on April 29, 2006
For far too long historians of the Russo German war focused on either the military operations or the abuses of the civilian population in Soviet Russia. The most notably of these were obviously the Jews, although the Slavs and others suffered terribly. Although, in some instances Wehrmacht rear service units and the general staff have been identified as contributing to the escalation of brutality, for the most part the work of murder and starvation has been attributed to the various civil administration authorities and most notably, the SS. It is to this lack of connection between the occupation policies in Soviet Russia and the actual prosecution of the war that Geoffrey P. Megargee addresses in his book. Before I get any further however, let me be clear as to what this book is and is not. As the author informs the reader in the introduction, this book is not a comprehensive history of the Russo German war told from both sides of the story. It is primarily told from the perspective of the German plans and actions. This book is also not a shocking piece of new scholarship. What it is though, is a refreshingly new look at all of the pieces of evidence that have been laid down by other researchers and not previously seen for their interconnected nature. This book is a concise history of both the Nazi war against the USSR and the occupation policies and how the two inevitably led to the defeat of the Germany.
Finally there is the issue of the author's style. Simply said, it is excellent and the book is laid out in a very readable way. Each chapter is divided into sections describing military operation and rear area operations in regards to partisan warfare, POWs and `Jewish actions'. Furthermore, having side by side histories allows the author to clearly demonstrate their interconnectedness. The author uses a good number of sources to make his arguments but does so with a good degree of control in regards to the additional information given in the endnotes. I never once caught myself in the constant back and forth flipping that occurs when a less skilled historian writes a separate book in the endnotes. This book was a quick read and certainly the type of book a person can get through in a single weekend.
In the initial two chapters, the author, in an expert manner lays out the military and social background to the war in the east. He clearly shows how the General Staff's own long held biases, racism, social Darwinism, adherence to the `Stab in the Back' myth of the end of the first World War, and the connection of Jews and communists who supposedly committed this betrayal, led to enthusiastic support of an eastern campaign. Furthermore he shows the complete disregard that the Wehrmacht's leadership had for the well-being, even the very survival of the civilian population and Soviet POWs.
The next three chapters, lay out the various phases of the military campaign against the USSR and describes the several instances in which one army group or another lacked strength to meet an objective and was forced to pare strength from other groups in order to do so. Megargee clearly lays out the failures of resupply and reinforcement that caused this. He does this as well as describing the ever increasing brutality in occupation policies and an equal increase in the strength of the partisan movement. He also goes on to describe both the resources dedicated to the brutal pacification of the rear area and the nonexistence of resources to care for Soviet POWs.
In the last chapter, Megargee shows how the ever increasing brutality against civilians and POWs, intelligence agencies neglected to the point of uselessness and a supply system strained to the point of failure culminated in the Wehrmacht's famous defeat at the very gates of Moscow and Leningrad. Moreover he asserts that it was the racist and elitist beliefs of the General Staff that caused the deliberate starvation and death by exposure of thousands of POWs daily at a time when the German leadership was already beginning to struggle to replace a workforce pulled away for military duty.
In his conclusion the author states, with the weight of the evidence cited to support him, that it was in the opening months of the eastern campaign that the Wehrmacht lost the war. Through their ruthlessness and racist policies from the opening of hostilities as well as their lack of concern for logistics and intelligence gathering, the General Staff threw away any chance that they had of defeating the Soviet Union.
Geoffrey P. Meagagree's book title WAR OF ANNIHILATION is a successful attempt of explaining the issues the stupidity of political "thinking" and ideology which helped explain the horrible tragic loss of life on the Russian Front during WW II. Bad intelligence, or no actual intelligence, helped explain fierce Soviet resistance from 1941-1945. One may wonder "What in the hell were Hitler & co. thinking" when the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa on June 21, 1941.
