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    Frank Ellis is something of a conundrum.  His first book, “The Damned and the Dead: The Eastern Front through the Eyes of the Soviet and Russian Novelists,” was an interesting and insightful look at how Soviet literati treated the war years in their works while simultaneously keeping in mind the censorship of the Soviet state.  When it came to Ellis’s analysis of the war itself, there was simply too much lacking in his examination, including his interest in Viktor Suvorov’s thesis, which once more makes an appearance in this volume (Ellis refers to Suvorov as a “talented maverick” (xxvii)).  While I have in my possession the author’s book on Stalingrad I have yet to go through all of it and so cannot comment on its contents, but hope to do so soon. 


    This newest work, “Barbarossa 1941: Reframing Hitler’s Invasion of Stalin’s Soviet Empire” makes me question the author’s intentions and knowledge.  This is without a doubt the worst volume of the three that he has put out on the Eastern Front.  What it seems Ellis enjoys doing is utilizing his knowledge of Russian and German and then nitpicking from archival/primary source material that has been around for decades but is not readily available to the average Western reader.  Examining and scrutinizing primary source material is welcome when it comes to the Eastern Front.  Unfortunately, authors who do so need to have a firm grounding and grasp of both the primary and secondary literature that is available on the topic, something Ellis is drastically lacking in and it shows again and again.  What he does is simply pick out material that interests him, throw in woefully inadequate commentary to make greater generalizations out of, and then move on to the next topic without a real transition or thread to tie them all together unless it’s simply the umbrella of “Barbarossa,” “Stalingrad” or “The Eastern Front.”


    The current volume on “Barbarossa” consists of the following chapters - here I will discuss the positive and negative aspects of each and give some analysis of their worth.  The introduction already prepared me for disappointment.  In many ways this chapter (and a few other sections of this text in general) read like a bad version of Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands,” which has numerous issues of its own.  The author presents varied flawed arguments and draws wholly flawed conclusions from them.  For instance, the best Ellis can do is portray Hitler as somehow following in Lenin’s footsteps when it came to his genocidal ambitions while fully omitting any and all German precedents (see Fritz Stern’s “The Politics of Cultural Despair”).  This is most readily evident when Ellis traces how Germans forced Jews to wear armbands or badges to identify themselves in public to “the same psychological terror tactic advocated by Lenin as early as 1918” somehow forgetting that Jews having to distinguish themselves from others predates Lenin by a few centuries (xix).  This type of lazy research is evident in the first chapter as well when the best that Ellis can do is trace everything to WWI/Soviet/Russian precedents (59).


    The first chapter discusses the “conception, planning, and execution” of Operation Barbarossa.  Ellis has an outdated view of Blitzkrieg, arguing that Germany’s success before the invasion of the Soviet Union can all be attributed to this innovative form of warfare (see “The Blitzkrieg Legend” by Karl-Heinz Frieser for a recent analysis of Blitzkrieg and why German propaganda, along with the allies, has misrepresented German victories in the lead up to the invasion of the Soviet Union).  This first chapter is supported by a limited source base, in many ways a useless introduction to the topic that relies on outdated concepts and sources like Manstein to answer questions that recent research has been done on and can analyze with greater authority than an outdated self-serving memoir.  Another weakness is the analysis offered of Soviet theorists (Frunze, Triandafillov, and Isserson) which is missing any mention of Svechin (See Harrison’s “The Russian Way of War” for a detailed discussion of this highly important and influential figure). 


    Close to the end of the first chapter Ellis already sets up his premise for the next chapter, which deals with Germany’s Commissar Order.  He portrays all commissars as being guilty of “Terror” within the Soviet state.  And here we come to probably the most disappointing and inept chapter of this entire volume.  It’s hard to understand exactly what Ellis is trying to accomplish.  He claims he is not taking anything away from the nature of the National Socialist system yet he continually tries to diminish their responsibility when it comes to the Commissar Order and justify its inclusion within the greater parameters of the nature of the conflict on the Eastern Front.  He compares this order with Soviet actions at Katyn (84) but in general the arguments he utilizes are at best fallacious.  German thoughts on the internal actions and developments within the Soviet Union should have no bearing on the rules of warfare.  Furthermore, there is no real attempt to analyze who was a commissar or how they came to occupy this position within the Red Army.  All agency is taken away from party functionaries, they are only characterized as robots fulfilling genocidal orders and representatives of the Soviet regime.  Worse is the comparison Ellis then makes between the NKVD and commissars, claiming one is the same as the other.  Here this entire chapter and argument unravel since if the German state feared the actions of representatives of the Soviet state then the Commissar Order should have also included the NKVD or simply all representatives of the Soviet state within the Red Army and Soviet society in general.  But it did not.  The entire chapter is marred by lack of research, generalizations and assumptions that are the mark of an amateur rather than historian.


    The third chapter traces the diplomatic relationship between Germany and the Soviet Union from the non-aggression pact of 1939 to the outbreak of war in June 1941.  Not surprisingly, Ellis once again is lacking in the source material he utilizes.  Worse is that he takes the word of figures such as von Ribbentrop at face value without any analysis or contextualization.  Ellis presents an untenable argument for the start of the war claiming, similar to Suvorov, that Germany “cannot be held solely responsible for starting World War II.”  He misinterprets the language of the secret protocols, lacks any type of documentation or primary research when it comes to what was happening in those 17 days when the Soviets did not invade Poland and in the end presents nothing new or original about the topic.


    The next chapter deals with Soviet intelligence assessments of German military intentions from 1939-1941.  For this chapter Ellis mainly utilizes the two volumes “Year 1941” that were released decades ago and have been utilized by numerous authors and historians since.  What amazed me first and foremost is that Ellis did not even bother to use “What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa” by David Murphy.  Although Murphy has some issues with his work, it is simply a must read for those trying to understand the intelligence situation within the Soviet Union on the eve of the war.  Once more there is nothing new or original here, in fact Ellis now takes Soviet intelligence reports about German troops, aircraft, etc., at face value without any type of analysis.  He presents a few intelligence summaries without putting them into context, including military intelligence in terms of German units being moved to the East but he never addresses the German disinformation campaign, the numerous contradictory reports that were coming in, or how often dates came and went of Germany’s supposed invasion and what that could do to an agent’s credibility.  While readers will themselves see the various dates offered for when Germany will invade you will not see Ellis contextualizing this information.  Murphy’s text is a better alternative in every way.  (Later in the text Ellis claims Sorge reported the correct date of the German invasion, he did not.)


    The fifth chapter deals with “NKVD Operations During Barbarossa, 1941-1942” and is mainly composed of reports from another multi-volume Russian publication on Security Organs that was published over a decade ago.  There are some interesting reports here and as primary source material it can be a very useful source base but, as previously mentioned, Ellis takes the reports at face value without looking at the other side so that what you’re getting here is, at best, Soviet impressions, rumors, etc., which do not add much to our overall understanding of the period or events in question.

    Chapter six might look interesting, but it is not.  A diary from a 20th Panzer Division veteran could be useful in understanding the German invasion and advance into the Soviet Union up until the winter counteroffensive, but overall it’s a rather dry read.  I enjoy memoir/diary literature for the most part, but this was one of the most boring I’ve come across.  Here I probably know why no one has published it previously, it wouldn’t sell.


    Chapter seven looks at Soviet literature on the German invasion and 1941 in general.  Here Ellis is probably in familiar territory with literary analysis, some of it interesting some less so.  Once more, however, it doesn’t alter our understanding of either Barbarossa, the Red Army or the Soviet Union.

    Finally, the eight chapter looks at Suvorov’s thesis on who started the Second World War from his infamous text “Icebreaker.”  First, a few issues I have with this chapter.  Ellis once more goes along with the idea that the non-aggression pact meant war was a guarantee, it did not.  Secondly, Ellis does not provide any of his own evidence and readily falls for Suvorov’s ideas which were made from hindsight rather than research and analysis.  Thirdly, Ellis claims Suvorov used “primary source material,” if he means memoirs then he is right, although somehow he readily forgets the amount of censorship that always accompanied any literature on the war.  If he means primary source material from archives, then he is wrong.  I will give credit where it is due – Ellis addresses numerous claims made by Suvorov and shows how they never support Suvorov’s foundational assertion that Stalin was preempted.  That’s all fine and good.  Unfortunately, he once again takes a source at its word without doing any research beyond the superficial.  I will offer only one example of the duplicity Suvorov’s text is full of and the laziness Ellis exhibits within this entire volume.  On pg. 436 Ellis quotes Suvorov who is quoting S. Ivanov’s book on the “Beginning Period of the War.”  Ellis quotes Suvorov as saying Ivanov claimed “that Germany acted before Stalin could do so.”  Why couldn’t Ellis simply go to the original source and cite Ivanov’s book?  Here is what Suvorov quotes Ivanov as saying: “As General Ivanov put it, 'The Nazi command simply succeeded in forestalling our troops in the two weeks preceding the outbreak of war.' (General of the Army S. P. Ivanov, Nachal'nyi Period Voiny, Moscow 1974, p. 212).”  On the surface it seems that Ivanov is saying Soviet troops were preparing an outbreak of their own war, i.e. preparing to start a war against Germany.  Since I have Ivanov’s book in my collection, I looked up the quote and found that Ivanov was actually commenting on how German troops on the border were able to complete their deployment and pre-empt Soviet troops coming from the interior, who were recently called up to bolster the Western Military Districts in case of war breaking out, in their deployment.  As such German troops “thereby creat[ed] favorable conditions for the seizure of the strategic initiative in the beginning of the war.”  The only reason ‘two weeks’ are mentioned by Ivanov is because that was when Soviet forces in the interior were told to begin moving to the border regions.  Suvorov quotes out of context and makes it seem as if Ivanov is claiming that Hitler pre-empted a Red Army attack when in fact he is saying no such thing – something Ellis could have readily understood if he did the necessary research.


