Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin, 1941–1945

Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin, 1941–1945
By John Mosier. 456 pp.
Simon and Schuster, 2010. $30.
Reviewed by Alexander Hill

Deathride is a history of the Eastern Front during World War II. John Mosier—who has gained a reputation for writing revisionist history—and his publisher both claim it offers a new idea: that Nazi Germany and its allies came ever so close to victory in the East. While questioning conventional wisdom often leads to fresh takes on history, it does not in and of itself make good history. Any challenge to the works of others has to be based on sound evidence, which is often sadly lacking in Deathride and in many of the works Mosier cites to justify his arguments. Mosier certainly writes well: Deathride is a flowing and lively read. This is clearly one reason why his previous books, including The Myth of the Great War and The Blitzkrieg Myth, have been popular. But in trying to create a good read, Mosier—a professor of English, not history, at Loyola University New Orleans—sacrifices standards that are sacred to many professional historians.

Mosier argues that “until July 1943 the prospect of [a German] victory was tantalizingly close”—this even though the battles of Moscow (1941–1942), Stalingrad (1942–1943), and Kursk (1943) are all regularly described in the literature as “turning points” that shifted the war in the Eastern Front in favor of the Allies. Mosier conveniently ignores a huge chunk of the literature, including, for example, R. H. S. Stolfi’s Hitler’s Panzers East. He also makes minimal use of Russian-language sources—all but dismissing them despite their wealth of valuable material for the serious historian. That Stalin and the Red Army squandered human life in the pursuit of victory is hardly debatable, but Mosier distorts the evidence in what appears to be some sort of revisionist reverie. The introduction alone is riddled with misrepresentations of history and historical work in order to present Deathride as groundbreaking. For example, he cites extremely weak sources to suggest that the death toll for the Red Army was 7 million in 1942 and nearly 7.5 million in 1943. The best data we have, even if imperfect, indicate the Red Army during the whole war saw about ?9 million fatalities.

The remainder of the book continues in a similar vein. It is well-written sensationalism that ignores the historical literature when Mosier sees fit and is based on the flimsiest research. At one point, for example, Mosier notes the relative absence of “insurgents, guerrillas, or partisan activities” in the (incomplete) stenographic record of Hitler’s military conferences and in “the accounts of the surviving generals” as evidence of the insignificance of Soviet partisan activity on the Eastern Front. This ignores the fact that, as early as August 18, 1942, such activity was sufficiently serious to warrant Führer Directive 46, which notes how partisan activity had reached “intolerable proportions” in the East in recent months!

I cannot recommend John Mosier’s Deathride as anything but an example of poor history. For an up-to-date, readable, and well-researched single-volume assessment of the war in the East, I would endorse Evan Mawdsley’s Thunder in the East.

Alexander Hill is an associate professor of military history at the University of Calgary, Canada, and author of The War Behind the Eastern Front: The Soviet Partisan Movement in North-West Russia 1941–1944 and The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, 1941–1945: A Documentary Reader.

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5 Responses

  1. Albert

    While the author’s numbers are certainly inflated, they might be a bit closer to the truth than initially thought.

    David Glantz is now of the opinion that Soviet Military deaths were in the range of 14 million.

  2. Rod

    His thesis seems plausible to me. Consider:

    1. No one could ever have precise numbers of Russian war losses given the deception/secrecy inherent in the Soviet system. Even now, Russia opens and closes its archives at random, which limits a full, exhaustive analysis.

    2. Russia never demographically recovered from the war. This view has been put forth by other historians.

    3. The Wehrmacht was tactically and operationally the best army in the war. Even American/British historians do not dispute this now. Germany inflicted heavy casualties on both fronts and did the same in the First World War.

    4. Russia was exhausted by May 1945. Hitler knew he had “bled the Red Army white” and Patton urged a U.S. attack on the Red Army after the German surrender.

    5. Soviet soldiers learned how to fight from the Germans. The myth is that as Russian combat capabilites improved, German defenses crumbled. Wrong. The Germans also improved, which explains the horrific casualty rates the Wehrmacht continued to inflict during the Russian advance.

  3. Rod

    6. Hitler continued to move his best equpiment and soldiers to the Western Front, a view also put forth by Richard Overy.

    7. The armies with serious killing power were the Anglo-Americans, which is why the casualty rates for the belligerents on the Western Front were nearly identical. The greatest losses suffered by the U.S. Army in its history came during the Bulge, while the Wehrmacht also suffered greater losses. When two Western armies clash, the lethality of both armies create nearly identical losses (Victor Davis Hanson).

    8. Mosier says that the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union began with the Eastern Front, while leftist historians found on U.S. university campuses say its collapse was inevitable and right -of- center historians say it began with Reagan. The Soviet system sowed its own seeds of destruction when it was founded because socialism is unsustainable. It’s a tragedy that 40-60 million Russians perished to prove it.

  4. Matias

    One of the biggest stalinists myths is “galant and mighty” Red Army of Soviet Union. Actually this same army couldn’t conquer even Finland (population 3.7 million) in 1944 even if it had some 50 divisions, 1500 aircraft and some 1000 tanks and assault guns. Actually finns produced their heavy losses and won 5 last battles during the july-august 1944. Soviet forces lost most of their combat forces and were forced to stop the whole offensive in Karelian Isthmus Front and Karelian Front.

    What’s more interesting – finns captured several soviet combat soldiers at age of 40 to 53. Intellegence was telling the same thing during the year 1944 – the moral of Red Army was not high indeed and even pilots were depressed.

    Without western aid and second front (Italy) and third (Normandy) Soviet would have been domed to lost the rest of it’s man pond.

  5. Matti

    Mosier were in some details little bit sloppy. He for example wrote:

    “So at one stroke, Stalin regained all the areas lost in 1917-1920.”

    Actually Stalin didn’t. He didn’t ever, never managed to regained the whole of Finland (they got 14% by Winter War, lost at least 150 000 soldiers killed). More than that – Stalin managed due his aggression got one small but skillfull enemy and that cost Soviet hundreds of thousands of killed soldiers and more than a million wounded, missing or captured. Even in 1944 after all these western lend lease weapons and transport vehichles Soviet could get more to west than during the bloody days of Winter War 1939-40 and lost all five latest battles against finns during july-aug 1944 : Ihantala, Bay of Vyborg, Vuosalmi-Äyräpää, U-line and Battle of Ilomantsi.

    Mosier also didn’t realize how politically important companion in arms Finland was for Hitler’s Germany. It was democratic country and that broke the idea that all allies were “good” and that other gang was “bad”. Finland also tied up during the years 1941-44 about 5-8% of Soviet troops from Karelian Isthmus to Petsamo – 1300 km or
    more than 800 miles frontline.


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