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The Greatest Battle – The fight for Moscow 1941-42

By: Andrew Nagorski (584/35738)
Publisher: Aurum ISBN: 978-1-84513-291-0

The Battle for Moscow ought to be as well-known in World War II history as El Alamein, or Stalingrad, or Iwo Jima. It was the biggest battle of the whole conflict – indeed, the biggest battle of all time. The combined losses of both sides – those killed, missing, taken prisoner or Severely wounded – amounted to no less than 2.5 million, of which nearly 2 million were on the Soviet side. Even the Battle for Stalingrad involved only half the number of troops and losses.

Moreover, this was the battle that contributed perhaps more than any other single historical event to turning the fortunes of the war. Hitherto Hitler had been invincible in Europe. Even in the colossal gamble of declaring war on the Soviet Union, the non-aggression pact between the two countries meant Germany could steal a march on Stalin, who initially refused to allow his troops to prepare to fight. The battle commenced on 30 September 1941, with German troops within striking distance of Moscow; as it continued into the winter of 1941-42 they found themselves sadly ill-equipped for the bitter cold. After some 200 days’ fighting it ended on 20 April 1942 with them in retreat: amidst vast carnage the city had held, Hitler’s inexorable advance had been checked, and Germany’s hoped-for lightning victory had become a gruelling war of attrition.

But the truth about this colossal battle has never been told before, because the full story of the battle for Moscow turns out to be far from a tale of Soviet heroism and unity. Rather, as the recently-declassified Russian files reveal, it was a monument to Stalin’s incompetence and brutality, the sorry story of which needed subsequently to be suppressed. As German troops approached Moscow, half the city’s population fled, amid unheard-of scenes of looting, strikes and lawlessness. Even as they fought the Germans Stalin continued his reign of terror against his own citizens – Soviet troops finding themselves caught between the enemy and their own machine-gunners, who had orders to mow down anyone who retreated.

Now, however, the complete story has been told by Andrew Nagorski, from secret NKVD files, unpublished memoirs and scores of eyewitness accounts from interviews with survivors. It is a spectacular, often horrifying account of snowdrifts turning out to be snow-covered mounds of German corpses, of endless slaughter in unimaginable cold, of a battle that was truly the clash of two systems based on sheer terror. Anyone who read Stalingrad will find this a remarkable addition to the history of World War II.

December 2007


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