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Absolute War, by Chris Bellamy

Virginia Rounding reviews Chris Bellamy’s book, Absolute War. Below is an excerpt from The Independent:

Chris Bellamy’s aim in Absolute War is to provide “in one volume, a modern history of the greatest and most hideous land-air conflict in history”: that between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia on the eastern front of the Second World War between 1941 and 1945. His volume is, unsurprisingly, a large one, as is his achievement with this tour de force.

Making use of a massive amount of archival information which has become available since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Bellamy re-examines many old certainties – or myths – about the Great Patriotic War, as the Russians call it. He is also able to present many details previously concealed, most notably the staggering levels of Soviet casualties. Absolute War is full of such details – of facts, figures, maps and plans – but is also eminently readable.

One of the myths Bellamy is keen to dispel is that Stalin was completely unprepared for the German invasion, Operation Barbarossa, of June 1941, despite having received ample warning, and that he fell to pieces when it happened. Krushchev was behind the latter allegation, which new evidence shows to be completely false. Far from collapsing and hiding away, Stalin held 29 meetings with his senior officials in the course of the next day and managed with even less sleep than usual. As for his lack of preparedness, Bellamy demonstrates that the truth is more complicated and subtle than previously thought.

Stalin knew quite well that Hitler was no real friend and would one day attack the Soviet Union. His mistake was not to realise how soon the attack would come. The Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact of August 1939 had represented a playing for time. Stalin knew as well as anyone – having largely created the situation through his purges of top personnel – that the Soviet fighting forces were not ready for a major war effort.

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