Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Absolute War by Chris Bellamy

Chris Bellamy has written an interesting account of the Eastern front, although to a large degree limited to 1941 and 1942, that at least is what makes up the bulk of this almost 700 page book. I wasn't even aware that something like this was coming out and since it looked promising I ordered it from amazon.co.uk, not looking on the fact that I would be spending more money (but it was due to come out months later in the states and I simply couldn't wait). Was I disappointed? In some ways I was but in others I learned plenty. Out of five stars, I would probably give this book three and a half. Bellamy's earlier work regarding the Soviet Union focused specifically on the Rocket and Artillery forces, one can easily see that in this book, he was out of his league. He studied under John Erickson, whose two volume "Road to Stalingrad/Berlin" are THE works to read up to this date, although dated, so I thought his work would be worth the read. First I'd like to point out the numerous errors I found:

On page 4 we have the quote "Without British and US dominance of sea...Soviet Union would have been defeated in 1942." I simply cannot see this being a fact, less so since he doesn't really support it with a convincing argument.

On page 8 he discusses quickly the Ukrainian famine and gives a number of 7 million death's, but no source is given. Today it is known that the figure of 7 million is an exaggeration.

Page 22 retains the idea that returning POW's were shot or sent to the GULag when the war ended. God how I hate this myth!

Page 100 Blames the delay of Barbarossa on the invasion of Yugoslavia, and not much else. Today it is known that the rasputitsa was extra long and no earlier invasion than late June was possible.

There are countless spelling and grammatical errors here and there which take away from the overall reading experience. They include: Dovator's name misspelled as Dovatpor, Kirponos as Kirponosos, Instead of Jodl we have Kodl on page 331, on page 331 "Kluge handed over control of Army Group Center to Kluge." It was Bock who handed control over.

On page 347 first it says the 29th and 39th armies were trapped behind German lines and then the next paragraph has it being the 29th and 33rd armies.

A lot of times I saw "lease-lend" and even "lease-land" instead of Lend-Lease, I have no idea why this was.

On page 539 the author lists operation "Winter Storm" as being Guderian's operation, in reality it was Manstein's.

Page 656 the author mixes up the tank armies of Rybalko and Lelyushenko.

And there are numerous annoying comparisons between the Eastern front and WWII in general to what's going on today in Iraq.

Well, those are some of the mistakes that I caught, they pretty much took away half a star, the other star was lost by the author's short bibliography. As I said, he's out of his league. Many of the books he uses I have, they are excellent sources, but he's missing too much! Hence he's making some of the above mistakes.

The author also tackles Suvorov AKA Rezun's thesis and tries to give both sides of the story, but in my opinion he's missing too much from his analysis and leaves too much room for people to believe that Rezun has a point about some things. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say, in a few months another book by Suvorov is being published in English and I'll be reviewing it...quite thoroughly.

The accounts from 1941 and 1942 were excellent, his ideas regarding the intelligence Stalin was receiving and why he didn't believe what the UK and US was giving him are right on, for the most part, as well as the fact that Sorge's activities are given too much attention and what is ignored is all the times that he gave wrong information or at worst ambiguous intelligence. But the author relies too much on Beevor for his accounts of Stalingrad and makes a few of the same mistakes that Beevor did as well, to amend this I would, again, recommend, the earlier reviewed, Stalingrad by Michael K. Jones. I'll also add on a positive note that the author addresses the, well known today, myth about the 28 Panfilov men. I was quite interested in his account and it didn't surprise me that Soviet authorities knew from as early as 1948 about it but kept their mouth's shut.

Other interesting points that I found were the descriptions of the NKVD in Leningrad trying to find a 'propagandist' who was turning out leaflets saying that they should open their doors to the Germans. The Lend Lease agreements and the impact of Lend Lease on the war effort, here I also think the author doesn't have enough information on this area. His numbers are interesting but the context isn't total. Lend Lease helped but it wasn't crucial and I can only hope that coming away from this book reader's will have the same opinion. The maps and tables were quite helpful, most of the time, but I also didn't like the add libbing that the author kept giving me, annoying comparisons. This isn't a work of fiction, stick to the story, please. Lastly, the descriptions of the rapes and destruction wrecked by the Red Army on the German population is taken out of context, also to a degree. Somehow the author thinks that political officers, on the whole, encouraged this activity and gave their silent consent, but no real evidence is provided. Did atrocities occur? Of course, but there is no reason to make believe this was Red Army policy. STAVKA orders came down saying that such activities needed to be curbed and many times Red Army soldiers were shot out of hand for robbing Germans and for raping and murdering innocent civilians, yet there is no mention of these facts.

