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message 1: by Kevin (last edited Jan 11, 2008 05:10PM) (new)

Kevin I don't know much about the Russian Front of the war but I do know two things:

1) Some (most?) historians believe the the Russians ultimately could've beaten the Germans without the 2nd front from the Brits and US.
2) The scale of the violence made the Western front look like a family squabble.

At any rate, I came across a new book called "The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II" by Andrew Nagorski in the Wall Street Journal today. Based on this brief write up, it sounds fairly good.

Interestingly, Stalin appears to have had a bit of a breakdown when the German's attacked. Hard to imagine.

message 2: by Christopher (new)

Christopher | 13 comments Stalin was unresponsive (some say he literally chewed the carpet) for days when the Germans attacked. The Red Army commanders were afraid to give orders for fear of his wrath when he did come to. By that time, huge swaths of the Red Army had been surrounded.

Try 'Hitler's Panzers East' for a discussion of the chances the Germans had to win on the Russian Front.

message 3: by Patrick (last edited Jan 11, 2008 11:28PM) (new)

Patrick | 16 comments That shocked me too, when I first read about Stalin's response to Hitler's surprise attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. I think I read that a young Nikita Khrushchev stepped in and took charge of salvaging whatever the USSR could during that first week of catastrophic military repulses, ultimately making the call to dismantle as much industrial capacity as possible and move it all the way out to Siberia, far away from Nazi attack. That's supposedly the move that enabled the Soviets to gear up their armaments production to the point where they fielded FIVE HUNDRED divisions by 1944, all of them headed west toward Berlin.

As his reward, Stalin sent Krushchev to Stalingrad to take over the defense of that city back when it looked like it would another total loss for the USSR, the decision being more an attempt to get Nikita killed in action rather than sending a good man to take on a hard job, I think.

Stalin brought the debacle of the lack of his Army's readiness to resist the Nazis on himself, though...he's the guy who purged and executed 35,000 Army officers and senior NCOs back in the 1930's, most of whom were executed. He had 90% of his generals arrested and killed during that period. (See the latest editon of Robert Conquest's The Great Terror for more about the purges:

Anyway, Kevin, awesome thread! Thanks for starting it.

I agree with both your points in yoru first post -- the Eastern front was really the place where the war was won, and we just don't know enough about it in the United States. Between the book you're reading and the expertise of Christopher and our moderator Meirav , I look forward to learning a lot more about this theater of World War II.

message 4: by Ian (new)

Ian | 86 comments Like Kevin I know little of the Russian war - yet another gap in my knowledge - except for the vast distances, huge casualties & massive tank battles. Re contributions of the three major allies I remember reading somewhere that the British gave time, the US gave materiel and the Russians gave lives.

STalin of course supped with the devil through the Soviet-Germman pact and I think that the Soviets had intelligence warnings of the German attacks and chose to ignore them. But then so did the French in 1940 through Belgian and Dutch channels.

message 5: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 16 comments I'm still amazed that Stalin, of all the leaders in Europe, chose to ignore the intelligence he was getting that the Nazis would attack. I mean, that was a ruthless move right out of Stalin's own playbook! I wonder if he had so cowed his closest advisors into fear of giving him bad news that he never really got the information he needed about Nazis massing on his border, or if he was convinced that Hitler would take down England first. Still, Stalin should have been better prepared.

The other astounding thing are the first year on the Eastern Front is the brutal treatment the Nazis meted out to the people captured in the areas they conquered. As I understand it, those people were initially somewhat supportive of the Nazi's overthrow of the Soviet governing apparatus in the areas in which they lived, because 20 years of life under Stalin had also been brutal. But, to ther amazement, life under the Nazis was worse! So those folks became anti-Nazi partisans and harrassed the Germans' long supply lines right up until the end of the war, when the Red Army swept back through the area on their way to Berlin.

message 6: by Christopher (new)

Christopher | 13 comments Two little tidbits, and I wish I could remember where I got them:

Regarding the purges' effect on the Red Army - after the 1930s, the Communists did a lot to lower the effectiveness of the officer corps. After the defeats by the Germans, they decided they needed officers again. One of the major imports from the US to the USRR was gold braid for officer uniforms.

