Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel

Embed this content in your HTML


Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels

Channel Catalog

    0 0

    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."

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    "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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    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.

    0 0

    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.  

    0 0

    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).

    0 0

    The Soviet General Staff Study on Operation Bagration is divided into two parts, preparation and conduct.  Similar to the other titles in this General Staff series, this is a text best suited for those intimately familiar with the Eastern Front of the Second World War and those who can often read between the lines of Soviet historical studies.  Perhaps a reflection of the time this study was prepared and written in, there is no mention of Stalin but similarly commanders names, be they front, army, corps, or division, are also avoided.  The same holds true for the enemy.  This makes for a rather faceless exploration of Operation Bagration as readers will mainly be presented with descriptions of unit movements, attacks, counterattacks, defensive operations, etc.

    However, those interested in understanding some of the intricacies associated with the planning and implementation of one of the most successful Red Army operations in the Second World War will find this volume quite useful.  Specifically the details the author(s) go into when describing initial preparations, tactics utilized by units in the beginning of the offensive, the continuous attempts to adapt to the ever-changing situation as the offensive took shape and commanders soon realized that initial expectations were surpassed by the victories achieved in the field, etc., make for compelling reading.  Because of the success of Operation Bagration there is much praise for Soviet forces within the volume but the author(s) were not above pointing out difficulties encountered in the field and inadequacies in tactics, operational art, strategy and supply services in the rear (logistics, medical, etc.).

    The "international" implications of Bagration are also alluded to within this volume.  There is regular reference to the German movement of forces from other theaters of operation to the Eastern Front to recreate a front where Army Group Center used to exist, making it that much easier for the allies to continue their offensive in the west after the initial D-Day victories had stalled.  The tail-end of Operation Bagration is tied up with the Warsaw Uprising.  There is a minor mention made of the uprising with some time spent discussing the numerous difficulties Soviet forces encountered attempting to reach the suburbs of Warsaw (specifically, Praga) but too context and too many details are left out.  Undoubtedly this was for political reasons and to hide the losses Red Army units sustained as Operation Bagration was running out of steam.  While there are numerous tables and mentions of losses sustained by both sides, they are best taken with a grain of salt.  But there can be no mistaking the pride that's evident each time the author(s) were able to say Red Army losses were only a fraction of those lost by the enemy.  So, for those interested in the details of Bagration, this volume is definitely recommended.

    0 0

    The Polish struggle in the Second World War was one of the first and the failure of the Western Allies to support Poland resulted in another partition and the fracturing of Polish efforts to continue the struggle against Nazi Germany.  Eventually, on the Eastern Front, the Red Army finished the war with two Polish Armies in its order of battle while Polish forces would participate in the RAF as well as part of the allied campaign in Italy, which this text partly covers.

    With the partition of Poland between the Soviet Union and Germany, Polish citizens on Soviet territory suffered under Stalin's rule.  Prisoners of war were executed at Katyn, others deported to the Far East, and after the German invasion of the Soviet Union some began to voluntarily join a new formation made up of Poles and led by Poles to help in the war effort.  The first half of this text covers that short history of Polish resistance to Germany's initial invasion and the creation of what became the first divisions that would make up Anders' Polish Army (although it is mainly referred to as a corps).  The author, unfortunately, is limited in the sources at his disposal and due to lack of academic training there is a wealth of context missing.  Those interested in the minutia of ever-changing orders of battle, logistical details, etc., which in many cases should have been moved to an appendix, will find plenty of such information throughout this text.  Personally, it took a lot away from the reading experience.

    Eventually, after a great deal of struggle, the Soviets allowed Anders to take his army out of the Soviet Union through the Middle East.  Here the British took over as Polish units began to undergo training and suffered from the horrid weather as their ranks were continuously reduced by the siphoning off of troops to help the British war effort at home and through disease and desertion (hundreds of Polish Jews eventually deserted when the units were stationed in then Palestine).  With a chance to finally put his troops on the frontline, the biggest hurdle for Anders was facing the reality that once his corps engaged in battle casualties would be unavoidable but a ready reserve of replacement was missing.  This issue was never truly solved and the battles in mountainous Italian terrain produced thousands of casualties in a very limited space and time.  The few chapters that deal with the battles Anders forces engaged in are somewhat lacking in analysis as the author only deems it necessary to say something about the quality of British and Polish leadership in the final chapter rather than helping guide readers along with the action as it unfolds.  Thus, for all the good this text does in introducing readers to this minor episode in the Second World War it is consistently marred by limited research, source material, and analysis.

