Review: Moscow 1941 – Rodrick Braithwaite

In Moscow 1941 Rodrick Braithwaite has written a magnificent account of the capital of Russia and the German assault on it.  Following many other accounts of the fate of cities in the Second World War (Stalingrad, Berlin, Dresden etc), Braithwaites treatment of Moscow in 1941 provides much background to the attack on Moscow, including the history of the city, a description of its peoples, culture, and economic circumstances.

A rich picture is built up, enabling the reader to appreciate what life was really like for the citizens of the city.  I was surprised how the Muscovites held on to the cultural life of their city, holding concerts, plays, chess tournaments right up to the very end of the attack.  Braithwaite shows how well-educated many Russians were at the time, with a great appreciation for their own writers and musicians but also for playwrights from abroad such as William Shakespeare.

Braithwaite describes the German invasion of Russia and although there are excellent descriptions of military strategy (based on the latest available source material), this is always made accessible to the non-technical by interleaving many personal accounts of individuals and their usually terrible fate.  The German approach to Moscow seemed to be unassailable but eventually the sheer numbers of the Russian forces, and the great length of the German supply lines enabled the Russians to prevail, although not until vast human and material resources had been spent along the way.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the Russian predicament is the way Stalin and his government dealt with the Russian people.  Countless thousands of troops and civilians were shot for the most trivial offences, and often for no offence at all.  One front-line army division found itself equipped with the wrong ammunition for its guns and had no alternative other than to surrender to the Germans.  Their fate at the hands of Stalin was predictable. Braithwaite also shows the sheer incompetence of Stalin, as he ignored the early signs of the German attack and entered a period of complete denial of its inevitability, thus losing precious months of preparation and leading to the deaths of many Russian troops.

This is an excellent book by a very well-qualified author and I recommend it highly to anyone with an interest in this time.

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