on 13 May 2008
Having read many books on the eastern front conflict I found this book fresh and yet somehow very familiar. Nothing too new here but the style of the author means the 700 odd pages zip by as the various phases of the conflict are explained and expanded on with plenty of diagrams and maps. No phase is as given as much space as say Clarkes' Barbarssa or Beevors' Stalingrad but then when covering the whole campaign that would be asking something. All in all a great read, newcomers to the conflict will learn loads, those just interested in the period who have read other works will not learn too much new but will come back to this book as it really does a good job of covering a lot of ground.
on 4 August 2007
This book aims to present the Second World War from the Soviet perspective by using documents from formerly closed Soviet archives and memoirs only recently published in their full length (ie those written by Zhukov and Rokossovsky, respectively).
While the non-Russian reader can only welcome such an attempt, Prof. Bellamy's book suffers from some major shortcomings, one of which is the apparent inability of its author to read German language sources. Some errors (German ambassador von der Schulenburg is misspelled as "Schulenberg" throughout the book) could have been avoided.
But the major shortcomings are in the material presented for the Soviet side. Bellamy avoids discussing the Soviet pre-war military strategy and doctrine in a separate chapter, even though he rightly writes about the entirely offensive deployment and strategy vis-à-vis Germany. When military strategy is discussed, however, he erroneously attributes the Soviet's doctrine on the eve of the war to Svechin ("Strategy") instead of to Vladimir Triandafillov ("The nature of operations of modern armies") and Isserson.
Another major topic that is missing in this book is the Soviet Order of battle on June 22, 1941. Strangely enough, the well known German Order of Battle is given in the book, but no details about the Soviet deployment along the German, Hungarian and Romanian border. This is a very disappointing fact, especially because one would have wanted to compare the striking similarities in the deployment of the opposing forces. For very detailed information about the Soviet Order of Battle I can only refer the reader to the detailed works of Charles Sharp and Craig Crofoot for the ground forces and to Christer Bergström's about the Soviet Air Forces.
Overall, this book is not bad, but full of missed opportunities.
By any measure, the clash between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was the most titanic conflict between two nations ever fought, as well as the decisive front of the Second World War. Yet the Eastern Front has been given comparatively short shrift in most English-language histories of the Second World War, largely due to a combination of politics (the Cold War and the inaccessibility of Soviet-era archives) and a Western-centric bias. These issues make Chris Bellamy's history of the Soviet war effort a welcome addition to the literature on the war. Taking advantage of the greater availability of Soviet sources, he provides a fresh account of the Eastern Front that prompts some revision of the traditional Western understanding of the war there.
To do so, Bellamy begins by broadening his scope. He begins not with the launch of Operation Barbarossa, but with the Soviet participation in the invasion of Poland in September 1939. The inclusion of this and the subsequent "Winter War" between the Soviet Union and Finland the following year are key to one of his arguments, that the Red Army were already making the tactical and operational transformations which would make them such a formidable fighting force later in the war. While acknowledging the brutalities of the Stalinist regime, he asserts that the Soviet regime was far more efficient and effective in mobilizing for the war effort than their Nazi counterparts, an argument echoed in other recent studies such as Richard Overy's The Dictators: Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. In doing so, he challenges many of the misconceptions surrounding the regime and Stalin himself (such as his depressive withdrawal at the start of the German invasion) while demonstrating the veracity of such horrific episodes as the cannibalism practiced by some Leningraders during the 880 day siege of their city.