    0 0

    I'm always interested in diving into historic accounts that try their best to tell a story few are familiar with or will ever discover without having in-depth knowledge of specific events, people, places, etc.  "Blood in the Forest" is one such account but, unfortunately, it is too often marred by a weak narrative that reads as if it was written by someone with a passing interest and knowledge of the subject at hand.  More often than not the author is interested in tugging at heartstrings rather than letting the historical record and eye witnesses speak for themselves.

    This is not a straight forward chronology of events but rather the author's trips from town to town that he intersperses with historical details and discussions about the history of Latvia, the Eastern Front, the Courland Pocket, the Soviet Union, the Holocaust, collaboration, etc. As such, there is much repetition throughout.  Nevertheless, all these topics have entire libraries devoted to research done by academics, journalists, and amateurs which could have readily helped create a historical record of this period/events but on more than one occasion the source material mentioned came from various websites rather than research trips to libraries or archives.  No matter how helpful, insightful, or emotionally draining eye-witness accounts are (and some of them are quite emotional and deserve to be told and better known) there is no excuse for not contextualizing better the various events these veterans and survivors went through with at least some additional primary or even secondary research.

    With that being said, this text makes a good starting point for looking at the latter period of the war and the difficult decisions Latvians had to make as brother fought against brother because of poor luck or a fate no longer theirs to dictate.  Red Army offensives launched against the Courland pocket were bloody affairs that never achieved their set objective, only resulting in countless casualties on both sides.  Yet blame needs to be placed on those soldiers fighting on the other side as well who knew there was no hope left but still continued to take a devastating toll on their Red Army attackers, who often included Latvians in their ranks.  This is a chapter of the Second World War and the Eastern Front that defies the black and white view so many have of the war as 'good' versus 'evil.' Here, among these pages, the reader will encounter multiple shades of gray surrounded by blood and tragedy.

    0 0

    As with so many recent volumes published in Russia/by Russians, ‘The Price of Victory’ offers a mixed bag for readers.  Those familiar with western academic studies might come away perplexed by this narrative.  Lopukhovsky and Kavalerchik are not professional demographers or statisticians, but they are attempting to add to the discourse around the topic of casualties and combat losses in both the Red Army and their opponents (Wehrmacht and allies).  Thus, one of the major weaknesses of this work is that its authors are not experts on the subject they have set out to discuss and analyze.  Additionally, readers unfamiliar with Russian histories might find it somewhat off-putting that the authors regularly focus on a few studies and continually attack the authors and their research.  These polemical attacks, rarely found in western academic research, are too often the norm among Russian researchers (both academic and nonprofessional).  Instead of presenting their findings, the authors stress what they believe to be sloppy or ideologically influenced conclusions, offer hypotheticals about how and why specific conclusions were reached, and continually ask rhetorical questions that do not add anything to their argument(s). 

    For those able to overlook the above, the strengths of this work become quickly apparent.  That there are problems with how Red Army military casualties were previously calculated should come as no surprise to those familiar with the Second World War’s Eastern Front.  Only one text has regularly served as a reference for those interested in the various campaigns Soviet forces participated in and the losses they sustained.  However, recently numerous authors, researchers, and historians have pointed out the many inconsistencies in Krivosheev’s “Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century” and its second edition, available only in Russian to date.  The majority of the examples provided by Lopukhovsky and Kavalerchik focus on 1941 encirclements and the Battle of Kursk.  Those with a passing interest in this subject might become bogged down in the many figures, exclusions, extrapolations, etc., and the included tables with figure breakdowns are essential in helping to pinpoint inconsistencies.  The authors rely on not only Russian archival and secondary sources, but also German, English, and Finnish literature on the subject.  As just one example of the necessity of this type of study, with the authors bringing to light recent research they show the dangers of underestimation and overestimation when it comes to casualties for political or ideological reasons.  Just one inconsistency found by the authors in Krivosheev’s work meant that either there were close to half a million German deaths in Soviet POW camps or close to two million, if the latter were proven true that would mean a reorientation of our understanding of both the German and Soviet experience in the Second World War. 

    Regrettably, the inaccessibility of many archival collections in today’s Russia automatically place limits on the conclusions the authors are able to reach.  Until Russian authorities raise the seal of secrecy from numerous collections and files, we only have bits and pieces of the greater whole to consult in order to access some type of greater truth when it comes to Soviet casualties.  Therefore, as the authors themselves point out, this text is a starting point for future research.   Only after opening all formerly classified Soviet/Russian archives will historians have a chance to review the actions of both the Red Army and Wehrmacht in more detail.  With this information, they will undoubtedly reach a better understanding of how successful German operations were in 1941, why the Red Army consistently retreated and left behind hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war, and to what extent could Soviet forces have avoided the numerous sacrifices so many were forced to make.

    0 0

    This rather slim volume - even though it is an oversized hardcover - was written by Aleksei Isaev.  I can only imagine that he based the majority of this work on his previously published "Ot Dubno do Rostova" (From Dubno to Rostov), but that volume (at some 600+ pages) takes readers through to December 1st of the action involving Germany's Army Group South.  This present "Dubno 1941" volume seems to be mainly based around one of the chapters from Isaev's larger work (originally published around 2004) and ends on July 1.

    The biggest issue with the current text is the lack of context for both the introduction (which can hardly be called an introduction) and the conclusion.  Isaev has written numerous volumes on the history of the Eastern Front but he's not the greatest writer and often enough the reading experience is lacking, either because he goes off on tangents, misses an opportunity to contextualize information, or offers too much detail that would be better served in footnotes/endnotes or an appendix.  Additionally, this translation is one of the worst I've read to date from Helion.  Stuart Britton usually does an admirable job but the present translator seems like he gave up trying to make sense when it came to dozens of sentences.   Translating Russian can be a time-consuming occupation, I do it regularly, but doing a poor job means you make yourself look bad, as well as the original author and the publisher that commissioned the translation.  Some mistakes are unavoidable, we are all human, but the number of errors or poor choices for translations I came across was simply unacceptable.

    With that out of the way, the volume itself has much to offer readers who are already familiar with the Eastern Front.  Isaev covers what are called the 'border battles' that took place around the Dubno-Lutsk-Brody triangle, which featured the participation of hundreds of tanks - it is called the largest tank clash even though many of the tanks never made it to the battlefield(s) for numerous reasons.  Aside from covering the movements and maneuvers of the half-dozen Mechanized Corps that participated in these battles, Isaev also covers the air-war taking place against German troops in the south.  Unlike the Soviet Air Force positioned against Army Group Center, those formations in the south of the country survived the initial German invasion on June 22nd in relatively good order (some airfields were never even bombed).  Isaev covers the unfolding battles day-by-day as Soviet forces continuously tried to figure out German plans, orient their own forces to counter what they believed the Germans were attempting to accomplish, and from time to time carried out their own counter-attacks and ambushes taking a toll not only on German casualties but also on their timetable - delaying their advances and the commitment of further forces.

    That the Wehrmacht faced a formidable adversary is without question.  As Isaev well proves, even in the chaotic conditions of June 1941, Soviet forces were able to continuously take a toll on advancing German troops but Red Army forces continually suffered from a lack of mobile artillery while the numerous marches undertaken by tank forces before even entering battle caused dozens of tanks to fall out of line as they were left by the roadside never having fired a single shot.  Furthermore, regularly detaching formations (large and small) from numerous mechanized corps meant their strength was diluted, combine that with a lack of artillery and infantry forces in tank divisions that continuously went up against the much better equipped (in terms of infantry and artillery) German motorized, panzer, and infantry divisions resulted in Soviet forces continuously suffering devastating tank losses and lacking the ability to hold any gains they might have made.  All these elements combined meant an eventual Red Army defeat was inevitable as Soviet forces retreated to the Stalin line and beyond.  Soon enough all mechanized corps (over two dozen) were done away with as more mobile tank battalions and brigades took their place for the rest of 1941. Large mechanized/tank formations would only be evident again in 1942 on the approaches to Stalingrad.

    0 0

    For what it's worth, "Death of the Wehrmacht" I found an enjoyable read that helped put German operations on various fronts into a greater context and offered an analysis that at the time seemed original and insightful.  "The Wehrmacht Retreats," covering the better part of 1943, is a resounding dud with little in the way of original research, analysis, or conclusions.  Additionally, the author's 'vignettes' (having the reader put themselves into the mind of a variety of personalities from the time) is pointless and an exercise in futility.  This is a historical monograph and should be treated as such - not prone to flights of fancy.  Moreover, the author seems to have one horse that he's decided to beat to death again and again.  That the "German way of War" has resulted in this many books makes me think anything the author touches that deals with Germany and war in a general sense will continually be reduced to the idea of a "German way of War" with no other insights to be found.  Finally, the author's analysis when it comes to the Eastern Front is banal, at best.  Having to cover so much territory (some three theaters of operations) in a single volume means the author sacrificed a detailed study into the Wehrmacht's actions in 1943 and rehashed well-known ideas with a minor sprinkling of "well, the German way of war explains it all." Having invested in two of the author's volumes, I'll be sure to avoid the rest.

