The best history books for Operation Barbarossa

David Stahel Author Of Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East
By David Stahel

Who am I?

When I was a young man reading my first books about the Second World War I was struck by the dimensions of Germany’s war in the East. Battles at El Alamein, Monte Cassino, and Normandy were familiar to me, but suddenly there emerged dozens of new battlefields in the East, most dwarfing the Anglo-American experience of the war, which I’d never heard of. My curiosity drove my reading and, as the saying goes, the more I knew, the more questions I had. Thirty years on, and ten books under my belt, has not yet satisfied that curiosity, but at least, thanks to Shepherd, I can share some of it.


I wrote...

Book cover of Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East

What is my book about?

Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, began the largest and most costly campaign in military history. Its failure was a key turning point of the Second World War. The operation was planned as a Blitzkrieg to win Germany its Lebensraum in the east, and the summer of 1941 is well-known for the German army's unprecedented victories and advances. David Stahel presents a new history of Germany's summer campaign from the perspective of the two largest and most powerful Panzer groups on the Eastern front. Stahel's research provides a fundamental reassessment of Germany's war against the Soviet Union, highlighting the prodigious internal problems of the vital Panzer forces and revealing that their demise in the earliest phase of the war undermined the whole German invasion.

The books I picked & why

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Germany and the Second World War: Volume IV: The Attack on the Soviet Union

By Horst Boog, Jurgen Forster, Joachim Hoffman, Ernst Klink, Rolf-Dieter Muller, Gerd R. Ueberschar, Ewald Osers (translator)

Book cover of Germany and the Second World War: Volume IV: The Attack on the Soviet Union

Why this book?

Admittedly, this is neither a cheap book nor a light read (it has 1,364 pages), but it remains a landmark work that no serious scholar of Operation Barbarossa can afford to ignore. As volume 4 of the semi-official German history of the war it concerns mainly German plans, operations, and occupation policies, although some sections do deal with Soviet responses as well as the early contributions of German allies to the invasion. It is the work of six German historians with generally even quality throughout, although the military chapters by Klink and Hoffmann are now somewhat dated. Overall, a work of superb scholarship.

Germany and the Second World War: Volume IV: The Attack on the Soviet Union

By Horst Boog, Jurgen Forster, Joachim Hoffman, Ernst Klink, Rolf-Dieter Muller, Gerd R. Ueberschar, Ewald Osers (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Germany and the Second World War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nine months after the beginning of the Second World War, German dominance over much of Europe seemed assured. Hitler not only stood on the pinnacle of his popularity in Germany but more than ever his ideological fixations and political calculations determined German war policy. This volume, the fourth in the acclaimed Germany and the Second World War series, examines the thinking behind the decision to go to war with the Soviet Union which was to prove the
undoing of the German war effort. The authors examine in revealing detail the military and political policies behind the attack on the Soviet…

Hitlers Heerführer: Die Deutschen Oberbefehlshaber Im Krieg Gegen Die Sowjetunion 1941/42

By Johannes Hurter,

Book cover of Hitlers Heerführer: Die Deutschen Oberbefehlshaber Im Krieg Gegen Die Sowjetunion 1941/42

Why this book?

I realise few people reading this list will have the ability to read German, but if you indulge me in one German title—if only to promote its eventual translation to English—it would be Johannes Hürter’s majestic book about the leading German generals in Operation Barbarossa. He covers 25 of the most important commanders and it is without doubt one of the best books ever written about the German army in the Second World War. The research is impeccable and the analysis is first-rate. 

Hitlers Heerführer: Die Deutschen Oberbefehlshaber Im Krieg Gegen Die Sowjetunion 1941/42

By Johannes Hurter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hitlers Heerführer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Wehrmacht in der NS-Diktatur

Über die Wehrmacht im Vernichtungskrieg gegen die Sowjetunion ist viel geschrieben und gestritten worden. Jedoch wusste man bisher wenig über jene höchsten Generale, die das deutsche Heer auf Befehl Hitlers nach Osten führten, unter ihnen so bekannte Namen wie Bock, Guderian, Kluge, Manstein und Rundstedt. Was dachten und wie handelten die Oberbefehlshaber der Heeresgruppen und Armeen, die über Leben und Tod von vielen Millionen Soldaten und Zivilisten zu entscheiden hatten? Johannes Hürter zeichnet erstmals ein genaues Porträt dieser militärischen Elite und darüber hinaus das Panorama eines beispiellosen Feldzugs, in dem traditionelles Kriegshandwerk und nationalsozialistischer Rassenwahn eine…


War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941

By Geoffrey P. Megargee,

Book cover of War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941

Why this book?

If my first two listings are somewhat inaccessible to the average reader, fear not, Megargee’s concise study of Operation Barbarossa is a masterful summary of the campaign as well as the parallel German war of annihilation in the East. Richly illustrated with maps and photos, Megargee transforms a huge and complex war into a short (150 page), straightforward read. There is also a helpful bibliographic essay at the end and numerous sub-headings to guide the reading. It is the perfect introduction to the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941

By Geoffrey P. Megargee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked War of Annihilation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On June 22, 1941, Hitler began what would be the most important campaign of the European theater. The war against the Soviet Union would leave tens of millions of Soviet citizens dead and large parts of the country in ruins. The death and destruction would result not just from military operations but also from the systematic killing and abuse that the German army, police, and SS directed against Jews, Communists, and ordinary citizens.

In War of Annihilation, noted military historian Geoffrey P. Megargee provides a clear, concise history of the Germans' opening campaign of conquest and genocide in 1941. By…

Barbarossa: Hitler's Invasion of Russia 1941

By David M. Glantz,

Book cover of Barbarossa: Hitler's Invasion of Russia 1941

Why this book?

No list of best books about Operation Barbarossa war would be complete without at least one title from David Glantz— the grandee of scholarship about the war in the East. Many of his titles are known for their great size and forensic detail, but this book is an exception. It is highly readable and, unlike Megargee’s book (above), it covers both the German and Soviet experiences of the war. Photos and maps abound and there is also an appendix with wartime orders and official directives. It is the best overview of the Nazi-Soviet war in 1941. 

Barbarossa: Hitler's Invasion of Russia 1941

By David M. Glantz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Barbarossa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hitler's invasion of Russia 1941

Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941-1945

By Evan Mawdsley,

Book cover of Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941-1945

Why this book?

The final recommendation I’d make is only partly related to Operation Barbarossa, but deserves inclusion in that discussion as well as the wider coverage of the war (for those seeking to go further). Mawdsley covers the war from many angles (economic, political, military as well as the experience of occupation) and provides insightful analysis for each turn of events. The endnotes and bibliography are exhaustive, providing a useful guide for whatever subject of interest a reader exploring the vast historiography of the Nazi-Soviet war might have. A first-rate read for both Operation Barbarossa and the wider war in the East.

Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941-1945

By Evan Mawdsley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Thunder in the East as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The battles in Russia played the decisive part in Hitler's defeat. Gigantic, prolonged, and bloody, they contrasted with the general nature of the fighting on other fronts. The Russians fought on their own in "their" theater of war and with an indepedent strategy. Stalinist Russia was a country radically different from its liberal democratic allies. Hitler and the German high command, for their part, conceived and carried out the Russian campaign as a singular "war of annihilation." This riveting new book is a penetrating, broad-ranging, yet concise overview of this vast conflict. It investigates the Wehrmacht and the Red Army…

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