Russia at War: 1941-1945 Paperback – February 2, 1993
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It turned out that the focus of this book was less on the battles and more on  the evolving Russian political decisions as their military fortunes ebbed and flowed and  the impact of the war on Russia’s cities and civilians.
The book explains the Russia invaded Eastern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1939 because Russia felt they needed a buffer between themselves and Germany. Perfectly reasonable – unless you happened to live in one of those invaded countries. Given that France and Britain went to war with Germany after they invaded Western Poland, what the ultimate fate of Western & Eastern Poland should be at war’s end remained a point of contention between Russia and Britain (and the USA) throughout the war.
Russia’s constant call for a 2nd front was another reoccurring subject in the book as Russia knew that without a 2nd front, they would continue to face nearly the full force of the German army by themselves. Fortunately, Russia had a (tenuous) peace with Japan so they did not have to fight a war in both their west and in their east simultaneously (unlike the USA).
As the Germans moved east, Russia used a scorched-earth policy to deny the Germans resources. While the Germans controlled their conquered territories, they shipped production and able-bodied civilians (for slave labor) back to Germany. And as the Russians began to recapture their lands, the Germans also used a scorched-earth policy. So the war devastated large areas of the Russian countryside (and its populace).
Stalingrad was covered well as it was the emotional turning point of the war for Russia (i.e., it was the first “we can win this war” awareness for them). But the book hardly mentioned Kursk -- the book essentially just said the Germans attacked but the attack stalled – and since the Germans had essentially burned themselves out due to heavy losses in men and material, the Russians then started their armies’ campaigns which began rolling the Germans back and ultimately sweeping into Rumania, Hungary and Germany itself.
Ever wonder why Russia today has problems with Chechen rebels? It turned out that Stalin had heard that the Chechens had fraternized with their Germans conquerors, so once the Russians recovered that territory, he had all of them shipped “to the east” (presumably, Siberia). The Tartars suffered a similar fate.
So why did I mentioned propaganda? Because some subjects were treated too kindly or even oddly. The book treated the Katyn massacre as “maybe the Russians did it, but the Germans probably did”. The halt of the Russian campaign outside Warsaw was argued as being a military necessity (rather than as a cold-blooded political decision to let the Germans eradicate Polish rebels). The rape of German women by Russian soldiers was explained away as being done by “sex-starved” soldiers (and also a possible “delight” for older women). The atom bomb was dropped “very largely in order to impress Russia with America’s great might” since “ending the war in Japan was incidental”. This book was printed in 1964 (25 years before the Berlin Wall came down), so perhaps some of my propaganda concerns were due the author’s lack of information rather than just parroting the Russian position – but they make the book misleading nonetheless.
Bottom line: More like “Life in Russia during the War” than “Russia at War”. Lots of information – but some topics were discussed often enough to almost seem repetitive.
Rather, the title says it all--this is an account of Russia at war. While Werth provides a rather episodic history of the war (briefly describing many key developments), this book chiefly consists of his many descriptions of his experiences on the ground in Russia during the war, based on his conversations with everyone from railway workers and common soldiers to Soviet generals to foreign diplomats, etc. While often based in Moscow, Werth also visited recent battlefields and recently-liberated towns, etc, where he sees first-hand the ravages of the war and the results of the German occupation. His interviews with many of the people in these towns--how they survived the war--are fascinating.
I should also mention that while this book is very long--1000 pages--it is very readable and moreover is organized into chapters on particular topics, so you can skip any that sound too boring.
My only complaint is that he prints some terms and phrases in German and others in Russian with out translating them. I really wish I knew what was said.
Top international reviews
Understanding is further complicated by the built-in hate of the Soviet party and governance (communist) system, particularly as it revealed itself later in the Cold War. There is no question about it, the Russian people and soldiers spilled more blood and suffered more than the Western armies - and longer - and their claim to have played a proportionately larger role as it was their blood, their land and their towns and villages who suffered and their land and and towns that were destroyed, even though the blitz in Britain also wrecked a large part of Southern England, specifically London. Their distrust of soldiers going into battle (if they are going the wrong way, shoot them) is also not in line with our human values, although were men shot for cowardice in WWI when "shell shock" or "battle fatigue" - or just plain fear syndromes were not well understood. Neither did the Russians and their Asian fighters show any mercy to Germans - and that is understandable.
There were many heroes in that war with a disproportionate number in Russia. Although it was unreasonable, one can understand why Russians wanted a Second Front sooner than possible.
Just superb source for someone who wants to learn about Russian in this war.
If you have an interest in World War II and not tackled this volume, your reading is incomplete.
It is the only book I have read three times and have packed it in my photo bag for those wet days during the next cricket season when I shall start reading number four.
The books deals in a very objective way the events from the reasons that led to the war, to the conclusion of it.
I highly recommend to every student of WWII. Russia At War is one of the most important works on the subject of WWII.