Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

Review of "The Greatest Battle" by Nagorski

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Review of "The Greatest Battle" by Nagorski

    Figured some of you guys might be interested in this. As with all my reviews I pretty much highlight the errors that I find and what struck me as interesting and/or enlightening. You can find my review on amazon and on my blog by the way. So, here goes:

    Having heard both good and bad about Nagorski's book I was interested to finally get to it. Sadly, from page one I knew I was going to be disappointed. To begin with generalizations are not a good way to start off a book, yet the author claims that "Stalin sent many of his troops into battle without guns, since he hadn't prepared the nation for the German onslaught." Source? None. How many is many? Where and when did this happen? While there would a few examples of this throughout the book, as I'll point out later in this review, they are either taken out of context or not given enough context to conform to the author's initial revelation.

    As Nagorski makes a claim to why the battle for Moscow was so important he invokes the casualties sustained during the battle, which he says ranged for 203 days. He then juxtaposes them with Stalingrad, claiming that the two sides lost 912,000 troops. The reality is that the Soviet side alone suffered over 1.1 million casualties during the Stalingrad defensive and offensive phase. Note that this does include sick and wounded as well as irrecoverable losses. This isn't to say that in the end the Battle for Moscow probably did consume more casualties, but why not then present the accurate numbers?

    On page 9 we have the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact being brought up, apparently this was to signal the beginning of WWII. Somehow I don't recall Hitler actually wanting to go to war with either England or France over Poland. The basis for his supposition that Hitler and Stalin were "alike" and "mirrored" each other is a survivor of the war and a citizen of Moscow who served six years in a GULag camp, apparently Nagorski cannot find someone with more authority on the subject of two of the most deadly dictatorships and their leaders. The author talks about the similarities in both Hitler and Stalin's upbringing, specifically their authoritarian father's. Then quickly backtracks to say that most probably grew up in the same type of environment yet turned out perfectly fine.

    Once again one hears about the 'man-made' famine in Ukraine, no proof or sources or the fact that it affected other parts of the country aside from Ukraine, page 13. For an author who self admittedly knew little to nothing about the battle for Moscow and had to take years to research it he's quick to make a variety of ambiguous and generalized statements about issues he also knows little to nothing about. Nagorski parrots the idea that the Balkans were the cause of the delay when it came to Barbarossa, pgs. 24-25 (there were plenty of others which would have delayed the invasion with or without the sidetrack into the Balkans). He claims that Richard Sorge's predictions were "right on target", far from it in fact. If they were "right on target" Hitler would have attacked the Soviet Union on at least 3 different dates before June 22nd.

    On page 37 we have the claim that the 41st infantry division, this is an error in and of itself since Red Army divisions were 'rifle' not 'infantry', contained 15,000 men, a quick glance through Alexei Isaev's book "Ot Dubno do Rostova" shows that the division, part of the 6th Rifle Corps, had 9,912 men. While Nagorski does provide endnotes he does a horrid job with them. It is at this point that I came to the realization that I will very rarely be able to use this work as a source when it comes to Nagorski's commentary and analysis. While the author gets the number of men in the Division wrong the following account of the division's commander and his interaction with an agent of the NKVD is quite fascinating. Even though there was an order to arrest the commander for shooting back at the invading Germans, which contradicted the first order that came out on June 22nd, the NKVD agent allowed the commander to go back into his dugout where he was visited by his aides as the fighting continued. Eventually the commander would join the fight with his troops as the pretense for his arrest was dropped.

    At last, we come to the source for the idea that Red Army troops were sent to attack without guns. A political officer from the 375th Regiment, a regiment that does not exist (after searching through the OoB for the Northwestern front, which the author says this unit belonged to, I searched through the Order of Battle of ALL Red Army Divisions which existed on June 1941, there was no such regiment, perhaps the author mixed it up with another, if anyone does know of its existence, please, leave a comment), says that he asked his commander to give them weapons, since they were fighting without guns...etc. If this was a real unit, I could try to look up it's table of organization and equipment and see how many weapons they had, but as this appears to be a 'phantom' unit, I can only do so much.

    Another incident is related when a father, long after the war, would tell his son how his unit was given one weapon per ten men. Although it isn't clearly stated if they did any fighting, if they did it isn't mentioned where or when. 1941 was a chaotic year, many things were possible and this might have occurred, but the author does little to assure the reader that he's thoroughly researched each event he is writing about. An interesting account is given as Khrushchev calls in from Kiev saying that the factory workers want to fight but they need weapons, the response is that no weapons will be forthcoming as they have been sent to Leningrad. Rather, they should use home made weapons and anything else at their disposal. An interesting story is related when a volunteer of a unit is sent off to the front without a military ID, when captured by NKVD agents he has only his civilian and student ID which makes them assume he is a spy. After being interrogated and beaten he is sent to another NKVD officer who has the forethought to listen to him and check his story out, the end result being that he is released.


