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Russia's War Paperback – 29 Jul 1999
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"Russia's War" is the epic account of the greatest military encounter in human history. In a vivid, often shocking narrative, Richard Overy describes the astounding events of 1941-45 in which the Soviet Union, after initial catastrophes, destroyed Hitler's Third Reich and shaped European history for the next half Century.
About the Author
Richard Overy is Professor of Modern History at King's College, London. He is also the author of "The Road to War".
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For me the most important thing to say about it is that it quite radically challenged my understanding of what happened in the Second World War, a view which was formed primarily by reading Churchill.
In his book 'The World at War', which kind of softened me up for reading Overy, Mark Arnold-Forster suggests that if necessary Russia could have defeated Germany unaided, and that the Germans weren't defeated because of their own incompetence or the weather but that they met a militarily superior opponent.
Overy doesn't make the first claim but he backs up the rest. Although Russia had a vast army and considerable weaponry at the outset of the war they were disorganised and in particular Stalin was unwilling to trust his generals. It took about a year and a half for these problems to be overcome and after that Russia hardly put a foot wrong. Having said that he also makes clear the important of the 'lend-lease' supplies the Russians got from the USA.
According to Khruschev in 1956, and these figures are supported by Overy, Russia lost about 25 million people as a direct result of the war. This included over six million soldiers killed in action. 80% of Germany's soldiers killed were on the Eastern Front. The scale of the war is what had not got through to me prior to reading this book.
Other points which Overy makes were that the Germans regarded the Russians as subhuman and committed many atrocities in the huge areas of Russia they occupied.
He also goes into great length about internal repression in Russia before, during and after the war.
Overy makes a sincere effort to understand Stalin and the Russian people, the enormous difficulties they overcame in this war. He doesn't assert definitive answers, and acknowledges uncertainty.
Nevertheless I felt having finished this book as though to some extent I had been given a sense of the Russian point of view. Information about the Germans is here but the book is written to shine a light on the Russians.
Mr Overy gives some good insights into Stalin and along the way punctures many myths that have grown up around Stalin and his attitude to, and leadership of the Red Army forces. His relationship with his top Generals is examined, Stalin unlike Hitler did let his Generals get on with it for most of the war which is probably what saved us all from having to speak German today. The author also gives the best explanation I've read yet of why Russian Soldiers and Civilians suffered the 26 million plus casaulties but in a matter of fact way without taking sides or preaching. Yes, Stalin's terror did exist, it is examined in a rational rather than emotional manner. Was the average Russian fighting for Uncle Joe and the CPSU, no probably not, although a good few were. Was he fighting for the motherland and revenge for what the Nazi's had done to it - yes, many were
A first class account of a terrible, terrible conflict. Five star reading.