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Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War Paperback – October 14, 2008
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“Sobering. . . . A global view presented with remarkable clarity.”
—The Boston Globe
“Probably the best account of the Eastern Front we shall see until President Putin relaxes his newly imposed restrictions on foreign access to the files. . . . Bellamy has made a tremendous contribution to the record of Russia's struggle, for which future historians will owe a debt.”
—The Sunday Times (London)
“Bellamy's treatment is authoritative, his judgments thorough and exacting, and his prose robust.”
—The Daily Telegraph (London)
About the Author
Chris Bellamy is Professor of Military Science and Doctrine and Director of the Security Studies Institute at Cranfield University. Born in 1955, he was educated at the universities of Oxford, London, Westminster, and Edinburgh, where he earned his doctorate. In 1990 he was appointed Defense Correspondent of the Independent, and served in that capacity for more than seven years, reporting from Saudi Arabia and Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War; from Bosnia between 1992 and 1997; and from Chechnya in 1995.
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Top Customer Reviews
First and foremost: if you are looking for a superb general history of the Ost Krieg as seen by the Russians, then buy and read this book. There was a brief window in the the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union when scholars such as the author( whom I do not know) had access to previously top secret information about Russia in World War Two. Putin shut this window and much of this information was reclassified. Professor Bellamy scrambled through this window of opportunity and did an amazing amount of original research from the original battle reports, NKVD reports sent to Stalin, records of discussions of the Stavka, etc. Because he was able to examine unredacted material, indeed the actual reports which Stalin had held in his own hands, Dr. Bellamy was able to shatter certain myths of this period---the most hallowed being the tale of Stalin panicking and retreating to his dacha and staying incummnicado for a week till the Politburo begged him to come back and lead the nation. Piece by piece Professor Bellamy takes apart this myth based on the actual communications in their original between Stalin and the key members of the Politburo. I use this as an example to show how carefully he did his homework and in doing so swept away a number of myths people have accepted for decades. Second, Professor Bellamy pauses on a regular basis and specifically cites the verified casualties on each side, how those numbers affected the belligerants within the specific context of that time of the war and then shows the Allied figures for the same period. Anyone who has read deeply into the literature of WW II in Europe knows that in my phrase, "the Americans did the supplying and the Russians did the dying." While many scholars point this out they do it in an unconvincing way because they cannot bear to let go of the cherished myth that the Allied landing on D-Day was the turning point of the war, which is patently absurb. The Normandy landings were a side show compared to what was happening in the East. Two weeks after Normandy the Russians literally destroyed most of Army Group Center in four days---27 German divisions and various corps HQs simply vanished. Over 300,000 men gone--not accounted for to this day.
Dr. Bellamy is very, very clear on this point: World War Two in Europe was won in the East. By showing the verified statistics and expalining them in detail and comparing them to the other powers, he demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Ost Front was the decisive theatre of the war in Europe. He further points out that as terrible and ruthless and bloodthirsty Stalin and his men were, they did win the war and for political reasons we in the West have never wanted to acknowledge the sacrifice the Soviets made.
Another especially interesting part of this history is the personal interplay between the major figures on the Russian side. Because of his research, he is able to really show how these personalities functioned together and often made horrendous mistakes due to juvenile vanity.
A far more nuanced portrait of Stalin also emerges. Stalin was as evil a human being who ever walked the planet. It is almost as if the devil himself had spawned Stalin. But he was a human being with his own emotions---which is the most frigntening thing since Stalin demonstrates the evil humans are capable of. But the author reaches through this record of evil and extracts the actual decisions Stalin himself made at critical times and how critical those decisions were to both Soviet victory and soviet losses. Being able to see Stalin up close working with his cabinet so to speak one sees a man who, reluctantly, begins to listen more and more to what he is being told and act on verified information and not fantasy. Using Stalin's personal office diary which notes who saw him and when, the author is able to correct a number of scholars and participants about who met with Stalin and when and what was decided.
Perhaps the most original contribution in this book to the history of the time is what a critical role the NKVD played in the war and how this was all thought out before hand. To win the war, Stalin had to stay in power and the population had to be both cowed and controlled. The author shows through numerous original documents exactly how the NKVD did this, how accurate their reports were, and how well organized and motivated they were. Without the tens of thousands of NKVD fighting units and undercover agents, Stalin simply could not have been able to harness the energy of the entire population to repell the germans.
This highly orignal examination of the NKVD and how it fit into the larger scheme is fascinating and no one else save Professor Bellamy has done it.
I will end by saying no histroy is perfect and there are certainly points I would contest with Professor Bellamy. However, given the originality of his work and given what Dr. Bellamy ferreted out and disclosed for the first time, I would rank him above all other historains of the war in the east and I would go so far as to say he is only one rung below Col. David Glantz who is the greatest historian of the Soviet struggle in World War Two.
The book does spend a lot of time discussing the operational, and especially strategic aspects of the war, but the author avoids discussing tactics pretty much at all. He also spends a lot of time discussing the first year and a half of the war, up until Stalingrad. He takes the position that the Soviets were more precarious politically, and economically, in 1942 than is generally realized, and that they were very close to collapse when the Axis armies outside Stalingrad crumbled and left the Sixth Army encircled. It's an interesting point of view, anyway.
The book is written in a breezy, conversational style that seems to be stylish now with books that are supposed to be scholarly. I don't know how well this will work in a book half a century from now. Right now, it's kind of jarring but I will say the book reads relatively fast. It does suffer from some annoying typos (Kluge giving way to himself as Army commander, Field Marshal "Kodl", and so forth) and the grammar is frankly odd, with incomplete sentences abounding in odd places. This is tough to read (for me anyway) because you don't know if you should be looking for a verb when you read a sentence. The book could have benefited from a strong editor, overseeing the way the prose was constructed and acting as a brake on the author's preference for fragmented sentences.
I generally enjoyed this book. I found much of the information interesting, and his arguments, while I didn't agree with everything he said, interesting. I would recommend this book to specialists, though of course you have to be aware of the shortcomings.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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