Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin - The Eastern Front, 1941-1945 Hardcover – June 15, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
—David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe
“Mr. Mosier [is] one of the more entertainingly contrarian military historians writing today. . . . an important and groundbreaking book about the Eastern front.”
—Joseph C. Goulden, The Washington Times
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Mosier begins the book in an unusual way, comparing how the lives and deaths of two men effected the shape and outlook of their respective militaries and how their legacies had a direct bearing on the outcome of WW2. The men he selects are, from Germany, Walther Wever of the Luftwaffe, and from the USSR, Mikhail Tukhachevsky of the Red Army. Wever, a committed Nazi, was a strong advocate of a strategic bombing arm; Tukhachevsky a proponent of the use of airborne troops and massed tank formations. Wever was killed in an airplane accident, and Tukhachevsky murdered on the orders of Stalin. In each case the death of the individual, Mosier argues, had serious consequences for the war that came: without Wever to create it, Germany lacked a bomber force capable of attacking Soviet industry, and without Tukhachevsky, Soviet tactics were dictated by fools who retarded the development of Red Army battle doctrine. This, Mosier claims, was a key element in turning the Eastern War into a "deathride" which neither Nazi Germany nor the Soviet Union really survived.
Though the book is not even 400 pages, the scope of Mosier's analysis is too broad for me to do more here than put it up in bullet points, and even then I am cherry-picking what I consider to be his main theses. Aside from what I mentioned already, here they are:
1. The Soviet, and later Russian, history of the war, i.e. that Stalin "won" it for the Allies, is a lie, one of a pyramid of lies created when Stalin had absolute control of Soviet historians, who in turn infected sympathetic Western historians with their fake narrative. The Soviets suffered more heavily, were more militarily incompetent, more barbarous to their own people, and more reliant on Allied Lend-Lease equipment than they ever admitted or the West even now understands.
2. The huge civilian casualties suffered by the USSR during WW2 were more a result of Stalin's scorched-earth and guerrilla warfare policies than German oppression.
3. Hitler's early 1941 and 1942 drives were far more successful than is generally appreciated, because the capture of Leningrad and Moscow were symbolic rather than strategic aims: the failure to take them is important only retroactively, and in the mind of people who do not understand their lack of military importance.
4. The famous Soviet victories of '41 - '43 (The Battle of Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk) were hardly the victories history has deemed them to be. Moscow was a mere pushing-back, at extreme cost, the German army when it was too exhausted by the cold to go forward anyway; Stalingrad was one successful operation amidst a host of failed ones carried out at the same time, also at staggering cost; Kursk was a battle the Germans broke off off their own volition, not because of battlefield defeat (they were out-killing the Russians by an enormous margin) but because Hitler had to shift powerful forces out of Russia to guard against Allied attacks in Italy, which he believed presaged an assault on the oil-rich Balkans.
5. The German retreats of mid-1943 until the end of the war were caused by the fact that Hitler pulled much of his armored combat power out of Russia after Kursk, forcing the Germans to fight the Red Army with (mostly) infantry and artillery. In spite of this, the Germans continued to inflict much heavier losses than the Reds 'til the end of the war, and would have exhausted Stalin's manpower had it gone on much longer.
I could go on, but this is the gist of the book as I see it. As you can see, there are a number of assertions here which will irritate and outrage those who buy into the traditional narrative, and frankly, not all of them hold as much water as Mosier would probably like. Some of the issues I have with his conclusions:
1. His estimation of Soviet casualties is unclear, but he seems to have conflated the usual estimate of total Soviet deaths (soldiers plus civilians), and used it as his estimate of total military deaths alone. A long string of both Western and Russian (post-Soviet) historians estimate the TOTAL loss of life in the USSR to be roughly between 26 - 28 million. Mosier uses this figure as the number of MILITARY deaths. This is not impossible, but it presupposes the USSR lost at least 37 million total dead in the war, which is a staggering figure and not one generally accepted anywhere.
