A first-rate work by a British expert on Soviet military affairs. Erickson investigates the nature of command decisions, the character of economic performance--the overall ""Soviet style of war."" He picks the most telling time period, from the Soviet leadership's first awareness of the German war threat in 1935--when Tukachevsky's demand for preparatory ""war games"" was vetoed by Stalin--through the Stalingrad encirclement of the German Sixth Army, which was the turning point of World War II. Erickson examines the 1937-38 army purges, the Finnish war humiliation, and the hideous failure of Stalin to prepare for or even accept the possibility of a Nazi attack; the book thus penetrates the provincial paranoia of Stalin and his confidants, many of whom he disastrously deployed as military commanders. The worst of his cronies was perhaps Voroshilov, who opposed mechanization of the armed forces, but the ultimate blame was Stalin's; like a local mufti, he hoped to buy off Hitler with gifts, and continued to deliver raw materials to Germany even after Operation Barbarossa was launched against the USSR. The Kremlin notwithstanding, World War II elicited extraordinary leadership in the Soviet ranks, and the four-month fight at Stalingrad--the largest battle ever fought--became the classic example. Erickson indicates a political lesson for the West: under maximum stress, the Soviet system will spare nothing. In November 1942, 3500 guns backed up by a million men with shovels and knives launched the counteroffensive that sealed the fate of Von Paulus' army and ultimately the entire Nazi military machine. Erickson is Director of Defence Studies at the University of Edinburgh and the author of Soviet High Command and Soviet Military Power. A superb overview of a much-worked subject.