    0 0

    Without a doubt this is one of the most informative if depressing books I've read on the state of the United States in recent history.  There's no surprise in the fact that corruption exists throughout every level of our society, starting from senators in Washington to our local representative and officials.  Nonetheless, the level of nepotism evident throughout our government defies imagination; from giving cushy jobs to family members and friends, to directing earmarks for local and state businesses who in turn donate to local and national campaigns in order to keep the gravy train going.

    A real surprise was seeing that this blurred line between legal and illegal activities (forget ethics) has penetrated our supreme court (which today contains no one that has done public service, unlike previous justices, thus in part leading to the Citizens United ruling), not for profit charities and hospitals that have enriched their CEOs, the mass media (which partly explains why we keep seeing familiar surnames with little in the way of brains or talent who could never do justice to issues that the majority of Americans are facing day to day thanks to their privileged upbringing), the pharma industry that with lies and deception has saddled the United States with an opiates crisis taking tens of thousands of lives a year, and for-profit colleges that have taken advantage of tens of thousands of Americans by distorting information about job placement rates while readily forcing students to take on ridiculous levels of debt.  These seemingly unrelated institutions are brought together by the connections they create when seeking government protection, aid, loans, or by simply giving donations (it's frankly embarrassing how little it takes to buy favors from our government officials).

    In part this book treats Democrats and Republicans similarly, especially when it comes to the revolving door of the Senate and House with 'K street.' Lobbyists and Think Tanks (conservative Think Tanks seemingly overwhelm their progressive counterparts) create platforms, positions, proposals, and justify actions and activities undertaken by our representatives and government officials.  Those who decide to leave their government positions, for one reason or another (taking their hefty pensions with them), readily joined lobbying firms and take in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as they helped shape future decisions and policies.  In fact, promises of such high paying jobs mean they are in debt to lobbyists even before they leave their government positions; no reason to rock the boat and actually serve as a representative of your constituents if it's going to cost you a cushy job in the future.

    Suffice it to say that this is a must read, if only to make it clear that the system that is supposedly serving us is continually subverted and perverted by special interest groups.  Those with means and money continually alter the playing field as they reinforce old and create new obstacles for those hoping to escape poverty and deprivation.  That we are continuously presented with criminal cases against large corporations and government officials means this is something that happens daily.  There is no ready answer for the multitude of problems we face as a nation, but knowing they exist is at least a start to thinking about how we can identify and overcome them.

    0 0

    Otto Heidkämper, chief of staff of Third Panzer Army, wrote a report of the numerous offensives undertaken by the Red Army in and around Vitebsk in 1943 leading up to Operation Bagration in the summer of 1944.  Being written in the 1950s, those familiar with German accounts of the fighting on the Eastern Front will find the usual here.  That includes the many attempts by German commanders on the ground to make the best of the situation they found themselves in, only to be rebuffed by either Hitler's orders of those of the Army Group Commander.  German forces stand defiantly against the Red aggressor, protecting Europe from the Asiatic horde.  German resistance is always heroic as stoic Wehrmacht troops are outnumbered by Soviet forces but are always able to inflict countless times the damage they themselves sustain.

    The most egregious example of exaggeration is one of the few times the author discusses figures for German combat capable personnel compared to that of the Soviet forces attacking the Third Panzer Army.  The author lists some 19,150 men, spread out through three German corps, facing off against six Soviet armies with an estimated strength of 152,500 men.  This sounds preposterous for the following reasons.  Initially the author discussed the Third Panzer Army's ration strength as listed around 200,000 and, earlier, at 230,000.  No additional ration strengths were provided for the army throughout the rest of the book.  Taking into account the fact that support personnel were regularly forced to take up combat duties when situations escalated beyond what German frontline forces could manage, there is no way that three German corps (that at the time contained some 14 or 15 divisions) could solely consist of 19,150 combat capable men.  Either the author is regularly avoiding the true casualties suffered by German forces throughout operations around Vitebsk, is over-estimating Soviet forces, or is simply downplaying the strength of an entire German Panzer Army.

    Those interested in attempting to ascertain some type of 'truth' from this account will need to read between the lines.  There are numerous instances of German formations facing encirclement or the threat of encirclement, hinting that Red Army commanders were continually trying to do more than launch frontal attacks.  Additionally, the formations Heidkämper lists on the part of the Red Army point toward a better utilization of combined arms operations, with some coordination by artillery, tank, and infantry forces.  Nonetheless, continued references to horrid weather conditions during the winter months shows that much of the Red Army's activity would undoubtedly have been nullified by the elements.  The more interesting chapter is the last that discusses the opening phase of Operation Bagration.  German forces defending Vitebsk were devastated within the first few days of the Red Army's offensive as Vitebsk was encircled with an entire German Corps of some 35,000.  In general, within a week of fighting the Third Panzer Army went from a force of around a dozen divisions to two.

