The hair-raising follow-up to the author’s The Battle for Moscow (2015).
Stahel (European History/Univ. of New South Wales) has written an intensely researched account of three months of brutal fighting under awful conditions on the Eastern Front whose deaths and cruelty dwarfed whatever Britain and American endured in the west throughout the war. Never short of strong opinions, the author maintains that Germany had lost within months of its June 22, 1941, invasion when it became obvious that the Soviet Union would not collapse. Once the fighting “passed from being a blitzkrieg to a slogging war of matériel, which was already the case by the end of the summer, large-scale economic deficiencies spelled eventual doom for the Nazi state.” Germany’s advance stalled in early December, the result of increasing resistance, exhausted, freezing troops, and the impossibility of supply over immense distances and primitive roads. At the same time, a long-planned Soviet offensive began, regaining about 15% of its lost territory before running out of gas in February. Most of the new Red Army divisions were hastily assembled, poorly trained, and lacked heavy fire support. They suffered casualties that shocked even the Soviet high command. Both Hitler and Stalin made matters worse. No Russian general dared refuse Stalin’s orders to attack, and many were shot until Georgy Zhukov convinced the Soviet leader to back off. Ignorant of conditions at the front and convinced that Aryan fighting spirit trumped any deficiency, Hitler repeatedly forbade retreating. Historians still debate how much damage this caused because senior commanders did not always obey. Stahel’s blow-by-blow, unit-level analysis will appeal to military scholars, and his vivid anecdotes will draw in some general readers. He concludes that the Soviet offensive failed in its strategic goals and endured catastrophic losses, but it contributed to the steady erosion of the Wermacht.
A page-turner for World War II buffs but likely more than most readers want to know about an awful campaign.