    On page 70 the author, for some reason, mentions order No. 227, which was issued in the summer of 1942 before Stalingrad was besieged, why is this mentioned in a book that talks about the battle for Moscow in the winter of 1941/1942? Nagorski exaggerates what happened to POWs after they were liberated or escaped to their own lines saying those who managed to escape were lucky to be arrested and if they weren't lucky they were executed. Somehow he misses how millions of them were integrated back into the Red Army, sent to construction battalions, joined convoy troops, etc. Takes order 270, from August 16 1941, out of context and makes an error when paraphrasing it, he makes it seem as if the 1st part applies to all soldiers when in fact it only applied to officers and political workers.

    Also, a rather ignorant error, is made when discussing an NKVD report dated October 10, 1941, which lists soldiers who were rounded up after escaping from the front. He insists that the majority, who were used to form new units, were used to create penal battalions. This is not possible since penal battalions were only created with order 227 in the summer of 1942. Also claims that GULag prisoners were put into penal battalions, this is untrue, they joined regular units.

    A largely exaggerated number is given of Poles who were deported in the two year period of 1939-1941. I find it hard to fathom how the author can make the statement that "neither side had time to lay down mines" when searching a part of the battlefield with a Russian research group and explaining that children were dying after the war due to ordinance left in the woods and other areas. Was it that neither side had time when located in the vicinity which he was visiting? Was it that few mines were laid down in 1941? As I recall millions of mines were used throughout the Eastern Front. Perhaps context isn't an integral part of the research for this book.

    On pages 217 and 218 the author talks about 400,000 troops being moved out from the Far East to help the Red Army fight the Germans, of whom 250,000 helped defend Moscow in late 1941 and early 1942. No real evidence is given, no units are listed, and no sources presented to back this assertion up. There were quite a few divisions moved from the Far East, that is the Far Eastern Front and the TransBaikal Front to the West, starting in June of 1941 (two divisions were ordered to move in June) and eventually 9 divisions participated in the Battle for Moscow up until October, some of which were tank divisions. The majority of those were alerted in October and arrived at the front in November. I think the numbers given in fact exaggerated, but forces from the Far East, and various other fronts/districts were constantly on the move to bolster the forces fighting the Germans. I see no reason to give so much credit to just 'Siberian' divisions when so many others also participated.

    I found it interesting and enlightening that when a veteran recalled seeing NKVD blocking detachments for the first time, he even today approved of them, he stated that "such toughness brought us victory." Again and again one will find interesting stories being related by veterans that the author has interviewed, but that's mainly the only worth I can see in this book. The chapters are not really arranged chronologically as again and again each new chapter brings with it a back story from the 1930's or even earlier. The author's conclusions are reaching, baseless, and in many instances lack context. The only positive side, is once again, the veteran recollections, and sad to say that at times those might not be totally accurate.
    "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
    "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
    "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. Voltaire

  • #2
    Thanks Kunikov

    So this seems to be a book that I probably would not want to get, except for the veteran stories.

    Cheers, thanks for the review!!

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by TRDG View Post
      So this seems to be a book that I probably would not want to get, except for the veteran stories.

      Cheers, thanks for the review!!
      Pretty much. The author isn't a historian, he's a journalist, so he doesn't cite well and doesn't cite often enough.
      "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
      "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
      "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. Voltaire

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Kunikov View Post
        Pretty much. The author isn't a historian, he's a journalist, so he doesn't cite well and doesn't cite often enough.
        Agree with your observation the book is not a good history, but does have interesting anecdotals. Since the author's historical methods are weak, one has to wonder about his criteria for selection and veracity of anecdotes. Fortunately, a friend loaned his book to me for an opinion. I would not add it to my personal library.

        rna
        Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by R.N. Armstrong View Post
          Agree with your observation the book is not a good history, but does have interesting anecdotals. Since the author's historical methods are weak, one has to wonder about his criteria for selection and veracity of anecdotes. Fortunately, a friend loaned his book to me for an opinion. I would not add it to my personal library.

          rna
          I, personally, liked a few of the stories as I pointed out in the review which can be used to show what the Red Army, and what 1941 in general, was like for the soldiers. That's important for me. But this isn't something I can recommend to a novice and expect them to know what's fact from fiction.
          "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
          "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
          "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. Voltaire

          Comment


          • #6
            I spotted this book on the shelves last week and after thumbing through it for about 5 minutes put it back on the shelf and moved on.
            The Purist

            Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking - John Maynard Keynes.

            Comment


            • #7
              While men in battle, IMO, is one of the most fascinating 'genres' of military history and their anecdotal perspectives are edifying as well as entertaining, one still must pursue the events, decisions, and historical figures which gives us our course of history.