    In the end I found this book almost completely useless.  

    I am amazed, shocked, and utterly horrified that a university press would produce such a complete embarrassment to historical literature.  



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    Brian Glyn Williams offers an in-depth and engaging account of Chechen history via their regular need to fight those attempting to subdue them and control their land. The accounts begin with Russian incursions into Chechen territories, the opposition raised and its inevitable defeat by a force that can readily engage in prolonged attacks and sieges and can rely on a large pool of manpower against the infinitely smaller number of Chechens and their allies who can, at best, take to the mountains and continue a form of guerrilla warfare that leans on ambushes. This resistance continues in the face of the Russian Revolution and eventually during the Second World War, for numerous reasons, the Chechen people are accused of collaboration and, along with other minorities in and around the Caucasus, are deported wholesale to Central Asia, where tens of thousands die and suffer for the next decade until in the 1950s Khrushchev's administration allows their return (although in truth Khrushchev had little say in the matter as many simply took their belongings and returned home). Then, the eventual break up of the Soviet Union leads to this minor internal Russian region to demand independence and take up the fight against Russian forces when they resist any such move (fearing a domino effect could ensue). After losing too many troops the Russians begin to negotiate with a variety of Chechen personalities and eventually a very precarious calm settles on the region only to be interrupted by a series of bombings within Russia and a renewal of hostilities against Chechnya.

    All of the above is what the majority of this text covers, the Boston bombings are given a chapter, the last, and to be honest that chapter is somewhat the least interesting (not the author's fault). The strengths of this book are that you have an academic with a wide knowledge of both the Chechen people and territory and their place within the history of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation today. Furthermore, he makes a good case for why Chechens and their struggle against Russia should not be conflated with Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. At the same time there are some weaknesses readily evident within the pages of this text. First off, there is a distinct bias toward the Chechen side. In part it's understandable but it also translates to at times an omission of the Russian side and at other times a distinct impression that Russians can do no right. The Russian/Soviet side is not represented to the same degree as the Chechens and it also appears that not enough condemnation is being offered for some of the more drastic actions taken by Chechen fighters. Just because they might treat hostages well doesn't mean they're not guilty of perpetrating terrorist acts against civilians. Overall, this is an excellent but at times biased introduction to the history of Chechen resistance and its evolution, especially in the post-Cold War period. It really shows how complex the situation is in and around the Middle East/Central Asia and how we need to have a grasp on the situation there to figure out how best to fight terrorism (international and regional) and avoid creating a worse situation than already exists.

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    This text by Wilhelm Adam is a bit of a mixed bag.  There is no doubt it was written with a bias that precluded any real "honest" commentary on what the author thought of the Red Army, Soviet leadership, or the Soviet Union in general.  Criticisms that are to be found are rather tame and platitudes toward both the Soviet state and people come in waves toward the end.  Similarly it becomes readily evident that Adam's thoughts on Paulus are that of an admirer, which means criticisms (where they are evident) are also somewhat mild.  But simultaneously, we in the West have few histories of Stalingrad from inside of the Sixth Army's command staff, which makes this text in some ways still a useful look at the Sixth Army's march toward Stalingrad, the ensuing fighting for the city and their eventual surrender.

    The actual fighting for the city receives less attention than I thought it would, but since Adam is constantly at Paulus's side and he's at Sixth Army headquarters, or the headquarters of corps/divisions, that's partly understandable.  The real interesting commentary here is more so about the Sixth Army's initial attempts to deal with the Soviet Kharkov offensive in the spring of 1942 and the actions of Paulus after the Sixth Army is surrounded in Stalingrad.  Here we see that initially the German lunge toward Stalingrad was not a sure thing, nor was the Soviet defeat around Kharkov a foregone conclusion.  There were numerous issues that the Wehrmacht in general had to deal with in order to achieve a victory against Timoshenko's forces and there is reason to believe a victory might have been achievable by the Red Army if proper reconnaissance, better command and control, and more forces were allocated to the offensive.  Although, after the numerous offensives undertaken by the Red Army in the wake of the Moscow Counter-offensive, the lunge against the Sixth Army was still a risky move that did not pay off.

    The actual fighting for the city showcased the consistent casualties that German forces suffered as units slowly melted away in urban fighting and Red Army forces continued to desperately cling to every building and meter of ground they could get their hands on.  Adam regularly mentions the growing front-line and the reliance on allied formations (Romanian, Italian, Hungarian) in helping to hold the front.  With the eventual Soviet offensive to encircle the Sixth Army, the reader is offered an intimate look at the decision making process within the Sixth Army as Adam, initially caught outside the encirclement, flies into the city and continues to serve at Paulus's side.  Here the usual lament by many is that Paulus should have immediately broken out, such an argument is easily made with the aid of hindsight.  It took days for the encirclement to close around the Sixth Army, at which point units needed to be reorganized to meet the new threat to every front of the Sixth Army.  With Paulus trying to orient himself and figure out what the Army High Command's plans were for the Sixth Army and Army Group B, time began to be wasted.  Everyone vacillated as Army Group Don was created and Manstein was given the job of breaking through to the Sixth Army.  With this hope and the continued belief that the Luftwaffe would supply the troops with enough supplies, Paulus continued to believe that the Sixth Army would not be forsaken (and on more occasion Adam is critical of Paulus's inability to make decisions and assume responsibility).  One division that attempted to ignore orders and withdrew to eventually attempt a breakout was destroyed by Red Army forces, it was simply too late to make a concentrated effort, at least for forces caught outside the city of Stalingrad itself.  Thus, Paulus had a hard time orienting himself between Manstein, Hitler, and others and could not himself make up his mind, deciding to simply follow orders as otherwise it would set a poor example for other commanders (or so Adam tells us this was part of his reasoning).  Considering Manstein could have also taken the initiative to give Paulus the order to breakout, solely blaming the commander of the Sixth Army seems too simple.  The real problem is that Paulus had no idea what Manstein was planning or capable of and neither did Manstein know the exact situation the Sixth Army was experiencing.  Everyone had their own ideas and unfortunately a lack of initiative meant everyone stayed the course as best they could.

    Eventually, with the destruction of the Sixth Army Adam is taken prisoner and slowly converts to a "Soviet" or "socialist" point of view with respect to the war.  The latter parts of the book discuss his time in prison camps and the various generals and officers he encounters, who joins the "Soviet cause" and who opposes it, etc., rather less interesting than the rest of the book.  Thus, overall this text offers an interesting and intimate, although somewhat biased, look at the Sixth Army's attempt to capture Stalingrad and the eventual defeat suffered by German forces.

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    Having read hundreds of books on the Soviet Union and today's Russia there are few that make the kind of impression that Alexievich's latest foray into the lives of generations of former Soviet men and women has left on me.  "Secondhand time" is a book about life and death, suffering, tragedy, the human condition and what life is like in a space that encompasses a world not totally forgotten, that of the Soviet Union, and one not totally understood, crony capitalism moving in the direction of new-age fascism.  The weaknesses or biases of the book are few, even though they are important to remember.  This is a book based on human memory and one that mainly concentrates of women and their stories, all too often filled with adversity, desperation, humiliation and misfortune.  Although human memory is imperfect, there are snapshots that have entered everyone's consciousness and which can readily be recalled that seem to portray events that took place just yesterday yet truly occurred years or decades ago.  As the interviewees discuss traumatic events in their lives (war, terrorism, murder, violence, etc.), there is more reason to believe that what they are recalling is closer to an emotionally honest and raw remembrance than a self-censored, stylized depiction of events.  In some ways I would compare this volume with Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago in its emotionally draining narrative.  At almost five hundred pages this is a book best consumed slowly, methodically, with a lot of stops and interruptions to give readers time to digest what they've read and what has been related to them.