In the end all I ask is for balance, an objective view, and a context that will let the reader walk away with a better understanding of what it was like in the shoes of a Red Army soldier or general. Sadly, this book didn't deliver that, also part of three and a half stars I thought it deserved. For those who expected me to go chapter by chapter in this review, I'm sorry to disappoint, I'd rather point out what I liked and didn't like. This is a very DENSE history of the Eastern front, specifically 1941 and 1942 (border battles, Moscow Counter-Offensive, and Stalingrad). Politics, military actions, NKVD participation, and the allies are all included in what this book has to offer. This book is worth the read, I can honestly say that learning the USSR and the US were still, technically, in a state of war with Germany up until 1955 and 1951, respectively, was a surprise for me! But, as with any book, take it with a grain of salt, if something seems too good to be true, look at the source and consult other works.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should write your own "definitive" history of the Soviet-German war?

T. Kunikov said...

Eventually, that's what I might do.

Anonymous said...

I think you are unfair in your critics to the Book
Perhaps because you are afraid that this book relieve the NAZI/Hitler from some guilt/crime which been moving around like a myth?!
Some quick comment
- Indeed Germany delayed Barbarossa because of Balkan campaign; this was mentioned repeatedly by Keitel and Goering in Nuremburg trials! There weren't any motives for them to lying or deceive by telling that!
- Indeed Huge Causality – perhaps the great majority- in civilian was due to Stalin’s order to prevent any retreat of civilian from the towns and steadfast order to help and support the fellow soldiers which subjected the civilians to bombardment of Luftwaffe and artillery which in now way can be blamed by the NAZI/Wrhmacht

Adam

T. Kunikov said...

I never said that the Balkan campaign did not delay the start of Barbarossa, I simply pointed out that there were other reasons for its delay.

If you'd like to show where and when Stalin issued orders that forbid civilians to retreat, I'd be happy to entertain your ideas. Until you can do so there's no reason to bring up such nonsense.

Adam said...

http://kunikovsreviews.blogspot.com/2007/07/absolute-war-by-chris-bellamy.html

I think you are unfair in your critics to the Book
Perhaps because you are afraid that this book relieve the NAZI/Hitler from some guilt/crime which been moving around like a myth?!
Some quick comment
- Indeed Germany delayed Barbarossa because of Balkan campaign; this was mentioned repeatedly by Keitel and Goering in Nuremburg trials! There weren't any motives for them to lying or deceive by telling that!
- Indeed Huge Causality – perhaps the great majority- in civilian was due to Stalin’s order to prevent any retreat of civilian from the towns and steadfast order to help and support the fellow soldiers which subjected the civilians to bombardment of Luftwaffe and artillery which in now way can be blamed by the NAZI/Wehrmacht

Adam



http://kunikovsreviews.blogspot.com/2007/07/absolute-war-by-chris-bellamy.html

I think you are unfair in your critics to the Book
Perhaps because you are afraid that this book relieve the NAZI/Hitler from some guilt/crime which been moving around like a myth?!
Some quick comment
- Indeed Germany delayed Barbarossa because of Balkan campaign; this was mentioned repeatedly by Keitel and Goering in Nuremburg trials! There weren't any motives for them to lying or deceive by telling that!
- Indeed Huge Causality – perhaps the great majority- in civilian was due to Stalin’s order to prevent any retreat of civilian from the towns and steadfast order to help and support the fellow soldiers which subjected the civilians to bombardment of Luftwaffe and artillery which in now way can be blamed by the NAZI/Wehrmacht

Adam


Oh I thought it is very popular to mention
Stalin with His infamous order no. 227 said that no one could retreat, even for tactical reasons, and order no. 270 prohibited any soldier from surrendering: 'There are no Russian prisoners of war, only traitors,
The NKVD and Peria's police didn't even allow civilian to retreat but stand helping the soldiers, fortifications.
Stalingrad and the huge death of Soviet civilians were due to these measures. - They (many) were forced to stand and protect the city by all means of helping the soldiers...

Perhaps Stalin orders were formally directed to Soldiers but Peria, Yakov and others extended the interpretation of these measures.
It is absurd to ignore that.
Adam

T. Kunikov said...

You have written this before and I have written my response, unless you have something new to add you are wasting your time here.

Adam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Skoblin said...

Perhaps you should write your own "definitive" history of the Soviet-German war?

If you are interested in pursuing this, I may be interested as well.

Slipstream said...

I just finished reading the book and agree with you on some points, although i am no expert on this topic but i think the book gets a little too confusing sometimes. Also could you please suggest me some good books on this topic(World War 2, especially from the Britain or the Germany's point of view, I really enjoyed "Is Paris Burning").

T. Kunikov said...

Try David Stahel's "Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East."

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