              Soldiers can offer their opinion on what they think about the above, but unless they had placement and access it's more entertaining than evidence for the discerning reader (as Kunikov points out--fact or fiction/opinion?). For example, I would have been more interested if the author had found a comment/observation by Poskrebyshev or Vasilevsky or an obscure junior Red Army General Staff officer or previously undiscovered archival material as background to the decision for the Supreme High Command Orders Nos. 227 or 270.

              rna
              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by R.N. Armstrong View Post
                While men in battle, IMO, is one of the most fascinating 'genres' of military history and their anecdotal perspectives are edifying as well as entertaining, one still must pursue the events, decisions, and historical figures which gives us our course of history.

                Soldiers can offer their opinion on what they think about the above, but unless they had placement and access it's more entertaining than evidence for the discerning reader (as Kunikov points out--fact or fiction/opinion?). For example, I would have been more interested if the author had found a comment/observation by Poskrebyshev or Vasilevsky or an obscure junior Red Army General Staff officer or previously undiscovered archival material as background to the decision for the Supreme High Command Orders Nos. 227 or 270.

                rna
                That's also true. But I'm always interested in first hand accounts, and again, hard to tell fact from fiction, but it at least gives you a idea of what you might hear out of others. And when others support each other, then you can move on to assume more readily that it's fact.
                "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
                "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
                "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. Voltaire

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Kunikov View Post
                  That's also true. But I'm always interested in first hand accounts, and again, hard to tell fact from fiction, but it at least gives you a idea of what you might hear out of others. And when others support each other, then you can move on to assume more readily that it's fact.
                  Good point that, also joined your Facebook Eastern Front group and saw the link to your blog, some good reviews there.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by joea View Post
                    Good point that, also joined your Facebook Eastern Front group and saw the link to your blog, some good reviews there.
                    Happy you joined the group and glad you enjoyed the blog.
                    "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
                    "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
                    "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. Voltaire

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Kunikov View Post
                      And when others support each other, then you can move on to assume more readily that it's fact.
                      To my mind, there are two cautions with that line: one, the highlighted word, assume, and, second, even others support each other, beware of conventional wisdom--you may be dealing with nothing more than the 'soldiers' telegraph' wisdom which feeds on latrine rumors.

                      rna
                      Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by R.N. Armstrong View Post
                        To my mind, there are two cautions with that line: one, the highlighted word, assume, and, second, even others support each other, beware of conventional wisdom--you may be dealing with nothing more than the 'soldiers' telegraph' wisdom which feeds on latrine rumors.

                        rna
                        Well, that's history for you I guess. I am still apt to take most veterans at their word, although more than once have I seen authors/historians caution such actions
                        "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
                        "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
                        "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. Voltaire

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Kunikov View Post
                          Well, that's history for you I guess. I am still apt to take most veterans at their word, although more than once have I seen authors/historians caution such actions
                          I think it is one thing to take veteran accounts of their experience; it's quite another to try to string those combat experiences together for a historical account of events, decisions, greater or other sector situations.

                          From personal experience, everyone who watched on television the First Persian Gulf War knows more about the scope and events of that war than I as a battalion commander in the defense and offense. At midnight we huddled around a shortwave radio for BBC news to tell us what was happening beyond our narrow tracks in the sand.

                          That's no denigration of veterans; it's the nature of combat--very basic survival.

                          rna
                          Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by R.N. Armstrong View Post
                            I think it is one thing to take veteran accounts of their experience; it's quite another to try to string those combat experiences together for a historical account of events, decisions, greater or other sector situations.

                            From personal experience, everyone who watched on television the First Persian Gulf War knows more about the scope and events of that war than I as a battalion commander in the defense and offense. At midnight we huddled around a shortwave radio for BBC news to tell us what was happening beyond our narrow tracks in the sand.

                            That's no denigration of veterans; it's the nature of combat--very basic survival.

                            rna

                            Ahh, I see what you mean, and I absolutely agree. I am more so talking about the experiences of the soldiers themselves rather than what they think the higher ups are discussing/planning/are interested in, etc. I want to know if they had enough supplies, rifles, ammunition, food, clothing, etc. How they interacted with the NKVD, if they did at all, how they treated each other, what they did to pass the time, how they felt about the war, etc. And for that you can only rely on a memoir or the testimony of soldiers .
                            "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
                            "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
                            "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. Voltaire

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Kunikov and Richard:

                              Many thanks for this great discussion!

                              Regarding soldiers' anecdotes, even when discussing personal experiences (which we probably can accept as better than latrine rumors if the memory is accurate), it's important to remember they are anecdotes only, and may not reflect what the battalion next door was going through. K's point about the "one weapon in ten" is a good example - that veteran might have been right (maybe, don't know from Nagorski's cites), but it may have been the only regiment in the whole Red Army that had that problem.

                              Again, thanks for an informative discussion of this book!
                              "There are only two professions in the world in which the amateur excels the professional. One, military strategy, and, two, prostitution."
                              -- Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

                              (Avatar: Commodore Edwin Ward Moore, Republic of Texas Navy)

                              Comment

                              Latest Topics

                              Collapse

                              Working...
                              X