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Originally written in 1965, author (and Tory politician) Allan Clark decided to stand by his original text for the 1995 reprint of Barbarossa. Having just finished reading it, I can see why. It's excellent.

Now, about 50 years after it was first written, one might pick apart certain aspects - he seems to buy into Heinz 'Achtung Panzer' Guderian's personal renderings of events rather uncritically, for example - but in broad terms Clark's account seems to have withstood the test of time admirably.

At around 460 pages this is, by contemporary standards, a slightly old-fashioned in-depth treatment of, primarily, the military side of this mammoth campaign. Having recently read a more wide-ranging but very succinct account by German historian Christian Hartman, Clark's lengthier and more detailed old-school rendering was the perfect way to really get deeper into this gargantuan subject (at least on the military history side).

Whilst Clark does address the conflict from both sides, he definitely leans the weight of his coverage more to the German perspective. My title quote captures the mixture of awed excitement mingled with horror that both author and readers may feel when these two profligately cruel ideological empires clashed. For the German's, after the initial euphoria of 'kick-off', it's somewhat surprising how soon the rot set in, in terms of things starting to go wrong for the Axis forces. As many have remarked, the Germans may have read accounts of Napoleon in Russia, but they appear to have failed to learn from them.

For the vast bulk of this moderately large book Clark remains fixed on the military side of things. Only by occasional brief mentions, and in a slightly more focussed way near the end, do we hear of the appalling atrocities that were perpetrated within the Dante-esque inferno of the Ostfront. Clark puts this aspect across with succinct eloquence at various points, noting (p.193) that this was the theatre 'where the septic violence of Nazism festered openly', in (p.316) 'scenes of not so much medieval as of pre-Roman barbarism'.

Whilst some of this - for example the activities of the notorious SS Dirlewanger - necessarily makes for disturbing reading, Clark's general history of the war on the Ostfront is, overall, tremendously gripping, and (dare I say it of such a huge charnel house?) very enjoyable, when read in the comfort of a peacetime armchair. Of course one vehemently hopes - or at least I do - never to live through anything of this sort. But reading about it is exciting, informative, and, one hopes, salutary.
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on 25 October 2001
I first read this splendid one-volume history of the Russo-German conflict of WW2 more than thirty years ago and its immediacy, masterful simplification of complex campaigns and operations, colourful evocations of heroism and cowardice and outright pathos have never left me. This is not a detailed history and the concentration is on a few major, but decisive, campaigns but these are covered with such verve that the reader is quite likely to be fascinated by the subject for the rest of their lives, and to seek out ever more thereafter. Though meticulous in his descriptions and evaluations, Clark is never a neutral observer - and this is probably what makes the book so totally unforgettable even down to individual episodes. His judgements on men can be devastating - his summary of the clownish ineptitude and outdated heroics of Budenny is as succinct and merciless as anything in Gibbon - and his accounts of epic-scale actions never fail to reflect the human cost. The image of hundreds of thousands of Russian prisoners trudging towards starvation, slave labour and medical experiments after the great 1941encirclement battles in the Ukraine, and of isolated pockets fighting to the last man, as loudspeakers relayed the exhortations of Stalin, will stay with the reader forever. Clark's account of Stalingrad was powerful enough to send my wife and myself to the city itself within months of reading the book - a powerful and unforgettable experience. Clark did not just give us the feel the nightmare of street fighting across entire square miles of blazing ruins and factories, but he helped us visualise the abject misery of the Sixth Army's entombed survivors as, in the unlikely surroundings of a rebuilt department store's basement, we found the spot where von Paulus surrendered. Simultaneously, we were conscious that somewhere to the west that von Manstein's relief forces were stalled, supplies packed in trucks that included even British vehicles captured at Dunkirk eighteen months before. By such details is history brought alive. The section on Kursk could almost stand alone as a modern Illiad and description of the destruction of Army Group Centre, and of the final battles in Germany itself, conveys the full horror of what it means to be part of a hitherto coherent organism in terminal collapse. I came to this book again when my daughter asked me to recommend an introduction to the subject - and from her enthusiasm, three decades on, I sensed that in this book we probably have a timeless classic. Other books deal with the Great Patriotic War in greater detail - commander's accounts, of which the best is probably von Manstein's "Lost Victories", war-correspondent's accounts like Alexander Werth's "Russia at War" or Curzio Malapartre's searing "The Volga rises in Europe", modern reassessments of specific campaigns like Anthony Beevor's superb "Stalingrad" and popular histories like Harrison Salisbury's "The Thousand Days" - but none can equal this as an introduction and as an overview. By the sweep of the narrative, by the elegance of the prose, by the power of the imagery and, above all, by the sheer humanity of tone, this marvellous history justifies Alan Clark's entire life. A wonderful book.
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on 16 September 2001
This book made me see the Russo-German campaign in a new light. Previously-held beliefs that the Russians were somewhat fortunate to survive the might of the Nazi war machine in the early stages were swept away by Alan Clark's account of the unpreparedness of the Wehrmacht for the campaign in the first place, the arrogance and ineptitude of the German high command and the stubbornness and bravery of the ordinary Russian soldier. He goes into great detail about the movement of armies and who did what and where, interspersed with personal accounts from people who actually did the fighting. He also makes reference from time to time of the constant in-fighting between the German generals, vying for personal power bases and favours from Hitler, all to the detriment of the German war effort. Alan Clark traces the campaign from beginning to end, from the early years of German successes to their disatrous failures at Leningrad, Stalingrad and Kursk, and finally to the Russians at the gates of the Fuhrerbunker in Berlin. If you like strategy, then this is for you.
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on 15 October 2004
While not containing the small personal details of Beevor's Stalingrad and Berlin, this book is nonetheless a fascinating read, and will make you eager to learn more, which is no bad thing. Clark's grasp of politics is clear from his descriptions of the machinations of the German high command and in the final months the mistrust between the allied leaders as they approached Berlin. An excellent grounding in the subject, almost worth buying for the verbatim texts of many of Hitler's conferences alone, which clearly chart his mental disintegration towards the end. Recommended.
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on 20 February 2001
An excellent and brilliant book, mainly seen and described from the German side of the court, but exhaustive and, last but not least, written in a very good and sometimes "literary" English. I warmly recommend this book to everyone interested in the WW2 Eastern Front.
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VINE VOICEon 19 September 2009
I read this work in the very late nineties, by that time this work was already `dated'. We are now, at the time of writing this review, into the second decade of the 21st century where there is more factual information available and, if you couple this with current IT resources, it thus enables historical writers to write four times the amount of information in terms of such things like, maps, battle statistics and wealth of information from new Russian archive sources and individual accounts from the men, women who served in the soviet armed forces. The resultant is historical works, that are written in great depth on just single events, like `Kursk' etc that fill up the same space as this book. These resources and sources were just not available to Alan Clarke, when he took on this `Mammoth' enterprise. To be able write a single volume history of Hitler' failed gamble in the `East' was a huge task to say the least. After saying all of the above, I must say that this is a very readable account and flows more like an action adventure novel, and for me this book ignited my interest on the war in the East and has been a catalyst in my further reading on the subject by such authors as Mark Healy and his excellent work on Zitadelle. Mr Christer Bergstrom, and his work on the use aviation in the war, there are other notable works and this list works is longer every year.
For me the way Clarke explains Hitler's ever changing relationship with his generals activities are illuminating, and this work shows the relationships were complex and as one reviewer puts it `downfall cannot be solely blamed on him' him being Hitler.

