The fighting for Brest Fortress has acquired a legendary status within the history of the Eastern Front in World War II. Knowledge of the resistance various Red Army units put up was not readily known about until 1942 when a German report was discovered and published in the newspapers. With the victory in 1945 Stalin's demigod status was cemented with the caveat that few to no histories or recollections of the war were allowed to be published, especially discussing 1941. Thus the history of the defense of Brest fortress was put off until after Stalin's death and even then it was filled with what the author of this work calls myths.
'The Siege of Brest 1941' gives a brief but
very revealing account of the first minutes, hours, and days of the war
from both the Soviet and German point of view, relying on German and
Soviet recollections, documents, and unit histories (the last mainly for
the German side). The majority of the work concentrates on the German
45th division with limited discussion of surrounding or higher up units,
and the Soviet concentration is, comparably, on the units specifically
located within the confines of the fortress.
Aliev lays out a
very dense and detailed history of the numerous engagements within the
fortress by Soviet NKVD border guards, rifle regiments, anti-tank units,
and a host of other formations that were caught by surprise on June 22,
1941, as the Germans crossed the Soviet border and unleashed Operation
Barbarossa. Considering the surprise the Germans achieved, the amount
of resistance offered by the Soviets is quite astonishing, even though
the majority lasted only for the first three days, as they inflicted
hundreds of casualties on the German 45th infantry division and held up
their advance into the Soviet interior. Red Army and border forces were
often left without any adequate leadership as many officers were
outside the fortress either taking the Sunday (June 22) off to relax,
were on training exercises or participating in any number of other
Soviet resistance was thus diluted and disorganized.
Within hours of the invasion Aliev describes how resistance stiffened
in some sectors, while in others men and women ran to escape the
confines of the fortress as they were overcome by shock and panic.
German advances into the fortress were met with success until Soviet
resistance was able to overcome the initial chaos. What followed was a
German retreat with a few German units even becoming encircled by the
Red Army within the fortress. As hours turned to days, German artillery
took a toll on the defenders, as did a lack of water. Many units began
to contemplate breaking out and often it was painful to read about the
numerous escape attempts. On the night of June 22, many were able to
get away as the Germans were only just setting up a cordon. As more
time passed, especially by the second and third day, practically all
breakout attempts resulted in death or prisoner of war status. The last
large group of defenders (several hundred men) surrendered at the end
of June but isolated incidents of sabotage, shootings, and escapes from
the fortress continued into August.
Overall, Aliev has produced a
very interesting and detailed account of the siege of Brest Fortress
and Stuart Britton has done an excellent job with this translation.
Maps offered in the first pages are very well done with a lot of
highlighted locations and points of interest laid out for the reader.
My biggest complaint is the minute number of endnotes, and the complete
lack of a bibliography and an index. This greatly takes away from the
reading experience for me and limits the usefulness of this text in
terms of reference.