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98 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Addition To The East Front Experience, 8 Dec 2008
This review is from: War without Garlands: Operation Barbarossa 1941-1942 (Paperback)
How do I start this review ?
I guess the first thing would be the recommendation to buy it. The read is easy and flowing. Easy, in that it is gripping and holds you, flowing in that as a history piece, it never becomes stodgy or bogged down.I would also say that I found this book to be tremendous value at the price as well. 580 pages for a few pounds in paperback.

The book provides an account of the opening months of Barborossa and does not, unlike other books on 'Barborossa' then file off to the years after. This book sticks with the opening operation, and the German attempt to knock out the Soviet Union quickly and in a series of co-ordinated hammer blows. Where the book or Mr Kershaw differs from other titles is that, not only is there the strategic overview, but we also get accounts of selected tactical encounters (rather than the strategic), and many letters and diary entries from soldiers serving. Most of these eye witness accounts are German, but Soviet offerings are included as well. Mr Kershaw does not then fall into the trap of "Well Corporal so and so who was there said this, so this must be true". He keeps these entries purely as embellishment, and as colouring of the subject he is trying to impart.

Despite having read many books on the subject matter, this was the first I have seen to concentrate on one of the first German obstacles, Brest-Litovsk. I was surprised to find out just how tough a nut this was to crack. But the main thrust of the book for me was the highlighting of the German Army's massive and quite frankly, unprecedented victories that kept bleeding themselves dry, or as Mr Kershaw put it from the translated German "Victoring itself to death".

and this seemed to be the main problem. Despite inflicting 2.1 million irretrievable casualties on the Red Army over 6-8 months, German losses, though nowhere near as high were simply not replaceable in military terms. Tanks, soldiers, experienced officers as well as other equipments too, could simply not got to the Front quickly enough or in quantity enough, especially as the front got further and further away from the Western border.

Memorable highlights of the book for me would be:
The unimaginable tenacity required to keep fighting in the bitterest cold of -40 degrees at times !
Some of the indecision of the German High Command as to where the main schwerpunkt (point of concentration) should be.
The Russian command's regular ineptitude and lack of care of losses taken.
The pure violence exhibited by both sides on the enemy and civilians (yes both sides on civilians).
This truly was the Ali v Frazier contest of all wars.... nothing could ever be comparable, and though I hate to say it, puts the Western effort very much as a sideshow (read "Europe At War - Norman Davies).

If I had anything to say against the book, I would post two arguments. First, I would take issue with solely blaming Hitler for the things that went militarily wrong in the first year. I think the German High Command made a few indecisive mistakes before he intervened, and Alan Clark in his 'Barborossa' makes a good case as to where Hitler could actually be credited with helping to save the Wehrmacht in the winter of 41/42 by keeping it standing despite the winter rather than a suicidal retreat with millions of Soviets on their tails.
To be fair, I think Mr Kershaw swings on both sides of the coin on this one, and for me did not come down on one side or the other TOO obviously.

The other point I would make is that this book is for me, really an accompanament to perhaps a more 'clinical' history on the subject. What I mean by this is that there are other books that give a much more sterile miliary overview of the battles, and leave you in no doubt as to where each division and corps were. 'War Without Garlands' does not entirely attempt that because it enters other spheres of importance that come into the story, including the 'Human interest' stories that so enrich this tome. That being the case, I would have to say that this is not a completely purist Military overview of the campaign...... it has other depth to it that you will not read in other offerings.

A fantastic read ! The first I've read of Robert Kershaw's, and have now been moved to buy other books by him. Thanks Robert ;-)
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Apr 2009 21:12:10 BDT
Kentspur says:
This is a great review. I came to this book's Amazon page, determined to write the most positive thing I could considering how excellent this work is, but it's already here. I went and put five stars on 'Red Sabbath' instead, which is another work of genius by this ludicrously talented military historian.

Best regards

In reply to an earlier post on 2 May 2009 21:33:57 BDT
Kentspur,
Many thanks for your kind words on my review attempt ! I've only written 3 so far, but this excellent book moved me to make that effort. I really was that impressed with the book. It's a nice feeling to get a compliment on here, so once again thanks.
Let's hope Mr Kershaw follows it up with a series of East Front books overtime ? 1942 / 1943 / 1944... lots of scope there.
Vince

Posted on 13 Nov 2009 00:09:02 GMT
Very helpful review. I am looking for the "clinical" history you refer to, but not Alan Clarke's "Barbarossa" which I can't get to grips with. If there is another overview, what would you suggest? Or do you think Clarke might be worth a third attempt after reading Kershaw?

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Feb 2010 13:17:11 GMT
Hi, sorry not to have responded earlier, but I rarely check my Amazon posts. Did you find a 'complete East Front' book in the end?

If you can not get on with Clarke's overview book, then you can't get on with it and that's that :-)

There are some others. There is "Absolute War" by Chris Bellamy, then there is the 2 volume "Road To Stalingrad

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Mar 2011 13:29:54 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Mar 2011 13:41:20 GMT
Excellent review on an excellent book Mr Hughes. The only point I should like to question is where you say: "German losses, though nowhere near as high were simply not replaceable in military terms." David Hoffmann has produced an absolutely first class DVD:- How Hitler Lost the War [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] which explains that due to the famines caused by Stalin's collectivisation policies, the Wehrmacht were initially welcomed by huge numbers of Soviet citizens as Christian liberators, especially in the Ukraine.

Centred on the city of Kiev, the Ukraine was/is Russia's bread-basket and with a 1940's population of over 30,000,000, would initially have provided literally millions of willing recruits; more than enough to replace all the Wehrmacht's losses suffered til then. The reality of course is that Nazi racial bigotries, allied with the widespread commandeering/looting of foodstuffs, rapidly drove those same anti-communist millions back into Stalin's fold where, with KGB machineguns 'encouraging' them from behind; they formed a large part of the Red Army as it fought it's way to Berlin.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Feb 2012 18:12:32 GMT
It should be pointed out that Hitler's failure to utilize the millions of 'white Russians' and half starved peasants who initially welcomed the Germans with open arms should never be described as a some sort of 'tactical error' (as it often is) -it was never an option. The war was initiated because of Hitler's inherent hatred of the Bolsheviks ("The Untermenschen"). Their savage racial bigotry and belief that they in-turn were 'superior humans' constituted key elements of the collective Nazi ego and formed the zeitgeist that greased the wheels of the Wehrmacht war-machine. To even contemplate the Nazi's liberating the Bolsheviks is both naive and laughable [-The afore mentioned DVD would perhaps be better entitled: ""Why Hitler lost the war"]
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