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Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45 Paperback – June 25, 1985
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Many histories of the Second World War written by American and English authors downplay Russia's critical role in the Allied triumph over Germany. Some of this has to do with the Cold War rivalry that emerged after 1945, and perhaps more of it comes from a lack of Russian source material and unfamiliarity with the Russian language. In any event, Alan Clark's classic study of the Eastern Front remains the best book on the subject, "the greatest and longest land battle which mankind has ever fought." These pages concentrate on four major events: Moscow in the winter of 1941, Stalingrad, the Kursk offensive in 1943, and the battles on the Oder at the start of 1945. The author, first a historian and later Margaret Thatcher's secretary of state, suggests that the Russians might very well have won the war on their own, or at least fought the Germans to a standstill, without American intervention. He also makes the provocative point that Hitler's military instincts were often quite good, and usually better than his generals'--contrary to received wisdom. Barbarossa is a reliable and readable account.
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"From this study is one left with any general conclusions? I believe the answer is yes, but they are not of a kind from which we in the West can derive much comfort. It does seem that the Russians could have won the war on their own, or at least fought the Germans to a standstill, without any help from the West. Such relief as they derived from our participation - the distraction of a few enemy units, the supply of a large quantity of material - was marginal, not critical. That is to say, it affected the duration but not the outcome of the struggle. It is true that once the Allies had landed in Normandy the drawing-off of reserves assumed critical proportions. But the threat, much less the reality, of a 'second front' became a factor only after the real crisis in the East had passed."
Writing this in 1964 took a lot of courage. And it speaks to why this book is such a worthy read for anyone studying World War Two - the author obviously has made sincere and fervent attempts to speak the truth as much as he could perceive it, which in the final analysis is the duty of all true historians.
Alan Clark had one advantage historians don't have today: Access to the men who actually planned, instigated, and executed Barbarossa. The last of the Feldherren died in 1973 (Manstein), and most had gone to meet their Maker by 1965. From these interviews and access to archived material, the author put together a very compelling narrative of the bloody 4 year war that was fought with untold savagery. Clark paints a picture that is mostly at odds with the narrative painted during the Cold War. And the German General Staff does not come out looking pretty. Clark paints a picture of morally weak generals who were also blinded by ambition, vengeance, pride, hubris, and at times noxious cruelty. Field Marshal von Braunsticsh was weak; Halder was a petty technocrat blinded by pride, and institutional hubris; Guderian was mixture of technical virtuosity, monstrous ambitions and dangerous nationalism; Manstein was a brilliant yet morally flawed commander. And so on. Almost half of the book covers the first 6 months of the war, which was critical. Clark, was one of the first historians to point out the problems the Wehrmacht suffered between July and August and the strategic problems that flowed from them He was the first mainstream historian who's narrative ran counter to accepted history (that problems didn't occur until Hitler got involved and delayed the final offensive until Oct 1941); Clark also blends in the barbaric cruelty of the Nazis regime and how its rule in the Ukraine and White Russia undermined the military efforts.
In later years, sometime before he died, a later edition of Barbarossa was published, and Clark's introduction admits that perhaps his youthful indignation got the best of him. He also admitted he was too hard on Guderian and Bock. But, over-all he still stood behind his work. I think readers will profit from this book. Again, some of the analysis is dated. Clark wasn't aware of the cash payouts most of Hitlers favored generals received; he also didn't have access to Soviet archived material and thus wasn't aware of the crushing defeat the Soviets suffered during Operation Mars in the autumn of 1942; nor wasn't Clark afforded the logistical and economic data of the Nazis, which spelled an even more dire situation for the Reich if it invaded the Soviet Union. But, over-all his analysis was ahead of its time.