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    The author, Bair Irincheev, is readily forthcoming in what this book encompasses and leaves out. Unfortunately for those hoping for a single volume history of the Winter War, they will be disappointed. There is a lack of any political/diplomatic history, little to no mention of the campaigns in the air or on the high seas, and little to no discussion is offered of either nation's high command and their roles in the war. But, with all those omissions, the Irincheev does a great job in offering an overview of many of the battles that took place throughout the 105 days the Winter War lasted. He regularly attempts to dispel myths and rumors that have been built up around the war, both in the lacking performance of the Red Army and the vaunted heroism of Finland's defenders, and offers evidence from both sides, including first hand accounts, to put the actions he describes in richer contextual detail. The end result is an enhanced understanding of the battles fought in the Winter War, but a simultaneously realization that there still remains so much more to be done. As Irincheev himself says, "I would be very happy if" this book "could be used as a starting point for new research on the Winter War."

    While Irincheev has done a great deal of work on the subject, the final product in its present form is wholly lacking. A lot of the events discussed feel as if they are disconnected, there is no real 'thread' that is weaved between them all and a lot of context outside the actual battles being described seems to be missing. Furthermore, there are no footnotes/endnotes, so much of the information presented has no source attached to it that one can go consult themselves if the need or desire ever arose. Additionally, while there are over a dozen maps included, they are all rather small and none are specifically referenced within the text itself, so the reader is left to guess when they should consult one of the maps. This, unfortunately, brings down the value of this volume, but I would venture to say the fault there might rest with the publisher rather than the author.

    Lastly, omitting all of the above for a second, there is still a good amount of value to this text. Viewing the Red Army as it existed during the Winter War is quite enlightening, especially if you can juxtapose the actions of the same troops during the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany. Within this book you'll find Red Army soldiers and commanders protesting and refusing to send their men to what they expect will be outright slaughter, and their protests are actually heeded and acquiesced to. Additionally, wherever possible the author has located and offered casualty reports for various divisions/regiments/battalions/companies for both sides. These prove enlightening, especially when dispelling some of the myths that have been propagated about Red Army performance. Soviet casualties were regularly high but almost never to the degree that they've been presented in popular accounts of the war. In the end there is much to commend about the book but enough that one can consider the effort a bit of a let down and hope that something more encompassing and comprehensive comes along in the near future.

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    This book is truly the definition of 'popular history'. It is a quick read, with limited source material, and attempts to tackle a multitude of events, personalities, and time periods without giving adequate time to explaining the context of the topics the author attempts to dissect and 'expose'. Yes, there are quite a few myths that have developed around military history and continue to this day. Some date from histories dealing with ancient and medieval times, others from the nineteenth century. The author should be commended that he took the time out to explore some of these 'myths' and present them in a more interesting and less biased light. But his efforts are just scratching the surface. Additionally, a growing number of studies have already done what the author is now just uncovering.

    For instance, the author discusses how German tanks during the initial period of the Second World War were perceived as invincible when put in context with the successful 'Blitzkrieg' campaigns the Germans had waged against Poland and France. What he omits is the fact that recent scholars have begun to question whether either of those campaigns were in fact 'Blitzkrieg', a 'myth' much more interesting, in my opinion, than whether or not Germany had 100 ton tanks running around France. Additionally, the author discusses whether or not Hitler was correct in not listening to his generals. True enough, many of the generals that survived the war blamed Germany's defeat on Hitler, but at the same time it is a fact that Hitler was not comparable to leading German commanders in regards to talent and ability. Just because he might have been right in advocating for Manstein's plan during the invasion of France, that doesn't mean he came up with that plan. Backing a great idea and coming up with one are two wholly separate things.

    Additionally, the author's analysis in throughout his chapter on Hitler jumps from campaigns, to personalities, and really has no cohesive narrative holding those ideas together. There is no doubt that the author is recounting some interesting events and attempting to put them in a more nuanced light, but for those familiar with military history in general, many of these 'myths' will be a rehashing of banal information. Recommended for those seeking a starting point in studying interesting events that deal with military history, but not so much for those already immersed in the field.

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    In “Cataclysm: The War on the Eastern Front, 1941-1945” Keith Cumins assembles an operational history of the Eastern Front from the perspective of both the Soviet Union and Germany, which he rightfully points out is rare to find. Cumins acknowledges that this study is further concentrating solely on the military operations on the ground, forsaking the seas and air, to say nothing of the political, economic, social, and cultural nature of the war. Although the book is only 300 pages, these are very dense pages, to say the least. The enormity of the Eastern Front defies explanation, and in reading this book the reader will discover, or rediscover, how insignificant our knowledge of the clash between the Red Army and Wehrmacht is to this day.

    Setting out to write an operational history means that much of what the author presents lacks context. For those familiar with the Eastern Front, that might not be much of a hindrance, but for those new to the topic, they might want to immerse themselves in general histories before they pick up this tome. While the operational history presented by Cumins is very much all-encompassing, he regularly focuses on battles/engagements that most histories of the Second World War omit, they are not contextualized well enough to give the reader a better understanding of their significance. “Cataclysm” can be compared to works by David Glantz, Chris Bellamy, and Evan Mawdsley; all are experts in their relative fields (be it history in general or military history more specifically), but it is true that their narratives are skewed toward the Soviet side. Thus, the advantage of this work is that the author draws the reader’s attention to the German side and incorporates some of the newest secondary literature available.

    Reading “Cataclysm” reinforces the fact that our knowledge of the Eastern Front, the Red Army, and even the Wehrmacht in the latter period of the war, continues to be in need of further study and analysis. There remain too many unanswered questions and operations/battles that do not carry the significance of Kursk, Stalingrad, or Bagration are too often left out of the narrative even though casualties suffered ran into the hundreds of thousands. These battles are evident as early as the first weeks of the war, where the Red Army continually offered resistance and launched counteroffensives that slowed or bloodied German forces but could never achieve any type of initiative or take it away from the Wehrmacht. If Cumins showcases anything, it is that an operational history can only tell us so much about the Eastern Front; there remains a need for further research, contextualization, and analysis, even today, over half a century after the conflict has ended.

    When taking on a topic such as the Eastern Front, the author will have to contend with decades old myths/errors. Cumins contextualizes some well enough, but others are reiterated, unfortunately. For instance, the author continually references Far Eastern divisions during his discussion of 1941 and the Moscow counter-offensive, but fails to point out that divisions from all over the Soviet Union were called up and that Far Eastern divisions were activated as early as June/July 1941 with orders to move to the west. Cumins also has an outdated view of Operation Mars when compared to Geoffrey Jukes’s latest book, which offers an original and compelling view of what happened around Rzhev during the Stalingrad offensive (Operation Uranus). Finally, the author is mistaken when he claims that the commander of the 1st Polish Army launched a crossing into Warsaw in 1944 during the uprising without Front or STAVKA authorization and was later removed as a result. Recently published document collections prove that it was in fact an order from the Front that allowed Berling to launch a crossing into Warsaw by the 1st Polish Army; Berling’s statements to the contrary after the war are disingenuous at best, although unfortunately reaffirmed here.

    The publisher has included over 30 maps, with references next to various paragraphs that refer to specific maps for the reader to consult. Very helpful, but considering this is a book on the entirety of the Eastern Front, even 30+ maps are not enough! There is also a photograph section; although Hoth and Bock are mislabeled (Hoth’s photo is listed as Bock and Bock’s as Hoth). Overall, the book is well written even if at times there are thick descriptions of units/locations. Additionally, there are rare instances of grammatical errors/mistakes, but they hardly take much away from the reading experience. My bigger complaint is the fact that there are no footnotes/endnotes and the bibliography seems wholly inadequate when compared to the amount of information the author has accumulated. To be of use to academics – granted it is a rare thing to find an academic immerse him/herself in operational histories – there needs to be a line to original source material(s)! For instance, the author claims that the Red Army’s battlefield performance in 1941 was inhibited by strict obedience to orders, which allowed the Germans to anticipate and counter their actions (79); unfortunately, no examples are offered and no source is listed. Thus, for those interested in an in-depth operational history of the Eastern Front from the perspectives of both the Soviet Union and Germany, this is definitely recommended, although keep the above caveats in mind as you immerse yourself in this twentieth century ‘slaughterhouse.’

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    Too often the Russian state and, inherently, the Russian army are presented as "backward" or "exceptional". Up to and through the First World War the deficiencies of the Russian state and military are regularly highlighted to explain the battlefield defeats and failures Russia suffered as well as the eventual dissolution of the Russian Empire with the 1917 Revolution(s). Gudrun Persson, however, has authored an original look at the "thinkers" of the Russian military and how the highest echelons of Russia's armed forces viewed the wars taking place in Europe and abroad, and the lessons they took away from them. The reality, as usual, is a complex amalgamation of traditionalist thought on the part of conservatives within the military and a minute group of reformers looking at the present and toward the future, including all that needed to be created and prepared to catch up with Russia's European competitors.

