I have to admit that it was hard for me to follow it in some of the cases, particularly where Mr. Duffy elaborates on German atrocities in German-occupied Russian territories and concludes that Soviet atrocities are due to the fact that “by 1945 Russian military men of every rank went to war with personal scores to settle”.
Even though German crimes undoubtedly played their role in what happened 1945 in East Germany, in my opinion this aspect cannot explain the full extent of barbarism:
the Soviets had already committed more than enough atrocities in 1939/40, e.g. in the Baltic states or eastern Poland, before the German-Soviet war had even started, obviously no preceding German atrocities had been necessary to prompt those crimes
for both sides the German-Soviet war was an ideologic war fought with pitiless and constantly increasing brutality. We should not forget that atrocities were not only committed by Germans but also by Soviet troops and partisans – not only against Germans but also against fellow Russians, e.g. if they were suspected of insufficient resistance, let alone collaboration. Of course the Nazis had from the very beginning drummed in the “inferiority of Slavic subhumans” into the normal soldier’s mind. However, it was the brutality of partisan warfare – so fundamentally different from what the average German soldier had experienced in the West - which finally led to acceptance of that creed in large parts of the German army – which of course further increased the general level of brutality. In my opinion it is very difficult to clearly establish cause and effect in this constant build-up of mutual hatred and brutality.
accounts from German civilian survivors of the Soviet conquest quite often mention that first echelon Red Army soldiers (mostly Belorussians or Ukrainians coming from territories formerly occupied by the Wehrmacht) behaved in a relatively civilized way towards civilians and even warned them to beware of rear echelons – which were mostly composed of soldiers coming from remote parts of the Soviet Union which had never seen a German soldier. It seems that Germans had most to fear from Soviet soldiers which definitely did not have personal scores to settle.
Concerning the specific objections raised by C.P.Turbett:
I also paused when I read that the Gauleiter of Danzig, Albert Forster, was a “fundamentally decent” man and a “humanitarian and idealist” – simply because this characterization does not at all match my idea of a typical Nazi functionary and I am more than skeptical that a man who actually possessed those characteristics would have acceded to a prominent Third Reich party function. However,
o it seems that the account given by various sources on Albert Forster differs considerably and many accusations against Forster seem to stem from Polish communist sources just after WW2 or during the cold war. Are Polish communist sources really more reliable than others which sometimes paint a less frightful picture of the man?
o considering that Mr. Duffy repeatedly denounces brutality on the part of the Gauleiters, calling them “heaps of filth”, does a possible mis-characterization of one individual really justify C.P.Turbett’s allegation of a massive pro-German bias?
The Stutthof incident, only parenthetically mentioned by Mr. Duffy and certainly no main conclusion of his book, is indeed strange. However, it should be noted that in contrast to what is implied by C.P.Turbett’s comment, Stutthof was no extermination camp (like Auschwitz, Majdanek or Treblinka). I read about at least two cases where a boat with camp inmates (apparently without their SS guards) arrived in Denmark and Sweden. I do not know whether they voluntarily tried to escape from their Soviet liberators or whether they were forcibly evacuated by the SS guards.
Concerning the British POWs who allegedly preferred to flee with German troops rather than be liberated by their Soviet allies, there can be several reasons why this incident is only mentioned by German sources, e.g.
o According to the source cited by Mr. Duffy, those POWs landed in the Oxhöft part of the Danzig cauldron. Not improbable that they perished together with thousands of German troops and civilians who desperately tried to get evacuated to safety – especially as Germans would probably had priority to be assigned one of the scarce places onboard the evacuation vessels.
o If they managed to get through, probably the incentive for them after the war to make their siding with the enemy against their Soviet allies public was just not big enough to make their case appear in Western sources.
Mr. Duffy cites the (German) source and adds that this incident invites for further investigation – what else is a historian expected to do?
