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on 13 August 2011
It's quite rare these days that a book on the Eastern Front will surprise me once, almost never more often than that. Having read on this war for over a decade I thought I knew the majority of what went on and what one could expect to find on a book entitled 'Total War'. With this work, however, Jones has built on what he's done previously and in many ways this might be his best work to date, easily rivaling his first foray into the Eastern Front with 'Stalingrad'.

As with his previous volumes, Jones tells the story of the Eastern Front through the voices of the soldiers, commanders, and civilians who participated in it, willingly or unwillingly from both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Woven through the accounts he presents is the regular question of how Red Army soldiers and the civilian population of the Soviet Union kept up enough morale to endure the chaos and defeats of 1941, the demoralizing situation around the siege of Leningrad, and the battle for Stalingrad in 1942. Thus, 'Total War' begins with the initial situation around 1941 and moves through battles for Leningrad and Stalingrad, onto the eventual Soviet defeat of the German sixth Army and continues through their victories at Kursk, Bagration, etc., all the way to Berlin.

The question here is less about military prowess, tactical, operational, or strategic decisions (although various details of individual operations are discussed and contextualized) but revolves around what the Red Army and civilian population endured, witnessed, and remembered up until their entrance into East Prussia and Germany proper. Jones sets the stage for the infamous events of the Red Army's 'liberation' (a contested term to say the least) of Eastern Europe and Germany. The initial chapters dealing with 1941 and Stalingrad are readily covered in Jones's other books on the Eastern Front so they presented little new in the greater scheme of the Eastern Front. It is only when we get to 1944 and the German scorched earth policy as they retreated before the Red Army that events and information I had never heard of before first began to appear. As the Germans withdrew from Belorussia they ran up against large swamp areas, on these territories they began to herd the local population, encased them in barbed wire, and trucked in typhus patients. They dumped them all in one of these 'camps', let them lay on muddy ground and allowed hundreds of cases of typhus to break out so that they might be passed on to the liberating troops of the Red Army. According to the commander of the 65th Army, whose soldiers were at times unable to control themselves as they ran to liberate these locals, an entire corps had to be quarantined because typhus ran rampantly through Red Army units as they tried their best to liberate these hastily established camps. Luckily the spread of the disease was readily contained and presented limited problems for the Red Army advance.

The Red Army's crossing over into Germany proper brings much debate and controversy. What Jones attempts to do, and in truth does very well, is contextualize what Red Army soldiers perpetrated on German territory. In showcasing what Red Army soldiers witnessed on their way to Germany, the enormous amount of death and destruction they came through during the liberation of Ukraine and Belorussia, the liberation of camps like Majdanek and Auschwitz (both of which are discussed by Jones in this book), as well as the regular propaganda campaign waged by the Soviet Union in order to keep up Red Army morale and encourage them to 'kill' the occupiers of their territory and the murderers of their families and friends, there is reason to suspect that such bent up anger and hatred would have an outlet once the German border was crossed. And this is exactly what happened. But Jones also gives voice to those soldiers who attempted to curb the violence, looting, raping, and murder that was going on. He continually implies that this was a minority within the Red Army that contributed to the 'total war' mentality of the time and shows orders coming from the high command and army command that attempted to curb any type of violence and looting against the local population, changing the propaganda of the time from 'destroy the fascist beast in his lair' to a voice claiming the Red Army is an army of liberation. There are some heartwrenching stories presented of Red Army soldiers taking out their hatred on the German population, all too often women, but in each case Jones attempts to contextualize the atmosphere these events occurred in and the reaction of Red Army soldiers to these events, which after the initial euphoria of revenge passed quickly into condemnation, contempt and a questioning of their methods. Many soldiers even attempted to protect the local population, forgetting or at least putting aside the propaganda they had been exposed to for years.

