The Eastern Front
The Germans and Soviets at War in World War II
Edited by Robert Edwards
Stackpole Books, Guilford, Connecticut, 2018, 128 pages
Book Review published on: October 26, 2018
On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa to seize the lands of Eastern Europe and western Russia, and destroy the Soviet army. Adolf Hitler was confident that the Soviets would not be able to withstand the onslaught of his battle-tested Wehrmacht after their army performed poorly during the Winter War against Finland. Attacking with three field army groups, Hitler estimated that the operation’s strategic objectives would be achieved within months. Almost four years later, however, he would see his army disintegrate under the weight of three Soviet fronts advancing toward Berlin. The German-Soviet theater of operations became World War II’s largest as the Soviet Union mobilized its people and industry to counter the German invasion. The scale of Soviets’ reaction proved too much for the Germans, eventually exhausting their military and forcing them to surrender in 1945.
Edited by Robert Edwards, The Eastern Front: The Germans and Soviets at War in World War II is reminiscent of Ballantine’s Illustrated History of World War II. The book covers the German-Soviet war from June 1941 to May 1945 in just 128 pages. While many details are spared, Edwards provides a good macro view of this theater of operations, which involved as many as ten million combatants in the summer of 1944. It follows the Soviet’s strategic framework for understanding the sequence of the conflict: “Phase 1—German strategic dominance” from 22 June 1941 to 18 November 1942, “Phase 2—Transitional period for strategic dominance” from 19 November 1942 to December 1943, and “Phase 3—Soviet strategic dominance” from December 1943 to May 1945. In addition to the written narrative, several tables list the major operations of each year for added clarity, as well as career highlights of senior German and Soviet commanders, such as Heinz Guderian and Georgy Zhukov.
Edwards presents a very good opening for exploring the German-Soviet war. He conveys the sequence of major operations that led to the shift in strategic dominance and eventual downfall of the Third Reich. This book helps the reader to understand the scale of the theater and the Soviet Union’s significant contribution to the global struggle of World War II, as well as the tremendous costs they absorbed in overcoming Nazi Germany. Significant points that are highlighted include the Soviets’ mastering of operational art, their industrial mobilization that fielded thousands of tanks, and the artillery systems and aircraft that overwhelmed the withering Wehrmacht in the final years.
The Eastern Front is a very good initial reference for understanding Germany’s failure and the Soviet Union’s triumph during this World War II campaign. It is nicely illustrated with period photographs, but the vast majority are of German forces, not fully illustrating the Soviet side of the war. Also missing from the book are operational illustrations that can help the reader visualize German and Soviet actions. At the end of the book, Edwards includes a list of sixteen references for learning more about the eastern front. Overall, it is a great reference for studying World War II and delivers a concise synopsis of the conflict.
Book Review written by: Dirk C. Blackdeer, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas