Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 13 Jul 2010
Full Title: Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin, the Eastern Front, 1941-1945
The reign of Joseph Stalin over the nations under the Soviet banner was characterized by a veil of secrecy perhaps best compared with what we observe with North Korea today. The Soviet government regularly distorted figures to bolster the morale of its own people and to appear strong before its allies. Thus while the Russo-German War during WW2 was undoubtedly a key contributor toward the defeat of Germany, the facts that it published were much less trustworthy. Unfortunately, many of the facts we learned about the Eastern Front came from this doubtful source.
John Mosier's Deathride, despite of the subtitle suggesting a book about the Russo-German War, was his analysis on the Soviet distortions of the history of the war and what his beliefs of the actual truths to be. He attacked many popular myths about the war, most if all of which were built upon Stalin's fabrications. For example, Stalin had touted that Russia had inexhaustible human resources, thus Germany had no chance of winning; today, this statement had become one of the key reasons of the eventual Soviet victory. However, Mosier suggested that this myth could be debunked by basic arithmetic. At the start of the war, the estimated population of Russia was 109 million and the entire Soviet Union 170 million. At the same time, the population of Germany was 65 million and the entire German empire (ie. inclusive of former Austria, former Czechoslovakia, and other German-friendly annexed territories) was 87 million. Thus roughly speaking, the Soviet population was about twice as large as Germany. Neutral casualty estimates suggested that throughout the entire war, even in final year of the war, Germany regularly caused 3 Soviet casualties for each 1 casualty it suffered. This means that the Soviet Union would run out of men to feed Stalin's war of attribution (caused by ineffective tactics and poor training, according to Mosier) should the war go on a couple of years longer; had there not been Lend-Lease to alleviate this problem, could the Soviet Union suffer serious setbacks or even be forced to sue for ceasefire? The Soviet Union's recruitment of women into front line combat roles only supported the argument that the casualties were unsustainable. To hide the fact, Stalin's administration regularly and consistently dramatically overstated the casualties caused on the German side, at times noting casualties caused in a single campaign that exceeded German losses across the entire Eastern Front in the same period. Mosier's careful research had shed a new light on what we commonly understand today of the Eastern Front, and would most certainly inspire other historians to dig further into this period of history to debunk further myths to help us get a better picture of what really happened in this theater of war.
With that said, however, the book was not without certain issues. Despite the title, analysis on the German side was somewhat cursory, particularly when compared to the amount of time Mosier spent on the opposite side of the war. While Stalin's decisions to falsify figures, for example, were greatly criticized, the author defended some, though not all, of Hitler's military decisions on many occasions. While calling Mosier an apologist for this would be a gross overstatement, this book could just rub some readers the wrong way. Perhaps expectation of the book title had something to do with it; could an alternative subtitle of "Stalin's War, 1941-1945" provide readers a better framework on what his book was about?
Some of the few topics of analysis on the German forces he did include, however, were of interest. The German air force Luftwaffe's total lack of a long range strategic bomber fleet, for example, was said to be a critical failure that deprived Germany the ability to attack the factories toward and beyond the Ural Mountains. Adolf Hitler's insistence to spread forces thin across all fronts real and perceived also deprived German commanders the resources needed to engage the Soviet forces.
The audio book edition of Deathride was narrated by Michael Prichard. He had done a fine job with the reading, clearly pronouncing each word, though there seemed to be a few places in the audio, particularly when one chapter ended and other one started, where volume seemed to have suddenly increased or decreased. These jumps in volume did not affect the listener's ability to understand the words being spoken, however.
Mosier's Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin, the Eastern Front, 1941-1945 was a carefully researched account that attempted to debunk myths falsely established by Joseph Stalin and his administration that continued to haunt historians today due to the presence of these exaggerations in the official archives of former Soviet nations. The seeming focus on attacking the Stalinist version of history led to the conclusion that it would best be read together with another title that focused on other perspectives and areas of the Russo-German War, thus fairly allowing the readers to form their own conclusions. Even if the book might be difficult to read for those who valued the Soviet contributions in the defeat of Germany, it still provided some irrefutable evidence of, minimally, the fact that the victory was a close one all the way through the final chapters of the war despite of Stalin's claims of certain victory all the way in the opening phases of the war.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939