    The contentious discussions and debates the author focuses on revolve around mass conscription; the move away from an officer corps made up of mainly the nobility - dictated by birth and blood - toward officers who achieve their rank and office through talent, merit, and education; technological developments, including railways and weapon advancements; and mobilization plans that included ideas about offensive and defensive preparations (including fortifications). There are a few chapters/sections that seem somewhat removed from the main emphasis the author concentrates on, but seen in the greater context of the book, much of what is presented not only adds to already established debates and discussions on the Russian military in this period, but also goes against established understandings and offers new venues and areas for research. Fascinating, for instance, is the chapter on military attachés throughout various European states and their role in keeping military officials, including the Tsar, up to date on the latest developments in European armies. But how or if they were influential in crafting Russian policy and reforms within the armed services or the state as a whole is not conclusively shown. The overarching movement that an attaché fit into was the move by the military toward educating their officers. Those in attaché work had to have a working knowledge of several foreign languages and needed to regularly read foreign manuals and texts on the latest ideas related to strategy, tactics, industry, technology, etc.

    This goes to the heart of one of the more interesting aspects of not only Russia's military but that of Europe in general that Persson devotes some discussion to (but not enough in my opinion). Specifically, a few influential Russian reformers within the army were aware of the changes armed forces throughout Europe were undergoing. The move was away from professional armies that were commanded by nobles and adhered to strict guidelines when taking the field of battle. Now, the officer corps was composed of educated men from all sectors of society who achieved status and rank through merit and ability rather than blood or birth. As a result, the tactics of the battlefield began to change with the introduction of new technology, which a more educated officer corps was needed to understand and utilize (the paper pushers of the army), and at the same time those officers leading in the field were expected to retain a degree of autonomy in fulfilling orders as linear tactics of the past were replaced by ever-changing developments on the field of battle that could be reported on in speeds thought impossible previously.

    Thus, Russian reformers found themselves in a consistently changing military environment and having to advocate for changes that traditionalists and conservatives could not always or fully support or endorse. Persson's main point here is that it is less important to note that by the eve of the First World War Russia's military seemed oblivious of the changes that took place four decades previously, but that with the help of reformers like D. A. Miliutin, Russia was making similar updates and changes to her military as were the French, Germans, and Austro-Hungarians. Her railroads developed and grew, rifles were consistently updated and upgraded, and military institutions began to educate the officer corps in record numbers. What happened between 1873 and 1914 is not offered up for analysis in this text, but the information presented undoubtedly offers food for thought. Undoubtedly the period leading up to the war, featuring Tsar Alexander III and his counter-reform movement, impacted previous progress. But more important to note here is that a system previously thought too conservative and 'backward' to consistently accept needed changes was, on the contrary, willing to make amendments to its institutions on a regular basis and looked toward Western Europe for ideas and advances to implement, albeit usually with alterations made for the fact that it was being done in Russia.

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    In his latest monograph, Roger Reese offers an analysis of “Why Stalin’s Soldiers fought.” In attempting to locate an answer, he engages in dialogue with historians from both the Cold War and post-Soviet eras. At the center of Reese’s analysis are the Winter War and the year 1941. While some might question on what grounds the greater comparison of the Great Patriotic War to the Winter War can be made, Reese provides enough evidence and context to show that the performance of Red Army soldiers were very much interconnected between the two. The focus on 1941 stems from the millions of prisoners of war the Germans captured, which stands in stark contrast to the few prisoners taken during the Winter War.

    After a brief discussion of what constitutes military effectiveness, Reese begins his analysis with the Winter War. Here the reader is presented with an initial failure on the part of Red Army effectiveness in battle. Yet the losses sustained by Soviet units, which by the end of the war numbered 131,000 combat dead and permanently missing in action, as well as 264,908 wounded, included a meager 5,486 captured (p. 32). Reese showcases that while there were numerous Red Army retreats, soldiers’ morale remained stoic in the face of Finnish tactical and operational victories, including negligible Soviet progress that often cost many lives for insignificant gains. Even though some soldiers exhibited opposition to the war, and went against the party endorsed line for why the Soviet Union declared war on Finland, the numbers who sought asylum or deserted were minute. As for what kept Red Army soldiers fighting, Reese does acknowledge the creation of blocking detachments and penal battalions, both implemented during the Winter War, but insists that they were just as important as Soviet appeals to patriotism and duty, based on the idea that the war being waged was just and necessary (p. 52).

    The most innovative and original research can be found in the third chapter, where Reese posits a new perspective on the encirclements of 1941. Here he engages the historical debate over whether the millions of prisoners captured by the Germans during the opening phases of Operation Barbarossa were due to German military prowess or whether “anti-Stalinist political motivations” were behind mass surrenders, leading to the question of whether it was Soviet military inefficiency or ineffectiveness that was to blame (p. 57). In addressing the question of why so many surrendered, Reese aligns himself against those that have set up a binary between the Soviet state and its citizens. He argues that if soldiers surrendered, it was not solely or even mainly because they did not agree or were against the government. But simultaneously we cannot claim that soldiers who continued to fight were doing so because they were supporters of the regime they found themselves fighting for.

    The reasons Reese offers for mass surrenders of Red Army soldiers continually vary on the situation they found themselves in, and they include “antiregime sentiment, German tactical doctrine and its skillful implementation, flawed soviet doctrine, poor Soviet military leadership, civilian political interference, and chaotic battlefield conditions that often left soldiers leaderless, disorganized, and inadequately armed” (p. 58). In analyzing the encirclement battles of 1941, Reese reaches the conclusion that Soviet military doctrine and command failures were at fault. The Red Army was never trained to fight in encirclements, and when troops found themselves threatened with encirclement they were forbidden by STAVKA from maneuvering to avoid such a fate and almost always attempted to escape after being surrounded.

    In making a parallel with the Winter War, Reese shows that when small units were surrounded they were allowed to take up an all-around defense and, while often annihilated, few if any surrendered. While when facing the Wehrmacht, more often than not due to the circumstances they found themselves in, including constant communication problems, units were disorganized and their escape attempts were uncoordinated. Furthermore, a contrast with the encirclements of the war against Finland was that tens of thousands of soldiers caught in the encirclements of 1941 were rear area troops, while those caught in Finnish encirclements were frontline soldiers (p. 97-98).

    Thus, the outcome was predictable: massive air, artillery and mortar strikes against any known troop concentrations, giving more reason for soldiers to try their luck in smaller groups. Additionally, many troops in the Red Army in 1941 were raw conscripts recently called up for service. The end result was an army that was more prone to heavy losses, defeat, and capture when confronted by a force that had yet to meet defeat on the field of battle. The only success Red Army soldiers enjoyed was when they were led by a determined commander who kept up unit cohesion and discipline, or in small groups that drew little attention from German soldiers who were busy hauling in tens of thousands of prisoners or attempting to catch up to their tank troops who were busy creating the next encirclement. Additionally, Reese highlights that there is no evidence for large Red Army units surrendering en masse. On the contrary, the majority of evidence points to soldiers “captured in small batches in a multitude of separate instances across a vast landscape as combat ebbed and flowed” (p. 90).

    Although some might baulk at Reese’s analysis of the Winter War and the events of 1941, he is aware of the inherent problems of this comparison. But, as he explains, the real question has to do with an analysis of “the behavior of Soviet soldiers faced with the prospect of capture in encirclements” (p. 58). In this case, both wars feature parallels that are ripe for evaluation. Consequently, it is evident that even while Red Army troops were consistently outfought in the initial period of the Winter War, those caught in encirclements never surrendered to the degree that those fighting in 1941 did.

    Mobilization of Soviet society, motivation, morale, and the role of female soldiers make up the rest of the monograph. The reasons Soviet soldiers fought varied throughout the war. According to Reese, as much as the state tried to generate patriotism within its citizens, the government was only able to take “advantage of inherent or latent patriotic feelings” (p. 307). Thus, many did join for patriotic reasons but that patriotism was most evident in Russians, and at times wholly absent from non-Russian nationalities. Others strove for vengeance against an invading force bent on genocide as hatred kindled a fire only the baptism of war could extinguish. The latter was evident in the motivations of women as well as men. More important to note is that at all levels of Soviet society men and women expected some kind of change when the war was over; Peasants hoped for an end to collectivization, workers relied on an end to strict discipline, while intellectuals hoped for more freedom, and lower level state functionaries were eager for “greater latitude in decision making” (p. 307). Those who joined the Red Army in the war against Nazi Germany did so in part hoping for a better tomorrow, showcasing their understanding that the Soviet Union at its present state was not yet the answer they were promised.

