When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

Excerpt

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has passed from the world scene. Appropriately enough, its death throes in August 1991, like its birth in 1917, were marked by the refusal of the armed forces to repress opponents of the conservative government in power. With this demise, the intensive Cold War study of Soviet history and institutions may seem irrelevant.

Yet the decline and death of the USSR has provided historians with unprecedented sources and opportunities to integrate Soviet experience into the broader history of Russia and Europe as a whole. These sources and opportunities are particularly significant in regard to a seemingly familiar topic—the Soviet defeat of National Socialist Germany in World War II.

For decades, both popular and official historians in the West presented the Soviet-German struggle largely from the German point of view. As a practical matter, German archives and memoirs have been readily available as sources about this struggle since the 1950s, whereas their Soviet equivalents were obscured by difficulties of ideology, access, and language. Even when published in translation, most popular Soviet accounts of the war were filled with obligatory communist rhetoric that made their factual assertions appear to be so much propaganda. Westerners quite naturally viewed with suspicion the many detailed Russian-language accounts of the war and the few Western studies that relied on them.

Consciously or unconsciously, however, German accounts were often just as biased as their Soviet counterparts, warping our understanding of the titanic struggle that occurred on what the Germans taught us to call the ]Eastern Front.] German officers such as Field Marshal Erich von Manstein and Major General F. W von Mellenthin wrote about the war in Russia based primarily on their experiences during 1941–1943, when the Red Army was still recovering from the purges of the 1930s and the surprise of the German invasion. The senior German commanders of 1944–1945, the period of the greatest Soviet triumphs, left few memoirs. If they escaped capture or death, they were loath to dwell on the series of defeats they suffered at the hands of their opponents. Thus our view of Soviet military capabilities and performance was twisted by an error equivalent to evaluating American war performance based on the American defeats immediately after Pearl Harbor.

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