    The book itself is divided into two main sections, interviews from the 1990s when the Soviet Union fell apart and those from the 2000s.  The 1990s were best represented by regular violence in the streets, against everyday people and newly created "businessmen." Many were angry and could not understand how authorities could simply "give away" what was the "Soviet Empire." The social-contract that previously existed was done away with.  Where previously people might not have trusted the government or its organs, they understood that jobs, medical care, education, etc., would be available and provided for those in need.  When "capitalism" was announced, with no real explanation by authorities or understanding by the majority of the population, social and cultural ideals cultivated under the Soviets for decades were replaced by the all mighty dollar.  Those with connections or the "entrepreneurial spirit" - who didn't see it as beneath themselves to sell, buy, barter and "hustle" their way to better living conditions - did well, while those who continued to believe that the state would or should provide the basic necessities of life, or were simply not equipped for a capitalist market, suffered.  Seniors, who survived the Stalinist purges and lived to see victory in the Second World War were looked down upon.   These men and women defined themselves against a state that "won the war" and "beat Hitler" but were viewed as useless beneficiaries of a system that, while they might have fought and suffered for, no longer existed.

    Gangs preyed on the weak and violence was a daily occurrence the results of which could be seen on the streets by passersby.  Xenophobia that was kept in check by Soviet authorities appeared once more as minor conflicts broke out in the Baltics, among Armenians and Azerbaijanis and in Central Asia.  Neighbors and friends that you previously got along with or played with as children turned violent and vengeful.  Moscow became the beacon that many were drawn to, looking for a better life.  Men left their families behind to seek migrant work while women left everything and everyone to make a new life for themselves.  All too often they found abuse and humiliation.

    The more remarkable accounts that make up the vignettes the author includes in this work are that of a former NKVD worker and how he performed executions on a regular basis - he compared the "quotas" that were sent down from higher ups to the quotas that factories and workers were regularly issued and made to adhere to.  Both served the state - one created goods needed by the state while the other destroyed perceived enemies of the state.  Those recalling their time in Stalinist prisons and camps offered moving testimony and profound accounts.  As the system and its cogs went through the motions, all too often victims were turned into executioners and executioners into victims - the previously mentioned NKVD worker was in turn arrested and served seven years.  This is a text that will long stay with readers.  It's less of a testimony for or against the former Soviet Union or its citizens than a look at the lives of people who have suffered trauma and tragedy in their lives due to events beyond their control.

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    "Rollback: The Red Army's Winter Offensive along the Southwestern Strategic Direction, 1942-43" is a compilation of a few articles written by military authors and for internal military studies followed up by a selection of translated documents from archival collections previously released in Russia.  The articles range from the 1940s into the 1950s and one can see minor differences in the time periods with how operations were discussed and analyzed.

    For those familiar with works by David Glantz, these articles read in a similar way but are usually less readable with a dry, technical voice recounting fact after fact.  The majority of the action takes place parallel to or right after the Stalingrad operations being conducted in late 1942 and early 1943, so keeping that in mind it's no wonder that you have more limited operations going on simultaneously that are relying on a few armies and corps for various encirclement operations.

    Each of the major operations here begins with an overview of STAVKA orders for front/army and corps/division commanders, followed by a look at training, intelligence, logistical issues, engineering troops, tank forces, artillery, air support, etc.  Mention is also made of terrain and weather conditions are also discussed.  Although the author(s) are aware of how detrimental weather conditions can be for operations, both on the ground and in the air, at one point when they could have blamed the weather for a poor Red Army performance they choose instead to more objectively point to the inadequate actions of army and front commanders.  So in that respect, readers of this volume should keep in mind that these articles were made for internal consumption and for Soviet military personnel to learn from and grow, rather than a rehashing of familiar propaganda slogans (although that is found among these pages every now and then as well).

    The real interest here for readers is the tone taken with respect to deficiencies.  In at least two or three of the operations covered, there is an emphasis on what was done correctly and where there were deficiencies that need to be addressed in future discussions and eliminated in future operations.  From lack of engineering support and tanks lost due to concealed minefields, to lack of air support and poor coordination on the part of army and front commanders, the authors are rather frank in what Red Army forces did well and where and why they performed poorly.  That in and of itself is not often found among publications created for the public in the Soviet period so the highlighting of these issues is very important to note and worthwhile to be aware of when contemplating to what extent the Red Army had learned its trade by the end of 1942 and the beginning of 1943, that is, leading up to the Third Battle of Kharkov in the spring of 1943.

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    I've read a few memoirs detailing German experiences in Soviet POW camps.  Adelbert Holl's experiences, overall, offer an interesting insight into the Soviet POW and GULag system of camps.  Simultaneously, I was a bit disappointed as Holl's narrative can at times be tedious and tiresome.  Thus, I can't say that this is the most interesting memoir I've read but it is one that offers the ability for readers to make a few interesting observations.  To some extent I'd say readers are probably interested in seeing if German prisoners ever wondered about their complicity in the Third Reich and the unfolding Holocaust, or if they even knew it was going on around them.  Holl spends little to no time reflecting on his role as a soldier in the Wehrmacht, only at times reminding the reader how much better Germans are than their Soviet/Russian/Asiatic counterparts.  He has no remorse or really any feelings at all for the war that was unleashed on the Soviet people, for Holl the most important aspects of his imprisonment are ensuring survival for himself and those Germans who have not decided to "betray" their country by joining the Soviet propaganda efforts against Hitler's regime.  Thus, from one camp to another Holl mainly recounts his attempts to avoid work, stand up to perceived and real Soviet cruelty, search for food, etc.  The majority of his memoirs are in fact filled with discussions of the horrid situation he's found himself in and, when his attempts to avoid work finally result in his judgment and imprisonment in the Soviet GULag system for ten years of hard labor, he experiences another level of cruelty that includes an introduction to the criminal element that has made the GULag world in part its own fiefdom.  For those interested in how German POWs were treated and how the Soviets were able to convict many and keep them working within the GULag system, thus avoiding returning them home until they absolutely had to, you'll find plenty of interesting information in Holl's account of his time in the Soviet state.  However, if you're looking for a narrative that includes a more personal and retrospective discussion of the Third Reich, Hitler, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Holocaust, etc., you won't find much of that here.

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    Tim Judah's "In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine" offers a good introductory look at the recent conflict that began in the shadow of the Sochi Winter Olympics.  There are a few issues and weaknesses throughout.  But, overall, for those who want to understand Ukraine's turbulent history, its place within the Soviet Union and relationship to Russia in the post-Soviet period, as well as how the recent "Maidan" revolution began, including the war in Eastern Ukraine, this is a great starting point.

    First, the few minor negatives that I ran across.  Since I had an advanced copy of the book, there were some spelling/grammar issues that I think will be corrected before the final publication is out, but at times such issues made for having to reread sentences and even paragraphs as some of the arguments presented and events described became convoluted and the errors/writing style made it harder to figure out what was actually happening.  Secondly, and more importantly, since Judah isn't a historian - and although this is not a history book - yet attempts to tackle historical issues/topics, he does not always do a satisfactory enough job in presenting them (conversely, he has unearthed some interesting material and has led me to ordering a few books to continue my own research).  I'll only utilize two minor examples.  When discussing the referendum in Donetsk and Lugansk he compares the event to the Soviet "acceptance" of Western Ukraine and Belorussia after the dismemberment of Poland following the non-aggression pact.  The comparison is fair but omits the precedent the Soviets were working from, that is, the German annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland.  Similarly, when discussing the annexation of Crimea and the referendum that took place there, the author ignores the more recent precedent of what happened in Kosovo, which Russia had a large interest in and whose concerns were ignored when Kosovo was granted independence.  Obviously none of this is an excuse or justification for Russian/Soviet actions, simply that the author is presenting historical events with limited context which places all the onus on the Soviet Union/Russia and misses important precedents.  Finally, the author is not fluent in either Russian or Ukrainian, thus he used translators and there's the possibility that some nuances or context might be missing, but that's an issue that doesn't come across the pages of this book, at least nothing jumped out at me, but it's simply something to keep in mind.