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    In “Kiev, 1941” historian David Stahel once more takes on the myths and legends that have been built up around the Wehrmacht’s Barbarossa campaign against the Soviet Union. In his previous volume Stahel did an excellent job reorienting the discourse surrounding the failure of the initial invasion by the time the Wehrmacht reached Smolensk (although mainly concentrating on the Panzer Groups of Army Group Center). This volume concentrates on Army Group South and parts of the southern wing of Army Group Center (mainly focusing on Guderian’s Panzer Group) while discussing the enormous difficulties encountered by the Germans and the position they found themselves in by the end of summer.

    Although the battle of Kiev proper does not take up an enormous amount of ink, the lead up to the battle in some cases is more important than the battle itself. In some respects this lack of concentration on a battle that on paper netted over 600,000 prisoners of war has to do with the limited information available from the Soviet/Russian point of view and the mythical narrative in place that views the end result of an encirclement of so many soldiers a foregone conclusion. One hopes that will change in the near future, but since Stahel is limited to German and English sources the reader is presented with a heavily German oriented narrative. This is not to say that the author does not possess a rather large and in-depth understanding of the literature in English on the first year of the war and the Red Army in general from the Soviet side, on the contrary, his command of the literature rivals many of those who have been studying the topic from the Soviet side for years. Nonetheless, the limited concentration on Kiev itself once again reinforces the need for further studies on the Eastern Front and Operation Barbarossa.

    Stahel’s main argument revolves around the idea that German generals continually fought amongst each other and with Hitler. Lower level commanders ignored orders and assumed risks that should have ended in their dismissal, yet the chaotic situation the Red Army found itself in allowed such risks to pay off in ever greater dividends with the end result a grievous catastrophe for the Red Army. According to the author, by the end of August Barbarossa was a “spent exercise, incapable of achieving its central objective of ending Soviet resistance” (1-2). The difficulties encountered by Army Group Center forced a rest period onto von Bock’s army group while Hitler vacillated about what action to undertake next. Many have argued that this period of rest cost the Germans the war, and this in effect is one argument Stahel aims to disprove. The “rest period” Army Group Center enjoyed, if one can call it that, featured numerous Soviet offensives against Bock’s forces that resulted in casualties, including destroyed and disabled equipment the Wehrmacht could hardly afford. Hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers lost their lives in battles few are even aware of (pointing out another aspect of the Eastern Front that needs further research).

    Overall this is not a new argument, David Glantz made the same in his previous volumes on the war, but those hundreds of thousands of men could have caused tremendous damage to the Wehrmacht had Army Group Center decided to advance on Moscow (attacking entrenched German position is a wholly different story when compared to a Wehrmacht on the move), not to mention the over half a million men on the southern wing that would have had to be dealt with if Kiev was never surrounded. Considering the condition Army Group Center found itself in, according to Stahel, Hitler’s decision to turn south and deal with Kiev was the right move. Yet the drain on German forces and supplies by this point was best evidenced by the two panzer groups sent to encircle the Soviet south-western front. The panzer divisions that finally closed the trap on Soviet troops were doing so with minimal forces at their disposal because they were running out of fuel and tanks, as well as having to guard ever-expanding flanks. The initial encirclement was porous at best, reminiscent of the Smolensk encirclement that preceded it. But the trapped soldiers of the Red Army did not have as much time to escape, nor forces attempting to break into the encirclement from the outside (as occurred at Smolensk) to take the pressure off. The majority of the front found itself encircled and slowly split into smaller pockets as the Luftwaffe achieved aerial supremacy over the pocket and communications broke down between units and commanding officers. The results were predictable by the time the encirclement was tightened by additional German troops.

    Although what resulted in the Kiev encirclement was never planned for from the beginning, in more than one instance Stahel points to Stalin being responsible for the continued postponement of the evacuation of Soviet forces behind the Dnepr - resulting in tens of thousands of more prisoners of war than the Red Army had to sacrifice - the results achieved reinforced the Hubris of both Hitler and the Wehrmacht in what they were capable of against the Red Army, momentarily forgetting their own weaknesses. That false sense of confidence would soon play itself out on the approaches to Moscow when an utterly exhausted Army Group Center would suffer a catastrophe of its own. Overall, an excellent addition to the literature on the Eastern Front.

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    Valeriy Zamulin’s ”Demolishing the Myth: The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943: An Operational Narrative” is the quintessential representation of what Eastern Front literature is all too often lacking. Today’s Russian historians and scholars are putting out a plethora of monographs and studies of the Great Patriotic War and Zamulin is one of the best examples of the type of objective analysis they are capable of producing (it should be noted that this study of Prokhorovka was Zamulin’s first, he has since then put out at least three other monographs covering various aspects of the Kursk battle and the ensuing operations unleashed to liberate Belgorod and Orel). While there have been quite a few titles recently released on the Battle of Kursk none of them will have the level of detail and analysis that Zamulin’s study exhibits. This is not because they are of a lower caliber of scholarship, but simply because they lack his experience with and access to Soviet era archives. This is a book that in the grand scheme of things covers and offers much more than an analysis of the encounter at Prokhorovka between forces of the 5th Guards Tank Army and the II SS Panzer Corps. Through Zamulin’s ‘operational narrative’ the reader is exposed to the inner workings of the Red Army and a multidimensional look at the weaknesses and failures of Red Army leadership on the ground that led to the losses experienced by Soviet forces when they attacked the Germans head-on July 12, 1943. Finally, there are many images we can conjure up when thinking of the ‘myth(s)’ associated with the battle at Prokhorovka. Many readers will find that aside from the usual questions about how many tanks took part in the engagement and their losses, Zamulin also questions many myths that can only be found in Soviet era accounts of the battle – from individual soldier and officer accounts, to greater narratives of the war that have perpetuated various myths and legends, which have become engrained in even today’s histories of the Battle of Kursk.

    The majority of this book is dedicated to German and Soviet actions around Prokhorovka. There is a good amount of text devoted to analyzing how Vatutin’s Voronezh front faired before the onslaught of the II SS Panzer Corps, the XXXVIII Panzer Corps, and Army Detachment Kempf, followed by the makeup of the 5th Guards Tank Army (including small biographies of the leadership). The post-July 12 actions are only analyzed through July 16 on a limited front as ensuing German operations were reduced in scale. Thus, this is a study that revolves around Prokhorovka, the analysis of which is unrivaled in western literature.

    To begin, Prokhorovka is usually viewed as a wholly separate battle from the rest of the encounters that German forces had with Vatutin’s Voronezh front. Desperate and costly battles were ongoing since the start of operations, July 5, up to July 12 and days later when German troops abandoned their original plans to breakthrough to Kursk and settled instead on a more limited objective, the encirclement of the 48th Guards Rifle Corps. The situation that developed on the southern face of the Kursk battle in the first days forced Vatutin to include all of his reserves, thus leading to the eventual need for the 5th Guards and 5th Guards Tank armies from the Steppe Front under the command of Konev. One should keep in mind that the Central Front under Rokossovsky had an easier time holding back Model’s forces and switching over to the counteroffensive without the amount of help Vatutin was requesting, but they also faced a more limited German force when compared to what Manstein was able to put in the field.

    The initial plans of the Voronezh front for Rotmistrov’s 5th Guards Army were beyond his capabilities. His tank corps were not only supposed to check the German advance, but in cooperation with Vatutin’s forces switch over to the offensive and advance some 15-20 kilometers against German troops to return the frontlines to their positions before the start of Operation Citadel. This was beyond the ability of Rotmistrov and beyond the capabilities of Red Army forces in general at this point in time. Additional problems arose from the fact that the 5th Tank Army included forces that recently joined it, and some of their commanding officers were also fresh additions, thus this was not a cohesive force accustomed to planning and fighting together. In many ways Vatutin and his staff share a large portion of the blame for what came about as the plan for the 5th Tank Army, but the pressure he was under makes it clear that something had to be done and the limited Soviet intelligence of German positions and abilities only added to the strain and problems Soviet forces now had to contend with.

    The actual forces that took part in operations on July 12 featured two Soviet Tank Corps, with some 350 tanks, taking on one SS Panzer Division with support from two others, all part of the II SS Panzer Corps, fielding around 120-150 tanks (exact numbers are simply impossible to come by for either side) for a total of some 500 tanks. German troops did not engage in a ‘meeting engagement’ with their Soviet opponents, on the contrary, German forces were entrenched in recently taken positions and put up a bloody defense against both Soviet tank corps. Additionally, the fact that Soviet tank and mechanized corps lacked in their anti-tank and artillery assets when compared to German panzer and panzer grenadier divisions only complicated the situation that much further as German forces were able to readily engage Red Army forces from ambush and defensive positions with all types of weapons. Meanwhile Soviet reconnaissance failed to adequately predict the territory and numbers of enemy troops the 5th Guards Tank Army would be facing and artillery and aviation failed to adequately support their tank counterparts on the ground and in the air. Shell shortages were soon apparent as well when logistical capabilities broke down for various reasons. One of the ‘myths’ that exists about the battle is that German forces were caught unawares of the attack by forces of the 5th Guards Army. This is readily disproven as the Germans had excellent intelligence about the movement and location of Soviet forces and also guessed correctly their future intentions, thus allowing for a formidable defense in the face of the ensuing Red Army attack.

