On June 22, 1941, radios all over the Soviet Union crackled with the announcement that the country had been attacked by Nazi Germany. But the voice on the airwaves was not the familiar one of Joseph Stalin; it was the voice of his deputy, Molotov. Paralyzed by Hitler's unexpected move, Stalin disappeared completely from public view for the crucial ten days of war on the Eastern Front. In this taut, hour-by-hour account, Constantine Pleshakov draws on a wealth of information from newly opened archives to elucidate the complex causes of the Soviet leader's reaction, revealing the feared despot's unrealized military stratagems as well as his personal vulnerabilities, while also offering a new and deeper understanding of Russian history.
The subtitle of this provocative and useful work by a noted historian (The Tsar's Last Armada) accurately describes its subject. The author supports the revisionist thesis that Stalin was not deceived about Hitler's ultimate intentions, only their timing, and was planning a preemptive attack into Poland and the Balkans in 1942. Soviet deployments certainly make this plausible, as do other factors, such as the failure to build up defenses on the new Soviet border after stripping the old ones of most of their weapons and troops. The Germans, as is well known, struck first, and the result was a Russian military disaster of such proportions as to influence history to this day. The book is well-balanced, moving from the Kremlin, where Stalin was in denial and Zhukov was at least keeping his head, to soldiers of every rank from general to unarmed private. With his talent for assembling gripping narratives out of long-suppressed sources, Pleshakov will bring joy to fans of John Erickson.