    What the author does well is discuss the numerous shades of grey that exist in this conflict.  That includes the propaganda campaigns from both sides that recycle Soviet/Nazi rhetoric and propaganda while justifying their own actions.  However, Ukraine is a multi-ethnic state seeking a history to grasp onto but unfortunately the historical heroes and events many right-wing groups, including some in government positions, have grasped onto ignore the other rich historical legacies that exist throughout Ukraine.  Thus the selective memory of OUN and UPA actions against Ukraine's enemies have come to represent a heroic Ukrainian narrative that ignores the genocide of Ukraine's Jewish population, some of whom died at the hands of the same OUN and UPA heroes that are honored today.  These decisions, of whom to honor and what events to ignore, have added fuel to the propaganda fires that have been emanating from Russia and the rebel groups in Eastern Ukraine.  A grain of truth is all that is needed to paint entire groups as "fascists" and "puppets of the West." While some believe the propaganda campaigns the vast majority of Ukrainians want peace and an end to the corruption that they have been witness to at every level of society.  They want to live their lives in peace, raise their children and work jobs that pay relatively stable and meaningful salaries, something that has eluded most Ukrainians for the past two decades and has become even harder to come across in a Ukraine that now has to wage war on its eastern frontier.  The majority of the stories presented from interviews are interesting and give minor insights into everyday life throughout various regions of Ukraine (Galicia, Bessarabia, and the eastern provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk).  Each region has its own distinct history, interests, cultural legacies and impressions of the Maidan revolution and the ensuing war in the east.  There is no single, coherent narrative that all of Ukraine can get behind and support, something Ukraine's government has been unable to create, while Russia has taken every opportunity to emphasize its own propaganda efforts to discredit Ukraine's current regime.  Thus, Ukrainians continue to struggle to understand their place in Europe and their relationship to Russia while waging war in their backyard.

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    Although I say it often enough, there are still only a few books that surprise me when it comes to the Second World War, especially the Eastern Front.  In this case, the book I'd compare this work to would be David Stahel's "Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East." I'd recommend reading Müller's volume first and follow that up with Stahel's ever evolving look at the German incursion into the Soviet Union.

    Taking a look at "Enemy in the East" there are a few important things the author attempted to do with this monograph.  He wanted to look at the history of German military plans against the Soviet Union, especially in the period after Hitler took power and through 1941.  Simultaneously, he wanted to see who actually did the planning as in the postwar period the majority of the German commanders who remained alive created a narrative that portrayed Hitler as being the sole guilty party in the genocidal campaign that was the German invasion of the Soviet Union.  Answering the question of where the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union originated from also means creating additional context in understanding not only the evolution of the Second World War but also the Holocaust.  This means engaging with the old "intentionalists vs. functionalists" debate.  The conclusion reached by the author is that it was Halder and the army that created the original plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union (which were not ideological, although perhaps a little too idealistic) but it was Hitler who created the genocidal form the war would take in the early periods of 1941 without much opposition from the army high command.

    What the author does well, better than any interwar history that I've come across previously, is show the interplay between Hitler's Germany and Poland.  That relationship receives a rather large amount of attention, while that of Germany and Great Britain, France, Japan, Italy, the Soviet Union, Romania, Czechoslovakia, etc., receive less attention but all play very vital roles in how Hitler's plans for the Second World War evolved.  In some ways I think more attention should have been paid to the diplomatic relations between Germany and the Soviet Union as there are connections the author misses and would have added even more context to an already fascinating study.

    According to Müller, Hitler had always planned to go to war with the Soviet Union and might have actually done it in 1939 with Poland's help if not for how certain events developed.  Poland's move away from Germany toward Britain and France meant Germany could no longer continue creeping slowly east and utilizing additional eastern territories for an eventual invasion of the Soviet Union (with or without Poland's help).  This meant an eventual deal with the Soviet Union had to be made.  After invading Poland, and having Britain and France in turn declare war on Germany, Hitler once again had to alter his plans and invade France, in order to avoid a future war on two fronts.  Only after the defeat of France was Hitler ready for a final showdown with the Soviet Union.  However, German hubris, combined with unrealistic evaluations of both the Soviet Union and Red Army, resulted in clashes between Halder and Hitler and the eventual failure of Operation Barbarossa and Germany's eventual defeat.

    Although this is very well researched work, there were some weaknesses amidst the many strengths.  While there is no question the author is an expert in his relevant field(s) when it comes to Nazi Germany, Hitler, and the Wehrmacht, there were a few problems with how the Soviet Union, Stalin, the Red Army, etc., were portrayed.  In general I think the author thinks quite highly of the Wehrmacht's capabilities, even before the invasion of Poland, and had a rather inadequate appraisal of the Red Army's abilities.  Furthermore, the author compares the German invasion forces of some 3.7 million troops (German and allied) to Red Army forces in Soviet Western Military Districts, 2.9 million.  The problem here is that western military districts stretched all the way to Moscow, Soviet forces on or near the border totaled only some 1 million men.  Finally, one somewhat oft cited argument is that the Soviet counteroffensive outside Moscow was enabled thanks to Stalin siphoning off divisions from the Far East to face Germany in the west.  Although this was done, it was a gradual process that began in the summer of 1941 and divisions from the Far East, while making a difference, were not decisive.

    The above aside, this is a highly recommended text for those interested in the interwar period and the evolution of Hitler's plans for war and expansion throughout Europe.  This is simply an indispensable volume that puts much of the interwar period and the lead up to the invasion of the Soviet Union in a new light.

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    I've read my share of memoirs of the Eastern Front, both from the Wehrmacht and the Red Army.  "We will not go to Tuapse" is not one of the more memorable reminiscences but, as is usually the case, there are some interesting events recounted.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Kaisergruber, he was either assigned to duties that made him avoid/miss fighting on the frontlines for much of his military career, or he was sick/wounded and in the rear or recuperating and eager to get to the front and rejoin his friends.  There is a distinct lack of discussion about the politics or ideology of what the German Army is doing on the Eastern Front.  This raises the question of why exactly some of those who volunteered for service in the Wehrmacht did so.  Much of what the author recounts sounds like it's coming straight out of the mind and mouth of an adolescent, and in that might be one answer - it was an adventure, a right of passage to manhood.  For the most part what we have here is a soldier who's fighting a war almost in a vacuum - he sees what's before his eyes and omits most the rest.  He likes most of the inhabitants of the Soviet Union he runs across or develops "relationships" with but he never questions why is it that he and the Wehrmacht are waging war against them, the Red Army (which includes their male and female relatives) or their state.  He seems more interested in an experience in the "wilds" of the east and hardly treats his actions as anything other than responsible for self-preservation first and foremost.  The more memorable passages are those dealing with his escape from encirclement and the casualties his unit suffers in their attempt to keep the Red Army from closing the pocket.  The majority of the text is taken up with literary descriptions of everyday life in Wehrmacht, a lot of aches and pains from marching as an infantrymen, hunger due to lack of food, freezing in the cold, and wounds from combat or stomach issues due to food (or lack thereof).  Finally, the poem the author listed as found after the capture of a Ukrainian village is by Konstantin Simonov, a famous writer and war correspondent, rather than an "unknown Red Army soldier," entitled "Wait for me."

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    Ben Macintyre's 'Rogue Heroes' takes a look at the history of the SAS throughout the Second World War, concentrating on their exploits in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.  This is a journalistic text and it often reads more as a series of adventure stories than a history.  There's much that's left out and a lot that a historian would have emphasized, deconstructed, or better analyzed, but one can't blame a journalist for doing his job.  Similarly, there is a limit to the documentation that was available to Macintyre so the final product is an engaging introduction to British Special Forces and the many operations they took part in throughout WWII.

    What surprised me most was the amateurish nature of both the creation of the SAS and the blasé attitude of many of the commanding officers and the soldiers themselves to their missions.  The very first mission was a complete and utter disaster, something they would not repeat very soon but inevitably would repeat later on in the war.  Dozens of SAS volunteers would die due to circumstances of their own creation in situations that could have been readily avoided, either displaying blind indifference to danger or an unrestrained courage with predictable results.  For a force of men and arms that numbered so few their destructive power(s) were proven again and again in the continued problems they caused Rommel in Africa and the eventual Commando Order issued by Hitler that meant death for any SAS operative if caught behind enemy lines, even if in uniform.  Another surprise was the deadly nature of the clash in the French countryside between the French resistance, SAS, and other units operating against the Germans and their collaborators.  Too often German forces took to reprisal actions against entire villages that were very much reminiscent of their actions on the Eastern Front where the line between victim, bystander, and accomplice could change in a heartbeat depending on the situation one found him/herself in.  Finally, a bit disappointing was the final chapter in the story of the SAS.  Not much time or documentation was devoted to their attempts to capture those Germans who perpetrated war crimes against SAS soldiers.  Similarly, what happened to those who joined the SAS and survived the war was also covered fairly quickly, whereas I would have appreciated a more in-depth look at what men who saw so much death and destruction took away from the war and how they lived their lives after.