Animosity re Germany's Jewish population was maligned after WW I when the Germans lost WW I. The "rumor mill" claimed that German Jews were malingerers during WW I. Yet, the statistics showed that those of the Jewish faith had a higher percentage in the German army from 1914-1918. In fact, during the 1920s, German and Soviet diplomatic relations were good. The Germans and Soviets basically had barter trade which benefited both parties.
Yet, once the Hitler regime got power, the myth that the Germans faced Jewish Bolshevism which was viewed as a threat to Germany and Western Civilization. Because of the unreasonable terms of the Versailles Treaty (1919) caused bitter resentment in Germany, and the propaganda of the Hitler regime fed on the myth that German Jews, Communists and Socialists somehow betrayed the Germans causing the German loss during WW I.
Again, as the undersigned mentioned, the Germans had no understanding what a German invasion would face invading the USSR. Hitler and some of his advisers erroneously thought that an invasion of the USSR would be easier since the Soviets faced a potential Japanese threat to invade Manchuria and Siberia. The Germans should have known better. A Soviet spy named Sorge (1905-1944) knew that the Japanese were planning to move south and east and NOT west which was a "godsend" to the Soviets who could release forces and arms to the Russian Front.
Megrargee made the German case for their war of annihilation. He knew that some of the German leaders knew the problems of supply given the vast expanse of European Russia To compensate for the this problem German commanders were ordered to exploit the Soviets for food and supplies. For the Germans to Live off the land," they had to persecute and loot Soviet citizens under their control. The Germans followed this policy with considerable brutality once the expectations of a quick German victory faded. Hitler & co. figured they had to follow their extermination policy to feed German forces who did not achieve the expected quick victory. Hitler blunted admitted to extermination of "Bolshevik Jewish Slavs." Hitler's once adviser,von Brauchitch , was blunt in his remarks that the German war vs. the USSR was a race war against "sub human Slavs."
Given the fact that Germans did not get their quick victory, German commanders were given carte blanche to murder people under their control. Initially the German excuse that severe actions on the Russian Front was that the Germans faced savage partisan war. Yet, this excuse was partially blunted by the fact that German reprisals claimed the lives of small children.
Megargee, further made a good case re German brutality created incited fanatical resistance. Some of the people who lived under German control hated Stalin, but German cruelty undermined any support the Germans could have used. Those who lived under German control may have figured that the difference between Stalin and Hitler was "Better the devil one knows than the one does not know." Hitler and his advisers should have known that after the German defeat at Moscow (1941-1942), the war was in effect over for the Germans Hitler should have consolidate his gains, but his race hallucinations continued a losing cause. Subsequent German fanaticism and desire for revenge led to more mass German killings-and more Soviet incitement to resist the invader.
Megargee's book titled WAR OF ANNIHILATION is a case study that "violence begets violence" German race propaganda arrogance helped the Soviets and eventually harmed the Germans. German arrogance reached the point that their intelligence vastly underestimated Soviet strength re Soviet divisions and military technology. The development of the Soviet T-34 which outclassed the best of German tanks was ignored by German intelligence. Megargee's continued reference of German race hallucinations and hubris were clearly diagnosed in this book. The only defect of the book is the omission of Stalin's purges brutality. However, the book is a good clue to German false arrogance and Soviet resistance to threats to of mass death and extermination.
James E. Egolf
June 7, 2016
on June 13, 2008
This is the first book on the Russo-German war I have encountered that specifically synthesizes a serious if broad operational history of "Barbarossa" in 1941 and the perpetration of genocide that was one of its major goals. As the author points out, the history of the "Eastern Front" and the history of the Holocaust are usually treated as separate subjects, with military historians often ignoring the racial and ideological components of the war, and Holocaust historians being weak on sound analysis of the fighting. Megargee, who, by his own admission, is not introducing any new theses or scholarship, concisely integrates these two topics.
Readers familiar with the subjects under discussion will probably find nothing earth-shattering here, although as a general refresher to inspire further research it's well-worth the modest investment of time, but those who are well-versed in the strictly operational side of the Russo-German conflict but not the Holocaust and Nazi colonialism, or vice-versa, might find this an excellent starting point to a broader understanding of the war, and of how and why it was fought.
