Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Europe At War 1941-1945 by Norman Davies

I have nothing but contempt for this pseudo-historian, I wouldn't recommend any of his books to anyone, period.

The idea behind the book was definitely a good one. To give the Western reader an understanding of the Eastern Front and juxtapose it with what went on across the continent on the Western Front. He makes it clear that battles between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were the decisive factors in the war in Europe but in the end that's about all he does.

The amount of mistakes, omissions, twisted facts, etc are mind boggling and I will say that I will never buy another book by this author.

Where shall we begin? Well, to set the tone of this book the author himself admits: "I am a professional historian. And I have spent much of my career as a specialist in Eastern Europe, particularly in the history of Poland and Russia." (page 12) Thus he has paved the way for his own dismal failure as a historian.

On page 48 Davies speaks of the Russo-Polish war after the Russian Revolution, there is no mention of the Polish attack against Russia, rather Russia was attacking Poland to use it as a stage to eventually attack Germany, this statement is once more repeated on page 137.

On the very next page, in reference to early Soviet times, "Whole classes like the kulaks, or small landowners, were slated for elimination when agricultural land was collectivized. Whole generations were uprooted and sent for slave labour. And whole countries, like Ukraine, which had resisted, were laid waste." Somehow I don't remember Ukraine being 'laid waste' nor do I remember Ukraine being a 'whole country' since a good chunk now belonged to Poland. Also, kulaks were rich land owners, not 'small' ones. He also fails to mention that many Kulak families were forcefully migrated to a different part of the country, not something one could consider 'nice' but at the same time it isn't the same as being sent for 'slave labour.'

On page 68 we see the Nazi "final solution" being compared to the 'man made famines' which supposedly took place in the Soviet Union, among other activities like deportations, and repressions. At this point it was easy for me to see that Davies would rather like to have his reader understand that the Soviet Union was akin to Nazi Germany and their activities within WWII. What the book was supposed to be about, as mentioned in his introduction, was now a secondary matter to the primary thesis that the Soviet Empire was bad...oh so bad. By the way, there are no facts or sources given to support the idea that there were 'man made famines' in fact today few historians follow Conquests' thesis that the famine in Ukraine was 'man made' rather it was a result of many factors one of which was a failure on the part of the government to know what was going on with the harvests. For those interested in this event my recommendation is to read Tauger among other historians such as Wheatcroft.

A detail error, of which there are many, is on page 108: "With the 6th Army eliminated, the Germans were forced to retreat along the length of their southern lines. Army Group B raced back form the Caucasus to avoid being cut off." It was Army Group A that was in the Caucasus not B.

The laziness of Davies is apparent on page 111, this so called 'Russian expert' writes in regards to Kursk that "The Germans lost 70,000 men and 3,000 tanks. Numerically, the Soviets probably lost more." The Germans did not lose 3,000 tanks nor 70,000 men. Although the mistake he might have made is including the follow on operations after Kursk, like Kutuzov, etc. which did result in more German losses.

When speaking of 1943 Davies mentions on page 114 that " less than eighteen 'Soviet fronts' (or army groups) were rolling forward along a 1,000-km front line adjacent to the Dnieper." Checking the OoB of the Red Army, throughout 1943 there were 12-13 fronts, not 18. Considering fronts usually had hundreds of thousands of men, this is a rather large exaggeration on the size and strength of the Red Army on the Eastern Front.

In terms of 1945, on page 125, "The Soviets were not taking prisoners in combat. Male German civilians were murdered. German women were being gang-raped to order. Any German soldier who had the chance of surrendering to the British or the Americans was doing so." This is pure fantasy the fact of the matter is that German POWs being taken by the Red Army by the hundreds of thousands in 1945.

When speaking of Vlasov, the first thing Davies writes on page 169 is: "And the turncoat General Andrei Vlasov gradually overcame opposition to the formation of a near million-strong auxiliary army under German command." I'm not exactly sure how to interpret this statement. There were many auxiliary formations of Russians and former Soviets within the German Wehrmacht BUT they were not under Vlasov's control.

Math skills are apparently not Davies' strong point. "...barely 5 percent of Soviet territory was occupied by the German invasion, leaving well over 90 percent unoccupied." reads page 174. The reality is that around 9% was in German hands plus around a third of the population and most of the industry as well.

When it comes to Warsaw, it should be clear to most if not all that the radio calls supposedly heard by those in Warsaw did not come from the Red Army radio, or Moscow radio, etc. Davies of course writes, "Moscow Radio had urged the Varsovians to rise." on page 189. The details about this aren't really out there in Western literature, but hopefully soon enough, at the least, an article will appear about this from Russian/former Soviet sources.

