A gripping slog through the first winter on the eastern front of World War II.
In the first of a planned two-volume work, British military historian Jones (Stalingrad: How the Red Army Triumphed, 2010, etc.) examines the ten months following Germany’s June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. A few chapters cover summer months when Wehrmacht forces raced eastward, inflicting immense losses on a Red Army that seemed on the verge of collapse. However, the collapse didn’t occur, temperatures fell and autumn rains devastated Russia’s primitive roads, choking off supplies to armies now far inside the Soviet Union. Most of the book describes what happened after October when, within 100 miles of Moscow, three Wehrmacht armies launched a final push. By November, they had surrounded the city on three sides, but stiffening resistance and brutal weather defeated the exhausted, hungry, freezing troops. A Soviet offensive drove them back as much as 200 miles before the front stabilized in February. Quoting liberally from letters, diaries and interviews from both sides, Jones paints a gruesome picture. Frostbite devastated German troops, who received no winter clothing until spring. Notwithstanding their technological prowess, they failed to realize that extreme cold froze ordinary lubricants, and weapons refused to operate. Masses of vehicles and artillery were abandoned during the retreat. Both sides behaved inhumanely, but the Nazis began it; more than one million Soviet POWs received little food or shelter, and most died miserably.
Despite inadequate maps, this is a useful and painful reminder that the Battle of Britain and invasion of Normandy contributed far less to Hitler’s defeat than the Russian front, where a viciously dirty war inflicted 75–80 percent of German casualties.