    An additional battle on July 12 took place further from Prokhorovka and featured a few hundred more tanks, combined from both sides, but it was on a more limited scale and suffered from the same deficiencies that the two Soviet tank corps experienced. Soviet losses overall were heavy, as were those they inflicted on the Germans. The numbers are contested and depend on which forces are taken into account as it is impossible to ascertain exactly which formations took part in the fighting. Zamulin presents numerous tables showing loss figures for Soviet forces and consults various German publications to come up with numbers for the II SS Panzer Corps as well as the other formations that took part in the fighting leading up to July 12 and after. But he points out that even with the casualties the Germans suffered, they were able to go on a limited offensive in the following days and almost managed to encircle the 48th Guards Rifle Corps. Unfortunately for Manstein and Hitler, the ultimate objective(s) of Operation Citadel were beyond the German grasp by the end of July 12. Thus, Zamulin views the operation as an ultimate success for the Red Army as it prevented the Germans from fulfilling their original objectives, even if the losses were skewed in the German’s favor and they went on the offensive immediately after. Depending on how one views the assignment of the Voronezh front and that of Manstein’s forces, this represents a reasonable conclusion when confronted with the amount of detail, facts, and figures Zamulin has presented.

    The above is a very much simplified version of events that Zamulin goes over and the reader should be warned that this is an immensely dense and detailed study although often enough his narrative is simply riveting. The maps and pictures of the battlefield that are provided are very helpful but the numerous locations are still difficult to keep track of, especially since this is one of the few, if not only, studies that features discussion of individual Red Army regiments and even battalions. Additionally, one of the more interesting aspects of this study was a look into the ‘inner workings’ of the Red Army. For instance, the use of blocking detachments; on a few occasions, when retreating Red Army forces could not be stopped by their commanders, orders went out to form blocking detachments that were able to gather up troops and send them back in order to establish new defensive positions. This is something usually encountered with descriptions of the Battle of Stalingrad, but blocking detachments were regularly used since 1941. They were made up of dependable Red Army soldiers (or later on NKVD personnel) and contributed to limiting panic in the rear and retreat from the frontlines without authorization. Zamulin also presents numerous after action reports that are highly critical of the actions of Soviet commanders. Seeing these inadequacies shows how much rank and file Red Army soldiers had to overcome to achieve victory. Not only did Soviet forces face the professionalism of the Wehrmacht but also, at times, the gross neglect of their wellbeing by their own commanders who occasionally could not properly organize reconnaissance, establish communication with artillery and aviation for mutual support, or succeed in utilizing flanking maneuvers where head-on assaults were an obvious death sentence.

    Finally, one must mention that this work is available to western readers thanks to the efforts of translators like Stuart Britton who continues to translate and make available invaluable memoirs and now operational studies from the Red Army to help contextualize the Eastern Front for a western audience. While there are minor mistakes throughout the book, and considering that this is a 630 page monograph (including 560 pages of text) some would simply be unavoidable, they will not detract from the overall reading experience that Zamulin has created. Although limited to the southern face of the Kursk operation, this is a highly recommended text for those who are interested in an in-depth and the most objective analysis to date of the German-Soviet encounter around Prokhorovka.

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    While newly crafted monographs based on the latest research are a welcome sight when it comes to the Second World War, and more specifically the Eastern Front, what Stephen Fritz has compiled here is a dated analysis that wholly lacks any kind of up-to-date look at the war on the Eastern Front. Unfortunately, with this title, while the German point of view is up-to-date to some extent, although largely unoriginal, the Soviet point of view is pretty much thrown back to Cold War era stereotypes. The reader is regularly bombarded by the huge numbers the Red Army was able to utilize against the Wehrmacht, with ten and fifteen to one ratios being thrown around and Red Army success being almost wholly attributed to numbers of tanks and men with those numerous 'waves' of frontal assaults. To keep up those pretenses the author regularly emphasizes the 'combat' or 'front' strength of German forces. Left out are all the other forces within German Army Groups (rear area personnel, etc.), but when listing Red Army strength all are included thus invaliding any type of ratios one could conclude from the information presented. I would expect a synthesis to at least offer some new or original take on the topic being covered, but aside from rehashing readily available information, there is little of anything else evident here.

    This book's strengths are the intertwining of Hitler's ideology and the complex process(es) that led to the Holocaust by the latter period of the war, but both of these issues have been readily addressed in multiple works by Christopher Browning, when it comes to the 'Final Solution', and a host of publications on the Wehrmacht and its role in the genocide on the Eastern Front (Omer Bartov, Geoffrey P. Megargee, etc.). The biggest weakness is the analysis of the actual military campaigns. For instance, even though Frtiz cites Glantz he does not recount the fact that offensive unleashed by Operation Blau did not feature a Red Army that regularly retreated but, on the contrary, one that consistently launched its own offensives all the way to Stalingrad. He labels the 13th Guards Rifle Division an 'elite' formation, while Glantz has shown that in fact the division was recently reconstituted with raw recruits and returned soldiers from hospitals, hardly 'elite'. Additionally, the author seems to think that whenever the Red Army is able to amass forces at a breakthrough point they are 'emulating the Germans'. No, they are emulating well known military doctrine that has nothing to do with the Germans. Another 'elite' unit is found when dealing with the Battle of Kursk, the 5th Guards Tank Army. Again, no, this was a unit that recently came together with a staff that never truly worked together before the eve of the battle. In general, the author's analysis of the Battle of Kursk is horribly dated and too often one has to read about 'fanatical Russians' who are 'inspired...by liberal doses of vodka'. Soviet success is attributed to the 'condition of German forces' rather than any skill Red Army soldiers or commanders exhibited. Oddly enough, Fritz characterizes Red Army attacks against the 'boundaries' of German units as 'unimaginative Soviet tactic[s]' when in fact the Germans regularly utilized such tactics themselves, and in many cases they proved quite successful as 'boundaries' between units were regularly viewed as weak spots. Finally, in one of the tables in the appendix there is a list of deaths for the Germans and Soviets for the duration of the war. This would be fine if not for the obviously skewed 'ratios' that are presented right after. While Fritz regularly discusses the amount of allied support the Germans enjoyed throughout their campaign in the Soviet Union, the figures for their casualties are wholly missing thus greatly skewing the ratios in favor of the Germans as Soviet deaths are certainly not all attributable to just German action(s) on the Eastern Front and the Red Army certainly inflicted hundreds of thousands of casualties on Italian, Finnish, Romanian, and Hungarian forces (just to name a few).

    In many respects this title proves what historian David Stahel has recently written in his first book on Operation Barbarossa. When it comes to the Wehrmacht the average academic is too entwined with its role in the Holocaust with the end result that military and operational history takes a back seat and suffers or it simply becomes a rehashing of what has already been said, usually ignorant of the other side and lacking real in-depth analysis. Unfortunately whatever 'good' this book contains is marred by the numerous Cold War stereotypes and inadequate analysis that is offered. Those unfamiliar with the Eastern Front will find plenty of interesting information here but they would need a heavy dose of supplemental reading(s) to assure that a more objective understanding is reached.