Second, regarding partisans - many of these partisans that rose against the Nazis weren't particularly well liked by the Communists either. The "Brothers of the Forest" kept up a guerilla war against the Soviet army into the fifties in parts of Ukraine.

message 7: by E.C. (new)

E.C. Blomstrand | 8 comments I've read alot of "what if?" scenarios regarding WWII and I have a very hard time finding a singular thing that led to Germany's defeat. Perhaps one of the most compelling arguments for a fatal flaw, however, is Hitler's inability to recognize the potential of anti-Communist partisans. When the Wehrmacht marched into Ukraine, they were greeted as liberators. Indeed, Hitler saw no use for Slavs except as a forced labor pool and this became apparent soon after German occupation. The contradictions in German ethnic policies still bewilder me. They recruited Muslims and allied with the Japanese, yet Slavs were somehow sub-human. I suppose when a leader's personal beliefs interfere with his/her nation's military policy (recent examples abound), unforeseen difficulties will arise.

message 8: by Patrick (last edited Jan 19, 2008 08:06AM) (new)

Patrick | 16 comments Well, E.c., I think the main issue leading to Germany's defeat was that they chose to fight a two front war against nations that had a hell of a lot more manpower and acccess to industrial capacity than the Germans did, not to mention control of the seas. Once you start to run out of men and you can't get raw materials into your factories to build tanks, planes, small arms, and ammunition, it's pretty much a matter of time until your luck is going to run out.

Especially if you were stupid enough to get Stalin and the entire Russian Army coming after you, and if you can't get access to oil.

That's what is so mind boggling about both Hitler's decision to invade Russia in 1941, and his later decision to focus on Stalingrad rather than push on to Moscow in order to decapitate the leadership of the Soviet Union.

I have read some alternative history on WW2 as well...I especially reommend this book, because the contributors are the foremost military historians working in the World War II field:

The general assessment is that the Germany could have pulled off what Napoleon failed to do be "conquering" Russia if they had not gotten bogged down. They came close, too, and my impression is that both Hitler and his general staff knew that they had a very short window - maybe one campaign season, to get the job done and then solidify their gains before the Soviet Union would start to turn the tide. Given that, attacking so late in the year on such a huge front while still focusing on England seems foolhardy.

As for the German ethnic policies, my take on this is that the really hardcore Nazis - the one making the strategic decsions - actually regarded every other race except certain strains of Caucasian as inferior, and had the "Axis" somehow ended up in control of the world, whatever that may have meant, I think there would eventually have been a showdown with Japan over supremacy in the Far East and they also would have sought to subjugate the Muslim peoples in the regions near Europe. I mean, we're talking about real fanatics here, so this is a big WHAT IF? But I think it reasonable to assume that, had the Nazis soemhow come to dominate all of Europe, western Russia, the Middle East, and Africa, they would extended their extermination policies and slave labor policies to other groups of people they decided were inferior to their master race.

My thoughts on the matter. The last half of this is speculation, naturally. Wish I could offer up a good book on the subject, that any such book would be most unpleasant reading.

message 9: by E.C. (new)

E.C. Blomstrand | 8 comments When I look at all the junctures, particularly early on, where the war could have at least been contained to Europe, it really frustrates me. It seems like there was a collective denial about what Hitler's true aims were. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20.
I'm not sure if the Soviet Union could have bested Germany without England or the U.S. There was a lot of German manpower and material tied up in North Africa and in the skies over England.
How about Soviet Asia? I read somewhere (I'll try to corroboarate this) that Japan kept nearly 1 million troops in Manchuria for fear of a Soviet invasion. What if those troops had been freed up for operations in the Pacific? Thank goodness for their paranoia.

message 10: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 16 comments on the collective denial matter, one thing we tend to forget over here in the US is how brutal the World War I experience was for France and Britain, arguably the only European powers who could have collectively dealt with Hitler in the 1930's. Essentially, the overwhelming will of the people was for peace at all costs, even two decades after a four year war in which hundred of thousands died by particularly horrendous means on the battlefield for what seemed to be no apparent gain in terms of ground captured or strategic advantage. I have read some good books recently which made it clear how much the prevailing opinion in Britain was totally against Churchill's demands that Europe resist Hitler, right up to the invasion of France.

In the case of the US, there was a ton of pacifist sentiment as well, in addition to many other groups and opinion makers who pushed teh idea that the US should never have gotten involved in European affairs by entering World War I.

Like you said, hindsight is 20/20. There's a lot of books out there that claim that the Allies had plenty of intelligence about the death camps and the other repressive measures, but regrettably, the leaders of the democratic Allied countries didn't feel that was enough of an issue to compel their people to go to war. Roosevelt, reading the political tea leaves, knew that he had to await an egregious act of aggression before the American people would get behind the war effort.

