BOOK REVIEWS: Incredible Tale of Heroism from the Muscovites; Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War by Rodric Braithwaite Pounds 9.99. Profile Books

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Byline: Reviewed by John Revill

The history of the Second World War can be told in place names which highlight the various stages of the conflict.

Think Dunkirk, El Alamein, Cassino, Normandy for the British; Pearl Harbor, Midway, Normandy and the Ardennes for the Americans.

For the Russians the names were Stalingrad, Kursk and Moscow as the Red Army fought the German Wehrmacht to a standstill and finally defeat.

But until recently, much of the stories about this titanic struggle between two cruel and ruthless regimes - Stalin on the one side and Hitler on the other - has been neglected by historians.

Whether it was because so few could speak or read Russian, the archives being kept solidly shut during the Communist era or the reticence of the survivors to speak up, the experience of the Russian people has been remarkably silent.

Save the fantastic works of Anthony Beevor, most of the military histories of the Eastern Front (as the Germans called it) in the Great Patriotic War (as the Russians called it) have described the battles but only scratch the service of the wider impact of the struggle.

This is what makes Rodric Braithwaite's book - newly published in paperback - such a welcome addition to the history of the Second World War.

It is an epic tale which is told in great detail by a vast amount of interviewees and papers which have been uncovered by Braithwaite, who was the British ambassador to the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In the early chapters he describes what it was like for the ordinary Muscovites as they celebrated New Year 1941, with the storm cloud approaching but throwing themselves into the drinking, games and ballet.

The book details how, despite secret intelligence reports from its network of spies, Russia was was taken by surprise when Germany attack in June 1941.

Braithwaite has an amazing eye for detail and vividly captures the atmosphere of the city as a giant village, where everyone knew everyone's business, sharing cramped apartments - and fearful of being informed upon to Stalin's secret police.

When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union with an army of three million, the capture of Moscow was one of Hitler's main goals.

The sheer size of the conflict would go on to dwarf anything fought in the other theatres of the war.

Overall, seven million men and women fought in the battle, compared with four million at Stalingrad and two million at Kursk.

The Russian casualties were monumental - more than 900,000 - more than the combined British and American losses in the entire war.

Into this vast, sprawling battle Braithwaite attempts to add human touches.

At the highest level, it is clear he admires Marshall Konstantin Rokossovski, the Polish-born general who had been tortured during one of Stalin's purges but returned to his post with some success. …