Ilya's Reviews > Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War

Absolute War by Christopher Bellamy
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's review
Dec 26, 2010

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bookshelves: world-war-ii

A British professor of military history and onetime newspaper defense correspondent, who is fluent in Russian, took advantage of Yeltsin's opening of the Russian archives in order to write a one-volume history of the Soviet Union in World War II. The postwar Soviet Union had a slogan, "None are forgotten, nothing is forgotten," but in fact a great many things about World War II were deliberately forgotten. The Battle of Rzhev involved more men and tanks than the Battle of Stalingrad, but it is far less famous because the Red Army lost it. Anti-Soviet uprisings in the Baltic states in the summer of 1941 were not remembered either (Bellamy calculates that the percentage of Estonians who joined the guerrillas is about twice the percentage of South Vietnamese who joined the Viet Cong, and about half the percentage of Afghanis who joined the Mujahideen). After the Soviet Union collapsed, there were a great many sensational revelations about World War II, not all of them true. The Soviet Union did not want to attack Nazi Germany in 1941 because the Red Army was not ready for any kind of war with the Wermacht, whether offensive or defensive. Stalin did not have a nervous breakdown after the German attack. Stalin received many reports about the impending Wermacht attack, but he dismissed them as disinformation - and Bellamy gives Stalin's reasons for believing so. Overall this book has too many maps with troops dispositions and too little about life in the German-occupied territories. I also went, "Huh?" in many places. 7 million Ukrainians died in the 1932-1933 famine? Muslims and Jews were not drafted into the Red Army before the war? All (as opposed to some) returning Russian POWs were sent to the GULag? If an Anglophone ever asks me about a one-volume history of the Soviet Union in World War II, I will recommend Richard Overy's Russia's War instead.

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