I am pretty sure that the Soviet union could have destroyed Germany even if the Allies never landed on the continent, but I don't know if they could turned the tide so quickly against Germany if they had not received equipment and materiel support from the US. Most of the Lend-lease materiel went to the Soviet Union.

You're correct about the Japanese keeping a million troops in Manchuria, but taht wasn't solely to defend against the Soviet union. I've read a lot about the China-Burma-India theater of the war, and I think from the Japanese Army's perspective that's where the main effort of the war was - not in the Pacific. They contributed divisions to defend the territory seized in the Pacific, but they surely didn't like having to cooperate with the Imperial Navy on those operations. On the other hand, operations on the mainland of Asia promised the opportunity of seizing territory and raw materials needed for the war. I think that the Japanese Army intended to hold China at all costs, even at the risk of possibly losing what they had captured in the Pacifc during the first half of 1942 in case the war ended in some form of negotiated surrender. The Japanese Army had already "owned" Korea as a protectorate for alost 50 years by the start of the war. In addition, the Army was essentially the governing power in large parts of China well before 1939, so I'm sure they thought they would be able to retain those possessions after the war ended. But the Chinese people never accepted Japanese rule, and I think that's what tied down so many troops.

message 11: by Ian (new)

Ian | 86 comments You're right, Patrick,about the desire for peace in Britain & France after the First World War. Britain had lost around 750,000 men in the war and had been effectively bankrupted. Britain had entered the war as the world's creditor and emerged as a major debtor, mostly to the US which was now the worlds creditor. More or less every British family had suffered the loss of a loved one or had a relative who had endured the horrors of the trenches etc. This is still evidenced by the intense interest in WWI in the UK to this day - both by military history buffs and those with an interest in genealogy.

In 1933 the Oxford Union - then if not now - regarded by many - more those outside the UK than in - as an indication of the thinking of the social elite, debated and passed a motion entitled 'This house will in no circumstances fight for its King & Country'. Hitler apparently saw the debate as an indicator of British weakness.

Another sign of the reluctance to get involved in another conflict was the rapture with which Neville Chamberlain was greeted when he returned from talks with Hitler in Munich in 1938 with his 'peace in our time declaration'.

We tend to forget that Winston Churchill was very much a man in the political wilderness in the 1930s. Most commentators at the time had written him off & the public did not respond well to his 'banging on' - as they saw it - about re-armament. A good book on this period in the UK is 'Britain's Locust Years 1918-1940 by William McElwee (1962); now out of print, I think, but still available used on Amazon, although quite expensive.

France was probably in a worse state. WWI casualties were about four times those in the UK and the political system was in a mess. Unlike the UK there was a substantial section of the community which was anti-semitic and right-wing and a left which was very sympathetic to the Soviet Union. These elements - which were not evident in the UK to any significant extent - made for an unstable poliitical atmosphere.

message 12: by Meirav (new)

Meirav Rath Beevor, Beevor, Beevor. Antony Beevor.

His Battle of Stalingrad book was brilliant, simply brilliant. He has the ability to bombard you with tuns of information without overtaxing your mind once or ever. He brings personal, touching, enlightening stories of both generals and simple soldiers from both sides and that, of all things, is how a battle aught to be reviewed and studied; up and down the chain of command so you'll be able to see everything.

His Berlin 1945 was getting a bit tedious halfway through but I do believe it's only due to the fact that the events Beevor wrote about were getting tedious...

Another high recomendation is Richard Overy whose Why the Allies Won and The Dictators were simply amazing, well researched pieces of work that aught to go down in the hall of history books' fame. They're that good.
If you want a peep at the Stalin-Hitler relationship, the wonderful The Dictators is the book for you.
Perosnally, his Russia's War is waiting on the To Read list and I can't wait for its turn ^_^

Hope I was helpful and thank you, Patrick, for the credit :)

message 13: by Donster (new)

Donster | 29 comments Meirav is right.
If you like Beevor, I strnogly recommend his recent rewritten account of the Spanish Civil War. Those interested in the eastern front of WWII will recognize many of the players, from Rokossovsky to Chuikov to Von Richtofen, and learn about what was in many respects a proxy war between the Soviets and the Axis powers that foreshadowed the greater conflict to come.

message 14: by Heather (new)

Heather (bigheather) | 3 comments Another interesting view into the Russian front that I recently read was "Ivan's War" (I'll post it to the group bookshelf).