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    "Stalin's Commandos" is in some sense a treasure trove of information.  But western readers need to be aware of a few issues when attempting to tackle this monograph.  First, Gogun is a Russian academic, he was trained in Russia and has a grasp of quite a few languages which makes this case study that much more impressive than those that have come before.  Secondly, because he is trained in Russia the usual academic work one would expect from a western academic is not readily visible in these pages.  There is much less attention paid here to theory and methodology (which, in all honesty, does happen in western academia often enough as well), rather, Gogun concentrates on letting the sources speak for themselves with limited additional commentary.  But where that commentary is encountered he does make important points and takes on some greater themes/topics that might be in need of a re-evaluation.  Thirdly, this is a text on the Soviet Ukrainian partisan "movement," so it discounts to a large extent the partisan movement in Belorussia, Russia, but it does touch on activities of partisans that belonged to the OUN/UPA and the Polish AK, in fact some of his concluding thoughts that include comparisons between all of these organizations make this book that much more important in the greater catalog of Eastern Front literature.  Additionally, this is a book that is not always as readable as I'd have liked it to be.  A lot of the text is full of quotes from primary source material that is rather bland and formulaic, it makes for tedious reading but much of it is important for those interested in primary source material since much of this monograph is based on just such material.  Finally, this leads to a weakness that the author doesn't stress perhaps as much as he should.  Much of what is presented comes from eye-witness accounts and memoirs/reminiscences.  Those are not always accurate or representative of the greater "truth" of the events/people/places in question.  Where and when he can, Gogun presents as much evidence as is available, even if it contradicts previous information to show what previously "heroic" events might in reality have been myths or misrepresentations (and why they were invented in the first place).  Thus, in general, the reader has to keep in mind the material that Gogun is working with.  Much of it is really enlightening with respect to the partisan war in the German rear with facts, dates, personalities, and details that the western reader will simply never come across in any other monograph in print today.  For that, I am extremely thankful that this text was translated and for the tremendous job the author has done in compiling so much primary source material for a western audience.

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    Mikhail Filippenkov's look at the beginning of Germany's Operation Typhoon (specifically the attack toward Sychevka) is more so oriented for the enthusiast of the Eastern Front than perhaps students of military history. Both will inevitably find something of interest here but the author's lack of historical training mean he's not presenting a monograph which utilizes primary source material from both sides to develop an argument. Rather, he's been able to document the actions of a few specific units on a semi-tactical and semi-operational level and present these developments with as much primary information as available to the reader without any real type of analysis. This makes it harder for the reader to understand the significance of some events and the insignificance (if any) of others. An added complication is the lack of primary source material for many of the Soviets units discussed because they were lost, destroyed or are still classified as 'secret.'

    Consequently, readers will be met with a play-by-play of the action German and Soviet units found themselves in as they attempted to advance (the Germans) and defend and counterattack (the Soviets). Unit movements, actions, attacks, retreats, casualties sustained, all are presented from primary sources but rarely analyzed. Thus, if you're already familiar with the Eastern Front you'll know what to look for in terms of significance. For instance, the Wehrmacht's need for more fuel is a consistent theme readers will encounter and really puts into perspective how much of a challenge Operation Typhoon was for the Germans from day one. Filippenkov also presents the weather on a daily basis making it possible to see where the cold might have impacted the German advance, or at least in one instance, facilitated their continued advance thanks to the freezing of previously muddy roads. Another issue that is continually encountered is the disconnect among Soviet formations in the field and higher headquarters, presumably, in Moscow. Due to the way situation reports were passed up the line, by the time they arrived in Moscow and new orders were issued on their basis for units in the field, the situation on the ground had already changed and they became outdated. Finally, much of the interesting details about rearguard and final "heroic" actions on behalf of Soviet units that did not survive are only available through German after-action reports. Unless survivors made it back and were interrogated (and these interrogations might still be unavailable for researchers) we'll never know for sure what these encircled men went through and survived. Overall, this is a good addition to Eastern Front literature and enhances our understanding of 1941 (both from the German and Soviet point of view), but a greater presence and analysis by the author would have made it that much better a look at these events and this war in general.

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    Alexander Prusin's "The Lands Between" offers an excellent synthesis on the bordering territories that have seen so much death and destruction in the twentieth century.  Similar to Kate Brown's "A Biography of No Place" and Timothy Snyder's "Bloodlands,""The Lands Between" looks at contested territories between the former Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian Empire that have today been Balkanized into some dozen nation-states that in some cases continue to struggle with their national identities.

    Unlike the two previously mentioned volumes, which mainly concentrate on the Kresy area or some artificial time period and "bloodland," Prusin's text is more all-encompassing.  He provides greater context and a more nuanced narrative that while overlooking some aspects of the history he's covering (it would take numerous volumes to do justice to this topic) nonetheless offers readers an in-depth analysis of the socio-economic, political and national questions that newly created polities and their inhabitants struggled over in order to find their place in Eastern Europe.

    The most interesting chapters deal with the First and Second World War as we see the numerous factions vying for power in what became the Polish, Ukrainian, and Baltic states.  Thus, for instance, in the lead up to the Second World War Prusin offers an in-depth analysis of Polish actions when it came to handling their minorities (Jews and Ukrainians), dealing with the growing power and threat of Nazi Germany, and taking part in the transformation of Central/Eastern Europe through 1939.  The Ukrainian nationalist movement is also well covered and their evolution and transformation from their beginnings in the shadow of the Russian Revolution offer a cautionary tale of what to avoid in attempting to create a national identity.  These two groups, Poles and Ukrainians, would in the lead up and during the Second World War take the wrong lessons from the idea of self-determination and aim to alter the national character of territories they deemed rightfully theirs by waging ethnic cleansing campaigns that took the lives of tens of thousands.

    For those interested in an alternative to Snyder's "Bloodlands," which is just as "bloody" but an altogether better synthesis, I would highly recommend Prusin's "The Lands Between."

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    Hoth, at least in 1941 and 1942, was one of the original four commanders of German Panzer Groups/Armies who were responsible for the encirclements at Minsk, Smolensk, Uman, Kiev, Viazma and Briansk.  Although discussions/monographs of 1941 are readily available today, from both the German and Soviet point of view, I would always welcome additional primary source information that tries to put into context the German Army's inner-dialog, so to speak, when it comes to the beginning of Operation Barbarossa and its evolution into Operation Typhoon.  Hoth has much of that insider's knowledge but this slim volume while adding something to our knowledge also leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

    The epilogue deals with Hoth's career, reputation, and what happened to him after the war was over.  These last pages of this book explain why there is absolutely no discussion of the validity of Hitler's orders on the eve of the invasion of the Soviet Union or of the methods employed by the Wehrmacht in their conduct of the war.  Hoth was, from available evidence, a Nazi who supported the invasion of the Soviet Union and followed through with the various criminal orders he was assigned throughout the war.

    Thus this is a work that, like so many others written by former German commanders, tries to solely discuss the military aspects of the invasion of the USSR which means the more interesting and somewhat unoriginal ideas expressed revolve around Hitler's inability to come up with a concrete plan for how Barbarossa was supposed to be implemented.  That is, was the Wehrmacht supposed to aim for the destruction of the Red Army, secure the Soviet Union's economic facilities and industries to help Germany continue her campaign(s) or was Moscow the final target for 1941.  Hitler's continued vacillations and ad hoc decisions to assign German forces to take advantage of developing opportunities (Kiev encirclement) rather than concentrate on one singular aim (Moscow) are what hampered German operations, at least according to Hoth.

    Much of this has been discussed previously, most recently by David Stahel.  Consequently, there's little new or original information here, and neither is the coverage of Panzer Group 3's operations during 1941 that enlightening, it's more a summary of attacks, counter-attacks, and encirclements.  However, with that said, there are still some interesting insights into events and discussions recounted by Hoth that make this a worthwhile book for those with more than a passing interest in the Eastern Front.  While Hoth's reminiscences offer a less in-depth view of his own decision-making process or the events he recounts, at least compared to what other German commanders have put down on paper, they're still worth taking a look at, especially if you can read between the lines and keep in mind when this work was originally written.

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    We are coming up on the 80th anniversary of the start of Stalin's Great Purges.  While much has been written on Stalinist repressions, there are still answers to prominent questions that continue to elude historians and regularly invite debate within the historical community.  "Agents of Terror," although a slim volume, is certainly not an easy read.  The author, Alexander Vatlin, takes the reader into the inner-workings of the NKVD on a district level.  Looking at the Moscow district of Kuntsevo, the author discusses the composition of Kuntsevo, the make up of the local NKVD, and chronicles the lead up to the Great Purges and the purges themselves, including the many victims, with as much documentation as he could find.

    The story Vatlin uncovers is both familiar and revealing at the same time.  NKVD workers fabricated case after case in order to fulfill and overfill quotas assigned for the week/month.  Those arrested and accused of the most fantastical tales were beaten, tortured, threatened and lied to in order to get their confessions and signatures on paper.  At times blank documents were offered to them with promises of what would be written after they had attached their signature.  While initial arrests, when the Great Purges were just beginning (after order 00447 was issued), were often a result of NKVD agents consulting previously prepared lists for known suspects, after running out of known victims they moved on to anyone whom they could assign any type of blame to, no matter how outlandish.  In some ways family units were sought after as connections could easily be made and entire underground or spy "groups" could be claimed to have been found.