On page 211 the reader is presented with the statement that "Well over 10 million Ukrainians were killed in the 1930s, if not by the policy of forced collectivization, then by the terror-famine of 1932-1933." A HUGE exaggeration, from the most recent data it is evident that under 3 million were excess deaths in the Ukraine ranging from even before 1930.

A wild claim is made on page 216 "Yet within ten days of the start of Barbarossa a further 5 million were mobilized. There was no way that these crowds of recruits could be properly trained and equipped. As a result, one of the Red Army's characteristics was to maintain a minority of first-class units accompanied by a vast array of half-fed, half-clothed, half-trained troops in second and third-line formations." Any sources? None.

On the next page Davies says that Soviet units, even when understrength, were apparently 'on a par with their adversaries.' Somehow I fail to see how a rifle division with around 9,000-10,000 men or less (the starting number in June 1941 was over 14,000 men but this was never realized since the Soviet Union wasn't mobilized, all rifle divisions were below strength in many categories, not just men. Eventually rifle brigades would be created and a rifle division by 1943 standards, when brigades were done away with and divisions once more created, had around 9,435 men...a rifle division that was understrength could have as few as 3,000 men, at times they literally were down to hundreds if not dozens, see Glantz's "Colossus Reborn", the figure of 9-10,000 comes into use because Guards divisions had a different organization and sometimes more men) is 'on a par' with a German infantry division which usually fielded 17,000 men.

On page 231 Davies says that "All in all, the total numbers of German soldiers shot for indiscipline reached 212,000." Although no source is presented, so I have no idea if it's true or not.

Further down on the same page he talks about Penal battalions who if they halted or hesitated were shot from behind, "...they had no hope of release - only the hope of being seriously wounded, or of living to be killed another day." This is horribly inaccurate. For those interested, I recommend "Penalty Strike" by Alexander Pyl'cyn, which has been translated into English. Those in penal battalions/companies were periodically released when their sentences were up or they were wounded in battle, sometimes if they had performed a heroic deed they were released as well.

Another of those minor mistakes was on page 249: "As from 1942, regiments or divisions that had performed well were given the designation of 'guards'..." that happened in 1941 after the battle for Yelnya.

On page 260, "The Red Army was slow to form dedicated armoured formations. The first tank corps was created in March 1942 from two armoured brigades." Apparently he forgot about the 29 Mechanized Corps in 1941 which on paper were to contain over 1,000 tanks.

Page 272, speaking of Soviet POWs coming back from GermanPOW camps, "However, the ordeal of Soviet POW's did not end when the war ended. Stalin ordered their repatriation, then charged them with treason for disobeying Order 270. Over a million were sent back to the USSR. The officers were promptly shot. The rank and file were dispatched to a slower death in the GULag." Horribly inaccurate. Such blatant disregard for accuracy, I'm simply speechless!! This is what in fact happened to Soviet POWs when they were released or found their way back to Soviet lines:

At the end of 1941 first special (i.e.“filtration”) camps were set for
- returning POWs and troops that were encircled by the German Army,
- civilian collaborators and
- civilians of draft age who have resided on the territory occupied by the Germans.
According to an article published in “Свободная мысль” (“Free Thought”) magazine (1997, №9, page 96) by two “Memorial” researchers, A. Kokurin and N. Petrov, by March 1st , 1944, a total 312,594 Soviet POWs and former Red Army servicemen who were “encircled” by the Germans were checked by NKVD. Of those:- back to military service: 223,272 (71.4%)
- to work in defence industry: 5,716 (1.8%)
- to continue service in NKVD convoy troops 4,337 (1.4%),
- to hospitals for treatment 1,529 (0.5%),
- died while in “filtration” camps 1,779 (0.6%),
- sent to “penal” battalions 8,255 (2.6%),
- arrested 11,283 (3.6%).
The remaining 56,403 POWs (18.1%) were still in special camps as of March 1st, 1944.

An article in “Военно-исторический журнал” (“Military-Historical Magazine”), 1997, №5. page 32, by A. Mejen’kov corroborates the above: a total of 317,594 POWs went through special camps between October 1941 and March 1944. Their “fate” is very similar (with minor discrepancies, if any) to the “fate” of those described above by two “Memoraial” researchers.

Accordingly, as of March 1944, 256,200 servicemen were checked by NKVD in special camps. Of those:

- “cleared” 234,863 (91.7%),
- sent to “penal” battalions 8,255 (3.2%),
- arrested 11,283 (4.4%),
- died 1,799 (0.7%)

In November 1944 “ГКО” (State Defence Committee”) issued a decree stating that until the end of the war POWs freed from captivity were to be sent to reserve military formations bypassing special camps. In such a way over 83,000 officers were re-incorporated into the service. Later on after NKVD clearance 56,160 were decommissioned, over 10,000 sent back to the Red Army, 15,241 were demoted, but continued to serve in the Red Army.