    Much of the territory Heidkämper covers is hard to contextualize as readers only have his postwar account guiding them.  Those interested in a more balanced view of the fighting taking place around Vitebsk, and the numerous offensive operations undertaken by the Red Army throughout 1943 and 1944, would do well to invest in David Glantz's recent "The Battle for Belorussia: The Red Army's Forgotten Campaign of October 1943 - April 1944." Here readers will be able to put into a greater context the Red Army's offensive plans, the obstacles they faced, their reported losses, etc.  Glantz's title gives away much of what happened here, these offensive operations were failures and mostly forgotten as attention was devoted by Soviet and Russian historians to more victorious events, operations, and locations.

    0 0

    One of the great wartime commanders to come out of the Second World War was Marshal of the Soviet Union Rodion Malinovskii.  He had the added benefit of serving in France during the First World War with the Russian Legion, thereby experiencing warfare on the Western Front, and served as an adviser to Spanish Republican forces during the Civil War in the 1930s.  Furthermore, after the war against Germany, which he participated in from 1941-1945, he was one of the leading commanders to take on the Japanese Kwantung Army in the Far East at the end of the Second World War.  His postwar career was no less significant, as he eventually served as Deputy Minister of Defense, and Minister of Defense, after replacing Zhukov.  The above outlines a rather impressive career of a significant personality whom the west knows relatively little about.  Unfortunately, this effort by Boris Sokolov is a missed opportunity, and by missed I mean this comes nowhere close to doing justice to the figure of Malinovskii nor can this volume be accurately categorized as a biography.  

    I was not expecting something extraordinary, I know Sokolov’s reputation well enough, but this ‘biography’ is best described as disjointed, discursive, disorganized, and poorly sourced.  Instead of a historical look at Malinovskii, Sokolov decided to meander his way through various primary, secondary, literary, and hearsay materials he has discovered in one archival source or another, or simply in a text he previously read, and try to weave it into a greater discussion of Malinovskii’s life.  Unlike most trained historians, who would attempt to contextualize, summarize, and organize the material at their disposal for their readers, Sokolov decided to avoid reducing block quotes – ranging in length from a paragraph to 3 – 4 pages – and instead include them in full as readers scramble to figure out their significance.  Moreover, often Sokolov will introduce two similar quotes from different periods that discuss similar events and/or people, which he could have summarized while pointing out differences that readers should note.  The result is a first chapter of some 40 pages where Sokolov attempts to ascertain who Malinovskii’s real father was, which has little to no bearing on Malinovskii’s activities during the First World War, Civil War, Second World War, or his postwar career.  An experienced historian could have discussed his early childhood in a dozen pages, at most.  The follow chapter, another 40-50 pages, feature Sokolov stumbling about trying to recreate Malinovskii’s time in France and his activities during the Russian Revolution.  Once again, the chapter is full of block quotes that go on for pages at a time, disconnected ideas, discussions, and arguments, and no substantial analysis of any significant event(s) that occurred in either France or Russia.  The chapter on the Spanish Civil War overwhelmingly consists of circumstantial meetings with Malinovskii by various high-ranking Spanish commanders and foreign advisers, followed by Malinovskii’s discussion of various episodes and technical questions on military themes from a technical document written after his service in Spain.  Yet, this is supposed to be a discussion of Malinovskii’s life, not block quotations detailing his thoughts on the weaknesses and strengths of the Republican effort and Soviet equipment during the Spanish Civil War.

    Even when there is interesting material presented, as is the case with the Second World War, a lack of citations makes this study almost useless for researchers and academics.  This text is the equivalent of a random collection of primary and secondary source material, with very limited commentary, that sometimes features Malinovskii rather than a biography of the man himself.  Additionally, Sokolov has a rather large affinity for casualties sustained by Red Army forces.  In previous publications, he has utilized recent research and attempted to present a compelling argument for why official figures are lacking and need to be refined.  Reading this volume, however, the author produces random figures for casualties, both Soviet and German, without acknowledging any type of source(s) and at one point simply says all official Russian figures need to be multiplied by a factor of three – based on what study(ies)?