A minor weakness in these chapters is the fact that Jones mentions little of the fact that the Red Army at this point was operating with allies, like two Polish armies, who at times had more reason to hate Germans than Soviet troops, who can account or separate for crimes they perpetrated? Additionally, Jones takes the time to show how the Germans themselves exaggerated Red Army atrocities on their soil. Goebbels created something called 'atrocity propaganda' that exaggerated everything 'in order to strengthen the deterrent effect and the German people's will to hold out' (224). More so, at times the Germans themselves were given orders to destroy a village or town while the population was expelled, only to then have German film crews and journalists bussed in to "survey the ruins and to record the imagined ravages of Soviet soldiers...The swans in the town park were shot, and it was then announced that the 'Asiatic hordes' had killed and eaten them' (225).

As I reached the end of the book I found myself speechless. The epilogue Jones includes is a mere five pages, and the last page simply found me questioning myself and my knowledge of the Great Patriotic War/Second World War as well as the costs that the Soviet population had to bear. I don't want to give anything away but Jones shows once more that we continue to merely scratch the surface of the Eastern Front and there is still so much left to learn and understand in this encounter between Germany and the Soviet Union.

A few minor mistakes are evident, Soviet units should be listed as 'rifle' but in various instances they are described as 'infantry brigade' or 'infantry corps' rather than rifle or if this was a naval unit it should have been 'naval infantry' rather than just 'infantry'. There is also a mention of a fortieth 'tank army', but only six existed and they were named first through sixth. Additionally, the Soviet commander Chernyakhovsky is misspelled as 'Chernyakovsky'. Lastly, I have to say that the notation system in this book leaves much to be desired. While Jones lists his sources there are no endnotes/foodnotes in the traditional sense and at times it makes for a very hard time when attempting to locate the source of a specific comment/description/event.

Putting aside these minor errors, there is no question that Jones has created a highly important addition to Eastern Front literature. He is one of the few authors who attempts to contextualize Red Army action on German territory by putting the motivation of the Soviet soldier in a context that showcases that while some might have taken vengeance to an extreme, many others managed to control themselves and at times showed their altruistic side by protecting the local population and providing them with basic necessities. Jones continually emphasizes that it was a minority of the Red army that committed crimes on enemy soil, while the majority managed to preserve their reputation and the title of 'liberators'.
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on 7 April 2012
I found this one to be a very easy read. Michael Jones decided to tell the story of fighting on the Eastern Front through the words of, mostly, Soviet eye witnesses. The Actual fighting on the grander scale is just a back ground for the stories from the battlefield and surrounding areas. Mr Jones has himself interviewed a large number of Soviet war veterans and their recollections are what makes this book so interesting.

Mr Jones succeeds well in his purpose to present fighting on the Eastern Front the way it was. His other purpose is to tell you about the atrocities that both sides performed during the war. As he clearly states "there were no Geneva convention on the Eastern Front". A large part of these stories are truly horrible and the way they were used in propaganda from both sides also makes you understand why the Soviet forces were so hard to control when they entered Germany and the raping and looting started.

For me the highlight of the book was the story of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Usually in books about the Eastern Front this is just a minor event but in this book it is described in horrible detail.

A lot of the book tells you about the atrocities that the German forces committed in the Soviet Union. This is somewhat balanced by description about what the Soviets did in Germany but here there is also an effort to tell you that not everyone participated and a lot was done to stop it. This is not present in the descriptions about German war crimes and it makes you wonder if it is intentional. Of course the German war crimes in the east were of a far greater magnitude but still.

There are some factual mistakes made that could have been corrected by some proof reading. Page 76 Lt Gen Govorov was actually Col Gen. Page 87 Maj Gen Rokossovsky was actually Army General. Page 88 Weight of the Tiger I tank 76 tons but in reality 56 tons. Page 130 tells you about Ferdinands in Estonia in 1944 but they were never there. Page 149 tells you about Maj Makhmud Gareev. On page 152 he is captain and a few pages later he is back as major.

The Problems with interviewing combat veterans is that their memories are sixty years old. You need to have a critical mindset when you listen to their stories and maybe check some of their facts some more. One such story that I had problems with was the storming of Zaporozhye and its huge dam (page 109). We are told how the Germans mined the dam and in order for the Soviets to neutralize the explosives they set up a combat group of 34 tanks and a squad (8-10 people) of engineers! There is no way that a mere squad would be able to do what is then told in the story. A company is more likely. The Story then goes on to tell you that they were successful but in reality the Germans managed to blow up large parts of the dam constructions and it did not produce any electricity until March 1947.

