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Shines light on the Russian experience.
on 1 September 2010
This isn't a cheery book to read. In fact my jaw dropped, on a number of occasions, as I read it.
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.