When in 1940 Adolf Hitler decided to eliminate the Soviet Union as a political and military factor in Europe, he intended to destroy the USSR in a ten-week summer campaign. This campaign became one of the bloodiest and most pitiless of wars in modern times, developing rapidly from a European to a World War. Rarely can a war have been waged among civilized peoples with such savageness and such barbarous inhumanity.
This book is intended as a portrayal of war and not merely as a description of battles. More than anything else, it is about people.
The Russo-German War lasted four years and spread its battlefields over thousands of miles in breadth and depth, from the Arctic Ocean to the Caucasus, from the Caspian to the Elbe. Tens of millions of people died.
The subject of the war is so vast and so complex that it is impossible to cover all its aspects, even in outline, in a single volume; for this reason it is necessary to enumerate the subjects which are not discussed, or which are dealt with only cursorily in this book. German occupation policies in Russia had a great bearing on the outcome of the struggle and cannot be ignored; they are not, however, dealt with in detail here. Psychological warfare and the employment of partisans are most important aspects of modern war; but each is a study in itself, and for this reason could only be touched upon as part of the general narrative. Only one short chapter has been devoted to the naval war in the Baltic and the Black Sea, since the Soviet Union had no pretensions as a naval power and lacked the will, rather than the capability, to challenge German supremacy in these waters.
Since war is a political act, part of this book is necessarily devoted to a description of, and commentary on, the aims and foreign policies of the major powers, both before and during the Second World War. Economic and industrial potential and production provide the sinews of war; these subjects are discussed as a subsidiary of the main theme, although they are not examined in detail. Nor has it been possible, since space precludes it, to describe the operations in all of the many theatres of war on the Eastern Front; only two very short chapters have been allotted to the Finnish theatre; the fighting in front of Leningrad, bitter though it often was, is only touched upon from time to time. These omissions have been necessary in order to describe fully the decisive battles of the war, in Belorussia, West Russia, the Ukraine, on the Don, and in Rumania and Poland. It was in these theatres that the war was won and lost.