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  • The Red Army in the Second World War by Alexander Hill
  • Brandon Schechter (bio)
Alexander Hill. The Red Army in the Second World War. 754 pp. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-107-02079-5 (hardback); 978-1-68815-5 (paperback).

Part of a multivolume history of armies in the Second World War, this book offers an up-to-date treatment of the Red Army from an operational, economic, and political standpoint. It is a very useful reference book for military historians, and anyone writing on Stalinism during the war should probably take a look at it. Building on classics by authors such as John Erickson and David Glantz and more recent works by Mark Edele and Roger Reese, this book offers a state-of-the-field view of the Red Army during the war for military historians. The author takes a long view of the army's development, starting just before the First Five-Year Plan and ending with Victory Day. This is a solid work of old-school military history, very different from much of the current work on the war (including this reviewer's), which approaches the war primarily as a cultural and political event. Hill provides a very good overview and some new interpretations. The book is not shockingly novel; it traces a more-or-less familiar story of how the Red Army became more adept in the course of the war while continuing to suffer staggering losses. However, it is convincingly argued and makes use of sources only recently made available and Hill's prolonged engagement with the subject. Whatever it may lack in novelty, it more than makes up for in thoroughness and nuance.

Hill shows mastery of his material and excels at showing how factors at multiple levels—from the most basic small-unit communication to the political culture of Stalinism—impacted the effectiveness of the army. Continuities are just as striking as changes. A shortage of qualified cadres was a chronic problem, whether the result of expansion of the army, purges, or high losses in combat. The Red Army's inability to establish effective communication and coordination of its activities emerges as a major theme of the book, from prewar training until the end of the war. His discussion of Stalin's role as ultimate arbiter and his effect on the general culture of the army is thorough and nuanced. Hill takes us from the rise of politically connected generals before and during the "Great Terror" to the more variegated interactions between Stalin and his subordinates as he came to respect expertise. Nonetheless, Hill joins the chorus of authors in underlining the ruthlessness of Stalin as setting an example and tone that would lead commanders to push forward at all costs from the war's beginning to end. Here as elsewhere, we see not so much a new interpretation of the Red Army and its place in the war as a well-researched and convincingly argued reiteration of where the field has arrived, making use of new sources. [End Page 113]

Where Hill's work is perhaps most novel is in his impressive ability to find the devil in the details. He shows a number of instances in which intimate knowledge of Red Army infrastructure make its strengths and weaknesses clear. The reader is frequently privy to how both top-level decision making and on-the-ground details such as the lethality of anti-tank guns and how reliance on telephones and lack of skilled radio operators crippled communication. His discussion of Red Army weapons, threaded throughout the volume, is thorough and accessible to laymen. He does an admirable job elucidating the politics behind the adoption or rejection of different arms for an English-language audience. Finally, Hill allows for cultural factors to play a significant role without resorting to essentialism. For example, he pays heed to issues of patronage and a sort of gung-ho culture of action over careful planning (he refers to it as "nu ladno" and "na avos´") in a thoughtful manner.

This book is a major resource for military historians interested in the Red Army and scholars of Russia who need a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-0659
Print ISSN
2166-4307
Pages
pp. 113-114
Launched on MUSE
2019-06-26
Open Access
No
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