My only reservation would be that this new approach to such an important subject perhaps demands a more massive and densely-documented book, or books, but as far as it goes, it's a valuable contribution.
on October 14, 2010
This fairly short book offers a helpful overview of the evolution of military operations and genocide in the first six months of Operation Barbarossa, Germany's June 22, 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. As the author states in the preface, "War of Annihilation" does not involve much original research, but rather seeks to offer a unified synthesis of German actions in the east in 1941 in terms of both military operations at the front and atrocities against POWs, civilians, and special targeted groups (Jews, Communists, the disabled) in the conquered areas. This integrated approach is needed, and Megargee largely succeeds.
This book is not an exhaustive treatment of either battles or atrocities, but, rather, surveys both the military aspects and genocidal actions that unfolded in the east. There are myriad books on either the military developments or the genocidal policies in the Nazi war in the east. This book melds both aspects in a single, manageable treatment, and is to be welcomed.
A virtue of this approach is that Megargee offers a concise and cogent account of German military operations in the first six months of Operation Barbarossa. It is a helpful primer (or refresher) on the military situation on the vast Eastern Front in June-December 1941. There are excellent maps, the author has a lucid and engaging style, and Megargee handles the material with easy familiarity, offering a clear and efficient overview of strategic military developments in the German-Soviet war. The book is worth reading for this superb summary of the German-Russian war alone.
Megargee follows each military section with a consideration of the atrocities that followed in the wake of the Nazi advance. The author wisely avoids a deluge of statistical detail, and picks illustrative instances of German atrocities in the theaters and time periods under consideration, such as those in the Baltic states, Minsk, and Kiev (Babi-Yar). Nevertheless, the reader quickly is bombarded by more and more precise figures of the German victims, illustrating both the massive scope and systematic nature of the German killings. Two statistics will serve to illuminate the immensity of German depredations in the east: from June 22, 1941 through January 1942, 6,000 Soviet POWs perished EVERYDAY (from starvation, disease, and exposure), not including those shot by the Germans (pg. 142). By the end of 1942, German units "had shot roughly 1.5 million people--mostly Jews, but also suspected Communists, partisans, prisoners of war, and people with mental and physical disabilities" (pg. 145).
For military, ideological, racial, and economic reasons, the German invasion of the Soviet Union was planned as a unified campaign of maximum violence and ruthlessness. German planners knew they did not have enough food to support both the Soviet population and the German army (and German home front), and consequently "quietly accepted that up to thirty million Soviet citizens would starve to death--not because they had done anything wrong or represented any threat, but simply because the Germans believed that their needs trumped other people's" (pg. 34).
on February 14, 2015
Megargee shows convincingly in this brief account that the Germany's failure in the war against the Soviet Union was both military and moral. Indeed, the military itself failed completely professionally, as they not only failed to defeat its enemy in the field, but also failed to uphold any sort of decency behind the lines as well. Megargee deftly combines an overview of operations of the Eastern Front in 1941 with what can broadly be described as Holocaust history for this theater.
In many ways, the description of military operations seemed familiar, as its main lines echo in the books of other writers, and sometimes vice versa. For example, I read Stahel's account recently, and he probably borrowed from Megargee the assertion that Halder may have deceived Hitler about the ultimate goal of the campaign by slyly postponing a debate until Army Group Center closed in on Moscow, so that events made the decision for Hitler without a confrontation. While the military side of this story seemed familiar, it worked with the moral account to create a picture that the German Army failed in every way as soon as it rolled into the Soviet Union.
