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I spotted this book while drinking coffee at Waterstones. Since it is pretty boring just to seat there doing nothing and since I have "history" as one of my "weak" spots I decided to give it a go. The first impression? The book is gripping! Once you opened it it is impossible to get out. I spent two hours reading it and lots of money for coffee before I realized that I am definitely buying it.
So here is my opinion. The story is well presented both from military and the human points of view. Historical evidence from the thick volumes of military history comes through the intimate soldiers letters and personal accounts of the great battle.Indeed the scale of this battle is incredible - Germans lost almost quarter million of soldiers killed and wounded. The suffering of PoWs and civil population was out of scale, if there is any scale for brutality. Well that is a history, but the book is much more than just another historical account. It is simply brilliantly written.
This book also blows up some common misconception. The first one - about effectivenes of the German war mashine. It simply was not. The level of chaos in Wermacht was incredible - the airlift promises that were not realistic at all, the lack of strategic thinking from german commanders, although it has a lot to do with the personality of Hitler, who succesfully eradicated any trace of free thought in OKV. There are some misconceptions about Russians - their readines to the winter warfare was not great, although there is an explanation for this - most of the new equipment went to the fresh armies, that were to smash the Kessel, where as the defending armies were left to scavenge from their dead.
Sadly, the author repeatedly uses some Cold War propaganda cliches. For example, Russian troops continuously portrayed as semi-alcoholic (!!! as in the book!!!). Well...Russians do drink. And in any army in this kind of conditions there are some alcoholics simply because battle stress is unbearable. However - germans, at least at the begining of the battle are portrayed as clean shaved and russian army is just a bunch of semi-drunk barbarians. And of course there are the documents to prove it. For example, poisoning of some people who drunk an antifreeze liquid. Was it true? It certainly was. But the figures the author mentions - several tens of soldiers - are NOT compared to the number of troops at all. And there was more than half a million russian troops. I am leaving for you to work out the percentage of alcoholics in the russian army and the validity of this clichee. And another detail - Russian troops were served with vodka ration - 100 gramms per person per day. Imagine the immence cold plus the stress of the battle and try to understand - the soldiers WERE NOT drunk! Well i guess I am getting emotional here, but those little flaws in the text are very noticable because the text is EXTREMELY GOOD.