Category Archives: Russia

Review of “Hitler’s Soldiers: The German Army in the Third Reich” by Ben H. Shepherd

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Fascinating revisionist history of the Wehrmacht

Ben Shephard pulls aside the curtain of respectability that many accounts of the German Army are cloaked in, demolishing the image of an honourable and decent fighting force compared to the SS.

In a detailed account he highlights countless occasions where the Wehrmacht are complicit in war crimes showing that many took part and a few notable exceptions complained. What some may find surprising is the early war conduct of some of July 21st conspirators.

However, the book is not purely about war crimes, but also about the combat performance of the Wehrmacht. Shephard shows how the early war effectiveness was eroded away once the gargantuan task of taking on the Soviets was clear and shows how the army still continued to retain its cohesion even when the outcome of the war was clear.

I’d recommend this for anyone who wants to read a more rounded view of the 3rd Reich and some insight into how ordinary men descend into barbarians.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.

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Review of ” Operation Whisper: The Capture of Soviet Spies Morris and Lona Cohen” by Barnes Carr

A fascinating and well written true story of Cold War espionage.

Morris and Lona Cohen, an ordinary-seeming couple living in New York City in the 1950s, however they are a key part of a Soviet plan to steal the secrets of the atomic bomb. Betrayed by a defector they disappear from view only to re-appear as Peter and Helen Kroger antiquarian booksellers in London.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Cohens and have long awaited a book that details their story, especially their activities in England in what became known as the Portland Spy Case. Operation Whisper is the first to study in detail their “two lives” as Morris and Lona Cohen in America and Peter and Helen Kroger in England.

Barnes Carr doesn’t disappoint telling an exciting story of espionage sweeping from the East Coast of the US to the leafy confines of London’s suburbia. With details of the actual spycraft used (and misused) this is a must read for any cold war espionage fans.

Literary fans will be fascinated by the connection between the Cohens/Krogers and Frank Doel of 84 Charing Cross Road & The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff fame.

Whilst the writer is obviously not familiar with some of the UK place names he writes in a style that is easy to read and pacey making the book read more like a novel than fact.

Recommended.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess by Andrew Lownie

Intriguing, chilling, and colourful insight into the most famous Cold War espionage case.

Guy Burgess has often been thought as the least damaging of the Cambridge spies, however Andrew Lownie’s book argues strongly against this view.

Burgess himself is a complex person, charming and repulsive in equal measure, he was the consummate networker. Despite being drunk and openly gay at work when such activity was illegal the fact he wasn’t fired or found out earlier is astounding.

Lownie details Burgess’s formative years which goes some way to explain his decision to spy for the Soviets. The book is accessible, enjoyable and informative, however I did find some aspects difficult to follow, particularly keeping track of the seemingly endless list of Burgess’s lovers.

I recommend watching this excerpt of a rare TV interview with him when he was in Moscow which is mentioned in the book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e36KM…

I find the Cambridge 5 case fascinating in that the “old boy network” of MI6 just couldn’t comprehend that that one of their own (i.e of their class & upbringing) would spy for another country, which led them being able to continue for so long.

A fascinating read for anyone interested in espionage, the cold war and political motivation.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of The First Nazi: The Life and Times of General Erich Ludendorff of Germany by William Brownell, Alex Rovt (With), Denise Drace-Brownell (With)

A powerful argument that Erich Ludendorff should be seen as one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century.

Brownell argues convincingly that Ludendorff’s World War 1 actions possibly added 2 years to that conflict and he was also directly responsible for the rise of Soviet Communism and Hitler.

Ludendorff believed that by sending Lenin is a sealed train to St Petersburg he would undermine Russia’s provisional post-tsar government and force a peace treaty. He was correct in that theory, but inadvertently fostered Stalin and the resulting 70 odd years of the Soviet Union.

Following the end of World War 1 Ludendorff propagated the “stab in the back” legend that became accepted as fact, in addition to a noxious cocktail of blame being placed on the Jews. Brownlee states that these two fictions directly created a climate that allowed the Nazis use these “stories” to seize power.

Where Brownell does struggle is with the paucity of information on Ludendorff’s family and home life. One wife ended up in an asylum and the other divulged very little in her lifetime. Much of his section on World War 1 appears to list the key moments of the war without any major insight into Ludendorff himself who remains somewhat of an enigma throughout the book.

Overall interesting and believable arguments as to why Ludendorff should be up there with Hitler and Stalin and questions what Europe might have been like without his influence.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

he Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St James's, 1932-1943" by Gabriel Gorodetsky (Editor)

Review of ” The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, 1932-1943″ by Gabriel Gorodetsky (Editor)

A remarkable and rare insight into 1930s and 40s Anglo-Soviet relations.

Editor Gabriel Gorodetsky has compiled a fascinating account of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom using the never before published in English diaries of Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky.

Gorodetsky provides excellent background detail to the events that Maiskey describes making it easy to understand some of the diplomatic language as well as highlighting areas in the diaries where Maisky is somewhat “economical with the truth”. In order to “correct” Maisky’s account Gorodetsky has checked the diaries against various collections including private papers and reports of the Foreign Office.

Particularly interesting are the periods from before the Soviet non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 and the intense anti-Soviet hostility as a result of this and the Winter War with Finland through to the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941

Maisky comes across as a humorous, affable fellow who succeeded in walking a tightrope between maintaining his integrity as a professional diplomat and surviving the vagaries of Stalin’s regime. Whilst adhering to the Soviet cause he independently tried to influence events in his own way by reporting back to Moscow his ideas as though they’d been presented by British politicians.

There’s some great candid pen portraits of Churchill, Chamberlain, Eden, and Halifax, Beaverbrook as well as Lloyd George and George Bernard Shaw.

Recommended for anyone interested in politics , diplomacy and the characters that made the key British decisions of World War 2.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of ” Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator” by Oleg V. Khlevniuk, Nora Seligman Favorov (Translation)

An excellent scholarly yet easy to read Stalin biography.

Oleg V. Khlevniuk has dug deep into the Russian archives to create this relatively concise by most biographical standards yet authoritative account of Stalin’s life.

Whilst I was familiar with Stalin’s wartime role I was less familiar with his rise and the circumstances of his death. The author cleverly uses the dictators last days to bind a wide ranging account to a common point of reference and uses the circumstances of his death to effectively show how he became so dominant.

Several standard Stalin histories are questioned and undermined by the lack of firm evidence that Khlevniuk has found in the archives as well as questioning the reliability of some of eyewitness accounts those histories have been based on.

An excellent easy to read biography of the man who by most accounts killed more people than Hitler.

Review of ” Strangers on a Bridge” by James B. Donovan

An interesting 1960s account of the Rudolf Abel spy case and subsequent exchange.

Rudolf Abel was a KGB agent who lived undercover in New York between 1948 and 1957. This account is written by the lawyer who defended and does suffer from the fact it was written in the 1960s and the security concerns of the time prevent it from being a full account.

That being said it provides great insight into the tradecraft used by Abel and his associates as well as the resulting court case, negotiations over an exchange with the shot down U2 pilot Gary Powers, and the actual exchange itself. I found the most interesting part of the book when the author has to travel to Berlin and gives an eyewitness account of a divided city at the height of Cold War tensions.

If you are interested in Cold War espionage then this is must read. I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the new Tom Hanks film based on this account.

Link to movie trailer here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-2×3…