Monstrous

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Barbarossa

Apparently a ‘classic’, written in 1964 and still in print today, outlining the Russian campaigns of World War Two.  Quite solid going, but interesting.  The scale and human cost of the war in Russia is shocking, indeed unimaginable to those of us with the good fortune never to have been invaded. Most detail had to be omitted, or the work would have been 5000 pages instead of 500, but it is a good jumping-off point from which to pursue individual characters or campaigns.

Clark was fairly clear explaining the main actions, adding memorable details and quotations to fix the characters in mind. My feeble geography was usually helped by the maps, though one or two rather heightened the confusion:

map

Of course the book is dated.  The sources used are predominantly German, including word-for-word transcriptions of Hitler’s conferences with his generals and interrogations of surviving Germans, which were publicly available.  In 1964 access to Russian sources would have been more restricted, so there is less insight into the Russian decisions and underlying activity.  This is a weakness which Clark acknowledges in the 1995 preface.

Clark’s viewpoint is always partisan, very much that of one far closer to WWII than we are, and deep in the chilliest phase of the Cold War.  His blanket assessments of the German nation would not be acceptable now (though given the kinds of primary material he had to read, perhaps he can hardly be blamed):

How agreeable to combine duty and sport; to bask in the glow of the crusader while enjoying the particular physical pleasure which so many Germans derive from the infliction of pain.

He acknowledges the brutality of the Russians, tending to excuse it as a) incidental rather than integral, and b) the Germans started it.  Perhaps with a fuller knowledge he would have let them off less lightly.  As a sop to even-handedness, he also comments on Roosevelt’s incidental role with barely-concealed contempt, and, in the context of Polish independence, describes

the alternating perfidy and impotence of the Western Allies …

How could it ever be otherwise, when blood is the argument?

 

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