This book is extraordinarily successful in capturing the ethos of German troops as they invaded the USSR in 1941. For the most part, their great successes--on a huge scale--seemed to confirm what they had been told, that the Soviet Union would soon collapse under the weight of their ideological, aggressive and courageous attack. But Robert Kershaw, with an insight that only a former serving soldier can muster, registers the shifting mood as the vastness of Russia and the ferocity of much of the resistance becomes clear. And this is where Robert Kershaw sweeps away a widely held myth. The Russian soldiers frequently hurled themselves against the invader, and though badly led, their bravery and numbers gradually used up German ammunition and knocked out more and more of its armour and troops. It was a war of attrition which in the long run the Germans could not win, especially given the appalling winter weather for which Hitler's stupidity failed to prepare them.
Robert Kershaw's translated primary sources--diaries, letters, regimental reports, etc.,--are skilfully woven into the narrative and create a vivid impression of the battlefield and of soldier's correspondence with their loved ones on the home front. This book is a monument to Hitlerian madness and Wehrmacht over-optimism. Kershaw brings the tragedy of this pointless and costly campaign to an evocative narrative which draws the reader into consideration of the biggest land battles of all time. All in all, the folly and the carnage would support a pacifist viewpoint as well as a very tempered version of what armies should and should not attempt.
On a personal note, my father who was in the LRDG in the western desert, told me that when radio news came that Germany had invaded Russia, the men of his unit debated what this portended. He himself thought the Germans would steamroller the Russians, but the weight of opinion on that day was that Hitler had made a fatal error. My father was wrong and the other soldiers were right. Kershaw's account explains how Operation Barbarossa went from extraordinary success for the Germans to the greatest German military disaster of all time.