. . . And the 'great patriotic war'

Monday Book Reviews

December 02, 1991|By Geoffrey W. Fielding

RED STORM ON THE REICH. By Christopher Duffy. Atheneum. 403 pages. $27.50. THE BRUTAL German attack on Russia in 1941 was repaid in full when the Soviet armies crossed the Vistula on Jan. 12, 1945, crushed the German Panzers and practically wiped the German army off the face of the Earth as they captured Berlin.

The Soviet Union, in what it called the "great patriotic war," suffered more than 27 million deaths! Of these, at least 7 million were civilians. Another 3.25 million were soldiers who died in German captivity. The German human sacriGeoffrey W.Fieldingfice on the eastern front came to about 10 million killed, missing, wounded or captured.

Such was the terror the Soviets wrought in the last few months that even prisoners of war, including 32 British officers, elected to join retreating Panzer regiments rather than stay with the Russians who had just freed them. The fate of these officers is unknown. Eighteen French prisoners of war were among 56 people murdered by the Soviets as they advanced through East Prussia.

The Russians suffered enormous losses in the war, but their performance in 1945 was so brutal that it made that of the Germans in the early years seem tame.

Three Soviet army groups smashed their way through Poland, Silesia, Pomerania and Brandenberg to the Elbe with such massive force and with such swiftness that the German armies, reduced in many cases to corps or merely divisions, could do little more than fight rear-guard actions. They were hampered eternally by Adolf Hitler, who forbade retreats in any form, even to positions that could be better defended. In late January 1945, Hitler gave command of Army Group Vistula to Heinrich Himmler, who was no more suited to take charge than was Eva Braun, another Hitler favorite.

In "Red Storm on the Reich," Christopher Duffy, senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, England, reconstructs the events of these days. He makes a clear and informative picture of what could be a complicated mess.

Among the surprising things Duffy notes is that while the Russian armies were completely mechanized, the German army relied on horses. Nine out of 10 divisions in the east were unmechanized and, as of Jan. 12, 1945, the Wehrmacht still had on its books 1.1 million horses, of which 924,000 were on active service with the field army. They were used to move guns and military supplies.

The Russians, on the other hand, mounted heavy artillery on tanks, while a huge fleet of 665,000 "soft-skinned" vehicles hauled military supplies and moved troops. Of these, some 427,000 were American, sent to Russia under the lend-lease program.

For anyone interested in those final days of World War II in Europe, Duffy has written one of the best and most concise accounts. Its interest is enhanced by the events of 1990 and '91, as Eastern Europe reverts to its pre-war configurations and, to some extent, its pre-war politics.

Geoffrey W. Fielding is a Baltimore writer.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.