    In detailing all of the above, Vatlin continually tries to figure out the mentality of NKVD workers who continued to enforce orders that some, at the very least, disagreed with.  There is no one satisfactory answer we can come to after reading about these events, but some reasons stand out more so than others.  Ideology seemed to play a limited role, at least when it came to Kuntsevo NKVD operatives, economic motives were a bigger draw for at least one leading NKVD figure who threatened victims with arrest and worse if they did not move out of apartments he coveted.  Some, who perhaps could no longer handle the stress of the job, committed suicide.  Often times it appears that "ideology" was more important to those under arrest than those doing the arresting, as they were often told their sacrifice in signing falsified confessions would help Stalin, the state, and the cause, and sign they did (at least if their own accounts of these events are to be believed).

    Unfortunately, due to the limitations associated with the archival information the author was working with we are still left with many questions that will forever remain unanswered and some that might find their answers when additional archival material is unclassified.  Additionally, we, both reader and researcher, are left to rely on documents and accounts written by perpetrators and victims.  How much truth each inserted into their versions of events is impossible to tell.  However, in general, because both perpetrators and victims often enough recounted similar ideas, events and accusations that at least points to some type of "truth" that we can use as a foundation to continue searching for additional information to help us understand why the Great Purges were initiated and how they were sustained.

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    Those familiar with the Soviet Union's military advances in the interwar period will undoubtedly have come across the name G. S. Isserson.  Although often overlooked for more familiar personalities (Tukhachevskii, Triandafillov, Svechin, etc.) he was, in the opinion of the Harrison, one of the founding fathers, if not the founding father, of the concept of "deep operations." This was without a doubt one of the most interesting studies I've read on the interwar Red Army and the evolution of Operational Art within the Soviet Union (a theme Harrison began to study in his previous book, "The Russian Way of War").  Isserson became a good candidate to study and analyze as he left behind a number of articles and full-length volumes expanding on his theories and ideas and he survived Stalin's purges.  Unlike the majority of the Red Army, he was imprisoned in June of 1941 and was released from the GULag after Stalin's death.  Thus he continued to discuss, publish and lecture on military theory after his release and up until his death.

    Personally, the most impressive and enlightening chapters of this volume deal with Isserson's publications in the 1930s and Harrison's discussion and breakdown of the various ideas he expanded on as well as their foundations in wars from the nineteenth century and how they would be applied in future conflicts (including how much of that could be actually seen throughout the Eastern Front of the Second World War).  Ideas on linear warfare in particular proved pertinent in how Isserson described the evolution of warfare into the First World War and how "deep operations" would continue to evolve warfare in future conflicts.  His texts discussed meeting engagements, breakthrough operations, the creation of shock armies, cavalry-mechanized groups, the use of airborne forces, covering armies, and setting up defenses in-depth.  Unfortunately, for all his intelligence and genius, Isserson never received the attention, praise or respect he deserved and in the post-Stalin period it was those figures who died accidentally (Triandafillov) or in the purges (Tukhachevskii, Yakir, Uborevich, Svechin, etc.) who received the majority of recognition for the improvements and advances the Red Army underwent in the 1930s before the purges lobbed off the "head" of the Red Army.

    If there are any weaknesses here it is that Harrison seems to at times have become enamored with Isserson.  There's no doubt this was an intelligent person, although he came with a very abrasive attitude toward his peers and whomever he considered beneath his intelligence, but it appears Harrison continuously ascribes the majority of the research and advances made within the concept of "deep operations" solely to him (granted, their foundations he does trace to Triandafillov).  More so, when mentioning any of his "students" while a lecturer at the General Staff Academy he treats Isserson as if he was their only mentor and his class(es) were the only ones that mattered (and his students included some of the most famous and well-respected commanding officers during the Second World War).  Granted, there's enough source material to show that there was appreciation for Isserson as an instructor but in general it seems the author is putting a lot of emphasis on this point and is becoming more of a cheerleader for Isserson rather than a biographer.  However, one can easily let this weakness pass as the information Harrison has found and unearthed makes an enormous contribution to our understanding of the Red Army's evolution in the interwar period and throughout the Second World War - something historians continue to study and evaluate to this day and will continue to do so as long as numerous archival holdings are consistently made off-limits to researchers by Russian authorities.

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    Catherine Merridale's "Lenin on the Train" is a bit difficult to categorize.  This is not a monograph for academics or specialists, the lack of archival research and the limited citations means this is more a 'popular' approach to this period (WWI, Russian Revolution) and personality (Lenin).  Simultaneously, however, the avalanche of names, locations, events, and dates mean readers need to have a rather in-depth understanding of the First World War and the Russian Revolution if they want to understand the narrative Merridale has created.

    While the initial approach offered by the author sparked some interest, specifically the question of what role did Germany actually play in allowing Lenin to travel through their territory and destabilize the Eastern Front has some parallels to events occurring today in both Eastern Europe and the United States (to what extent can state and non-state actors influence revolutions, revolutionary movements, or the democratic process) the rest of the text unfolded as a rather unoriginal attempt to contextualize Lenin, the lead-up to the Russian Revolution, and Lenin's eventual return, escape, and re-return to Russia.  The most significant contribution Merridale makes is to showcase the chaotic nature of the Russian Revolution, how fragile the system that existed between the two revolutions was, and that Germany had no qualms about facilitating the return of personalities like Lenin to Russia if it would help get Russia out of the war and allow Germany to concentrate on the Western Front and potentially win the war.

    As much as Lenin might have had to live down that his return was facilitated by a state that was simultaneously at war with the Russia, this was also the man that authorized the treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  Making deals with enemies and utilizing opportunities to continue preaching his brand of Marxism is what made Lenin the man he was.  Thus, reiterating that Germany was complicit in Lenin's return really does little to enhance our understanding of either the Russian Revolution or Lenin.  And once again I'm forced to wonder who is the intended audience for this text.

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    Peter Conradi's "Who Lost Russia?" asks a question many have pondered for the past decade (at least).  In the wake of the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union it appeared that the United States had "won" the Cold War and Russia looked with hope toward the West for understanding where their future might be found.  Unfortunately, much of the goodwill, from both sides, was squandered during the 1990s and led to the eventual ascension of Vladimir Putin to power at the turn of the century.  The terrorist attack against NYC on 9/11 offered another chance to a working partnership between the US and Russia but that was hardly the direction Bush, Cheney, and Co. wanted to take the country.  Thus, Putin as President of Russia, decided on an "alternative" approach by becoming more belligerent with "near abroad" territories and thanks to the surplus created as a result of previously rising oil prices much of the country was happy to follow someone they believed had altered their living conditions for the better while US actions in Eastern Europe and the rest of the world continually portrayed an America that many Russians no longer view with the same respect and appreciation they once did.

    Conradi gets a lot right.  I was very surprised by how much ground he was able to cover in some 340 pages of text.  For those familiar with Russian/Soviet history, there won't be too much that's new or original within these pages, but for those new to the subject this is definitely a great starting point for beginning to understand the differences in how the US and Russia viewed events that took place throughout the 1990s up through the recent presidential election.  Where Conradi falls short is his reliance on a few select sources to tell his story.  He creates a compelling narrative but his own voice is often lost and not enough analysis is offered to better explain and fully contextualize all the issues he discusses, including how they influenced future developments.  That's the biggest drawback to a text that lacks primary source research (which in the author's defense is mostly impossible due to the recent nature of many of the events being portrayed).  However, more could have also have been done with other "players" who've been caught between the US and Russia.  That is, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, the Baltic states, and other Central/Eastern European nations have played a role in how Russia views the United States and vice versa.  There were a few instances when Conradi brought them into the equation and made sure to emphasize that their interests should not be ignored and do have an impact on how these larger regional and world powers behave but he did not offer enough analysis to drive home that fact often enough.

    By the end of the text I appears Conradi could not come up with a clear-cut answer to the question in the title of his book.  He placed blame on both sides (which is often quite deserved) but in that respect I think he partly ignores one of his own points in that Russian thinking simply does not match that of the West that has lived under "democratic" and "capitalistic" conditions far longer than Russians.  If one believes the above, then the author's conclusions rely on "Western thinking" and omit much of what he discussed from the Russian point of view thus skewing his conclusion(s).  Western attitudes toward Russia in the 1990s reinforced Russian beliefs of those who were wary of Western "experts" who came over to help in that they were more interested in Russian resources than helping Russia convert into a democratic power while building an economic system that relied on capitalist ideas.  Future Russian oligarchs worked with the system at their disposal to the detriment of both their country and the Russian people in general while politicians like Yeltsin tried to steer the country into a democratic direction as NATO, an organization that existed to thwart Soviet aggression, decided it was time not to reorganize and include Russia but more so placate their previous adversary while allowing former Eastern bloc members to join.  These actions might seem unimportant to many in the West, but a Russian narrative has been created based on this type of thinking and has been reinforced by many other actions that has degraded the reputation of the United States throughout the world.  Suffice it to say that this is hardly the endpoint in the question Conradi raises, it is just the start.