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    The idea behind this book is, perhaps if not 'good', at the very least interesting. But this book should have been entitled 'Stalin's Genocides?' as it does a better job asking the question of whether we can consider Stalin's actions 'genocidal' rather than simply stating that they were. Naimark does a good job of synthesizing much of the recent literature on Stalin and the system he implemented throughout the Soviet Union. Some of the points he brings up are simple yet poignant; for instance, the fact that with the death of Stalin actions that could be considered 'genocidal' abruptly ended. Thus, although in many ways Stalin cannot be blamed for all the deaths that took place under his reign, he was in many ways the catalyst that made possible the atmosphere in which those deaths occurred. Unfortunately, this slim volume is plagued by generalizations, omissions, and leaps of logic. A case in point is the argument made by Naimark that Stalin 'set out to eliminate the kulaks as a class, and he did precisely that...' (69) But Naimark himself admits that 'kulaks' were not a real class, they were a creation of the regime, a boogeyman that needed to be excised from Soviet society, and the designation was in constant flux depending on the location, date, or person in question. Thus just because the campaign against kulaks came to an end does not mean that Stalin was successful in their elimination; one cannot eliminate a class that never truly existed! In another instance, Naimark seems to be speaking from hindsight rather than taking the approach of a historian and putting himself in the position of his subject(s). He claims that 'the campaign against the nationalities was suspended precisely in 1938-39, when the war was indeed imminent!' (83) Unfortunately, not everyone considered that war was 'imminent' and considering Hitler's achievements with the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, Stalin was more inclined to believe future changes in borders would take place through diplomatic negotiations rather than war. When dealing with Hitler and the Nazis, Naimark understands that what became the Holocaust, the genocide of the Jewish population, did not start off as such in 1930s Germany. Yet he attempts to argue that the Nazis did not intend to kill all Jews because many emigrated from Germany before 1939 (126). This conflates German goals and the history of the Holocaust, and in the end is simply a fallacious argument as the Holocaust as it evolved during the Second World War cannot be compared to what was going on in Germany before 1939. While it is true that there were exceptions to the genocide of Jews in Germany (i.e. Jewish soldiers serving in the Wehrmacht, etc.), this does not so much force a comparison between the Holocaust and Stalin's crimes as put into context to what degree was the Holocaust a well thought-out, intentional extermination of the Jewish population of Europe. That is, perhaps genocide should be considered an 'ideal type' that fits within the confines of 'total war', both of which can never truly be achieved due to human limits. A final example is Naimark's contention that the definition of genocide should include more than just 'national, ethnic, and religious' groups, as he asks 'What is, after all, the difference when it comes to human life?' (125) Indeed, what is the difference? Why not just label everything 'mass murder' in that case? This is hardly a credible line of argument. In part Naimark's strengths are his weaknesses as he presents arguments from other scholars that undermine his. This balances out the book but he does not address them adequately enough at times and simply bypasses them while reiterating that Stalin's actions should in the end be considered genocide. Unfortunately this text is best at asking questions rather than positing concrete answers, thus the title should have been 'Stalin's genocides?' as the reader is left with more questions than answers when it comes to not only Stalin but the idea of genocide in general.

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    While there are multiple biographies of German generals Zhukov seems to be the only figure that western historians concentrate on when looking at the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front. In this case, Zhukov has had numerous biographies written about him and Roberts has made a worthwhile addition with this newest attempt to document the life and career of one of the more impressive figures to come out of the Red Army and Soviet Union. "Stalin's General" spans from Zhukov's early life to his postwar career and Roberts does an excellent job documenting various periods of his life while contextualizing the overall situation occurring within the Soviet Union.

    I found the most interesting aspects of this work the various 'myths' that Roberts attempts to address. It is no surprise that when Zhukov sat down to write his memoirs he did so with a mission in mind: to protect and justify his actions during the war against those who had now turned on him both under Stalin and Khrushchev. Thus various meetings/events that Zhukov described could in all honesty have been fabricated in order to protect his version of events. Roberts notes multiple attempts to do just that by cross-referencing Stalin's log/meeting book/schedule and pointing out those dates/events that do not coincide with available information. Now this isn't to say, and Roberts readily admits so, that meetings outside what was recorded could have occurred, but there are some events that sound like they were an impossibility rather than an improbability. Thus one of the more interesting aspects of 'Stalin's General' is the detective work that Roberts went through to figure out how Zhukov put his memoirs together, including what he attempted to exaggerate and gloss over, etc.

    Zhukov's abilities and the battles he participated in are well known to those familiar with the Eastern Front. Although Roberts discusses them there are certainly better monographs and histories for those purely interested in the military aspects of Zhukov's career. For Roberts, Zhukov's life and postwar career carry just as much weight and interest as his wartime activities. By the end of the book I would agree with the author's conclusions that Zhukov, while not an original thinker (he did not add much to Soviet strategy or operational art like other theorists one could point to), was still successful in helping the Red Army and Soviet Union overcome the genocidal threat that was the Wehrmacht and Nazi Germany.

    Finally, I was hopeful that Roberts would utilize the latest research on some aspects of Zhukov's career, like Operation Mars. Geoffrey Jukes's latest book ("Stalingrad to Kursk") offers an original look and assessment of Operation Mars but unfortunately that information is absent here as Roberts mainly relies of Glantz's work, which while excellent is somewhat lacking. Overall, for those interested in the Soviet Union, the Eastern Front, Zhukov, and the postwar battle(s) around the history(ies) of the war, this is a highly recommended book.

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    David Glantz has been the foremost expert on the Eastern Front of the Second World War for years. While his books are not always free of controversy, there is no doubt that he has single-handedly propelled Eastern Front studies to the stage they occupy today. That is not to say that there is no room for future studies, on the contrary, the fact that this tome is volume 1 speaks volumes (excuse the pun) about the amount of research that still needs to be done, not to mention the academic field, which consistently circles around the war years or uses it as a tool to study other aspects of Soviet/European history.

    With 'Barbarossa Derailed' Glantz gives credence to what many Soviet era authors/historians attempted to argue, that Barbarossa was a lost cause as early as the battle of Smolensk. While this might have been propaganda, there is enough evidence today to see that some of these arguments while to some extent exaggerations, were at times correct in their analysis of the situation the Wehrmacht found itself in. Similar to the recently released book by David Stahel, which argues that Smolensk was the end of Germany's blitzkrieg campaign in the East, Glantz provides an enormous amount of information and evidence to back up the argument that while Minsk was a success, Smolensk was at best a failed opportunity. Starting with the border battles Glantz lays out the narrative of what occurred in the initial days and weeks after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Soviet deficiencies are quite evident, with the end result being the majority of the best trained troops being put out of action early in the war. Taking their places were hastily trained reservists who were continually utilized as a stop-gap, with the end result being thousands of casualties for minor tactical victories that regularly halted the Germans and bought time for new defensive lines and new units to be brought up to the front. As a result, German forces continually attacked and defeated recently trained and equipped troops that had little time to practice with their weapons or participate in coordinated actions with various branches of the armed services. The predictable results were continued large scale defeats (Minsk, Smolensk, etc.), although with a surprising amount of minor tactical, and even operational, victories, even from novice forces.

    Thus, one of the major contributions of this volume, and the entire Smolensk battle, was that the Red Army was not simply defeated again and again on the field of battle, but rather proved itself a worthwhile opponent that continually bled German forces on their way to Moscow with Soviet soldiers and commanders learning their craft anew through bloody engagements. Many of Soviet commanders participating in these battles, Zhukov, Timoshenko, Konev, Rokossovsky, Eremenko, etc., are well known to those familiar with the Eastern Front. Konev and Rokossovsky often stand out for their roles in delaying and bloodying German forces before and after the encirclement around Smolensk is closed. Red Army military prowess is also evident in the defeat administered to the 7th Panzer Division by Soviet forces and the numerous infantry divisions reduced in strength throughout late July and August. Much of 1941 remains mired in myths and legends and this volume goes a long way in showcasing just how difficult the invasion of the Soviet Union, in the early summer of 1941, was for the Germans and to what extent the defense the Red Army put up affected the overall time table of Operation Barbarossa and the ensuing operations the Wehrmacht would undertake following the Smolensk encirclement.

    Throughout this volume Glantz utilized an enormous number of divisional/army/front reports. Many of them can be skipped over unless you have an excellent map of the region circa 1941 (the maps throughout the book are lacking, unfortunately), but often enough they are worth reading through as some contain revealing information about casualties and attitudes. For instance, something that Glantz himself points out, in one of Zhukov's orders there is a reference to the fact that Zhukov would rather a unit attack and take casualties than remain motionless and sustain casualties without any effort on the part of the unit's commander or men. Thus, as is often mentioned, Zhukov was very much an offensive/attack oriented commander and had no problem demoting divisional commanders on the spot if they did not take the initiative (as is also shown in various orders with divisional commanders being reduced to commanding regiments). There are minor grammatical problems (wrong letters or two periods where there should be one) and in at least one instance the same telephone conversation is recreated twice (pg. 175 and 195). Those deficiencies aside, this is a very much needed addition to the literature on the Eastern Front, especially the initial period of the war, but in many ways this is just a beginning. Glantz has given future historians and authors of the Eastern Front food for thought and I look forwarding to reading the second volume in the near future.

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    The last year of the war for Germany is comparable to the first year of the war for the Soviet Union.  The chaos and destruction is hard to describe and keep track of but more importantly any new piece of information is a welcome addition to our knowledge and understanding of the war, and in this case, the Wehrmacht and the Nazi Party.  Hans-Georg Eismann's account cannot be readily compared with the likes of Manstein, Guderian, Raus, etc.  At least in these recollections, he was not a commanding officer but part of the general staff of the army group and had to deal with a variety of issues and complications that can make for dry reading for non-specialists.  Overall the book is some 134 pages of text, including about a dozen pictures of various commanding officers (which is highly reminiscent of the Red Army in 1941 when commanding officers were constantly changed in hopes of a different outcome) and a few maps sprinkled throughout.  The recollections of Himmler's role in Army Group Vistula are interesting but they say more about what Himmler wasn't than what he was.  This was obviously not a man capable of commanding an army group and his sojourn as commander is riddled with mind-boggling orders and ideas, including the sending off of an entire battalion to attack the Red Army and hold them until a future attack by further German forces was arranged.  Lacking any communication or contact with other German forces and finding themselves in the open countryside, the battalion was never heard from again. 


