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What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa Hardcover – June 11, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0300107807 ISBN-10: 0300107803 Edition: First edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of the enduring puzzles of World War II is Stalin's dismissal of unmistakable evidence of a looming German invasion, a blunder that contributed to the disastrous Russian defeats of 1941. This engaging study of the Soviet intelligence apparatus helps clarify the mystery. Murphy, an ex-CIA Soviet specialist and co-author of Battleground Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War, argues that Stalin knew virtually everything for many months before the attack. Soviet spies in the German government offered detailed reports of invasion plans. Britain and the United States passed along warnings. Soviet agents in Eastern Europe noted the millions of German soldiers heading east to the Soviet border and their stock-piling of weapons and Russian phrase books. Stalin rejected these reports as Western provocations and barred the Red Army from taking elementary precautions, like chasing off the German reconnaissance planes surveying their defenses. Murphy presents a bizarre additional wrinkle in two letters Hitler sent to allay Stalin's suspicions, which claimed that the German armies massing in Poland were preparing to attack England and warned Stalin that rogue Wehrmacht units might invade Russia against Hitler's wishes-a smokescreen that inhibited Stalin's response to the German buildup and initial attacks. Murphy chalks up the debacle to Stalin's clinging to a Marxist fantasy of the capitalist powers fighting each other to exhaustion, and to the paralysis instilled in the Red Army by his purges. Fearful subordinates bowed to Stalin's absurd complacency about German intentions; the one intelligence chief who dared challenge his delusions was arrested and shot. Murphy's well-researched account offers both a meticulous reconstruction of an intelligence epic and a window into the tragedy of Stalin's despotism.
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"David Murphy brings the incisive eye of a former intelligence professional to the dramatic story of Operation Barbarossa. The result is a significant addition to our understanding of Stalin and the Second World War."—David Stafford, author of Churchill and Secret Service and of Roosevelt and Churchill: Men of Secrets

(David Stafford)

“David Murphy has written a valuable and detailed account of the intelligence from Soviet sources warning Stalin of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, that helps to explain his costly refusal to heed their warnings.”—Donald Kagan, Yale University
(Donald Kagan)

"What Stalin Knew is a fascinating and meticulously researched account of mistaken assumptions and errors of judgment that culminated in Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June 1941. Never before has this fateful period been so fully documented."—Henry A. Kissinger
(Henry A. Kissinger)

“This is a masterly book, very well documented and composed. It casts a clear and strong light on what is (and remains) the enigma of June 1941 and of the two or three months preceding it: what Stalin knew, and, perhaps more telling: what Stalin did not want to know. David Murphy’s knowledge and his reading of Russian papers, books, and articles is the fundament of this extraordinary reconstruction. It should be of high interest, well beyond the ranks of Russian and Soviet specialists, for every serious reader about the Second World War.”—John Lukacs

(John Lukacs)

“Fascinating and shrewd, this intelligence officer’s investigation throws new light onto Stalin’s colossal blunder, one of the war’s greatest mysteries—as well as tells the story with the suspense of a wartime thriller.”—Simon Sebag Montefiore, Author of Stalin: The Court Of The Red Tsar and Potemkin: Catherine The Great’s Imperial Favourite

(Simon Sebag)

“David Murphy has provided a complete indictment of the purblind prejudice and fixed ideas which prevented Stalin from crediting the terrible truth being offered him by many sources. The result was ‘The Great Fatherland War of the Soviet People’ and the deaths of still untold millions of Soviet citizens.”—William J. Spahr, author of Zhukov: The Rise and Fall of a Great Captain

(William J. Spahr)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First edition. edition (June 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300107803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300107807
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,223,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig VINE VOICE on June 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
barely glancing at the old woman about to cut the rope and spring shut the trap. This aphorism summarizes neatly the trap Hitler laid for Stalin in the days prior to the German invasion of the USSR.