2. Mosier blames Stalin far more than Hitler for the horrible civilian casualties suffered by the USSR during the war. There is some merit in this. Stalin did order "scorched earth" tactics over a huge swath of overpopulated territory, leading to mass famines, and he did order relentless guerrilla warfare, not only for its obvious military purpose but to provoke the Germans into slaughtering yet more of his people. Still, he never references Generalplan Ost, the cold-blooded plan Germany drew up before the invasion, which called for the deaths of at least 30 million Russians, and the deportations of tens of millions more to Siberia. Germany killed and starved countless Russians as part of its occupation plan, and Mosier doesn't really talk about this.
3. I think Mosier underestimates the military value of Moscow. It was the center of a huge road-rail nexus and if it had been captured, the Red Army would not have been able to move troops or supply them on either the northern or central fronts into 1942.
4. Mosier keeps up his old habit (in previous books) of making it sound as if the Germans were winning when they were winning and winning when they were losing. I happen to agree with him for the most part, but the casual reader can't be blamed if he finds himself surprised that Germany ends up on the losing end of the war.
These criticisms are my own. By and large, however, I believe Mosier manages to make a series of cohesive arguments that are long overdue. While he may underestimate the obstacles Germany would have faced in creating a big strategic bombing fleet (fuel, for one), there's no question whatever that the lack of such a force prevented the Nazis from attacking Soviet industry. Nor is there any question that Stalin's jealousy-inspired murder of Tukhachevsky retarded the growth and doctrine of the Red Army and cost the Soviets dearly in the first two years of the war. His thesis about the Stalinist narrative is also true: until David Glantz came along, hardly any Western historians had done their own research on the actual losses suffered by the Soviet Union, they simply accepted the stories handed out by the Communist Party, an agency founded on lies. And his final argument, that Hitler "killed" Stalin, that the USSR was a "victorious loser" that had been fatally weakened, is also true. Both former Nazi and former Soviet officers have concluded, in such works as diverse as PANZER BATTLES and THE CHIEF CULPRIT, that Soviet manpower was at its breaking point by 1944 - 1945, that Stalin continued to murder his own people with enormous relish even after the war was over (as if he'd never run out of them), and that the horrific damage done to the most fertile agricultural and mineral-rich areas of the USSR was never really made good. The Soviet colossus was unable to expand further, couldn't digest what it had won, and couldn't heal its wounds: collapse was inevitable.
DEATHRIDE is a good book, both for first-timers interested in WW2, and for Eastern Front aficionados tired of the same old stale interpretations. Readers may not agree with Mosier's conclusions, but they must grant he makes many persuasive arguments and certainty provides much food for thought.
One thing that has always struck me as incredible -- whether it was reading Guy Sajer or John Erickson or David Glantz-- is how the Soviets could go from losing essentially their entire Army in 1941, and again in 1942, and again in 1943, and yet come back in 1944/45 to field the most powerful armed force the world has ever seen. Mosier argues the reason that's so incredible is it didn't happen. This book is called Deathride but a better title-- and in keeping with Mosier's oeuvre -- would be something like The Myth of Soviet Power in WW2.
Mosier starts with the why-didnt-I-think-of-that-myself proposition that all Soviet data on WW2 is inherently suspect, if not provably false. Whether it's casualties or tank production numbers or the number of sniper kills by Vasily Zaitsev, all data from the USSR should be treated as suspect and ignored. (And, indeed, Mosier applauds Giantz for ferreting out many of the USSRs lies.) Mosier instead looks for a metric on the fighting throughout the war that is reliable. And he uses German KIAs. He argues the German medical service kept meticulous records throughout the war on Germans killed in combat. So he looks at the KIA stats in July 1941 and compares them to December 1941. Doing so shows a much lower number of dead in December than in July. But if Zhukov's Moscow offensive was so dominant, and the Germans resisting so fiercely, you'd expect way more Germans dead in December. That's just one example, but he uses that basic methodology to look at the fighting throughout the war.