I'm a WWII buff, but was more motivated to read this book from the standpoint of having had a very close, dear friend who was drafted (along with the rest of his first year university class) into the Red Army for the Finnish campaign, wounded twice in WWII, and had mentioned some / but never much detail about his own experiences during the war. I'd also spent quite some time as a student in Kharkov, which was occupied twice. This personal connection to the Russian front is what attracted me to the book. It's also what gave me the resolve to push on through the last 100 or so pages, which weren't quite as good a read.

Very very shocking to learn the circumstances the typical Soviet "Ivan", and the civilians, lived through. Patrick brought up a very good point, about what Hitler could have done if he had only used the anti-Soviet sentiment that was present throughout so much of the Ukraine / Belorussia...

message 15: by George (new)

George | 116 comments Ah, but Hitler had been the sort of person who was willing to use Ukrainian nationalists and others, he never would have been there to begin with. Lebensraum was not based on sharing.

message 16: by Sam (new)

Sam Jung | 5 comments Well... I certainly do believe that the Easter Front was the the most crucial and thus the bloodiest front in WW2.

But, about the claim that Russia would have crushed Germany without the help of the Allied force, I must show at least some skepticism. Of course, I personally believe that that would be the most probable case and a plethora of historians would agree as well. However, it really is a mystery we will never find out.
(Still, if Germany didn't invade Russia (miraculously coming to some sort of an agreement with her), and concentrated forces elsewhere, such as in North Africa or Britain, I believe that we might be reading different accounts of the history right now)

message 17: by Bo (new)

Bo | 3 comments I would suggest reading the book "Hitler's Panzers East." It is very enlightening.

message 18: by James (last edited Mar 13, 2009 07:43AM) (new)

James | 61 comments Some good books that portray the fighting on the Russian front at a personal/small unit level are:
In Deadly Combat: A German Soldier's Memoir of the Eastern Front, by Gottlob Herbert Bidermann;
Sniper on the Eastern Front: The Memoirs of Sepp Allerberger, Knight's Cross;
The Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer; and
Stalin's Guerrillas: Soviet Partisans in World War II, by Kenneth Slepyan.

Also, to look at it in another medium, some excellent tactical games, with painstaking focus on authenticity, were made by Avalon Hill and TSR back in the 1970s. Often the background documentation with the game is almost a book in its own right.

The games can still be found pretty inexpensively on eBay - I just looked and saw someone selling a complete copy of Panzerblitz for $12.99 plus $4.00 S&H.

Panzerblitz, especially, is a look at combined arms tactics, with a lot of detail right down to the reported tables of organization and equipment for each type of unit down to platoon level. There's a big enough community of Panzerblitz enthusiasts online to make it easy to find and download alternative sets of rules, templates for additional types of units, and so on. As an added touch, they later released a companion game set on the Western Front, titled Panzer Leader, and the mapboards and pieces are compatible between the two games. Avalon Hill also made a larger-scale game titled Stalingrad, covering that battle.

I also picked up one titled Moscow 1941: The Enemy at the Gates, but haven't looked closely at it yet. Not sure who made it. It looks like it's in Avalon Hill/TSR style format, anyway.

message 19: by George (last edited Feb 26, 2009 05:52AM) (new)

George | 116 comments A blast from the past. actually Panzerblitz was indeed a very good game, and there were a number of spinoffs from it including Panzer Leader and then later on individual vehicles, officers and infantry squads in Squad Leader. Loved the AH games, going back to the 60s, even the early ones were quite good and fun to play like Afrika Korps and Stalingrad, although they were hardly as detailed and Stalingrad dealt with corps sized units.

message 20: by James (last edited Feb 28, 2009 01:13AM) (new)

James | 61 comments Just bought a tactical-level game on tank warfare titled "Tank", on eBay (got it for under ten bucks!) It says it covers tank combat in the 20th century, so it will have a lot of WW II history, plus more recent wars.
I came close to ending up in tanks when I got commissioned - the captain in charge of my platoon at the Basic School was a tanker (Captain S.S. Wolf - what a name!), and I was doing better than a lot of my platoon-mates at whatever they threw at us - having the edge of nine years of service as an enlisted man first helped - so the captain thought I'd be a good catch for his job field. I thought about it, and although it was very tempting, I decided to stay in data systems and telecommunications, because those jobs would have me spend less time deployed and more home with my family. So I disappointed Captain Wolf - I give him credit though. Despite his dislike of the choice I'd requested, he went to bat for me when there weren't enough quotas for the applicants for datacomm and basically ordered the selection board to route me to datacomm, which they did.

message 21: by George (new)

