I recently read “The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II” by Andrew Nagorski, about the Battle of Moscow in WWII.
Major themes of the book:
- how both Stalin and Hitler crippled their chance of wining because of their hubris in believing their own military ideas were better than their generals’ ideas;
- how important the battle for Moscow was for the outcome of the entire war;
- what a colossal waste of life occurred because of the two leaders’ actions and policies.
Stalin decimated his officers’ ranks by purging the military of officers with any length of experience. He thought they were politically suspect. He also did not listen to compelling evidence indicating that the Germans would attack the USSR. Stalin went out of this way to fulfill his part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which agreed that Germany and USSR would not attack each other. This meant that Stalin was delivering grain to the Germans, all while the Germans were planning to attack the USSR.
Hitler, for his part, kept postponing his attack on the USSR, even though history had repeatedly shown that the Russian winter was not something to be trifled with (Napoleon lost to the Russian winter). Hitler was not satisfied with his generals’ strategy, and took over the military command himself (a good thing for the world, because it led to German losses). Hitler refused to issue winter uniforms to the army rank and file, because he was convinced that the Germans would have captured Moscow and the USSR would have capitulated, before winter set in. Wrong.
Stalin instituted a policy whereby Red Army soldiers who retreated or refused to enter battle would be shot by their unit’s political officers. Often the Soviet soldiers had no weapons or ammunition, but nevertheless were supposed to enter into battle. The natural tendency of anyone in this situation would be to retreat. (Run away! Run away!) So the Red Army needed political guys to watch the army guys, and be ready to shoot their fellow citizens if they tried to retreat. The political guys had guns.
There was also a policy whereby any Soviet soldier who had been captured by the Germans but managed to escape and return to Soviet territory was automatically assumed to be a traitor, and was either shot or sent to hard labor camp. This was the case for the character of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, in Solzhenitsyn’s novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. Stalin thought that a Soviet soldier worth his salt should commit suicide rather than be captured by the enemy.
Lice figured prominently in this book. Well, maybe not prominently, but I noticed it!