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The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle That Changed the Course of World War II


The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle That Changed the Course of World War II

Battle for Moscow in 1941 was on a scale so colossal as to be
unprecedented. Never in history had two armies come together in
comparable numbers --- a total of seven million combatants, on a
field of battle the size of France.


The architect of the German plan, Wilhelm Keitel, said the object
of operations “must be to deprive the enemy, before the
coming of winter, of his government, armament, and traffic center
around Moscow, and thereby prevent the rebuilding of his defeated
forces and the orderly working of government control.” If
these goals could be swiftly achieved, then Hitler could turn his
full attention to the war against Britain.


When Hitler ordered his army to attack Moscow, he made it clear
that there were to be no prisoners --- they would only be a drain
on German resources --- and that the city itself was to be


Although Hitler’s initial plan was to be in and out of Moscow
before the onset of Russia’s brutal winter (“General
Winter”), he was confronted by a series of maddening delays,
resulting in precisely the scenario he had determinedly sought to
avoid. Officially, his conquest of Moscow began on September 30,
1941 and lasted deep into April.


Still worse, the stops and starts and the attending confusion
resulted in German troops being sent in without winter clothing.
This might have tipped the scales decisively, but Stalin’s
army was faced with a similarly debilitating disadvantage: a severe
shortage of arms, so severe that many thousands of Soviet soldiers
would be sent into battle armed only with instructions to pick up
the rifle of a fallen comrade.


The Soviet arms shortage was Stalin’s fault, for having
neglected to remove arms caches near the border to some more remote
area. Stalin had expected a German invasion, author Andrew Nagorski
says, but not so soon, and therefore he had not yet begun to
prepare for it. Among the preparations, of course, would have been
the transfer of those arms caches to more secure locations. As it
was, the Germans seized them on the way to Moscow.


Inside Moscow it was widely believed that the city inevitably would
fall. Nagorski interviewed one authoritative source who told him
that the hopeless amounted to about 98 percent of the city’s
residents. Stalin himself had a private train standing by to take
him to Kuibyshev (a city on the Volga about 600 miles away), to
which he had already sent his aides. According to Nagorski, Stalin
actually went to the train station on one occasion and paced back
and forth beside the train before finally returning to the


The author learned from recently declassified papers produced by
the NKVD (the secret police) that it, too, believed that Moscow was
on the verge of being overrun and that it was preparing to leave
behind teams of saboteurs and assassins to harass the


Nagorski is a veteran correspondent and former bureau chief for
Newsweek magazine in Hong Kong, Moscow, Rome, Bonn, Warsaw
and Berlin. As a journalist/historian, he is a skilled writer who
knows his stuff. He writes with energy and a keen eye for

Reviewed by H.V. Cordry, Ph.D. on January 22, 2011

The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle That Changed the Course of World War II
by Andrew Nagorski

  • Publication Date: September 18, 2007
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743281101
  • ISBN-13: 9780743281102