Russia’s War

A History of the Soviet War Effort 1941-1945

Who won the Second World War? Obviously, the Allies did. But among the Allied nations, who won the most? And who sacrificed the most?

Both questions have the same answer: The Soviet Union.

Written by Richard Overy, Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort 1941-1945 is the story of how the Soviet Union – which nearly destroyed itself during the pre-war purges – endured an unimaginable level of human suffering during the Second World War, yet managed to defy all odds, and destroyed Hitler’s ultimate war machine, thus becoming the chief victor of the largest conflict in human history.

Despite the book’s sub-title, the narrative actually begins with the Russian Revolution in 1917, and discusses in detail Josef Stalin’s diabolical purge during the 1930s, which killed millions and contributed to the country’s near defeat during the first few months of Operation Barbarossa. Though of course, the main focus of the book is in the Soviet Union’s war against Germany, which is practically the entire Eastern Front of World War 2 itself.

Within weeks of Nazi Germany’s “surprise” invasion of the Soviet Union, the country teetered on the brink of total defeat and destruction. Then the Germans got bogged down when the infamous Russian winter set in, and soon found themselves fighting a gigantic war of attrition, specifically in the cities of Stalingrad and Leningrad; the former became site of one of the worst battles in human history, while the latter is one of the longest sieges ever.

So, how did the Russians manage to fight back against Hitler’s Nazi forces? Russia’s War lays down arguments, backed with figures and facts, to explain how the Soviet Union was able to turn the tides of the conflict, break the gruesome sieges of Russian cities, force the Germans into retreat, and finally, march all the way to Berlin, and in the process absorb the eastern half of Europe. But among all the factors that helped the Russians win the war, one thing simply and utterly stands out: the sheer scale of human sacrifice that Stalin unleashed unto his battered peoples – and later on, unto everybody else within captured Soviet territories.

The staggering cost with which Stalin won against Hitler – and additionally, the cost that the Germans ultimately paid for their Führer’s ambitions – is way too much to be described in mere words. It wasn’t enough that the Germans unleashed the Holocaust unto the Jews of Eastern Europe, and that they killed nearly every non-German they came upon during the invasion. For Stalin himself, through his notorious Internal Affairs Commissariat – the NKVD – also rained down mind-boggling levels of violence against his own people, killing nearly everyone who ran away from the frontlines, who refused to fight, who refused to work in torturous conditions to build war materiel, who showed even the slightest opposition against the Soviet conduct of war.

The amount of death and destruction in the Second World War’s Eastern Front is way, way beyond one can even fathom. Russia’s War somehow manages and succeeds in explaining these atrocities, how they came about, and how they decided who will win and who will lose the war. The book also goes beyond the War itself, and continues until Stalin’s death in 1953, and the legacy of fear and paranoia that the Soviet dictator left upon his people.

Overall, Russia’s War is an excellent book for those who want to know more about the Eastern Front, and about how the Russians ultimately won a war which, when it began, pretty much nobody, even Stalin himself, thought the Soviet Union can even survive. Some knowledge on the Second World War as a whole can be helpful in further understanding the circumstances discussed here, but otherwise it’s a recommended reading for general readers who are interested on the book’s subject matter.