In any case, even if the particular case of the British POWs should be doubtful, this does not change the general picture:
There are more than enough well-documented examples of French POWs (employed as workers on Prussian farms) who very much preferred not to fall into Soviet hands but instead took leadership of the trecks to save themselves as well as “their” German families from the Soviets. Also, the atrocities committed by the Red Army against fellow Russians or Ukrainians which had been brought to Germany as forced labour, are beyond any doubt.
Obviously for C.P.Turbett it is not sufficient that M. Duffy calls Auschwitz “probably the most terrible place there has ever been on earth” and explains Soviet atrocities with what Soviet soldiers saw in Auschwitz. Perhaps he should have told us how many percent of a military history book about the Red Army’s conquest of Germany should be devoted to a detailed description of atrocities committed in Auschwitz. I am also not able to follow C.P.Turbett in setting-off Red Army atrocities against German crimes: considering that during and after WW2 appr. 14 millions of German civilians were ethnically cleansed from their homes and appr. 2 millions of them were killed in the process, I find it somewhat difficult to share C.P.Turbett’s estimation that what German civilians suffered “pales into insignificance”.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 19 April 2008
This book explores ground not otherwise covered in previous English language histories of WW2: the final months on the Eastern Front and, in particular, battles within what is now Poland. Much of this territory lay within pre-war German borders, and sympathy with the Germans ethnically cleansed from these areas after the war, forms the basic premise of the book. For Duffy, there are good Germans, including some generals and Nazi leaders, and bad ones such as Hitler and his more fanatical followers. The active involvement of all these good generals etc in the murderous campaigns in Russia and elsewhere, is ignored by Duffy. There are also Russians, whose personal features, mostly negative, are only briefly touched upon.
Conclusions drawn from such an analysis results in a revisionist version of history worthy of the discredited David Irving (an author, incidently, recommended by Duffy). Some of this is particularly dodgy:
- that Albert Forster, Nazi Gauliter of Danzig, was a "fundamentally decent man". Other histories point to his active involvement in the holocaust, and habit of sending his opponents to nearby Stutthof Concentration Camp.
- that as liberation approached, inmates of Stutthof freed by their SS guards, preferred to remain under German protection than wait for the Russians. This is ridiculous to the extreme: Stutthof was part of the "final solution" and some 80,000 people died there, most gassed to death on arrival.
- that a large group of British army officer prisoners of war in Eastern Prussia escaped from their Russian liberators and joined a Panzer regiment who had captured them in 1940, offering if required to fight alongside them. This claim, based on German sources, does not stand up to any historical examination.
The liberation of Auschwitz is touched upon in a single paragraph (attention focusing on why the Russian general involved chose not to visit it). Russian atrocities, which pale into insignificance by comparison, feature prominently.
The Polish people who inhabit many of the areas under discussion rarely get a mention.
This book may lull the less-discerning reader into sympathy with the Germans of East Prussia. Danzig and Pomerania; most will hopefully see through it and whatever point the author is trying to make, even if partially valid,will be lost.
16 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 5 April 2001
Christopher Duffy has written some very, very good stuff, notably "Austerlitz" and "Borodino and the war of 1812", but I think he surpassed himself with this....volume.
The Red Army shove from the Vistula to the Oder is not a campaign that has received a lot of coverage, compared to the Western Allied efforts in Normandy and Operation Market Garden or the earlier Eastern front epics of Stalingrad, Leningrad and Kursk, however there is a story of pure evil here, the evil that men do to each other (and women most particularly.)
The book started life as a paper for a military symposium and some of that technical approach survives. However this is a very human study of misery.
The Russian assault on the Vistula is thrillingly recreated as is the desparate retreat of the German forces, panicked for the first time (according to Duffy). However it is in the battles that the ridiculously outnumbered German forces undertook to try and buy time for their fleeing civilian population that the poignancy of this work is to the fore.
Particularly moving (and shocking) is the battle for Konigsberg, where the Russian troops started assaulting German women before the ink was dry on the surrender document.
It is very hard to read this book and not feel profoundly sorry for the German population in the East...