Upon analyzing several other sources the author(s) conclude(s) that over 90% of POWs were cleared, about 4% were arrested and the other 4% were sent to the “penal” battalions.

On May 11, 1945 a directive was issued regarding setting up 100 special camps to check the repatriated Soviet DPs (displaced persons). By March 1, 1946 a total of 4,199,802 Soviet DPs (POWs and civilians) were re-patriated. Of those:

- sent home: civilians 2,146,126 (80.68% of all repatriated civilians), POWs 281,780 (18.31% of all repatriated POWs),
- drafted (for civilians)/sent back (for POWs) to the Red Army: civilians 141,962 (5.34%), POWs 659,190 (42.82%),
- sent to “work battalions” (*): civilians 263,647 (9.91%), POWs 344,448 (22.37%),
- transferred to NKVD: civilians 46,740 (1.76%), POWs 226,127 (14.69%).
- still in camps or employed by the Red Army and military administration abroad: civilians 61.538 (2,31%), POWs 27.930 (1,81%)

(*) used for reconstruction work in the USSR

On page 290 Davies proclaims that Stalin had been "the general secretary of the party, and hence the dictator of party and state since 1922." Definitely wrong since Lenin was still alive in 1922, it was in the late 20's that Stalin had most of the power, and not until he had eliminated Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, etc, was he the sole 'ruler'.

Once more on page 290 Davies says "Yet by Soviet standards it was really quite small, representing less than 5 per cent of the whole." Speaking of the territory occupied by Germany, once more, in reality it was over 9%, not to speak of all the other variables which should have been included in this calculation.

On page 302, it was apparently Chuikov's "52nd Army" that was guarding Stalingrad. In reality it was the 62nd Army.

Also claims that Stalingrad's civilian population was largely evacuated, how to explain the 40,000 dead in one night of German bombing of the city?

Page 314 describes the Warsaw uprising, and Soviet activities during it, as 'de facto Nazi-Soviet cooperation'...of course. Evidence? None.

Again, on page 340 when the Red Army crossed the border it went on a killing spree, "The punishment for males was to be shot. The punishment for females was to be gang-raped."...indeed, no sources are provided. While both did occur to various degrees, they were not 'sprees.'

On pages 342 and 343 Davies compares Nazi Germany's wartime looting to Soviet soldiers taking watches and bicycles.

A horror for me was reading page 409 where Davies recreates Akhmatova's poem 'Courage' in Russian while making 7 spelling mistakes in the original Russian. This author is a disgrace.

Lastly, on page 456 when talking about published works on WWII, Davies lists Guy Sajer's "Forgotten soldier" as fiction, yet I don't recall if it was ever proved to be a non-fictional work.

Well, from my reading of the book these are just the mistakes I saw, I'm not an expert on the Western armies and states and I'm sure more mistakes will be found if someone was to read it from that POV. So, my advice...stay away, save your time and money.


Peter said...


Norman Davies is one of the brigade of anti-Soviet propagandists who masquerade as historians (e.g. Beevor, Applebaum, Sebag Montefiore). Equating the USSR with Nazi Germany has become a main component in bourgeois propaganda.

In 2004 Davies published a book on the 1944 “Warsaw uprising” and visited the city during the summer. An article in the International Herald Tribune described the book in glowing terms and included an interview with him, as well as a picture of him in a city park on a height looking eastward over the Vistula: ”Poles recall revolt doomed to fail”, IHT 31 July/1 August 2004.

The text below is a letter I sent to the IHT, which they naturally didn’t publish:

British historian Norman Davies says that Soviet and German soldiers facing each other across the Vistula River at Warsaw in August 1944 “didn’t fire at each other…But if any Soviet soldier tried to cross the river to help the Poles, both sides fired at him.” The article describes Russian soldiers who according to Davies were “literally sunbathing on one side of the Vistula while the Germans literally obliterated Warsaw…”

These statements do not match the account of military operations around Warsaw in the summer of 1944 given by David M. Glantz and Jonathan House in “When Titans Clashed”, Univ. Press of Kansas, 1955. Glantz, Colonel US Army (Ret), was a co-founder of the US Army’s Combat Studies Institute as well as founder and editor of The Journal of Slavic Military Studies. He is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Soviet army and its operations.

Glantz and House state that the only Soviet forces near Warsaw when the uprising started on 1 August were units of the 47th Army, i.e. the 3rd Tank Corps, 15 km to the northeast, which had been “overextended and weakened” and then “severely mauled” by German armor at the end of July, the 8th Guards Tank Corps, 20 km to the east of the city, which was “sorely pressed” by German counterattacks, and three rifle corps, which “were stretched out on a front of over 80 km from south of Warsaw to Siedlce and were unable to renew the drive on Warsaw…”

Glantz and House also state that the Polish insurgents “failed to secure the four bridges over the Vistula”.