    A final thought that needs to be emphasized is that Sokolov consistently emphasizes how after Red Army forces swept through previously occupied territory, those recently liberated, men and women, were regularly conscripted into the Red Army.   Soviet forces were continually on the move, sustaining casualties, and in constant need of replacements.  There is evidence that at times these conscripts received limited training (sometimes as little as two weeks).  However, I find it rather absurd to believe, as the author posits, that these recent recruits received no training, no weapons (they were instructed to pick them up off the battlefield), and were often employed on the frontline with such speed that they even lacked Red Army uniforms, and that this was the norm rather than an exception.  The author would have his readers believe that the Red Army, throughout 1943 and 1944, waged war against the Wehrmacht by employing soldiers with no weapons.  This means everything written about German actions in the east need to be reconceptualized so that we can understand how an armed force lacking basic small arms figured out a strategy to defeat ‘the conquerors of Europe’ with all the modern technology then available at their disposal.

    0 0

    Susan Ronald's "A Dangerous Woman" sets out to document the life of Florence Gould.  From a young age, Florence seemingly already knew what she wanted out of life - a relationship with a wealthy suitor and the freedom to take and leave lovers as long as she had the desire and ability to do so.  Surviving the San Francisco earthquake, which in many respects ruined her family business for the moment, her family sought comfort in France.  Her initial marriage was hardly worth the paper that created it.  All too soon, she was once more free to find a suitable husband worth her attention and desire and someone who came with a fortune that could offer her security for life.  She found all of that and more in the form of Frank Gould.

    Together with Frank, Florence began to sink millions into French real estate, creating a hotel and gambling empire that at times rivaled Monaco/Monte Carlo.  The Great Depression hardly made a dent in her finances thanks to some fortuitous timing in the sale of stock in the US and the ability to begin buying up property throughout France for bargain prices.  Her collaboration activities during the Second World War ensured she hardly suffered from the occupation as she continued to host lunches and dinners, creating a "salon" atmosphere where artists, writers, aristocrats, and other public notables could mingle and seek financial help for their projects or simply enjoy the company of other like-minded individuals.

    As time went on and Frank's health began to deteriorate, Florence only continued participating in activities that would eventually bring her to the attention of French authorities and the US FBI for her role in various collaborationist activities.  No matter, thanks to her money and connections she hardly suffered any consequences in the postwar period and continued to enjoy a life defined by wealth and privilege.

    Susan Ronald's look at Florence's life also includes numerous digressions to help steer the reader in understanding the world Florence inhabited.  She describes how the Gould fortune was initially created and the infighting that took place among the Gould family before and after Florence's arrival.  Having previously written on the period of the Third Reich, Florence's activities during the occupation take up about a quarter of the book but offer a lot of detail with some analysis as well.  An issue that might trouble some readers are the conclusions that Ronald sometimes reaches without adequate documentation/sources.  Otherwise, this is a highly engaging look at the less well known side of a woman acknowledged for her philanthropy and enormous wealth.

    0 0

    Continuing revelations about Russian interference in American and European elections have become routine, almost banal.  Timothy Snyder, a historian who achieved some popularity after his previous publications (Bloodlands and Black Earth), leaves history (although not altogether) with this latest volume and enters our current political discourse.  Historians are usually wary of entering into debates about current events.  However, when our present administration regularly attempts to rewrite and adjust history to fit its needs, historians should and ought to help penetrate the fog of baseless opinions that has begun to consume and displace civil discourse and the foundations of civil society.

    “The Road to Unfreedom” serves as an important starting point for readers who want a more comprehensive understanding of the political intersection between Russia, Europe, and the United States since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  As this text focuses on recent events, the diligence historians usually bring to subjects they are investigating is not always present.  News and media publications – making up a large portion of the source material – make mistakes.  Archival access is limited or nonexistent for recent government actions and operations, and Snyder himself admits that he is still processing the underlining ideas and theories he posits for readers.  Although Snyder received mixed reviews, from historians, for his last two major publications, he is nonetheless an excellent researcher and writer.  Thus, while not the final word on the numerous topics he covers, this is a volume that readers who want a better understanding of what has been happening for the past few years in the US and the past few decades in Russia need to read carefully.

    The volume’s theoretical foundations rely on Snyder’s discussion and concentration on the writings of Ivan Ilyin, a little known personality until Putin’s rise to power.  Ilyin, a philosopher and Slavophile who lived through the First and Second World War, struggled to determine Russia’s place in the world and to explain the Russian Revolution.  He sought a middle ground, or a third option, between totalitarian dictatorships and democracy.  Nikita Mikhalkov helped introduce Ilyin to Putin, who in turn incorporated Ilyin’s thoughts into his own ideas about Russia’s place in the world while shaping his administration.  This leads to Snyder’s ideas about the two types of politics that we now live under: the politics of inevitability and eternity.  For Snyder, the politics of inevitability apply primarily to the United States in the shadow of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.  The idea is that democratic and capitalist progress is inevitable, no matter what you do, the course is still there and will invariably be followed because others will pick up the slack or help steer the ship of state in the predetermined direction of democratic progress.  The politics of inevitability relies on the peaceful process of succession and transition of power.  If a president or prime minister performs poorly, citizens know that eventually they can vote out an existing administration and a new one can take its place to right previous wrongs.  The politics of eternity, however, are what Snyder classifies Russia’s current administration as, a state kept in eternal crisis with the outside world.  Most recent examples include the frozen conflicts in Transnistria, Georgia, and now Ukraine (regularly characterized as “fascist” to tie into Russian memories of the Second World War), and the “cultural conflict” against homosexuality that Putin’s administration consistently emphasizes when it comes to Europe and the United States. 

