PROFILE, £20. Order for £18 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897
Moscow 1941 by Rodric Braithwaite
How Stalin inspired Muscovites in the darkest days of battle with Hitler
Tuesday 30 May 2006
"The Bolsheviks are lucky. God is on their side." Not, perhaps, words one would have attributed to Joseph Stalin, but they indicate his gift for understanding his people's mood in a crisis. He also knew how to appeal to a Russian patriotism so closely allied to the Orthodox religion, by invoking saints, sacred and military, from Alexander Nevsky to Field Marshal Kutuzov.
The contradictions of the Soviet Union's wartime leader come into stark relief in Rodric Braithwaite's engrossing and masterly account of the battle for Moscow from summer 1941 until spring 1942. It was primarily Stalin's responsibility that the Soviets were ill-prepared when German bombers attacked on 22 June. Braithwaite makes it clear that the oft-repeated assertion that Stalin believed Hitler would never attack him is untrue; it was the timing that he got disastrously wrong.
Stalin had set in motion the destruction of his own officer-class in the purges of the late 1930s. Those who survived became unwilling, or unable, to do anything other than obey orders - and some of Stalin's orders were as pig-headed as his refusal to prepare for war. Yet Stalin inspired his nation to carry on in the face of overwhelming odds, enabled them to sustain enormous losses (for every Briton who died, the Soviets lost 85), and to counter-attack until the aggressors were worn out.
Braithwaite demonstrates how Stalin harnessed the spirit of Russia to the great task of defeating the Nazis. His hallmark obstinacy came into its own when he had a genuine enemy. One of his greatest moments was his defiant decision to hold the usual 7 November parade on Red Square in 1941, with the Germans only miles from Moscow and bombing imminent. Those who participated in it never forgot.
Soviet life might appear cheap, with millions dying through combat, starvation, disease, unjust imprisonment and execution. Yet, night after night, the heroic work of rescuing the victims of bombing went on. Individual life, it seemed, did matter after all.
The amount of material this former ambassador to Russia has organised is staggering. This is a significant contribution to our understanding of the Great Patriotic War though, as he makes clear, there is much work to be done in assessing the role of the Soviet Union - and Stalin - in the victory over Nazi Germany.
The writer's 'Catherine the Great' is published by Hutchinson
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Barbarians vs Samoa interrupted by sprinklers as fans criticise lack of Wi-Fi and poor seating at West Ham's Olympic Stadium
- 2 Watch the Supermoon live: How to see the brightest Moon of the year tonight
- 3 Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
- 4 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
- 5 David De Gea to Real Madrid: Real finally get their man with £29m bid for Manchester United goalkeeper
Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe Ned Stark's son may have a twin sister
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: Monty Python-inspired Australian Sam Simmons wins comedy award with 'very silly' show
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge?'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director promises most exciting premiere yet 'starts off with a bang'
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Online toy marathon to launch new film
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up