In 1941 close to one million Russian soldiers died defending Moscow from German invasion–more causalities than that of the United States and Britain during all of World War II. Many of these soldiers were in fact not soldiers at all, but instead ordinary people who took up arms to defend their city. Students dropped their books for guns; released prisoners exchanged their freedom for battle; and women fought alongside men on the bloody, mud-covered frozen road to Moscow. By the time the United States entered the war the Germans were already retreating and a decisive victory had been won for the Allies. With extensive research into the lives of soldiers, politicians, writers, artists, workers, and children, Rodric Braithwaite creates a richly detailed narrative that captures this crucial moment. Moscow 1941 is a dramatic, unforgettable portrait of an often overlooked battle that changed the world.
In 1941, Moscow was ruled by Stalin and besieged by Hitler's armies, so it teemed with disagreeable characters, tragic events and a great deal of unrewarded heroism. Although the siege was a miserable experience for Muscovites, readers will enjoy reading about it. Braithwaite (Russia in Europe) was British ambassador from 1988 to 1992, so he clearly knows Russia. Early 1941 was a modestly hopeful time: a short-llived decrease in arrests after the massive purges of the '30s coincided with an increase in food in the stores. The official press had lavished praise on the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Friendship Pact, but by spring 1941 many Soviet leaders had seen enough evidence to convince them of an imminent German invasion. But the paranoid Stalin suspected an Allied plot to take the pressure off Britain, so Hitler's June 22 attack devastated Russia's unprepared troops. By autumn, Wermacht armies were threatening the capital, leading to the greatest battle in history, with more than 900,000 Russian deaths more than all WWII British and American casualties combined. Most accounts emphasize the fighting, but Braithwaite mixes interviews, diaries, memoirs and letters to portray the reactions of dozens of individuals to that catastrophic year. This is an absorbing contribution to what he considers WWII's turning point.