Book overview by Roger Annis, revised on March 19, 2016
One of historian David Stahel’s monumental works is his history of the Battle of Kiev, in 1941. Kiev 1941 was published in January 2012. It is the history of one of World War Two’s largest battles, in which the German army captured Kiev and the surrounding region in four weeks of fighting.
Joseph Stalin and the political and military chiefs he had assembled around himself by the time of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 committed grave mistakes in the early going. One of those mistakes was the failure to undertake a strategic retreat from Kiev that could have saved several Soviet armies from destruction. The losses incurred in the Battle of Kiev led to a shakeup in the military leadership of the Soviet armed forces. Stalin’s day-to-day role in strategic, military planning was quietly diminished. Below is a synopsis of David Stahel’s Kiev 1941 which tells this story.
Stahel’s Kiev 1941 and the companion Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East (published in October 2009) are vital books for dispelling the myths of Germany’s military invincibility during WW2. The books’ stories also affirm the political resiliency of the national defense undertaken by the Soviet army and people, notwithstanding the leadership group in the Kremlin. Stahel argues that Germany’s defeat in the East was sealed by the autumn of 1941, well before the titanic Battle of Stalingrad from August 1942 to February 1943.
Stahel writes in Operation Barbarossa: “Operation Barbarossa’s much lauded success began as just another episode of Nazi propaganda, yet this has been given amazing longevity, and even a guise of historical truth…
“In spite of some severe early blows to the Red Army, the German army never really came close to their goal of conquering the Soviet Union.”
Stahel quotes a report by German General Hermann Hoth: “The Russian soldier fights not out of fear, rather for an idea. He does not want to return to the Tsarist time.” (p 246)
Stahel writes on the same page: “Given the ruthlessly despotic rule the Germans were bringing to the east and their genocidal practices, the worst fears of the Soviet people were soon confirmed, which greatly helped solidify their support for Stalin’s cause.”
Here is a synopsis written by David Stahel of his Kiev 1941:
In just four weeks in the summer of 1941, the German Wehrmacht wrought unprecedented destruction on four Soviet armies, conquering central Ukraine and killing or capturing three quarters of a million men. This was the Battle of Kiev – one of the largest and most decisive battles of World War II and, for Hitler and Stalin, a battle of crucial importance. For the first time, David Stahel charts the battle’s dramatic course and aftermath, uncovering the irreplaceable losses suffered by Germany’s ‘panzer groups’ despite their battlefield gains, and the implications of these losses for the German war effort. He illuminates the inner workings of the German army as well as the experiences of ordinary soldiers, showing that with the Russian winter looming and Soviet resistance still unbroken, victory came at huge cost and confirmed the turning point in Germany’s war in the East.
David Stahel was born in New Zealand and is a lecturer in European history at the University of New South Wales in Canberra , Australia. You can watch a one-hour lecture by David Stahel about Operation Barbarossa here , delivered on Feb. 3, 2014. The lecture begins at the 25′ mark.
A related, important book on the subject of Germany’s invasion in 1941 is June 22, 1941: Soviet Historians and the German Invasion. The book consists largely of a manuscript published in the Soviet Union by Aleksandr Nekrich in 1965 that analyzed the military preparations and reactions of the leaders of the Soviet Union at the outbreak of the German invasion. The book was edited by Vladimir Petrov and published in English in 1968.