Apart from these items that makes you stop and consider, most of the book is well worth reading. If you are totally unfamiliar with the eastern Front I would not recommend this one as your first book on the subject but after a few of the more conventional ones were the story is more focused on the fighting this one makes an important contribution.

Finally, if you think you know and understand the Russians as soldiers, read the Epilogue. The memories of Lt Kovalev (the man who raised the Soviet flag on the Reichtag) will chill you to the bone.
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on 18 November 2011
I was eleven years old when the Great Patriotic War ended. I was trying to forget it. I could not foresee that my memory would start stinging me again. As time passed, the burning feeling intensified. One of the main reasons for that was the Soviet literature's determination to cross out any slightest mention of the Holocaust as well as participation of people of Jewish origin in the War. This is why in the USSR General Dovator became a Bielorussian, Major Kunikov became a Russian, and heroes whose names were obviously Jewish the Russian press simply obliterated from the history of the war.
This in particular explains why, when I emigrated from the USSR back in the 1970's , I started refreshing my school English not by reading English classics in originals, but by reading Western authors' accounts of and insights into the events of the War. I used to read them sometimes smiling and at other times frowning. Now, having lived in the West for over thirty years, I have found an author whose narrations are adequate to the events we lived through. From all standpoints. This is Michael Jones. Every his new book shakes me as a distress. No smiles, no frowns. Tears.
I myself might have been an episode of Jones' book. Once, in October of 1941, I became a single target for a German plane in kilometers of empty fields around me. I still wonder how I survived on that occasion under the strafing plane a few meters straight over my head. The pilot missed me when it was impossible to miss. There is something to contemplate about this situation. However, with all my personal impressions and suffering due to the War, I would not be able to tell about it with such remarkable brevity and expressiveness as Michael Jones did. No one of us, insiders, could have written such a book. We, Russian Jews, would be inevitably stuck in painful details. A German could, but in that case, the narration might not be considered credible. An outsider was needed, and Michael Jones came out and did the job for the both sides. He reached the core of our wartime feeling. His descriptions are realistic. Everyone knows horrible account of Treblinka by Vassilii Grossman. To me it was presenting a very limit of hell. Jones managed to put the hellish limit even higher with his account of Auschwitz.
The book is full of sympathy for all those who suffered on both sides. It turns out that after time passes, all the atrocities that people commit upon each other during any war are seen in quite a different light inducing severe remorse.
The book also leads the reader to a conclusion that the nations sentenced to be exterminated have no other choice except to go on waging a Total War with a determined rage of people doomed. This aspect turns the book into a warning for the mankind. I believe that for this very reason the book must be translated into all the cultured languages on Earth. If the mankind has not learned from the lessons of the past, it deserves what is coming to it in the future. However, this is not Michael Jones' fault.
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on 26 June 2011
... probably too much crammed into a single volume.

Total War picks up where the author's previous book, The Retreat, ended. But whereas the opening volume was a largely conventional account of the Battle for Moscow and subsequent fighting over the winter of 1941-42, the new work is not a typical history of the Eastern Front, rather an attempt to show the truly visceral nature of the life-or-death struggle between Nazis and the Soviets through the eyes of the combatants.

There are some particularly brutal accounts, almost all of them new to English readers, thanks to the author's interviews with and access to personal papers. It's also a timely reminder that this was a war of liberation as far as the Red Army was concerned: the accounts of the liberation of the death camps as the Soviet troops entered Poland, notably at Majdanek and Auschwitz. Nor does the book shy away from the atrocities committed by Soviet soldiers on German soil (or, for that matter, atrocities committed by German troops). The result is a very harrowing read.

The down side is that too much has been crammed into 300 pages - the book covers the period spring 1942-spring 1945 which often leaves the reader wanting more.