Megargee's most meaningful contribution is to provide a concentrated account of the moral failings of the Germany Army in this theater. In brief, they failed in 3 main ways. First, the Army was supposed to take care of Soviet prisoners, but it did not, in a policy of what may be described as willful neglect. Ironically, the Germans, who wanted to use these prisoners for labor, complained about the dire state of this pool of slaves, and this provides a main source of records for these events. Second, the army aided the Einsatzgruppen in its direct assault on the civilian population, primarily Jews. This was often couched in terms of anti-partisan warfare. The German military leadership was quite on board with the notion that the war was against the "Jewish-Bolshevist" state, and Megargee shows that this belief goes back to the army's initial, pre-war support of Hitler, and is most notably demonstrated in the early Commissar Order. Third, the Germans failed to take care of the civilian population in its area of occupation. The army's supply problems and racially inspired genocidal thinking combined to create a state of starvation behind the lines. The Germans provided many lessons of how not to occupy another country. Too, the Germans used civilian starvation as a tactic: The siege of Leningrad is a case in point.
Germany's military failure worked to deepen its moral failure. The Germans treated the Soviet people as subhumans, and their arrogance and brutality backfired. The atrocities and starvation spawned partisan uprisings, which the Germans in turn brutally repressed, and the Germans were trapped in this cycle of a harsh occupation and harsh countermeasures. The Germans didn't even have the foresight to keep the prisoners healthy and alive as a source of slave labor. This, too, had military consequences, as the Germans were taking heavy casualties at the front, replacing their manpower from the civilian labor pool, and thus facing labor shortages. Throughout, voices of dissent were rare, and moral protests and resignations rarely (if ever) occurred, at least as presented here.
The essential failure of the Germans in the campaign overall was that they thought they would win right from the start. They didn't plan contingencies for possible military setbacks, and they treated the Soviet people and prisoners as already defeated chattel. The Germans' actions speak to what can only be described as an attitude of cruel and pervasive arrogance, and this attitude seems to color and inform every mistaken decision at the front and behind it. As a result, the Germans created their own disaster, one of epic proportions, which is probably why it remains so fascinating. Seldom has such hubris been so profoundly punished.
Throughout, Megargee's prose is clear and incisive, and his tone objective and thoughtful. The only downside of the book, given the seriousness of its subject matter and its unique approach, is that there isn't more of it. While the book is intended as an easily read overview and introduction, and there are some footnotes, the sourcing could have been more rigorous and robust. As it stands, the short book may be best compared to a long magazine (as opposed to a journal) article, of the kind that typically doesn't rely on heavy footnoting to support its claims. He also admits to not covering the Soviet side, but many historians approach the Eastern Front from one side or the other, if only due to their own (quite understandable) limitations of language mastery. In any event, a parallel combined military and moral account of the Soviet side would be interesting, but you won't find it here.
In summary, I found the book objective and well argued given its focus. The German Army not only lost the Eastern Front militarily, but it also lost its moral compass in the process. It was, as the campaign developed, completely and willingly Hitler's instrument.
on May 29, 2010
Somehow we continue to imagine that the Second World War was fought between the Americans and the Brits on one side and the Germans and Japanese on the other. When you read a book like War of Annihilation it becomes clear that the real Second World War was fought between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Allies won the war because the Soviet Union sacrificed so much. The Soviet Union and the United States each had about 150 million people in 1939. By 1945, the Soviet Union had lost about one sixth of its population, about 25 million people; the United States lost less than one half million. The rate at which the Soviets suffered losses was about fifty times the rate of United States losses.
Geoffrey Megargee does an excellent job here of helping us understand the cultural, military and political forces which led to this level of destruction. It's a great book, very well written, and beautifully organized. Also, for someone like myself who is not a military scholar, this book never gets bogged down. It's relatively short, the narrative moves forward at a smart pace, the policies and decisions of the Germans are laid out precisely, and the horrifying consequences to millions of people are made chillingly clear.
What happened to the Soviet Union in 1941 is at the heart of the history of the Twentieth Century.
on December 18, 2010
This is a concise and easy to read (if this is the appropriate term for the subject matter) overview of Operation Barbarossa, 1941 invasion of Soviet Union.
