Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War – A Modern History by Chris Bellamy - review by Evan Mawdsley

Evan Mawdsley

Eastern Front

Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War – A Modern History


Macmillan 813pp £30

Chris Bellamy is uniquely qualified to write a readable and authoritative account of the ‘Russian war’. A professor of military science at Cranfield University, he has produced important works on security affairs, a number of them on the Russian military, past and present. He has a professional grasp of the theory and technology of warfare. Finally, unlike most historians of his generation, Bellamy has a personal experience of armed conflict; in the 1990s he worked as a journalist for The Independent in the Middle East, the Balkans and, most notably, Chechnya.

After a long discussion (seven chapters) of the prelude to the June 1941, invasion Bellamy proceeds to lay out in detail the campaigns of 1941 and 1942. He explains effectively both why the Red Army was caught by surprise and how it fought back. He discusses ‘conventional’ combat at the front as well as the often neglected security situation in the rear. The treatment avoids over-detailed battlefield narrative, and is broken up into manageable sections. The many maps for these campaigns are really outstanding. 

So far so good, but there are also significant missed opportunities. Although the book is thoroughly footnoted and makes extensive use of Russian-language material, the source base is limited. It is difficult to do archival research in the Russian Federation, and for such a vast topic such research is scarcely

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