I find Mosier convincing that the Soviet army in 1944/45 had nowhere near the combat power as is commonly accepted. Mosier's analysis of the record leads him to conclude that by the time of Kursk, Hitler was hoping merely for a draw on the Eastern Front and kept many of his most powerful units elsewhere until the end. I further find Mosier convincing that the Soviet army never got anywhere nearly as good at waging war as the Germans. So, while it's true the Soviets did kill 2 of every 3 German soldiers who died in combat, that wasnt due to any particular brilliance or skill by the Soviet military. It was because Stalin was williing to endure 25+ million KIAs in the Red Army.
I find Mosier unconvincing on a few points, though. I don't agree with his assertion that the German generals' desire to take Moscow and Leningrad was foolish and Hitler was wise not to do so. I continue to believe that this was a collossal blunder by Hitler. (Go look at a map of the USSRs railroad network.) I also remain unconvinced that Operation Blau was ever anything but a mistake. (Mosier seems of two minds about it.)
In sum, I'd encourage anyone interested in the Eastern Front, whether a novice or someone well read on the subject, to get this book. It will make you think.
Top international reviews
Well, it's the way in which the book toys with your mind. It reminded me of Brian Fugate's Thunder on the Dnepr (that did the same as this book, only for the other side). In Deathride Mr. Mosier takes you along in a certain way of thinking that's very interesting. He poses that Hitler made only sensible decisions in the war in the east, and that Stalin made only errors and camouflaged these errors by falsifying historical accounts and statistical data. The picture of what strategy Hitler was following the bring Stalin to his knees is very interesting and thought provoking, because somehow with this strategy Hitler's action make a bit of sense. Also the image that's given of Stalin is food for thought. The way Stalin acted resulted in large numbers of equipment being produced, but of very poor quality and without the means to support that equipment in the field. This also makes sense.
However, the book heavily leans on a number of theories, that are more or less posed as true. But although the book is packed with notes, I hardly ever found a note supporting these key theories. The notes are almost always about facts I already knew. I would have liked to see factual notes back up the theories. One very important one is about Soviet casualties. Mr Mosier lists Soviet monthly casualties (to compare them with German losses), but doesn't back them up with notes. I have tried very hard to verify them, but found that WW 2 Soviet casualty figures are hard to find, and when you do find them they are disputed. So where do Mr Mosiers figures come from?
So this is the main problem with the book. Eventhough it made me think about where the Germans were in the war in 1943, I don't think this title gives the true picture. What it may do instead though, is give the picture as Hitler saw it (that is, the German part, for I doubt he'll have had any idea of what is mentioned about Stalin).
This is also true about the Soviet side. Mr Mosier poses that winning WW2 actually meant the Soviet Union as a state was doomed to lose. The way in which he describes this theory is very interesting, but the important arguments are not backed by notes, as I would have liked to see.
A second problem is that Hitler is never criticised in the book, Germany did lose the war and Germany certainly made mistakes. I missed the careful analyses of this process in the book.
So, to sum it up: the book poses a very interesting theory about how Hitler perceived his situation in 1942 and 1943. This is something that may be of interest to eastern front buffs. But because the lack of notes on the important parts of the theory, I feel the book lacks credibility. Therefor, as another reviewer already mentioned, it would be wise not to make this the only book you read abour the Russo-German war of 1941-1945. When you do approach this title like that you'll find it certainly has a number of interesting ideas to offer and this will make you think. If you're anything like me you'll like the challenge, and go and reread some other titles, or research some more data. That for me is a big befenit of reading this book.
I was always taught that Stalin and the Russians won with some ease after 1941 and the intial attacks espescially after Stalingrad. However this revisionist account argues that Stalin only won because of the help of the Western allies, that without Britain and the USA fighting Hitler in the west and sending Billions of dollars of equipment and supplies to the USSR Hitler could have won in Russia and came very close to doing just that.
After the war Stalin "wrote" the history and painted himself with glory and hid the statistics that could point to how close he came to losing. This book is a must for any serious student of military history or anyone interested in the war in Russia.