Does Davies or reporter Richard Bernstein have any information as to the designation of the Soviet units that Davies says were on the east bank of the Vistula across from the city and that Glantz/House have for some reason overlooked? Since the Germans held the bridges, how did soldiers from these phantom forces try to cross the river? Did they swim? Did they walk on the water?

Glantz and House: “German resistance in the region was probably sufficient to halt any Soviet attack, at least until mid-September. Thereafter, a Soviet advance on Warsaw would have involved a major reorientation of military efforts…in order to muster sufficient force to break into Warsaw. Even if they had reached Warsaw, the city would have been a costly place to clear of Germans and an unsuitable location from which to launch a new offensive”.

Further: “On 13 September, lead elements of the 47th Army entered Praga, in Warsaw’s eastern suburbs”, where Norman Davies claims Soviet troops were supposed to have been at the end of July. “Three days later, elements of two Polish divisions (part of the Red Army) launched an assault across the Vistula but made little progress and were evacuated back across the Vistula on 23 September”.

It was not until year-end 1944 that “the Soviets accumulated enough force to break out of their Vistula bridgehead”.

Your site is very interesting. Have you read “Russia at War” by Alexander Werth?

Peter Cohen

T. Kunikov said...

I read Werth's book years ago when I was just getting into the Eastern Front of WWII. You are correct in that Davies and his version of events when it comes to the Warsaw uprising is blatantly wrong and biased. Beevor is a sloppy historians first and foremost, in my opinion. Applebaum makes a few mistakes here and there and she tends to lean toward one side more than the other but her book is an interesting read, although she misquotes from time to time, why, I cannot tell you. Montefiore I have yet to read although I have both his books on Stalin.

Anonymous said...

mr. Kunikov, you are wrong on Russo-Polish war. Russia attacked Poland in 1919, and this is simple fact which tends to be ignored by Russians. You, as many other Russians, seem to think that war started in 1920, when Poland started another offensive in a war, which already lasted a year. Davies is right on this account

No to mention that Pilsudski specifically refused to help whites in Civil War and made decision about offensive when he got intelligence reports about massive buildup of soviet forces near Polish front (and when SOviets send him a note that their earlier proposals are no longer valid)

T. Kunikov said...

I have read about the mutual clashes that took place between Russian and Polish forces before the Polish invasion. But it was the Poles that invaded up to Kiev with the help of Petlyura, I am still awaiting sources and quotes that prove otherwise. As for a 'build up of forces' I somehow doubt that seeing as Red Army forces were busy in the south with white forces.

Sylwioza said...

Mr. Kunikov I would like to see the sources you are using when you are stating that "Poland attacted Russia". Poland was a new and weak country just gaining its independence on 11.11.1918, they did not have resources and they coulnd not afford attacting any other country. They spilled enough blood during the Russian/German/Austrian occupation of their territory which lasted almost 150 years.Soviets tried to use Poles weakness by attacing Poland in 1919 (starting the Polish-Soviet War) but Poland resisted and in 1920 they won a Battle of Warsaw (known also as a Miracle at the Vistula) and was pushing the Soviets back to their terriory.

T. Kunikov said...

You mean to say that when the Red Army was fighting with White Forces and Polish troops, with Ukrainian help, advanced on Kiev this was not a Polish offensive?
1919 witnessed both sides advancing and taking territory, a large portion of Eastern Europe was a vacuum.

Anonymous said...

In formulating your "opinion" (what are your credentials as an historian? a susbscription to Izvestia?).

You also need to understand (no doubt conveniently neglected ) that Poland had been occupied a s paryt of the Russian Empire. In pushing back the Russians they were only restoring their own borders to pre Imperial times. The British had to come to Russia's aid with the Curzon line.

You appear to dislike Davies because there is too much truth that hurts.Knowing about what both the Russian imperial past and Soviet successors did to other countries is clearly too hard to take. Nazi pact Soviet Russia.

T. Kunikov said...

"In formulating your "opinion" (what are your credentials as an historian? a susbscription to Izvestia?)."

I am a Ph.D. student, what are yours? FYI, those aren't opinions I expressed but facts, something Davies isn't familiar with.

"You also need to understand (no doubt conveniently neglected ) that Poland had been occupied a s paryt of the Russian Empire. In pushing back the Russians they were only restoring their own borders to pre Imperial times. The British had to come to Russia's aid with the Curzon line."

Borders constantly change, Russian claims to which borders they want are just as valid as Polish claims.

"You appear to dislike Davies because there is too much truth that hurts."

Such as?

"Knowing about what both the Russian imperial past and Soviet successors did to other countries is clearly too hard to take. Nazi pact Soviet Russia."

Next time you comment, try to back up your assertions with some facts.