    Interestingly enough, the same post-war attitudes that one finds in the memoirs of top German commanders are in evidence here as well.  For instance, the author argues in favor of the myth of the 'Wehrmacht with clean hands' when he claims the Wehrmacht on its march to the east never participated in the type(s) of crimes he was accusing the Red Army of perpetrating.  Another similarity is that of the missed opportunity that Manstein is so famous for (hence the title of his memoirs, "Lost Victories"), Eismann also goes into some detail about the numerous missed opportunities the Wehrmacht squandered throughout the war, including 1945.  Included here is a mention of a division made up of 'Vlasov's men' that participated in one advance and was then viewed as too unreliable and removed from the front.  Eismann argues that more should have been done with not only Vlasov's formations but also Ukrainians from the beginning of the war, the Germans could have had a million-man Ukrainian army!  How they would all be armed is a separate question he obviously ignores, and considering the Germans could hardly provide any type of support/weapons for their actual allies (Romanians, Hungarians, etc.) it seems quite far-fetched to believe that a million Ukrainians could be readily equipped to fight.  Thus, continually one seems the divergence between the military's thinking and that of the Nazi Party, which could never fathom arming so many 'subhumans'.  Overall, this book was an interesting read and a nice addition to Eastern Front literature.  The one real problem I had with the book was due to the translator's decision to include a plethora of German verbiage where a simple English translation would have sufficed, this decision at times took away from the overall readability of the book.

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    Volume 2 of 'Barbarossa Derailed' picks up pretty much where the first volume left off.  Throughout both volumes Glantz's goals have been the following: to show that the Wehrmacht was suffering before the beginning of Operation Typhoon and the defeat it experienced at the gates of Moscow could be seen written on the wall throughout the Smolensk engagement Army Group Center found itself suffering through; the Red Army, while taking grievous losses throughout its multiple counteroffensives against Army Group Center, performed better than previously thought and consistently bloodied numerous German infantry, motorized, and panzer divisions; finally, the German (more so Hitler's) decision to continue battling Soviet forces on the flanks of Army Group Center - eventually leading to the encirclement at Kiev - was consistent with Hitler's initial orders for Operation Barbarossa and eliminated close to 1 million Red Army men from Army Group Center's front and flanks that might have done a great deal more damage if left in place with an early German offensive toward Moscow.

    The book itself contains dozens of maps and battle orders and reports, same as the first volume.  And just as in the first volume, while many of the documentation is dry and repetitive there are always some interesting facts that come out.  For instance, every now and then there are reported losses from various units, yet more interesting is what these reports don't say - a lot of the time the 'missing' are themselves missing.  The majority of reports only mention dead and wounded.  The numbers themselves are interestingly but offer only a glimpse into Soviet losses, which Glantz details himself quite well throughout the book and in the concluding chapter.  In truth Glantz's commentary is often the most interesting as many will have a hard time following the action on the maps included or through the orders and reports as the numerous locations mentioned (from groves, to hills, rivers, villages, towns, cities, etc.) will make little sense even if you are familiar with Soviet geography. 

    Overall, Glantz's mission with these two volumes is readily accomplished.  Repeatedly it is evident that the Red Army was put in an unenviable position as Stalin and STAVKA sent out orders that most of the units in the field could not fully accomplish.  The cream of the pre-war Red Army facing Army Group Center was lost during the first two weeks of the war in the Minsk encirclement and follow-up operation(s) and the armies that took the field in their wake were made up mainly of reservists and/or conscripts with little training compared to the soldiers they faced in Army Group Center.  Thus, the stop-gap measures consistently employed by Stalin and his commanders became part of an attrition strategy that bloodied dozens of German divisions and forestalled another complete encirclement at Smolensk.  With Panzer troops leaving behind their infantry counterparts, the encirclement at Smolensk was weakened by Red Army troops attempting to break out and in simultaneously.  Some 50,000 escaped to fight another day and Army Group Center's panzer forces needed time for rest and refit, yet were continually denied it as Soviet counteroffensives against Army Group Center grew in intensity.  Here is where volume 2 continues the story with offensives launched by three fronts under the command of Timoshenko, Zhukov, and Eremenko.  The majority of readers familiar with the Eastern Front will have heard of Yelnia (El'nia) and the success Zhukov's troops enjoyed.  But as Glantz shows, this was less of a victory than Timoshenko's troops experienced.  The latter inflicted greater casualties on the Germans and captured more territory than Zhukov's Yelnia operation, yet it has been overshadowed by the moral victory that was the Yelnia offensive (most likely because of Zhukov's presence and the propaganda that the victory generated).  Today even Russian historians can see that Yelnia, while a moral victory, did little to hinder future German action in Operation Typhoon.  It seems the worst performance was that of Eremenko's front.  In part it was the fault of the commanding officer, but it seems more so that STAVKA and Stalin continually pushed Eremenko who in turn pushed his army commanders to needlessly waste lives in operations that were doomed from the start because of numerous reasons (including lack of logistics, tanks, artillery, aircraft, surprise, etc.).  

    The concluding chapter is in many ways the most interesting as Glantz ties up various loose ends.  It's true that there are still many 'white spots' in the history of the Eastern Front, and unlike the latter years of the war, 1941 was riddled with chaos, defeat, retreat, and propagandized heroism.  That propagandized heroism all too often has eclipsed the actual history of 1941 and more so the tangible victories that Red Army forces achieved, although too often by paying a high price in blood.  Thus Glantz has shown how the encirclement of Smolensk, which is usually seem as a 'bump in the road' to the encirclements at Kiev and Operation Typhoon, was in fact a prelude to Germany's defeat at the gates of Moscow.  The casualties sustained by the Wehrmacht were not made good by the time Operation Typhoon was launched and while the Red Army suffered more than their German counterparts, and in some ways allowed for a weakening of the forces that would face Army Group Center in October, the end result was the buying of time for more forces and material to make it to the west to face the Germans.  The victory that awaited the Soviets outside Moscow, that much, at least, the Red Army was able to achieve in part thanks to the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands around Smolensk in July, August, and September.

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  • 11/20/12--12:33: The Abyss by Niall Ferguson
  • Coming up on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, Penguin has decided to release the first five chapters of Niall Ferguson's The War of the World as a separate ebook to mark the event.  The ad for this excerpt from Ferguson's larger work claims: "A century after its outbreak, we can now see World War I as more than just four years of industrialized slaughter.  It was the moment when the process of global integration went into reverse and the lethal forces of ethnic disintegration took over.  Weaving together the economics of empire and ideology of race, The Abyss is world history at its finest."  World history at its finest?  I wouldn't say so.  This is a popular history by a popular historian.  There are many interesting facts and revelations, some of the more original information includes discussions of economics and the racial tensions evident throughout Europe in the late nineteenth century,  on the eve of the war, and in the war's aftermath.  But this volume does not contain anything beyond what most expert historians of this time period would consider superficial analysis.  More so, there are minor mistakes made, as when Ferguson claims Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka, was Jewish.

    For those interested in a basic understanding of Europe at the turn of the century, before World War I, and the immediate aftermath of the World War, this would serve as a good introduction to the time period.  Ferugson goes over often ignored events and nations where World War I is concerned (Japan, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire) giving a fuller understanding of what Europe experienced.  The section on the First World War is wholly lacking, but Ferguson himself admits that part of the history of the twentieth century is covered in another of his books.  Even so, I can't agree with how he presents the outbreak of the war.  There were too many players missing and too much information glossed over.  Thus, for those new to this time period, this is something that can be recommended.  But it should be complimented with a broad range of monographs on many of the topics presented, which for the most part are lacking in in-depth analysis and context.

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    As Stuart Britton, the translator, explains, Peter Mezhiritsky doesn’t so much tell a story as engage in a dialog with the reader.  In general this is something that’s rather more common in Russian historical literature (mainly when written by hobbyists and journalists) but it comes with strengths and weaknesses.  Many assertions are offered, poetic licenses taken, and guesstimates proposed with the end result being the author is showing the numerous blank spots that are evident even in today’s literature that deals with both the history of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front.   In the end, this style works well enough with both the pre-war Soviet period and the Second World War because some revelations will remain a mystery to us while others are gathering dust in still inaccessible archives.  Thus when Mezhiritsky, for instance, questions the level of Zhukov’s education and where his genius originated – was it in short Soviet courses during the 1920s or when he studied in Germany thanks to the Treaty of Rapallo? – it gives the reader something to think about and chew over.  Unfortunately, Zhukov either never left an account of his time in Germany or it is buried among his papers in Russian archives, but to this day we don’t know what impact that time had on him and how much of an influence it had over future studies and his time in the field throughout the Second World War.  An additional strength of this text is encompassed in some of the more interesting asides and accounts dealing with the author’s personal recollections about the war.  He witnessed June 22 as a seven year old in Kiev and experienced the fear and chaos of evacuations firsthand, as well as the condition the country found itself in as Germany’s armed forces enjoyed continued success in the first months of the invasion.  