All of this comes together to provide readers with a better appreciation of the war the Soviet Union fought. He supports his analysis with considerable use of Soviet documentation, including recently published work form the hitherto unavailable NKVD archives, which add a previously obscured dimension to our knowledge of the conflict. While some readers might be bothered by the niggling problems of the book (Bellamy has a casual style and a number of writing tics that can make his text seem amateurish compared to the works of other historians), the strengths of this book easily outweigh its virtues. Comprehensive, perceptive, and girded by a wealth of new information, Bellamy's book is easily the best single-volume history of the Soviet war effort, one that every student of the Second World War should read to better understand that nation's decisive role in the conflict.
on 19 August 2008
Good: A thorough presentation of the events leading to war, and the ideologies and personalities involved. A good overview to non-initiated. Although there are other books written with similar reach, most of them have been written before the opening of Soviet archives and are thus deprived of some important sources.
Bad: A somewhat chatty writing style, not very useful maps. A couple of gross factual errors regarding the Finnish participation in the conflict left me doubting the accuracy of the entire book. Bellamy takes the estimate of Finnish casualties in the Winter War from Soviet sources, and based on that hardly neutral source he claims that almost twice as many Finns were killed in that war as very thorough Finnish official statistics say (Russians say 48,000 and Finns 26,000). The name, date, and the place of death is known for almost all Finnish casualties, most of the bodies were brought home for burial, and there is no way 22,000 extra deaths could have been hidden.
Bellamy also says that in 1941 there were 150,000 Finnish troops mobilized against Russia, when in fact general mobilization had almost been completed by June 22nd when Russians airplanes attacked Finland and by July Finland fielded 470,000 troops (from a population of 3,7 million).
on 11 July 2008
First of all let me say that this book is a huge achievement. The information packed into its pages is very impressive. It's so comprehensive that I'm sure it could be used as a reference after it's been read. But therein lies the problem. For me, at least. This book is an awesome collection of facts, a gold mine for the military strategist, but it fails -- doesn't even try -- to explore the human-interest angle. I don't think there are any vignettes -- diary entries, letters, etc. -- of ordinary people caught up in the events. Antony Beevor does that quite successfully in his Stalingrad and Berlin.
This is all about world leaders, generals, armies, divisions -- so many divisions! --, corps and battalions, the formations with their confusing numbers. It is a blow-by-blow account of military operations. Then the reader is repeatedly expected to refer to even more complicated maps decorated with sprawling lines and arrows leading to tongue-twistingly named dots. I'm a good map-reader and a fan of military history, but the busy, poor-quality maps at times left me bemused. Some nice, hand-drawn maps that don't try to show everything at once would have been appreciated.
And, although he forewarns his readership in the preface as to his focus in the book, I was a little disappointed that this book is skewed so dramatically towards 1941-42 when the invasion of the Soviet Union was hanging in the balance during the battles for Moscow and Stalingrad. This is fascinating but it does leave very few pages for the rest of the war. For example, the battle of Berlin was hardly more than an aside (since the outcome of the war was no longer in question).
And constant references to the recent invasion of Iraq were less than subtle.
So, to conclude, this is a very top-heavy and quite clinical analysis of 1941-42 that probably covers military activities very faithfully and thoroughly but lacks a certain human element that would appeal to a wider audience.
This is all in all an excellent history book if you want a more detailed picture of the Great Patriotic War, at the level of strategy, politics and economics. The book does not really get down to the level of soldiers on the ground so it is not harrowing in the way that Beevoir's Stalingrad and Berlin books were, etc. While I had prior knowledge of the broad sweep of events this took me into a whole new level of depth.
However, the book was not without its flaws. The book is full of very interesting and useful maps, some of which require a magnifying glass to get the best from. However, the maps and the text often do not marry up and I wasted a lot of time looking for places mentioned in the text that were not there on the maps. The other and larger flaw was that we get a huge amount of detail up until Kursk, mid 43 - about 500 pages worth. And then about 100 pages to cover the Soviet conquest of 43 - 45, from Kursk to Berlin. This was rather a disappointment as it was this phase of the war that I was hoping to get some enlightenment on. I can only conclude that the director of the Cranfield Institute just ran out of time to complete his pet project with the depth and vision that he started out with.