I would state unequivocably that this book is essential reading for anyone interested in war history, whether it be as an armchair historian, or as a teacher of any sort. The depth and extent of the historical research behind Mosier's effort is second to none, and sets a proper standard for what readers of history should expect (unfortunately, we generally think that this has been the case with the vast majority of books on the topic, but such is often not the case). What Mosier has really done is to revisit our "classical" understanding of the war on the Eastern Front, and to subject it to unbiased - repeat: unbiased - scrutiny based upon all of the information currently available. For all of the decades after the war, the history of the Eastern Front has been based upon Stalin's approved writings (including his own) and films on the topic, as well as the memoirs of German Generals who all too frequently took credit for all the victories, and gave Hitler the credit for all the defeats. My understandings of the war on the Eastern Front were developed on that basis, and throughout my formal schooling, that was the only sort of information available. The history of war is written by the victors. We should all be more aware of this, and Mosier's book hits this point relentlessly, and effectively.
Over the last several years, the opening of the Soviet archives has shed new light on many aspects of WWII, especially on the role and actions of Stalin, and the results therefrom. This has been very clearly reflected in many of the newer war history books and videos, including several BBC releases, inlcuding the recent ones based upon the work of Laurence Rees. As more information became available from the Soviet archives, certain "givens" about the war became less certain, and if one wanted to look at the associated history with a more critical eye, then various gaps and inaccuracies became clear. Perhaps this what got Mosier started on his historical researches in the first place, but whatever the reason, the rest of us can now benefit from his relentless detailed research and critical insight. This is what proper historical research should be, and the result in this case is exceptional.
Books like this are not always easy for people to digest, and this is crystal clear from the tone of some of the reviews on this one. If you're a Stalin buff, you won't like this book, but then you likely won't like any book written about the self styled "Man of Steel". However, if you are someone with an open mind who doesn't mind, or even better, actually wants to take a critical look at what has been the informational status quo on this topic, then this book is definitely for you. You won't be disappointed! If you are a teacher, or professor, or an educator of any sort, this book is a must read, and something that you owe your students.
Deathride is a great book, and a pleasant and fairly easy read. You will want to flip to the endnotes as you read the book, and one of my complaints with the book is that it would have been an easier read were the endnotes turned into footnotes at the bottom of each page. My only other "complaint" would be that more maps throughout the book would have been helpful. You'll know what I mean when you read the book. I look forward to reading other of Mosier's books that I now have on order.
It is hard to actually like Stalin, but when writing about the Soviet supremo it is still important to maintain the right balance.
Reading the book in isolation you would probably form the impression that Russia blundered its way to victory because Mosier rarely if ever, gives any credit to STAVKA - the Soviet high command.
The legendary battle of Stalingrad is not put in its proper perspective and is glossed over in just a few pages. The Red Army under Zhukov's command and Chuikov's superb, if harsh, leadership performed tactical heroics. The larger Operation Uranus pincer movement was, again, undertaken with remakable skill. AND because, by now, Stalin, unlike Hitler, was prepared to listen to his Generals.
The great tank battle within the Kursk salient never even mentions the careful way in which STAVKA planned for the Battle. The ways in which vast numbers of troops and materiel were carefully positioned right under the unsuspecting German's noses. At no point in the description of the offensive was the key battle for the railhead at Prokhorovka even mentioned.
Mosier also claims that as a result of Stalin's legacy the Soviet Union produced a generation of intellectual and scientific mediocraties. Correct me if I am wrong - but wasn't Yuri Gagarin the first man into space?
Deathride is without doubt a well researched book containing many interesting facts and figures, but in my view it needs to be read in conjunction with other books on The Russian Front to give the reader a more balanced picture.
Hitler is almost always portrayed as a bumbling dictator overruling his generals with ridiculous decisions while in fact Hitler was mostly right and some generals were still fighting WW 1, hesitant and after personal glory instead of real success.
Had the US as in WW 1 not come in to bail out England by invading Europe and support Russia with war material Hitler and the super soldiers of Germany would have defeated Russia and prevented a cold war. The book also makes clear that Hitler had neither the capability nor any interest in invading the US as American propaganda claimed. It is highest time that the truth about Hitler, Germany and it's soldiers is presented the way it really was.