The book is refreshing: it does not present Wehrmacht as unwilling participant in the "dirty war," whereas SS was doing all the persecutions. The author does not mince words, e.g. one of the chapters is titled "Initial Victories and Atrocities, June to August." The scale, depth and systematic nature of the atrocities was surprising even to me - having grown up in Russia in the 1970s and 80s I was reasonably exposed to the history of WWII and the suffering in the occupied territories. But the plight of Soviet POWs (65% of those captured - 2 mil - dead by early 1942) was astonishing; this was not the topic Soviet history books focused on.
This is a must-read book for those interested in WWII. I also want to thank the author for detailed responses to earlier reviews and subsequent comments.
on July 19, 2008
The author provides an excellent overview of the origin of Hitler's decision to invade the Soviet Union, which involved a toxic mixture of Hitler's ideology of ethnic racism and acquiring 'living space', the momentum provided by the success of the prior campaigns, Hitler's grand strategy of becoming a self sufficient continental power (thereby forcing Great Britain and the USA to terms), and a gross underestimation of the Soviet Union. Especially valuable is the analysis of the intelligence and logistical reasons for the failure of Barbarossa; emphasis on the tactical proficiency of the Wehrmacht and Cold War antipathy towards the Soviet Union has appeared to diminish interest in this failure until recently. For readers in the USA, where logistical problems for its armed forces are virtually unheard of, the limitations imposed on the Wehrmacht are likely to be a revelation. My only reservation is that the tone of the discussion of moral issues tends to be somewhat out of the context of the events the book describes. While Nazi crimes in Barbarossa were immoral, horrendous, and criminal, they seem of a piece with those of Stalin's communist regime, which in the decade before the invasion reportedly killed up to 9 million people, including by starvation. Interstate Industrial War (as described by Rupert Smith) or total war by WWII had evolved to the point where the entire structure of the nation was required to support the military forces, which allowed the targeting of civilian populations to be rationalized. This is evident in Barbarossa, but also in a more impersonal sense in operations like 'area bombing' and 'fire bombing'.
on March 8, 2007
Megargee's book is a useful contribution to the growing volume of writing that is now (over half a century after the end of the Second World War)becoming available to the English-reading public about what the war was about. It counters the Cold War stories that monopolised writing by "military historians", by generals of the Nazi army and the de-politicised genre of "cowboy and Indians", also largely written by Nazi solders, that were/are popular as derring-do stuff.
This volume helps explain to a new generation (and to an older one that has forgotten much)why the Nuremburg Trials correctly condemned the Nazi Army itself for being a sine qua non, a willing participant, and intrinsic to the programme of Nazi conquest. Without the German Army (and it did not need purging to make it work for Fascism) there would not have been the barbarous war. That was not the work of a minority of bad SS people, a relatively small number of convinced Nazis which, somehow, controlled an unwilling and gentlemanly military machine. It also illustrates that the war was initiated by the Fascist government of Germany in the pursuit of plunder and the destruction of "Bolshevism."
Everything else was secondary to that, including the mass murder of European Jewry, the Rom and Sinta peoples and, by the way, the largest contingent of those on the Nazi list of "subhumans", the Slavs of Poland and the then Soviet Union, as racial perveyors of the virus of Bolshevism.
The author tells a little, also, of the economic requirements of the big employers like Krupp, that the brutal Nazi policies served. Placing the Nazi war aims and conduct before a new set of readers might counter the sort of stuff that is still being peddled, and is popular, such as the works by Anthony Beevor, Richard Overy and John Erickson, who would still have us see the Fascist war on the "East" as part of some unexplained "titanic" struggle that took place between two powerful machines. The only thing they leave out is what the war was about, and Geoffrey Megargee tells us a lot about that.
Good on the publishers - a book that makes a good present to a friend.
on March 2, 2016
this is the best description of a hideous policy--the german attempt to annihilate the slavic peoples of poland, the rest of eastern europe and the the soviet union--i have ever read. carefully put together, seemingly very well documented. anyone interested in the history of wwii (no matter where) should read this