    Although these two categories offer a Manichean view of the current state of politics, they are still useful for understanding what is at stake and they help explain, at least in part, Russian actions both at home and abroad.  Putin and Russia have evolved since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Unfortunately, this is one of Snyder’s weaknesses in that he hardly discusses the numerous decisions made by the United States in the 1990s that negatively affected Russians and their views of America, NATO, and the European Union.  Snyder offers little to no analysis of Russia’s attitude toward NATO, how Putin perceived the decision to include the Baltics and other East European states into NATO, or how Russians propagandized the decision to become a regular talking point against the US.  Nor is there any mention of the numerous economic crises suffered by Russians throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including how they altered Russian perceptions of capitalism and democracy, including their representative institutions.   This also raises a more inherent weakness of the entire volume in that Snyder constantly emphasizes Russian agency to the detriment of Europe and the US, who are portrayed more often than not reacting to Russian actions – in effect giving too much credit to Russia and exaggerating her strengths and weaknesses.  This is a strategy Putin himself utilizes on a regular basis as he simultaneously portrays Russia as a power that still matters – both in the near abroad and in world affairs – but one that hardly has the power to influence an election in the US. 

    As Snyder explains, living in a country that relies on the politics of eternity means consistently manufacturing crises, including what happened a decade ago with the Russian invasion of Georgia.  Although Russia was not the direct instigator of the conflict, it created another opportunity to portray Russia as under attack from both forces on the border and those “sponsoring” Georgia, inevitably the West.  Ukraine became another victim of opportunity after the Sochi Olympics.  Putin did not necessarily plan to annex Crimea or begin a frozen conflict in Eastern Ukraine.  However, he used the opportunity to employ WWII era rhetoric, initially insisting on the need to protect Russian citizens in the “near abroad” (those located in Ukrainian territory) while portraying the post-Yanukovych government as fascist – thus an enemy of Russia and Russian citizens in general.  Russian actions in Ukraine laid bare the extremes of Russian propaganda at home and abroad, and this is the topic that Snyder does so much to bring to the forefront and analyze for the benefit of his readers.  Moreover, here is where we can begin to trace Russian interference in our 2016 election.

    Following Ilyin’s philosophy, Snyder describes how Putin’s administration portrays Russia as an innocent victim vulnerable to the fascist tendencies of those surrounding her, who themselves were regularly victims of western conspiracies.  Thus perceived notions of western interference in the color revolutions and in Russian protests against Putin at home provided ready fodder for Russian propaganda outlets.  Moreover, this resulted in Putin’s hatred of Hillary Clinton (who was Secretary of State in 2012, when some of the largest demonstrations took place in Russia).  Originally, propaganda meant emphasizing the perceived good of an idea or event and an omission of anything that might look bad (in the US we call this PR).  Today’s propaganda coming out of Russia is quite post-modern in its disregard for a single “truth” and use of “whataboutism” to divert attention from indefensible positions.  The truth or facts do not matter for Russian propaganda.  Be it with respect to Russian forces showing up in Crimea, or the shooting down of MH17, Russian sources began producing numerous narratives for why “little green men” were suddenly showing up in Crimea or, in the case of MH17, who or what was responsible for bringing down the plane.  No matter the evidence, media outlets presented new versions, new sources, and new theories in order to muddle the conversation and steer it away from the truth.  The result was an inevitable degradation of informed discourse and the idea that one conspiracy theory is just as good as another or is just as good as the truth and only your emotional needs at any given point in time will decide what you choose to believe.  Snyder fears that feelings will displace logical explanations, theories that reinforce pre-existing beliefs will replace factual evidence with the result that intellectual discourse will breakdown and help usher in an “unfree” state that relies on the politics of eternity rather than inevitability.  Truth ceases to matter in a fractured society that moves from one manufactured crisis to another, kept in eternal fear of the other.  This, in essence, is what we have recently witnessed occur throughout America.  For Putin, turning the US into another version of Russia is part of the endgame.  Showing that US “democracy” at its core is no more factual, truthful, or representative of its citizens than Russia’s current government, means America carries no greater credibility on the world stage than its Russian counterpart does.  Today, there is no doubt that our current administration had regular contact with Russians – before, during, and after the election – and that Trump’s business has been sustained on money funneled through shell corporations and off-shore accounts as Russian oligarchs and mobsters laundered untold millions through questionable real estate ventures.  Trump’s business acumen relies on his either being too dumb to realize what was happening, or simply not caring because he was in debt for billions, and all his “genius” business ventures failed. 