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    "Soviet Conquest" features excerpts from six Red Army memoirs that detail their experiences in the Soviet offensive against Berlin.  The most interesting, personally, turned out to be the reminiscences of Katukov, commander of the 1st Guards Tank Army, and Dragunski, who at the time commanded the 55th Guards Tank Brigade, part of the 3rd Guards Tank Army under Rybalko, a formation of the 1st Ukrainian Front under Koniev.  Other figures include engineers, self-propelled artillery forces, and a commander from one of the two Polish armies that fought with the Red Army in Berlin.  The translation(s) overall were good but they were done by someone who was more inclined to follow German standards than English, so many first and last names will sound odd to those who are familiar with the Library of Congress transliteration guidelines that most American/English scholars adhere to.  The text itself is interesting but it is a product of its time.  The reader should be prepared to encounter a lot of praise when it comes to Soviet valor, heroism, self-sacrifice, the importance of the Party and Komsomol, etc.  No doubt much of it is authentic, at least in terms of contemporary beliefs, but it says much about the authors.  As does what they leave out from their accounts.  Also interesting to note is the repetition of some themes, like the idea that the Red Army needed to get to Berlin before the Western Allies, even though it was agreed that the Soviets would get Berlin.  Most surprising in some ways in this account is that the battle for Berlin lasted only some two weeks; yet the casualties sustained by Soviet forces were in the tens of thousands.  Since many of the accounts discuss tank/self-propelled artillery forces, which in house-to-house fighting consistently needed support from infantry units, that such a large number of forces was concentrated in so limited an area yet was consistently short of infantry when it came to their advances just reinforces the fact that this operation was being conducted as quickly as possible without forethought about how to limit casualties.  Rather, it appears everyone was eager to finish the war as quickly as possible and in so doing were prepared to suffer grievous losses even though the authors constantly lament the loss of dear friends for avoidable reasons.  For those interested in Soviet, Cold War era, accounts of the battle for Berlin, this is a good starting point.

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    Similar to the other volumes published by Artem Drabkin and translated by Stuart Britton, 'Panzer Killers' offers readers a glimpse into the everyday life of Soviet combat veterans that served in the artillery arm of the Red Army.  Mainly you'll encounter soldiers who served with 45mm and 76mm artillery units and self-propelled guns, SU-76s and ISU-152s.  For those familiar with the Second World War and the Eastern Front, you'll find much that rings true and many fascinating anecdotes and reminiscences of time spent in combat, in retreat, in hospitals, and on the offensive.  The high casualty rates that these units suffered are regularly mentioned and discussed.  These men saw death on a regular basis, losing best friends in the blink of an eye.  One of the more interesting aspects of these interviews is keeping track of how many of these veterans and their comrades sustained wounds at the front.  Random and sometimes not so random artillery fire was often the culprit, which might explain why they survived.  Many were wounded multiple times and often they would not wait to be discharged from hospitals but take their chances hitching rides to the front to return to their former units and gun crews (otherwise it was anyone's guess where they might end up).  Aside from discussions of frontline actions (some of which are accompanied by diagrams to better situate readers with the engagements they're reading about), the interviewees also go over their daily routines, from meals to maintenance, and share their thoughts about ignorant officers who wasted men's lives and brave and courageous officers and NCOs who helped many survive the war.  All in all this is a highly recommended volume for those interested in first-hand accounts from Eastern Front veterans.

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    That the idea of “Blitzkrieg” – a term hardly ever employed by the Germans – continues to dominate thinking about the Second World War means the term and concept are still in need of a better grounding and contextualization.  Niklas Zetterling’s “Blitzkrieg: From the Ground Up” attempts to look at a few select German operations – the invasions of Poland, Norway, France, and the Soviet Union – through the eyes lower-level ground forces in order to understand how revolutionary the concept of “Blitzkrieg” really was.  While I appreciate the attempt, the final results are somewhat disappointing.


    The initial chapter, which documents how the foundations of what became “Blitzkrieg” are visible in the First World War (stormtrooper tactics) and discusses the evolution of German thinking of warfare in the interwar period, contains some interesting ideas.  Specifically, the author discusses the novelty, or lack thereof, behind what we associate today with the idea of “Blitzkrieg,” and more importantly the role and influence of technology versus that of personnel initiative.  The individual chapters themselves also contain interesting discussions, when speaking in a general sense, about the various campaigns the author concentrates on.  For instance, when ending the chapter on the invasion of Poland, Zetterling concludes: “Poland had been conquered by a rather traditional mode of warfare…”  Hardly reminiscent of the exciting, lighting victory that the first German success on the field of battle is usually portrayed as.  


    However, some of the other conclusions the author reaches are unoriginal and I am unsure why they would merit an entire volume.  Zetterling’s main arguments revolve around the fact that the way the Germans waged war in WWII was not “revolutionary.”  According to the author: German air power was limited during 1939-1940 and cooperation between ground and air forces was not ideal until perhaps 1942; combined arms operations as employed by the Wehrmacht were not a novel concept but rather the norm for contemporary military operations.  Germany’s “secret,” as it turns out, was the training and initiative that was stressed by its officer corps, which often enough in the field meant a disregard for orders and the solving of problems before superiors even knew they existed.  Less attention is devoted to how often subordinates ignored orders from commanding officers and how that influenced the commander/subordinate dynamic that existed in the Wehrmacht.  The author argues that new weapons that appeared on the eve of and during the Second World War were incorporated into an existing army framework; the army decided how best to utilize the weapons it received rather than the weapons defining future German operational abilities.  Thus German success against states like Poland, Norway and France was the culmination of intensive work done by the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht in the interwar period.  Furthermore, no successful “Blitzkrieg” doctrine that relies on quick wars based around surprise and offensive actions explains the successful defensive operations that the Wehrmacht employed in the latter half of the Second World War.  That, once again, according to the author, was due to training and independent thinking.



    While it is hard to disagree with the above, my biggest complaint is that the way this volume was put together does not allow for enough emphasis or analysis of the above.  Zetterling might have wanted to present various diaries from soldiers and weave them into a seamless narrative, but the end result is a general commentary by the author about major operations/campaigns and then something of a “zoom-in” feature that takes the reader to the ground level, almost disconnected from the previous narrative, as the author paraphrases each and every primary source with needless details.  Instead, the author should have either included the diary/journal entries as they were (written in the first person) or taken out all the superfluous context and concentrated on the information that would support his argument(s).  Moreover, there is not enough supporting original material when Zetterling does present his argument(s).  For instance, there was no mention of the fact that planning for Germany’s campaign against France was initially planned to last some six months – hardly a “Blitzkrieg” campaign.  Additionally, there is no attempt to offer an explanation for why Germany’s opponents either lost the discussed campaigns or were decisively defeated in various engagements.  This really is a missed opportunity as deconstructing what “Blitzkrieg” is and is not will go a long way in helping to understand not only how and why Germany was successful in the Second World War but how the myth of “Blitzkrieg” has continued to dominate our understanding of this time period.


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    Thomas Weber's addition to literature on Hitler attempts to address numerous myths while simultaneously answering and posing new historically relevant questions.  Hitler's time in the German Army during the First World War is regularly referenced when historians or those with even a passing interest in history attempt to understand his motivations, experiences, and goals.  Was it the fires of the Great War that gave Hitler ideas for which direction Germany needed to head toward in the near and distant future?  Was his anti-Semitic attitude a result of his war experience?  Were there other veterans of Hitler's regiment who we can point to who followed in similar footsteps in their world outlook?  Or were Hitler's experiences removed from other veterans, and if so, what does that tell us about the impact the war had on not only Hitler but his comrades in arms?


    As Weber shows, much of what we know or assumed we knew about Hitler was based on select materials utilized by the Nazi regime to wrap the former corporal in a shiny veneer of courage, heroism, and forethought.  Hitler's regiment often occupied quiet sectors of the front and although casualties were plentiful, they were not enough to create a distinctly separate war experience.  As it turns out, Hitler's role as a regimental dispatch runner rarely put him in physical danger, unlike many of his comrades who fulfilled the role of regular infantrymen on the frontlines.  That he received the Iron Cross says more about his relationship with those working in regimental headquarters than any type of courageous and noteworthy behavior.  Iron Cross holders were few and it was mainly connections with those working in headquarters that resulted in receiving an Iron Cross than any type of bravery in the midst of battle.  Finally, the gas attack Hitler suffered through was wildly exaggerated, his temporary blindness was a psychological rather than physical ailment.  