George | 116 comments Well, if you like Panzerblitz keep an eye out for Squad Leader. There was an Arab-Israeli Panzerblitz Avalon Hill game as well. Never had all that much interest in actually being a tanker though. I did 4 years as a 98g, 79-83. That was enough for me of active duty. Cpt. SS Wolf, hmm...

message 22: by James (new)

James | 61 comments What's a 98g? The Army and Marine Corps use different MOS designators. I was an 0341 (mortarman), 4034 (mainframe computer operator, and 8511 (drill instructor) when I was enlisted, and cross-trained as an 0331 (machine gunner) and 25-somethinq (don't remember the last two digits, but I was the platoon radio operator for a rifle company's weapons platoon, also in the 60mm mortar section in that platoon). Then I was a 4002 (data systems officer) after I got commissioned. Around the time I retired, they merged the data and communications occ fields and renumbered my MOS as 0602.

With what they're learning now about the physical problems suffered by tankers due to prolonged vibration as well as all the jolting and prolonged extreme noise (even for people who never got blown up!), I'm just as glad now I didn't end up in tanks. My spine, knees, and hearing are screwed up enough as it is - they told me at a bit past 18 years that they were going to let me finish my 20 but then I'd have to retire, and if I hadn't been within two years of regular retirement they'd have put me out on a medical discharge. As it is the VA has me rated at 70% disabled, which, thankfully, means my medical care is free for whatever for life (basically the deal they promised back in the 70s for anyone who made it a career but then welshed on in the 90s for people who didn't end up at least 50% disabled.)

The Arab-Israeli game is titled IDF, as in Israeli Defense Force; I picked it up too a while back. It uses the same game mechanics as Panzerblitz and Panzer Leader, with different terrain maps and unit counters reflecting the organizations and equipment of Israel and the various Arab nations they've fought. You could use the pieces from any of the games with the others, but since the IDF pieces are one to two generations of technology beyond the World War II pieces of the first two games, it would be pretty lopsided, even if the IDF pieces didn't include things like attack helicopters and wire-guided antitank missile systems that didn't exist in World War II.

I got a copy of Squad Leader too, but it was too complicated and unwieldy for me - I like the flow of play better in the other games; they're detailed but not so much so that they're tedious or cumbersome (to me, anyway.) I guess I just like the focus to be from company level up instead of down at the level of squads and fire teams.

message 23: by George (new)

George | 116 comments Well, with Squad Leader you really are getting into the weeds. I would imagine the real problem these days is finding anyone to play, since these things are pretty old. The got killed off by the Dungeons and Dragons rage. I always preferred the larger scale games, less realistic, but more fun.

message 24: by James (new)

James | 61 comments There are enough fans of the old ganes around to generate a fair number of forums and play-by-email sites; someone came up with a software system for creating graphic representations of the game boards that you can populate with units to show positions and moves. It's a free download - trying to remember the name. I had it set up on this laptop, but my Windows died so I'm running in Mepis Linux right now; guess I'm going to have to learn to use this halfway competently. It's still pretty much unknown territory. I still have Windows on a desktop, so maybe I have something on that game graphic program. I found it on a Panzerblitz forum.

message 25: by James (new)

James | 61 comments Found it! The program is called VASSAL - here's the link for anyone interested: - it's free, and easy to download and install.

message 26: by George (new)

George | 116 comments I'll take a look, thanks.

message 27: by Donster (last edited Mar 03, 2009 03:41PM) (new)

Donster | 29 comments If you haven't done so already, you should check out Steel Panthers: World at War (SPWAW). It's a free download with hundreds of scanarios and a couple of dozen campaigns included. Something like a more developed version of squad leader for the computer.

Your wife is guaranteed to hate it.

message 28: by James (last edited Mar 03, 2009 04:17PM) (new)

James | 61 comments Hmmm! Sounds good, I will check it out, thanks. I do most of my online stuff when my wife is at work or late at night when insomnia or other aches and pains keep me up anyway, so she won't care as long as I don't pipe the sound to the speakers loud enough to wake her up. I'm watching the Military Channel at night a lot of the time anyway, so it probably wouldn't sound that much different except for the lack of testosterone-overdosed voice-overs.

message 29: by Colin (new)

Colin Heaton (colin1962) | 1890 comments E.C. wrote: "I've read alot of "what if?" scenarios regarding WWII and I have a very hard time finding a singular thing that led to Germany's defeat. Perhaps one of the most compelling arguments for a fatal fla..."

My book, Occupation and Insurgency details a lot of that.

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