The best books on Operation Barbarossa

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Operation Barbarossa and why they recommend each book.

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Hitlers Heerführer

By Johannes Hurter,

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

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. 


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...

Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East

By David Stahel,

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.

Barbarossa

By David M. Glantz,

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

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. 


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...

Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East

By David Stahel,

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.

Thunder in the East

By Evan Mawdsley,

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

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.


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...

Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East

By David Stahel,

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.

Soldier, Prisoner, Hunter, Gatherer

By Don Woods, Ken Scott,

Book cover of Soldier, Prisoner, Hunter, Gatherer: The Incredible True Story of Kiwi Horrie Woods, and His Battle for Survival During World War II

An epic account of Kiwi soldier, Horrie Woods, fighting the Germans in Greece and Crete to his eventual capture and incarceration in a pow camp in eastern Europe. What makes this book so unique is that the memoir was transcribed by his son Don Woods, from the actual diaries Horrie kept during his four years in captivity. A true story of survival.

Who am I?

I have studied WW2 and prisoners of war during that period for more than 20 years. They're very much the forgotten soldiers of war in my opinion. Few spoke of their treatment and brutality at the hands of the enemy, starvation, and the psychological effects that they lived with for many years afterward. Marriages fell apart, alcoholism was commonplace and many committed suicide, during a time where the term PTSD hadn't been invented. I've selected books that tell the story from several different perspectives. There were good and bad on all sides and for every ten stories of brutality and murder, there were another ten stories of good men and women who did their best to help the POWs survive.


I wrote...

Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell?

By Horace Greasley, Ken Scott,

Book cover of Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell?

What is my book about?

I was fortunate enough to meet and ‘ghost’ Horace's story more than ten years ago. 99% of POWs never talked about their experiences and it wasn’t until Horace was 90 years of age that he decided to talk. He knew he was close to death, he wanted to share his story with the world. This is a unique insight into what camp life was really about and surely one of the greatest love stories of all time.

Forever Nineteen

By Grigory Baklanov, Antonina W. Bouis (translator),

Book cover of Forever Nineteen

Grigory Baklanov (born Grigory Friedman) belonged to the generation of soldiers that faced the full brunt of the German attack on the Soviet Union and of whom only 3% survived. Forever Nineteen (trans. Antonina Bouis) is a tribute to the men who remained forever young; as the author elucidates in the introduction to the novel’s American edition, “I wanted them to come alive when I wrote this book, I wanted people living now to care about them as friends, as family, as brothers.” Baklanov had attained international renown with his 1959 novel The Foothold [An Inch of Land], which appeared in 36 countries. His portrayal of the war is more personal than Grossman’s and has a different angle: rather than depicting famous battles, he is concerned with ordinary soldiers’ lives, which can be cut short at any moment. (Disclosure: Grigory Baklanov is my father.)


Who am I?

I'm the author of four literary biographies and of one in progress. My current project is a concise interpretive biography of Ayn Rand, commissioned by Yale University Press, Jewish Lives. Among the best known and most divisive twentieth-century writers, the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged remains the subject of fascination. I began my career as a journalist in Moscow. Before turning to literary biography I lectured in Russian literature and history in Canada. My essays and reviews have appeared in The Wall Street JournalHuffington PostLiterary HubTablet MagazineNational Post, and other newspapers and outlets.


I wrote...

Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century

By Alexandra Popoff,

Book cover of Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century

What is my book about?

To use James Atlas’ words about Edmund Wilson, Vasily Grossman “offered a large canvas on which you could draw a map of the twentieth century.” A prominent Soviet writer and war correspondent, Grossman was among the first to capture his century along with its calamities brought about by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes––World War II, the Holocaust, Ukraine’s famine, and the Gulag. His major novel Life and Fate was drafted when Stalin was still alive and had been long denied publication. This work and the novel Everything Flows provide unique insights into state nationalism, and the rise of totalitarianism and antisemitism––topics that today remain among the most discussed. I had a sense of personal connection to Grossman’s themes: my birth family of Russian Jewry had suffered under Stalin and Hitler. World War II is also not a remote event for my generation: my father had fought on the Eastern front.

Germany and the Second World War

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

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.


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...

Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East

By David Stahel,

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.

War of Annihilation

By Geoffrey P. Megargee,

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

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.


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...

Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East

By David Stahel,

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.

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