Lord Acton once said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. One of the chief lessons to be learned from David Murphy's "What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa" is that absolute power breeds an absolute arrogance that erodes the critical faculties that facilitated the despot's acquisition of power in the first place.

It is commonly known that the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the pre-dawn hours of June 22, 1941 (Operation Barbarossa) took Stalin completely by surprise. The Soviet air force in the western zone was destroyed on the ground. The Soviet army, from Memel on the Baltic Sea to Odessa along the Black Sea was engulfed in fear and chaos almost from the start. Millions of Soviet soldiers were killed or taken prisoner and hundred of miles of Soviet territory was overrun in the first ten days of the war. As Murphy points out, the tragedy of Barbarossa for the USSR was not just the horrible loss of life and territory but the fact that these losses could have been lessened dramatically (although probably not eliminated) but for the supreme arrogance of the Soviet's supreme leader.

Murphy fleshes this general information out with an exhaustive amount of additional information gleaned from recently opened Soviet archives. Murphy was a career intelligence officer with the CIA and served as its head of Soviet operations before retiring from the intelligence services. As a result of his experience, Murphy is able to cast a practiced eye on the USSR's intelligence gathering operations in the years before the invasion.
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43 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Maskirovka on July 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
After reading this book, I found myself remembering something that Ian Fleming wrote in a James Bond novel (I think). "The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't change their view of the world in response to the facts. They change the facts to fit their view of the world."

Stalin was the epitome of this principle. The array of evidence that Soviet intelligence uncovered in the run-up to Barbarossa (the massive 1941 German invasion of Russia) was staggering. Yet all of this intelligence, purchased with the time and effort and sometimes the blood of Soviet intelligence personnel, might as well have never been collected. Stalin didn't want to conclude that Hitler was going to attack him in 1941. Therefore, all evidence pointing to that was provocation.

It's incredible, and speaking as a serving intelligence officer, I find myself wishing that all the people making charges about the politicization of intelligence in the last few years in the US would read Murphy's book and see what real "politicization" involves.

The only criticisms I have with this book is that I think it would have been appropriate for Murphy to italicize passages of the text which are his suppositions, inferences, and judgments as opposed to absolute facts. This is routine practice for Intelligence Community products, and it would be useful here.

I also think any student of denial and deception ought to read the appendix of this book which contains letters that Hitler sent to Stalin in the run-up to the attack. Whoever wrote them for "der Fuhrer" was truly a master at deception.

Finally, the irony of the situation is profound. Hitler did to Stalin with Barbarossa what the Allies did to Hitler with Fortitude South (the deception plan that convinced him that D-Day would be at Calais and not Normandy).
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By The Sanity Inspector on September 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
One of the more unwelcome developments associated with the return of centralized dictatorship in Russia has been the closing of the Soviet intelligence archives. A number of intriguing books came out in the 1990s, giving the reader a peek inside the Kremlin and the gulag from back in the first half or so of the Soviet era. Now these are drying up as the FSB, the successor to the KGB, slams the door on any more investigation into the totalitarian past.

Author David E. Murphy clearly resents it. This book, compiled mainly from a couple of Russian collections of archival documents released in the 1990s, amasses an amazing amount of detail about the run-up to Operation Barbarossa. Yet for all that, the information is chiefly drawn from the Soviet military intelligence services, as access to the prewar archives of the Soviet security services proved to be impossible.

It doesn't really matter to the general reader, though. The book confirms in overwhelming detail what was long known in general: Stalin ignored and frequently punished warnings of the impending German attack on the Soviet Union. The blow was so telegraphed, on the way for so long, that the reader can only shudder at both Stalin's blindness, and his underlings' abject fear of him. The book shows Stalin's obstinacy in considerably more minute detail than we've seen before, but it is still the same Stalin: paranoid, out of his depth in military matters, calculating, and bloody-minded. There are doubtless unpleasant surprises moldering away in the NKVD archives, but surely nothing to overturn the picture we now have.

The historical recovery Murphy accomplishes is impressive enough, though.
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