Overall a very good, if difficult, read. There's not much with which to compare it because it is an atypical account of the Eastern Front, but it does sit well alongside Merridale's Ivan's War. And it's another reminder that we've barely scratched the surface of the Eastern Front when it comes to books in English...
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on 17 July 2011
A triumph of a book, it succinctly takes you through the war in the east without the verbosity and irrelevance of authors like Beevor and Glantz, written with an even-handedness missing from nearly every other book on the subject in that it isn't full of all the usual German worshiping. Lots of first hand information from the Russian side and it uniquely identifies all the key reasons the Russians give for winning or losing battles. A must read if you are serious about the subject. Can't wait for the next.
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I have all of Mr Jones' previous books and enjoy the compassion, empathy and intelligence that comes through via his writing style. This book, as my fellow reviewer mentions, continues where the others left off. However, if you have the other three, you may wish to pick the book up from page 100, as events on the Eastern Front from June 41- Feb 43 were covered in his other titles. As a consequence the 200 other pages that we have in Total War seem to be written in a rush, with battles such as Kursk and Bagration not allowed the depth and scope of a whole book.
Do not let this put you off, however, as Mr Jones has mined a rich vein of history. His accounts of Russian atrocities on German soil are well balanced and placed in the correct context of a 4-year struggle. He does not condone rape and murder but tries to paint the picture of how Red Army men felt - crossing onto German soil for the first time. As ever he sympathises with the victim and shares their sorrow at the predicament that placed them in Germany 1945.
In short, a really good book, but one that serves to frustrate the reader of how brilliant it could have been, but for the constraints of print, time and money.
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on 7 January 2012
I liked this book. I have read many accounts of the Russian/German aspect of WW2 and this book certainly ranks in the top 5. It was informative and pulled no punches when describing some of the atrocities committed by both Countries. I thought, after reading so many books on this subject, that I had little or nothing to learn - how wrong I was.
Very good book and I would highly recommend it.
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on 7 March 2014
It is difficult to know where to start this review.

I bought this book having read the previous book covering the attack on Moscow. This is equally enthralling with a detailed narrative which places the reader amongst those doing the fighting with many personal accounts.

There are a number of disturbing accounts and I felt that they formed an essential part of the story and were essential to understanding the sheer brutality of the eastern front and the behaviour of certain elements of the Red Army once on German soil.

The author does not seek to excuse atrocities committed in east Germany, but I felt he did explain some of the motivation behind them.

The book is fast paced and I found it hard to put down.

If you want an account of the horrors of the eastern front which is clear and concise as well as very moving then this is the book to read.

Highly recommended.
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on 14 January 2014
In the West our view of the Eastern Front has suffered from a large dose of anti Soviet propaganda. Indeed, the first book to tackle the subject in the West was Alan Clarke's 'Barbarossa' published in 1966. Even now respected military historians such as Anthony Beevor can give only grudging recognition of the Red Army's achievements. This book is a splendid corrective. The excesses of the Soviet forces are not excused but are seen in perspective, the perspective of what they had seen carried out by the Germans in Russia.
A first class read
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on 10 May 2012
This book isn't really a detailed account of the battles from Stalingrad to Berlin, but mostly the human feelings and penalties of the Russian soldiers and people who fought that terrible war, from the almost total defeat by the Nazis owing the incapacity and unmorality of Stalin and Soviet generals, to the triumph after a severe period of modernization in the Red Army. So, while in Western front allied soldiers fell by thousand, in the East, Red army was killed by hundred of thousands men, women and children. The book is specially impressive and insufferable in the description of the camp of Auschwitz, one of the most detailed I have read. I think when Hitler said "Nobody remember today the killing of the Armenians by the Turks" he hadn't in count Turkey and Armenia weren't in the full Occidental World, and secondly, he himself founded partially the modern massive propaganda and communications media toward his minister Goebbels using radio and newspapers, so, today nobody has forgotten the Nazis.
The atrocities and vengeances of the Red Army in Germany aren't avoided, but still so, there are a difference, because the Nazi extermination camps were scientifically programmed in cool blood, while vengeances of the Russians were killings done in full rage. This is an excellent study about human behavior under extreme conditions of total war, but still so, I think the extermination camps were only possible because the SS in charge were between the worst of the human race, surely in normal times, the most dangerous delinquents every country has, but in this case, given an official power. Women who fought in the Red Army or were war nurses have here a special mention not seen in another books.
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