So, to summarise, terrific coverage of the first half of the GPW but a rather rushed job for the second half. I'm therefore still looking for a full account at this level of detail.
on 19 July 2011
first off i don't understand why some people here view this as a book that is missing something because i found this one of the most informative books i have read on the war between russia and germany. the book is largely a view from the top down at the strategical level but without that how are we to know how the war progressed. most historians of this war tend to only write about the importance or more interesting parts those being, the launch of Barbarossa, battle of Moscow, siege of Stalingrad, battle of kursk and battle for Berlin, while ignoring or going over very lightly everything else that happened in between. this book is largely from the soviet perspectives and it is excellent at dispelling many of the myths of the war such as the one that apparently Stalin went into a state of shock on hearing of the invasion and didn't talk to anyone for days or about whether the soviet union was planing an invasion of its own. the book covers the events of the start of the invasion very well writing on the three army groups and how they were received in the Baltic states, he writes a full chapter on the siege of Leningrad, devotes time to the battle for the Crimea and Sevastopol, operation Blue, the importance of lend-lease and writes on the soviet economy during the war. if you are looking for a detailed account of the war for a real study of the war then this is definitely for you, however if your just looking for a quick explanation about the war then go for something else, otherwise this is a terrific book looking into many areas of the war that most historians ignore.
This is an interesting book looking at the war from the Eastern European view. Most books are written with a western European or American outlook, this looks at the brutality on the Eastern Front.
As a historian who is currently writing some overviews on some of the Eastern fronts for a museum this is a handy reference point when I need to prod in the right direction.
This is no light read and it doesnt pull any punches you read and experience the full brutality of war, taking in Stalingrad, Warsaw and the battle for Berlin. Covering the Jewish and non-Jewish holocaust.
Some may consider this a hard read but it is worth it.
on 28 July 2008
Chris Bellamy's 'Absolute War' fills up a tremendous 'white spot' in our knowledge of the Hitler/Stalin-conflict from 1941-'45: the workings of the Soviet-Russian leadership.
Up to now, we always had to deduct from German sources what happened at the other side of the front. Due to newly acquired access to Russian archives this isn't necessary anymore.
I will provide one example: in the first days of this war, from June 22 up to July 3, 1941, Stalin kept silent. We always assumed that the Soviet-Russian leader was mentally recovering from his error to misjudge Hitler's determination to wipe out his Soviet rule. Mr. Bellamy tells us quite the contrary: in these days Stalin busied himself in converting the Soviet-Russian society into a full-scale war economy.
Given the immense dimensions of this Hitler/Stalin-conflict, any writer cannot avoid to make a selection. As I indicated above, mr. Bellamy's choice is a very happy one.
on 28 February 2008
Chris Bellamy has written an interesting account of the Eastern front, although to a large degree limited to 1941 and 1942, that at least is what makes up the bulk of this almost 700 page book. I wasn't even aware that something like this was coming out and since it looked promising I ordered it from amazon.co.uk, not looking on the fact that I would be spending more money (but it was due to come out months later in the states and I simply couldn't wait). Was I disappointed? In some ways I was but on the other hand I took much away from this book as well. Bellamy's earlier work regarding the Soviet Union focused specifically on the Rocket and Artillery forces, and one can easily see that in this book he was out of his league. He studied under John Erickson, whose two volume "Road to Stalingrad/Berlin" are THE works to read when it comes to the Eastern Front of WWII, although dated. So I thought his work would be worth the read. First I'd like to point out the numerous errors I found:
On page 4 we have the quote "Without British and US dominance of sea...Soviet Union would have been defeated in 1942." I simply cannot see this being a fact, less so since he doesn't really support it with a convincing argument.
On page 8 he discusses quickly the Ukrainian famine and gives a number of 7 million death's, but no source is given. Today it is known that the figure of 7 million is an exaggeration.
Page 22 retains the idea that returning POW's were shot or sent to the GULag when the war ended. God how I hate this myth!