    Recently, Russian cyberattacks have surpassed interference in the US election process.  Russian bots and trolls on the internet will inevitably exploit any events that occur in America (NFL players kneeling during the anthem, Black Lives Matter, 2ndamendment, etc.) to fan the flames of anger, resentment, bitterness, and hostility in order to continue the degradation of our most valued institutions.  Russian meddling does not have to be sophisticated nor does it need to create conspiracy theories; they use and exploit those that already exist to steer us away from conversations we need to engage in and they rely on obfuscation to continue showing the US in the worst possible light.  In truth, America’s political climate cannot be solely blamed on Russian cyberattacks; the US has a host of problems and issues that it needs to address aside from Russian interference.  Snyder discusses some of them, including the rising level of inequality, the death of local news, gerrymandering, and the Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations and those with enough money to buy political influence.  These problems are creating fertile territory for racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and xenophobia to become battlegrounds for Russian internet trolls or serve as talking points for political pundits paid for being nothing more than a mouthpiece on behalf of special interest groups. 

    We have no way of knowing to what extent Ilyin’s philosophy has influenced Putin (although Putin has referenced him in speeches) or what effect Snyder’s ideas around the “politics of inevitability” and “eternity” will have on our society.  Nor do we know the full impact or extent of Russia’s interference in our electoral process, aside from the fact that it worked in tandem with the Trump campaign’s general rhetoric against Democrats and aimed at specific segments of the American population.  What we do know is that Putin’s administration has attempted to export its ideology throughout the world by employing a type of cyber warfare.  Trolls regularly attempt to reduce the value of facts and the truth so that societal development is stalled because a conversation without an agreed upon factual foundation will never lead to solutions, only an endless cycle of arguments that rely on entrenched positions and talking points both sides have previously perfected and will continually employ.  Without an ability to make progress on issues that continue to divide our society, we will transition to a politics of eternity, reduced to a never-ending existential crisis, as we reinforce our fears instead of confronting them.  

    0 0

    Father Patrick Desbois is partly responsible for our understanding of "The Holocaust by Bullets," the mass murder of millions of Jews throughout Eastern Europe that is often overshadowed by the assembly line mass murder of Jews and other "undesirables" in German death camps.  In his first publication on the subject, Desbois took an original approach to the topic by aiming to interview adolescent bystanders who could still recall how and where the local Jewish population was murdered by the invading Germans and their collaborators.  

    "In Broad Daylight" takes that initial research a step further as Desbois and his team have continued to gather information through interviews and presents the minutia that has often been overlooked or simply never considered by researchers or academics. We have many accounts from German concentration and death camps by survivors and perpetrators, but Jews murdered by the millions in mass graves no longer have a voice.  Those who were lucky enough to survive can only offer accounts from their limited perspective, but Desbois is interested in the minute details that were needed for mass murder to become an almost acceptable everyday phenomenon.  

    He looks at a typical mass murder site starting from the night before, when locals were conscripted to help transport Jews to their final destination and when German forces and their collaborators would begin arriving inevitably leading to a night that finally saw the last vestiges of human decency disappear as Jews were beaten and raped before their eventual executions in the early morning hours.  Aside from speaking to those who only witnessed German aktions Desbois's team also initiates discussions and interviews with those who participated in cooking the food the Germans ate while on break from executing Jews, those who dug the mass graves, and numerous others who one day lived with their Jewish friends and neighbors and the next found themselves drawn to either watching their death, including hearing their cries and screams, or in some way participating in the German aktion itself.  

    This is a haunting and deeply disturbing text.  For many, simply reading a list of sites where German mass murders took place throughout Eastern Europe leaves them unable to grasp what those on the ground witnessed and experienced as their everyday lives were torn apart by an invading army and a genocidal occupation policy.  Therefore, this is a volume best read slowly and methodically so that readers can contemplate what humanity is capable of all too easily when presented with a specific set of circumstances as those with a superiority complex decide human life is cheap and disposable.  This is a study that offers an important contribution to our understanding of how the Holocaust by bullets unfolded and presents in a new light the vital role played by the local population in the mass murder of East European Jewry.