    The majority of the text follows Zhukov’s career with quite a few detours into Soviet history.  Stalin features regularly but one needs to keep in mind that the book is not wholly about Stalin and his actions, but rather his impact on Zhukov and the Soviet Union as a whole.  In many ways this text resembles dissident polemics of the Cold War period, which also means that dissident ideas come to the forefront.  For instance, Mezhiritsky holds Stalin’s genius for planning and cunning in high regard, but there are today many questions that have been raised and answered about Stalin’s role in the purges and the direction Soviet foreign policy assumed in the 1930s.  While I don’t fully agree with all Mezhiritsky’s ideas, I will say they still provoke questions that need to be asked and for which we are still missing concrete answers.  And in the end Mezhiritsky himself understands that much of what he writes is in the form of ‘suppositions’ that are in desperate need of ‘supplementary research’.   This also applies to the author’s thoughts on Operation Barbarossa, including its planning and execution.  These days I am in agreement with David Stahel’s work, ‘Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s defeat in the East’ (which Mezhiritsky is aware of and addresses), that shows through meticulous research Germany’s plans for subduing the Soviet Union were flawed from the beginning and doomed to failure.  Mezhiritsky, however, has highlighted some interesting ideas but I would argue that he is missing the forest for a few select trees.  Anecdotal evidence is interesting to come by, and he has plenty to offer having lived through the war, but the overall situation is much harder to grasp within the framework that he’s created.


    An added contribution of Mezhiritsky’s is the introduction of a plethora of characters, personalities, and ideologues that few in the west are familiar with.  His concentration remains on the Red Army so many of those introduced participated in the creation of the Red Army or became famous/infamous among Red Army circles.  The culmination point, in many instances, is the purge of the Red Army in 1937, but there were numerous deaths that occurred before that year.  For some there are accepted explanations (Frunze, Triandafillov, etc.) but for many others, strange circumstances surround their demise and to this day a conclusive answer still eludes historians (what happened to General Kotovsky is one example).  Additionally, there are references to events and battles that continue to be missing from the mainstream narrative of the war.  Although I have studied the Eastern Front for over a decade, Mezhiritsky’s mention of an attack by a reinforced 20tharmy around the summer of 1942, and an ensuing tank engagement that featured some 3,000 tanks is an event I can’t recall coming across previously.  And it is certainly an operation that is in need of greater study and analysis.  Finally, some of the most interesting commentary is offered around the battle for Stalingrad.  Once more, a meticulous reading of both Zhukov’s and Vasilevsky’s memoirs raises more questions than we have answers for, but also shows how shrewd one has to be to ‘read between the lines’ of Soviet era publications.  


    There are, unfortunately, minor grammatical problems throughout the text, but many can be overlooked as the translator tried to retain the original ‘richness’ that Mezhiritsky wrote into his text.  Another problem is encountered when chapter sixteen ends in the middle of a sentence.  Perhaps a word is missing, as the sentence is clear enough in where it’s going, but there is no period at the end.  Additionally, somewhere along the line a corrupted image/picture of General G. I. Kotovsky somehow made it into the book.  Aside from the grammatical problems, there are some incorrect facts presented, as when the author claims the Luftwaffe lost only 17 aircraft on 22 June (pg. 200), when in fact total losses for the day were 78 with another 89 damaged.  This doesn’t change that the Soviet Air Force lost a great deal more aircraft, but 17 is not 78.  Another mistake is the mention of a Polish cavalry charge against German tanks as a well-known fact.  While it might be well-known it certainly isn't a fact (315).  In the end Mezhiritsky accomplishes what he’s set out to do.  He provokes, prods, aggravates, upsets, angers, and incites the reader to want to know more about the Soviet Union, the Eastern Front, leading men like Yakir, Gamarnik, Bliukher, and Tukhachevsky, and the multitude of men and women who gave their lives either as a sacrifice to the system that Stalin attempted to create and perfect, or the German war machine that almost achieved its destruction.


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    My amazon review for this book was entitled "Far from perfect, but perfect from afar."  The reason I consider 'The Generals' perfect from afar is because it does what any polemical text should do, provoke and anger.  Yet this is more than just a polemical tirade against the United States Armed Forces.  The polemical tone does the job of gaining the reader's attention and holds it throughout the text.  The reason I thought the book was far from perfect is because Ricks is covering too much.  There is undoubtedly more to the story than he's found.  Some six wars are discussed in less than five hundred pages, so omissions are bound to occur.  But, as pointed out, this is an important starting point for understanding just how much has occurred in the higher echelons of the US military and the discourse between the army and government.  There is no doubt that the performance of the United States Military in the past decade should be examined in meticulous detail.  But a discussion of our armed forces, according to Ricks, need to begin at the very least around the WWII period.  Contrary to some views, while Ricks is impressed by George Marshall and his approach to both war and military commanders, there are numerous instances of Ricks pointing out that the military which entered and finished the Second World War was in many ways an inadequate institution.  Although many of the commanders of that era should be emulated, including some who have been seemingly written out of the history books, there was always room for improvement even with the likes of Patton, Eisenhower, Bradley, and Simpson.

    This level of analysis persists throughout the book and the discussions revolving around the Korean War offer a glimpse of what happened to the army once Marshall's ideas were forgotten and generals and civilians stepped away from quickly asserting their control over subordinates until it was far too late and cost the lives of too many men.  Soon followed the intermingling of military men with politicians, which Marshall was against.  The myopic view of warfare that followed WWII left generals believing they were solely in charge of winning wars on the tactical and operational level rather than the strategic.  Additionally, many commanding officers seemed to have forgotten that winning was a relative term.  This obviously doesn't take into account those officers who were simply ignorant of their surroundings.  The draft and rotation system put into effect during the Vietnam War, according to Ricks, was one of the biggest reasons for the poor performance of the US military.  Just as men were becoming familiar with their enemy and became attuned to their surroundings and the nature of the conflict, they were rotated stateside.  Additionally, the rotation system for officers only lasted six months in the field, meaning after months of poor performance, officers would often be left in place as their turn to return to the states was just around the corner.  At this point politicians began to dictate dismissals, what few there were, while generals closed tight around their own, going so far as to cover-up massacres and war crimes being perpetrated halfway around the world.

    By the time The Gulf War began the army had been remade, but in the battle between those who advocating concentrating on linear tactics and operational art and those who wanted strategically oriented officers who could adjust to the environment they would find themselves in, the former won out over the latter.  Thus the victory that was achieved in 1991 was a perfect example of an armed force well supplied and trained to fight a convention ground war.  One of the problems, however, was that the generals greatly overestimated the enemy they faced.  The four days of combat spoke volumes about Saddam's capabilities, and while the battle might have been won the war was far from over, as the next decade exhibited a continued need to keep Iraq in-check.  Once again, the generals in charge assumed the politicians would take care of the strategic thinking forgetting that war continues to be the practice of politics by other means.  Thus when the army was once more asked to invade Iraq and did so during Bush's tenure, they were quick and decisive in defeating a conventional ground force, but when asked to do more, both government officials and the generals in charge (minus a select few) continued to erroneously address a developing situation within Iraq as well as Afghanistan that they did not understand.

    Yes, the author's immediate point revolves around the idea of dismissing generals who cannot perform well, but he consistently shows that this does not mean nor should it mean an end to their careers. Throughout the book, Ricks painstakingly portrays the military as a delinquent institution that cannot get a handle on its responsibilities.  Yet it remains an institution where commanding officers who continually make mistakes are hardly held accountable and politicians who berate the military without caring for American lives or the consequences of their immediate actions feel themselves entitled to such posturing.  Furthermore, the training commanding generals go through is inadequate because it continually leaves out abstract and independent thinking that goes against what the army has been training for decades to do, find the enemy and destroy it.  Wars were never simple but today's conflicts are continually challenging previous thinking about what it means to be a military institution, a commanding officer, and the definition of 'winning'.

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    This book is the second edition of "Bones of Berdichev: The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman."  Although much of Grossman's life and thoughts we will never know with precise detail, the authors were able to assemble an impressive amount of information about the country Grossman grew up in and his contributions to literature and history.  In many ways, "The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman" is not only a biography of Grossman but also a history of Berdichev, the city he grew up in, the Soviet Union, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, as well as the Eastern Front of the Second World War.  The authors have gathered a large amount of information to help those unfamiliar with the aforementioned events contextualize what they're reading.  Thus, after the introductory chapters, the first chapter discusses the emerging Holocaust and the fate of the Jews of Berdichev, while the second switches time periods and focuses on the history of anti-Semitism in Russia and the place Berdichev occupied in the greater Russian Empire.  Only after those initial chapters is Grossman's family and Grossman himself introduced and described in minute detail.