Flaws yes, lack of updated information yes - in fact the answer is yes to all of these criticisms. However, for me this is very readable, anecdotal and reasonably comprehensive work that is carefully distilled into a fine narrative and thus is highly recommend.
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on 31 August 2012
Being aware that this book is no 30/40 years old, I decided to read Alan Clark's work on this atrocious conflict that involved two of the most powerful war machines of this century.
The book has good reviews and offers a perfect overview to the gigantic subject.

The narration is fluid and the chapter division quite helpful.
More importantly, the author keeps away from overdescription of unit positions, movements of troops, etc. which can blur the vision sometimes. This is especially true for a campaign like Barbarossa.
Its is quite often that military history authors lacking politic and economic knowledge prefers to concentrate on purely militaristic matters.

However, I had a really good time reading the book but was quite dissapointed and would say frustrated that the book was very light on:
- The Leningrad siege
- The battle for Berlin
- The role of the luftwaffe and the war in the air

Despite the above, there are some really brillant parts such as the Stalingrad chapters, or the addition of recorded dialogues between Hitler and his staff, or personal accounts such as the 2 ou 3 pages long account of the russian sniper.

Finally, I recomend the reading of Guderian's book "Panzer Leader" which presents the conflict through the eye of the famous tank theorist and leader.
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on 6 September 2006
I came across this book having previously read Stalingrad Berlin and Moscow 1941. It is an excellent read which is easy to follow and understand. Further it addresses the questions that seemed to arise from the other books previously mentioned in that it gives you a good oversight to the whole battle along the Eastern Front. My only issue with this book is that having originally been published in 1965 Alan Clarke did not follow this up with reference to any of the new information which have may have come to light especially since the changes in the Soviet Union. Unfortunately now he is dead we will have to wait for another author to take up the mantle. (He does address this question in 1985 in the book however so much has come to light since then.)

