Saturday, 27 December 2014

Barbarossa Through Soviet Eyes: The First 24 Hours - Artem Drabkin, Alexei Isaev

Title: Barbarossa Through Soviet Eyes: The First 24 Hours                                      
Author: Artem Drabkin, Alexei Isaev
ISBN: 978-1-84415-923-9
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Pages: 186
Photographs//maps: 129 b/w//3                                                         

22 June, 1941 is easily a day as important in the history of the Russian/Soviet peoples as Pearl Harbour is to the United States. Their societies were shocked, in disbelief, angry, resentful and in many cases pleased that the Germans had invaded.  What is oftentimes missing is a record of the reaction, the human face if you will, of the Soviet people as the German juggernaut swept over them. This is due to many things but mainly because of the closed and controlled nature of the Soviet Union post World War 2 and its reluctance to reveal anything that may be perceived as weakness. Thus a majority of the Eastern Front histories have been written and interpreted from a German perspective. This book represents an effort to rectify that imbalance and to add the voice of the Soviet soldier and civilian to the discussion.

Books originally in Russian sometimes lose a portion of their focus in translation and also are often in a style quite unique from traditional English writings; Drabkin’s book is no exception to this. The narrative is good but at times appears to flow off in directions that cause the reader to pause. Additionally, there are a significant number of instances where the author neglects to explain his point or perspective in adequate detail thus leaving the reader to wonder what was the intent.

Having said this however; there is much to compliment this book. Drabkin identifies early on that he initiated the book as a repository of the recollections of the generation that fought in the Great Patriotic War and he draws a great deal from the website ‘’ which he created as a central spot for veterans to have their stories preserved. While the book is quite short relative to the subject, he does give adequate balance to all of the elements, the rear echelon and the home front, in outlining experiences and recollections. He also spends a good deal of time on those aspects of the invasion that have received little to no coverage in contemporary history, specifically the actions of the Soviet navy in the Baltic and Black Sea.

Drabkin’s subjects range in age and responsibility (from, for example, children in the smallest villages far from the front to those with access to the inner sanctum of Stalin’s office) and it is very interesting to view the different perspectives and perceptions of that day. One is struck by the reliance people had on government radio and local newspapers for information, the confusion of the initial commands regarding response postures, the striking lack of initiative on the part of a significant number of commanders, and, in contrast, the bravery shown many who did assume the risk of independent response. It is also fascinating both the degree of shock and surprise felt by the Soviet people at being attacked by the Germans and the number of instances where Soviet soldiers were spontaneously attacked or impeded by Ukrainian, Polish, Baltic and other occupied peoples as they struggled to organize a response.

The book is a relatively quick read and, while it provides a strategic and operational context within which the recollections occur, there are better histories of Operation Barbarossa available for those seeking this information. Where it becomes much more worthwhile is the human face that it puts on the Soviet side of the conflict. Pen and Sword have published, as per, a quality book and the sources provided are a good lead for those looking at the Soviet side of the war.

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