    There is no doubt that Grossman, among many Soviet authors, suffered for his work.  Today he is one of the best known, although this has been a recent revelation for the west.  His major work, "Life and Fate," is considered the "War and Peace" of the Eastern Front (although I'm sure some would disagree).  Those in charge of censorship, including his fellow authors, warned him that such a novel could not be published for 250 years - and some assert that the damage "Life and Fate" could have done would have been worse than what the publication of "Dr. Zhivago" unleashed abroad.  Throughout the war Grossman served as a frontline correspondent for "Red Star," the military newspaper, and was one of the most popular journalists (similar to Simonov and Ehrenburg).  Unfortunately, the popularity and fame that Ehrenburg and Simonov achieved was denied Grossman.  A few of his books and stories were published but were soon forgotten as the post-war period began and Stalin moved the country toward a mythical memory of the war instead of the unvarnished truth that most authors knew could not be mentioned.  But Grossman seems to have wanted to remain true to his reader, himself, and his mother whom he lost during the Holocaust.  For all his faults in the pre-war period, including the fact that he had a chance to get his mother out of Berdichev when the war began but never did, he seems to have wanted to repent for his actions with future deeds.  Unfortunately, his popularity waned when only a few of his pieces were published and soon he seemed to be forgotten altogether as no new editions of his previous work appeared.

    Only when his manuscripts ("Forever Flowing", his final book, and "Life and Fate") made it to the west and were published was he recalled in the Soviet Union's collective memory of the war.  His comparisons between the Soviet Union and that of Nazi Germany spoke to those who suffered during Stalin's reign and under the German occupation.  The famine in Ukraine, the innocent victims of the purges, Soviet collaboration during the war, as well as the fate of Soviet prisoners of war and the evolution of the Holocaust were all discussed and dissected, from one degree to another, in Grossman's publications and helped reignite a discourse on the Soviet past that Khrushchev began with his Secret Speech but that he soon strangled due to his own complicity in Stalin's crimes.  That today Grossman's books have been published in new editions and voraciously devoured by the west is a testament to his insights and talent.  For those interested in understanding the world he grew up in, survived, and tried to portray for his readers, this is a must read.  The only minor problem I had with the biography was the dated historical analysis (much of the military history is based on a few select sources, one of which is quite dated (Clark's "Barbarossa")).  Additionally, the authors don't correctly portray order 227, issued on the eve of the Battle of Stalingrad, which forbid unauthorized retreats, not retreats in general.  Additionally, on more than one occasion the authors refer to Gurtiev's division in Stalingrad as a 'punishment division', but no such divisions existed.  While it might have contained penal formations, there were no formations of penal units above that of company and battalion.  Finally, there are also a few myths and generalizations, like the defense of Moscow in 1941 being assured by the release of some 40 divisions from the Far East (Siberia), when in fact divisions were moved to help defend Moscow from all over the Soviet Union and those from the Far East were on the move as early as July of 1941.  So one will have to take the historical narrative of the Eastern Front that's presented here with a grain of salt.  Otherwise, a highly recommended biography of a talented and in some ways tragic figure.

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    I'm more of a 'casual' reader when it comes to the Middle East and questions of Israel. I have a wide interest in the topic and have read quite a few books on it. I'm no expert, but I've read enough to know what merits being called 'original' and 'intriguing' and what is can simply be termed 'sensationalism'. Alan Dowty's efforts definitely deserve to be labeled 'original' and 'intriguing'. Unfortunately, because this is written by a political scientist who is interested in an objective look (if such a thing is even possible) at the region under investigation, much is left out that could and should have been included. The most interesting part of the book for me were the initial chapters that detailed the rise of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. That's not something you get too much of, in the same objective sense as offered here, in other works.

    It was fascinating to see the roots of Zionism and their evolution, put into proper European context, as well as the impact of European nationalism on the Arab world. Here, although, I would say there are some problems. I saw mention of the 'Palestinians' as a people to date from before the 1948 war, but there was less analysis and history offered here when compared to Zionism. It seems the author presents some evidence but it is hard to classify it as 'objective' when compared to what he offers in terms of Zionism. If the author's job is to convince me that the claims of both sides are equally valid, I can't say he was successful. In other instances, however, there is more evidence presented. For instance, I never paid much attention to the fact that both Jews and those who came to call themselves Palestinians were fine having the other live among them as long as they did it on an 'individual' basis and not as part of a larger 'nation' in the making. It's once Palestinian nationalism or Zionism enters the picture that each side begins to worry. Now, here is where 'objectivity' begins to cause problems. While someone can try to objectively analyze the situation from both sides, as the author attempts to do, there is that missing additional objectivity in comparing both sides to a third. That is, comparing ideas on governing, civil rights, laws, justice, etc., that Jews wanted to implement to those of the Palestinians (meaning taking each side on their own merits is one thing, comparing each side's merits to the 'modern world' is another).

    Taking a look at the Middle East in the early twentieth-century means understanding the divergent ideas about not only who should live on what land but how governing in general was to take place. That is, Israel wanted a European style 'democracy' while Palestinians were fine implementing...what? Is there a lesser of two evils? Can they be equally valued/judged? Thus, once more, there is objectivity between two sides but there is also objectivity that is missing, that of either side compared to a greater ideal being exercised and implemented throughout the rest of the world that has a direct impact on how the future of the Middle East will unravel. And that objectivity, unfortunately, is missing here.

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    "The Great Divergence" aims to explain where our economy and society are today compared to various points throughout the last century. In many ways this book is an excellent introduction into a variety of aspects of US history that explain why today's inequality exists on the scale that it does. As should be understood, inequality is a fact of life, what the author proposes is not the creation of an egalitarian society - perish the thought of paying everyone their equal share - but a reversal of a trench that seems to have no end in sight - that of a society where the rich are in fact getting richer, the poor are still poor, and the middle class is slowly losing its identity and ability to survive as a 'middle class'. Noah does an excellent job in showing that the income inequality cannot be blamed on any one event, person, or law, but that from the evidence available (at times a collection of dense statistics and studies) there are multiple reasons for why a serious gap has developed between the top 10% and the other 90%. What surprised me was that the bottom of the top 10% within the US have a combined income (husband and wife) of just $106,000, this really puts into perspective what the bottom 90% have to deal with on a day to day basis when we look at the continuing rise in costs for health care, education, housing, and automobiles. Although I found much of the information presented here interesting there are still gaps in the author's presentation of not only the history of 'The Great Divergence' but also what he views as some of the solutions to this problem. For instance, in regards to solving the problem of rising prices for colleges and universities, not much is offered aside from there are ways to alleviate costs that the government can enforce that can offer students greater opportunities to attend. What gets left out is the greater problem, the anti-elitist culture that has permeated America and the anti-education attitude that is regularly encountered throughout not only the public school system but also university level classrooms. The level of education a high school diploma once signified has now been replaced by an undergraduate degree. Universities are no longer bastions of knowledge but budding corporations that seek to enroll as many students as possible and throw worthless pieces of paper at them so the next batch can be fleeced anew. University professors are the new high school instructors and an environment that was once supposed to open young adults' minds about the world around them is reduced to teaching basic grammar to 18-year-olds that can hardly spell or put together coherent sentences. This is in large measure the future work-force of the United States. Thus, in the end this is a book that offers an interesting, detailed introduction to the economic side of 'The Great Divergence', but a text that is in many ways woefully short in offering solutions to the problems it has outlined when social and cultural context is taken into account.

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    It's somewhat hard to know where to categorize this latest effort on the part of Nagorski. His previous book on the Battle for Moscow was a clearer history of the clash between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, although evident were plenty of problems in its presentation. "Hitlerland", however, attempts to focus solely on eye-witness accounts, which more often than not are pure speculation and anecdotal evidence, at best. For those unfamiliar with inter-war Germany, Hitler, or the Third Reich, this is not the place to start. Readers should have some basic knowledge of the time period, including the events and personalities in question (aside from just Hitler). The real problem is the limited context that is offered in the midst of all the recollections Nagorski brings together. There are interesting ideas, facts, and other bits of information, but there is a consistent lack of in-depth context to give them further meaning beyond the anecdotal. For instance, there is mention made of William Shirer who writes about the Army being required to swear an oath to Hitler in the aftermath of Hindenburg's death. No mention is made of this not being Hitler's idea but of the Defense Minister. Additionally, Nagorski allows his eye-witnesses to speak too often without really questioning what they have to say, taking them at their word and even positing dubious questions that should in truth be avoided as this is not a tabloid, this is history, or at least it should be. In the end this is an interesting attempt, although its 'originality' is readily marred by the above, but an attempt with numerous faults that leave the reader with more questions than answers and with a story that lacks true closure.

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