    Weber concludes that Hitler's war experience did not influence him to turn toward politics, turn against Jews, or lead Germany toward the Second World War.  His actions in the war were utilized and manipulated during his rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s as an example of heroism and courage endured in the defense of the Fatherland, but they were a tool to raise Hitler's popularity with little evidence showing that his time on the front resulted in a defining transformation.  What influenced Hitler's outlook occurred after the First World War, and still remains something of a mystery for historians.

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    Svetlana Alexievich has a specific style that she replicates throughout her volumes.  She gives voice to women who have lived in “interesting” times.  Whether it is war or the breakup of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a “capitalist” and “democratic” Russia, the women Alexievich interviews offer a compelling, raw narrative that often forces readers to stop and contemplate a world they never experienced.  The general readers’ lack of familiarity with not only war but the genocidal and total war nature of the struggle on the Soviet-German front will force them to step out of their comfort zones and contemplate events and actions that all too often seem as if they belong outside the realm of the possible.  In this text, readers are exposed to the events of the Second World War through the eyes of female combatants and military personnel. 


    The campaigns, battles, commanding officers, equipment, and often enough the patriotic and selfless spirit that moved many to run away to the front or volunteer for service did not differ from men to women.  Neither did the pain and trauma both sexes experienced at the front.  Women readily fulfilled frontline roles, such as snipers, tankers, of infantry(wo)men and participated in the partisan war in the enemy’s rear; the latter convey some of the most heartrending recollections offered by those who took part in the partisan struggle where rules of war too often ceased to exist.


    However, what many women chose to remember, to concentrate on in order to define their wartime service offers an additional layer to our understanding of the Soviet war experience in general terms.  Additionally, many of the positions women fulfilled in the Red Army lack an equivalent male voice as women dominated them.  Nurses, who served both in hospitals in the rear and on the frontlines and were required to evacuate the wounded from the field of battle (even from burning or damaged tanks), make up a large portion of the reminiscences in this text.  They give voice to the many wounded, dying, and dead that made up the millions of casualties, male and female, sustained by the Red Army.  Additionally, bakers, postal workers, clerks, laundresses, construction workers, mechanics, supply personnel and numerous other positions that would hardly ever merit an anthology of recollections are included.  Although these women did not see the frontline as often as others might, they nonetheless provided both the Red Army and every soldier at the front with needed supplies and support.



    These veterans of a genocidal conflict we hope the world will never experience again offer an emotionally laden representation of the sights and sounds of war.  From the roar of artillery to the anguished screams of the wounded and dying.  Readers will encounter recollections that will consistently challenge what they know about the Soviet-German war.  These women experienced lack of sleep, physical exertion, ill-fitting uniforms, heavy weapons, misogyny, tears, blood, iodine, chloroform, excrement, the raw emotions of love and hatred.  They struggled on a daily basis as they gambled with their lives to see what fate awaited them the next day, hour, minute, or heartbeat.  While war might not have a womanly face, women without a doubt helped achieve victory and suffered for their sacrifices both during the war and long after.


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    Igor’ Sdvizhkov’s look at a minor Red Army offensive (Army size) that took place in the latter part of July 1942 is an important contribution to our understanding of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union.  This is definitely a narrative better suited for those familiar with the Eastern Front.  About two thirds of the text are made up of ‘thick descriptions’ that offer background information on many of the Soviet units taking part in this offensive, their weaknesses and strengths, and the obstacles they faced in attempting to fulfill orders that all too often were poorly developed, delivered late, and weakly implemented.   Many of the rifle formations (divisions and brigades), for instance, were recently recreated units and had not seen much combat previously.  Yet they were thrown into battle without adequate time for reconnaissance or an adequate understanding of German strengths and weaknesses.  Cooperation between infantry formations, tanks, artillery, and the air force was often non-existent with predictable results in that infantry units failed to support their tank counterparts while armored troops, when victorious, continued to advance without adequate means to hold onto the territory they now occupied.  The end results were often futile heroism in the face of predictable German defensive tactics that resulted in uneven Soviet casualties and an inevitable retreat of Red Army forces to their starting positions.  The author also tracks the German side of things with a few chapters that detail events from German primary archival documentation.  This study is highly effective and useful in helping readers understand how the Red Army failed in so many ways in 1942 when attempting to stop the German advance, and how close the Germans were to failure themselves.  Including casualty figures for both sides, when available, helps in understanding how costly these attacks and counterattacks were, including numbers of prisoners taken and trophies recovered from the field of battle. 


    The author’s utilization of both Soviet/Russian and German sources helps to set a new standard in how operational-level histories of the Eastern Front need to be written (although this will undoubtedly prove impossible for 1941 when so many documents were lost or never written and eyewitnesses simply disappeared into the earth or prisoner of war camps).  Going over battle journals and reports not only helps guide readers through the various offensive and defensive actions but also allows the author to expose visible exaggerations, self-censorship, and omissions by both the Red Army and Wehrmacht.  Initial battle reports omitted self-criticism and often featured myopic views of the field of battle where your own unit did everything right while your neighbors consistently retreated or failed to carry out orders.  As such, the author shows how hard it is to figure out the greater truth of what happened when dealing with self-serving documents that try to hide as much as possible when it came to failure while exaggerating heroism and minor accomplishments.  Although the text is somewhat guided by the mystery of what happened to a tank corps commander, the real value and worth of this volume is the author’s descriptions of the battles.  Here weaknesses were found in both the Red Army and Wehrmacht.  An additional critique comes from what the Soviets themselves wrote in their after-action reports analyzing their previous performance on the field of battle (some officers were quite candid in their accusations).  



    For all the strengths of this text, there are numerous weaknesses.  As with many other recently translated operational studies from Russian, this is far from an academic text.  There is no introduction and the analysis that one would expect at the end of chapters, to sum up and contextualize various points and conclusions, are riddled throughout the chapters themselves with little if any cohesion.  The result is an often-repetitive discourse that regularly takes on a discursive form.  Although the information presented is interesting in and of itself, it could have been placed in the footnotes to not detract from the reading experience.  One chapter, for instance, is a compilation of various after-action reports, prisoner interrogations, etc., without enough description and contextualization by the author himself to help guide readers and offers a missed opportunity.  Furthermore, the author has a somewhat annoying habit of throwing in numerous rhetorical questions, foreshadowing ‘dramatic’ events, and pontificating on various points and subjects that does little to help guide the reader through his narrative.  Take out all the superfluous text and this book becomes about a hundred pages shorter.  


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    Boris Bogachev's memoirs give readers a glimpse of frontline life for a Red Army officer who went through the majority of the war serving as a platoon commander.  Bogachev might not have found luck in his desire and eagerness to earn medals/awards or promotions, but he survived being wounded three times and the war in general - going on to a career as a military lawyer.

    Bogachev joined the Red Army when he turned seventeen, at the end of 1941.  After training, his unit was posted around Rzhev and participated in numerous offensive and defensive operations in the meat-grinder that took tens of thousands of lives for no real gains or success as the Germans eventually voluntarily gave up their positions and retreated to a more manageable defensive line.  Bogachev was trained in an artillery school but as his memoirs describe, throughout the war he assumed command of a mortar platoon as well as a sapper platoon that was attached to tank formations.  Although he wasn't initially trained for either mortars or being a sapper, he nonetheless made due with the decisions of those outranking him.  The fact that a trained artilleryman was not utilized to his full potential either points to an overabundance of artillery officers in the Red Army (hard to believe considering the rate at which lower level officers were killed and wounded throughout the war) or that lieutenants were treated almost as poorly as soldiers - sent to where men were needed regardless of their qualifications.

    The author spent a lot of time at the front even if he spent a great deal of time in medical battalions and hospitals.  His impressions of what Red Army troops regularly experienced match what many others have written but he is much more forthcoming in a few areas.  He makes no excuses for the numerous atrocities and acts of wanton destruction that greeted German soldiers and civilians in the latter part of the war.  This is probably one of the few memoirs where readers will encounter numerous examples of Red Army troops (both male and female) executing enemy POWs (Germans and Soviet volunteers) but each situation the author covers also includes an attempted explanation for why such actions were taken (be it in the heat of battle, revenge for previous German atrocities, being in the enemy rear, etc.).  Additionally, the author is quite vocal when discussing the numerous times he was denied medals and awards because someone in the rear deemed his actions not meritorious enough for the recommended commendation(s).  He describes numerous cases of those who found themselves in the rear throughout the war receiving countless awards as frontline soldiers were denied an ability to exhibit their courageous acts.  Although both of these issues are raised by other Red Army veterans, here they are front and center throughout the memoirs and make for a compelling narrative.  This is especially the case as the author was able to work in the Ministry of Defense archives and present additional information he ran across to help readers in understanding his war experience(s).