Page 100 Blames the delay of Barbarossa on the invasion of Yugoslavia, and not much else. Today it is known that the rasputitsa was extra long and no earlier invasion than late June was possible.
There are countless spelling and grammatical errors here and there which take away from the overall reading experience. They include: Dovator's name misspelled as Dovatpor, Kirponos as Kirponosos, Instead of Jodl we have Kodl on page 331, on page 331 "Kluge handed over control of Army Group Center to Kluge." It was Bock who handed control over.
On page 347 first it says the 29th and 39th armies were trapped behind German lines and then the next paragraph has it being the 29th and 33rd armies.
A few times I saw "lease-land."
On page 539 the author lists operation "Winter Storm" as being Guderian's operation, in reality it was Manstein's.
Page 656 the author mixes up the tank armies of Rybalko and Lelyushenko.
And there are numerous annoying comparisons between the Eastern front and WWII in general to what's going on today in Iraq.
Well, those are some of the mistakes that I caught, the reason I gave this book four stars is because of the author's short bibliography. As I said, he's out of his league. Many of the books he uses I have, they are excellent sources, but he's missing too much!
The author also tackles Suvorov AKA Rezun's thesis and tries to give both sides of the story, but in my opinion his analysis is lacking and leaves too much room for people to believe that Rezun has a point in regards to some things.
The accounts from 1941 and 1942 were excellent, his ideas regarding the intelligence Stalin was receiving and why he didn't believe what the UK and US was giving him are right on, for the most part, as well as the fact that Sorge's activities are given too much attention and what is ignored is all the times that he gave wrong information or at worst ambiguous intelligence. But the author relies too much on Beevor for his accounts of Stalingrad and makes a few of the same mistakes that Beevor did as well, to amend this I would recommend "Stalingrad" by Michael K. Jones. I'll also add on a positive note that the author addresses the - well known today - myth about the 28 Panfilovtsi (Panfilov's men). I was quite interested in his account and it didn't surprise me that Soviet authorities knew from as early as 1948 what really happened but kept their mouth's shut.
Other interesting points that I found were the descriptions of the NKVD in Leningrad trying to find a 'propagandist' who was turning out leaflets saying that they should open their doors to the Germans. The Lend Lease agreements and the impact of Lend Lease on the war effort, here I also think the author doesn't have enough information on this area. His numbers are interesting but the context isn't total. Lend Lease helped but it wasn't crucial and I can only hope that coming away from this book reader's will have the same opinion. The maps and tables were quite helpful but I didn't like the add libbing that the author kept giving me, annoying comparisons. This isn't a work of fiction, stick to the story, please.
Lastly, the descriptions of the rapes and destruction wrecked by the Red Army on the German population is taken out of context, to a degree. Somehow the author thinks that political officers, on the whole, encouraged this activity and gave their silent consent, but no real evidence is provided. Did atrocities occur? Of course, but there is no reason to make believe this was Red Army policy. STAVKA orders came down saying that such activities needed to be curbed and many times Red Army soldiers were shot out of hand for robbing Germans as well as raping and murdering innocent civilians, yet there is no mention of these facts.
In the end all I ask is for balance, an objective view, and a context that will let the reader walk away with a better understanding of what it was like in the shoes of a Red Army soldier or general. Sadly, this book didn't deliver that. For those who expected me to go chapter by chapter in this review, I'm sorry to disappoint, I'd rather point out what I liked and didn't like. This is a very DENSE history of the Eastern front, specifically 1941 and 1942 (border battles, Moscow Counter-Offensive, and Stalingrad). Politics, military actions, NKVD participation, and the allies are all included in what this book has to offer. It is worth the read, I can honestly say that learning the USSR and the US were still, technically, in a state of war with Germany up until 1955 and 1951, respectively, was a surprise for me! But, as with any book, take it with a grain of salt, if something seems amiss, look at the source and consult other works!