Overall an excellent read and a good insight to Hitler, his Generals, the Third Reich and The Eastern Front.
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I used the same subject line for my review of Russia at War 1941 - 1945. by Alexander Werth. Both books are lengthy, but then the subject matter is immense: the most savage, brutal war humans have ever fought, with casualties defined with a rounding error in the millions. Werth was a correspondent in the Soviet Union during the war; the title of his book reflects his vantage point. Alan Clark was a British historian and flamboyant politician. His use of the German code word, "Barbarossa," for the invasion of the Soviet Union, reflects his greater reliance on German archives since he wrote his account in 1964, at the height of the Cold War.

There have been other good books about certain aspects of this conflict, for example, Harrison Salisbury's The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad and Anthony Beevor's Stalingrad but in terms of a concise overall account of this horrific struggle this one remains at the top of the list. Clark does not have a long section on the antecedents to the conflict; there is virtually nothing on World War I for example. The account begins in 1939. Within two years, and is often pointed out, for the sake of the Russians (as well as the rest of us), a month too late, Operation Barbarossa commenced in June of 1941. Three main German battle groups invaded, led by Leeb in the North, Bock in the Center, and Rundstedt in the South. The Germans had remarkable initial success, catching most of the Russian Air Force on the ground, and capturing 600,000 soldiers in the Kiev encirclement alone. The Russians paid an enormous price, in terms of suffering and their dead, but the Germans were never able to take the principal objectives of these three battle groups: Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad.

Clarke highlights some of the bitter ironies of the war. For example, in the Kiev encirclement, only 3 of every 100 Russian prisoners would ever see their homeland again. The vast majority would be worked or starved to death. But as the dejected Russians trudged off to their prison camps, Clark asks: "Did the Germans, as they watched those black caterpillars wending their exhausted path across the steppe, realize that they were sowing the wind? The first reaping, more terrible than anything they had ever experienced, was less than twelve months away." That, of course, would be the Battle for Stalingrad, which Clark entitles, fittingly and alliteratively, "Verdun on the Volga." Clark relates an anecdote of Goering laughingly relating how the Russian prisoners had been reduced to cannibalism, yet it would be the Germans at Stalingrad who would meet the same destiny.

A chapter in this book led me to take a journey. The chapter is entitled "The Greatest Tank Battle in History," in which Clark describes the battle in July, 1943 when 3000 Russian and German tanks slugged it out at Kursk. This battle confirmed what had occurred at Stalingrad. The tide had indeed turned. 47 years later, in July, 1990, I had driven to Kursk. The memorials to this battle were sparse; the fields were used for growing crops. The museum commemorating the battle, in the city, had exhibits, and large, wall-size maps, which were only in Russian. For over an hour, we were the only people there. It was quite a contrast to Normandy.

Clark continues to describe Eastern Europe again changing hands as the Russians advanced, and the eventual fall of Berlin. The book is accompanied by some important maps as well as tables of command structures, biographies of the leadership on both sides, a chronology of the conflict, black and white pictures, and a glossary of the unique terms used in this war.

I looked at the 1-star reviews; some were hard to believe, like the one claiming this was just so much hateful propaganda denigrating the German soldiers! Pleeeze! Overall, Clark did an excellent job; he mastered the material well, and told the story equally so. He has made this immense struggle, poorly understood by so many in the West, comprehensible for the non-specialist. In the subsequent 45 years, a new detail may have emerged from an archive that would require a corrective footnote, but the author's account should remain the quintessential one. A solid 5-stars.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on August 04, 2010)
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on 9 September 2008
This book has been favourably reviewed many times here so I won't add detailed comments. This is the second time I have read the work and I can hardly fault it (yet I shall). Even though one knows the ending it reads like a novel one cannot put down; Clark engages his reader very well indeed. Clark, sensibly, does not regard Hitler as a mindless monster as of the "Black lagoon": he recognizes Hitler's personal bravery and his brilliance. Indeed, he partially exonerates Hitler of blame for military cock-ups which were attributed to the Fuehrer post hoc in the memoires of German generals. The story is a tradegy for the Russians, ultimately more so for the Germans, and for the many hapless others caught up in a conflict imbued with crazy racial doctrines.

Which leading character comes out best from Clark's account: Hitler or Stalin? It's a toss up really. Stalin had no compunction about starving peasants or culling his military leadership in purges. Hitler, for the most part, did not persecute those he regarded as his own countrymen yet he was merciless to those deemed racially inferior (which included some of his own countrymen).

The only reservation I have of this work is the quality of the maps. Clark frequently refers to locations that are not on his maps. To get the best out of this book one needs to refer to a war atlas of Russia at that time.
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