Monday, 18 March 2013

Cataclysm - Keith Cumins

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Journal of the RCAF. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor RCAF Journal ( Website for the Journal is:
Title: Cataclysm
Author: Keith Cumins
ISBN: 9781907677236
Pages: 359
Illustrations: 46 b/w, 33 colour maps
Publisher: Helion & Company

     The Eastern Front during World War 2 encompassed a military landscape that by any standard beggars the imagination. Over a north/south distance of 2,900 KM (1,800 Miles), 4 million Axis troops, 750,000 horses and 600,000 vehicles swept into the USSR driving forward to the gates of Moscow and Stalingrad before ultimately being driven back to Berlin and defeat. The cost to the USSR was staggering: over 8 million military dead; for Germany and the Axis: over 4 million military fatalities. Fought with a degree of brutality not witnessed in any of the other theatres of operations, the war in the east, to a great extent, decided the outcome of the Second World War.

     Keith Cumins’s book Cataclysm, undertakes to capture the breadth and nature of the War in the East in one book. A daunting challenge to say the least, but one that he accomplishes quite handily. The amount of literature available pertaining to the German/Soviet conflict is vast and covers the spectrum from micro to macro analysis. Certainly Cumins’s work is presented on a much larger canvas (covering the period 1941-1945) but it is very successful at presenting the reader with a broad brush account of the events on the Eastern Front. The work is presented in a chronological manner thereby enabling the reader to easily follow the unfolding of events despite the often overlapping of operations and movement.

     Despite the fact that the air conflict on the Eastern Front was as involved and far reaching in complexity as any other element, Cumins focuses on the ground campaign. This does not take away from the impact of the text; in fact, it is beneficial as it ensures that the work retains a reasonable length and depth. Included in the book are a series of colour maps that are very beneficial in assisting the reader to follow the flow of events on the ground. The author offsets the fact that the maps are all centrally located in the book, by providing references to the appropriate map along the border of the text. This is extremely helpful and a good touch.

     Additionally, he includes appendices that provide outstanding synopsis of place names, orders of battle and divisional structures for both the German and Soviet sides. The orders of battle are further broken out into the phases of: June 22, 1941, Operation Blau, Operation Citadel and the Operation Bagration periods. A slight drawback is his partial bibliography as it would have been helpful to have had included all of the source material. Another plus regarding the book layout is the fact that footnotes are placed at the bottom of the pages where they are found as opposed to at the end of the book. I personally prefer this method as it allows one to review the additional information provided without breaking the flow of the book.

     Cumins’ writing style is fluid and smooth; therefore, despite having to approach the battles from different viewpoints and multiple regions, he is easy to follow and understand. Maintaining a strategic and operational view of the conflict enables Cumins to follow the flow of battle from the northern to southern theatres and including the actions within the German allies’ spheres of influence. Additionally, from a structure perspective, he opens his narrative with a synopsis of the strategic situation leading up to the initiation of Op Barbarossa. Again, while it is somewhat cursory in length, it hits all of the major points to provide the reader with the background needed to tackle the enormity of the activity that followed. Cumins also breaks his narrative into manageable sub-units through the use of sectional titles that provide a contextual overview and break between sections within the chapters.
     Overall Cumins’ book is a notable success. While not adding new information to the Barbarossa story he succeeds admirably in condensing the complexity of the operation into a manageable and useful narrative at both the strategic and operational levels of engagement. For the aspiring historian and casual military enthusiast, this is a highly recommended book as a starting point from which to branch into more detailed accounts; made more so by the fact that it is presented in a lucid and engaging style.

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