Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945

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Drawing on previously closed military and secret police archives, interviews with surviving soldiers, and private letters and diaries, Catherine Merridale presents here the first comprehensive history of the thirty million soldiers of the Red Army.
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Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945

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Drawing on previously closed military and secret police archives, interviews with surviving soldiers, and private letters and diaries, Catherine Merridale presents here the first comprehensive history of the thirty million soldiers of the Red Army.
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Editorial Reviews

William Grimes
Ivan's War combines, quite effectively, painstaking historical reconstruction and sympathetic projection. Ms. Merridale, proceeding from campaign to campaign, describes from the top down and from the bottom up. She provides a coherent picture of the tactical decisions and industrial adjustments that altered the course of the war, and at the same time focuses on how such changes were reflected in the day-to-day experiences and feelings of the troops on the ground.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Thirty million men and women served in the Red Army during WWII. Over eight million of them died. Living or dead, they have remained anonymous. This is partly due to the Soviet Union's policy of stressing the collective nature of its sacrifice and victory. It also reflects the continuing reluctance of most Soviet veterans to discuss their experiences-in sharp contrast to German survivors of the Eastern Front. Merridale, professor of history at the University of London, combines interviews, letters and diaries with research in previously closed official archives to present the first comprehensive portrait of the Red Army's fighters. She carefully details the soldiers' age and ethnic diversity, and she puts a human face on a fact demonstrated repeatedly by retired U.S. officer and Soviet military expert David Glantz: the Red Army learned from the experience of its near-collapse in 1941, and by 1945 its soldiers were more than a match for their Wehrmacht opponents. Most poignantly, Merridale reveals that frontline soldiers increasingly hoped their sacrifices would bring about postwar reform-"Communism with a human face." What they got instead was a Stalinist crackdown-and a long silence, broken now by this outstanding book. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Considering the number of shelves laden with books on the Soviet Union in World War II, it may be surprising that few convey the war as experienced by the foot soldiers, tank operators, and pilots who fought it or the peasants who endured it. Merridale's chronicle is not so much of the sights and sounds of war or of the agony and gore — although all this is there — as it is an attempt to fathom war's meaning, effect, and legacy for the peasant boy or girl sucked from his or her village or factory dorm and sent into the maw, often ill equipped and ill trained, to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with comrades who sometimes came from ethnic worlds apart, to master war's forms and tools, to do war's awful deeds, and then to somehow resume a normal life at war's close. Not surprisingly, she finds it difficult to penetrate the psychological shields war veterans erected. Nonetheless, she succeeds admirably in fashioning a compelling portrait, helped immensely by her talent as a writer.
Library Journal
The Soviet Union lost far more men in World War II than any other power, Allied or Axis. Yet for all the ink spilled over the Red Army's role in defeating the Nazis, very little has dribbled onto the Soviet soldiers themselves-onto the everyman combatant dubbed "Ivan"-owing in no small part to the secrecy and myth in which the Soviet system enshrouded them. Merridale (history, Univ. of London; Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia) seeks here to unravel the riddle of how they lived and why they fought, especially for a regime that notoriously devoured its children. The reasons that emerge are legion: Ivan fought out of fear and necessity, pride and patriotism, because he believed his cause was just, because he knew nothing else. Ultimately, while no one picture emerges, Merridale has effectively captured the lives of these ordinary, and extraordinary, soldiers as they face bitter defeat in Hitler's surprise Operation Barbarossa attack and victory at Stalingrad, reap vengeance in Berlin and return home, forever altered. What this engaged study sometimes lacks in narrative thrust it makes up for in spades with its harrowing and deeply compassionate portrait of the individual Ivans. Recommended for public and academic libraries; essential for all Soviet and World War II collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/15.]-Tania Barnes, Library Journal Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Glorified by Soviet myth-makers as simple, heroic "Ivan," the common soldier in the Red Army in fact grappled with despair and his own government as well as the Nazis. Merridale (Contemporary History/Univ. of London; Night of Stone, 2001) has rescued this legendary generation of Soviet soldiers from history's black hole-a remarkable achievement, given government censorship and citizens' desire to forget the horrors of WWII combat and civilian atrocities. Ivan and Ivana (women served on the Eastern front, too) matched America's "greatest generation" in hardships endured and sacrifices made. The Soviet army began the war under significant disadvantages. It was virtually devoid of commanders (purged by Stalin), its rank-and-file were untrained and it was caught completely off-guard by the Nazis' "Operation Barbarossa" in June 1941. Merridale carefully traces the successive responses of soldiers reeling from overwhelming blows: initial "tank panic" in the face of Nazi might, desertions, the grim realization that they faced a war of annihilation and growing self-confidence. Newly opened archives; recently discovered secret diaries and letters; and interviews with more than 200 veterans enable Merridale to narrate in gripping detail the epic tank battle of Kursk, the siege of Stalingrad and the unexpectedly bloody final drive to Berlin. She poignantly tallies the scars left on the Soviet soul by the carnage. The Red Army suffered eight million deaths, its losses exceeding the German army's by more than three to one. Revolted by the damage the Nazis inflicted on their families and communities, chafing under political operatives in their midst, Soviet soldiers engaged in their own orgies oflooting and rape as they pushed into Germany. In other ways, however, the ordinary soldier was positively transformed by the war. Merridale notes that Ivan grew more sophisticated through contact with foreigners and more hopeful that peace and brotherhood would result from the Soviets' sufferings. Revealing history that renders the struggles on the Eastern Front in telling detail and with searching moral scrutiny.
From the Publisher
"Unprecedented in its approach, Catherine Merridale's research into the lives of Red Army soldiers combined with her perception makes this a most fascinating and important work."

—Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad

"Catherine Merridale has done something very unusual. The Soviet war effort has been described many times but her new book tells the searing story from the bottom up. Her account of the sufferings of the Red Army soldiers and their families is unlikely to be bettered."

—Robert Service, author of Stalin: A Biography

"Merridale's new book is excellent. This unique, strikingly original account of the Red Army in World War II is a first-rate social history as well as an important military study, and a stellar example of the combination of oral history with standard archival research. It makes the soldiers of the Red Army come alive."

—Stanley Payne, Hilldale-Jaume Vicens Vives Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Ivan's War is a marvelous book. All of Catherine Merridale's virtues are on display: remarkable research (based in this case on literally hundreds of interviews with survivors and witnesses); a clear, unpretentious style that belies the complexity of her material; comfortable historical command of a dauntingly large theme; and a rare compassion and empathy for her subjects. Ivan's War confirms what anyone who read Night of Stone already knew: that Catherine Merridale is a superb historian, among the very best of her generation."

—Tony Judt, author of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

"This is an inventively researched and evocatively written study of the Soviet soldier on the blood-ridden Eastern Front. Using freshly available archival materials, as well as sparkling interviews with a vanishing generation of veterans, Merridale has provided an empathetic and realistic portrait of the men and women who, more than any other combat soldiers, brought down the Third Reich."

Norman M. Naimark , author of The Russians in Germany and Fires of Hatred

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312426521
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 1/23/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 476,654
  • Product dimensions: 6.01 (w) x 8.21 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Catherine Merridale is the author of the critically acclaimed Night of Stone, winner of Britain's Heinemann Award for Literature. A professor of contemporary history at the University of London, she also writes for the London Review of Books, the New Statesman, and The Independent and regularly presents history features for the BBC.

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Read an Excerpt

Ivan's War

Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945
By Merridale, Catherine

Metropolitan Books

Copyright © 2006 Merridale, Catherine
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0805074554

It was Kamenshchikov's wife who woke him.
Perhaps it was her inexperience, she said, but she had never heard so many planes flying above the town at night. Her husband assured her that what she was hearing were maneuvers. There had been lots of exercises lately. All the same he threw a coat over his shoulders and stepped outside to take a closer look. He knew at once that this was real war. The very air was different; humming, shattered, thick with sour black smoke. The town's main railway line was picked out by a rope of flame. Even the horizon had begun to redden, but its glow, to the west, was not the approaching dawn. Acting without orders, Kamenshchikov went to the airfield and took a plane up to meet the invaders at once, which is why, exceptionally among the hundreds of machines that were parked in neat formations as usual that night, his was brought down over the Bialystok marshes, and not destroyed on the ground. By mid-day on June 22, the Soviets had lost 1,200 planes. In Kamenshchikov's own western district alone, 528 had been blown up like fairground targets by the German guns.


Excerpted from Ivan'sWar by Merridale, Catherine Copyright © 2006 by Merridale, Catherine. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : true war stories 1
1 Marching with revolutionary step 23
2 A fire through all the world 49
3 Disaster beats its wings 82
4 Black ways of war 116
5 Stone by stone 153
6 A land laid waste 187
7 May brotherhood be blessed 226
8 Exulting, grieving, and sweating blood 263
9 Despoil the corpse 299
10 Sheathe the old sword 336
11 And we remember all 372
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2006

    Ivan's War- A review

    This is not the usual military history reference or textbook. This is a very well written book on the soldiers of the Red Army, how they lived and unfortunately how they suffered and died en masse.Now that the archives in Russia are open for study, this author delved into the lives, such as they were, of the simple trooper and the junior grade officers of the Red Army. The book can not help but show the brutal, inhuman killer regime headed by Stalin. This figure does not come through as a pathological killer obsessed by racial fantasies like Hitler. Stalin comes through as eminently sane dictator who uses mass killing simply as a tool, somewhat like a carpenter uses the hammer and with about as much emotion. Whether the Politruks eliminate the dissenters and deserters or whether the Stavka orders headlong suicidal charges into German machine guns and artillery barrages we can see how the Soviet government holds life cheap. Eight million military deaths most of them preventable by good leadership and training would be unthinkable in any society except Soviet Communism.This book provides those insights and it presents the thoughtful reader with but one question: What took this system so long to fall? I gave it four stars instead of five simply because there were minor factual errors and omissions.For example one of the most admired men in the defense of Stalingrad was General Rodimstev whose name is immortalized in the ruins of the tractor factory where the men about to die scratched the words 'Rodimstev's Guardsmen fought and died here for their motherland (rodina)'.He gets virtually no mention. Also the planning for the Stalingrad encirclement was done by Zhukov and Vassilevsky assisted by the best brain in the Stavka-General Antonov. Again no mention made. Rokossovsky is deservedly mentioned, but Romanenko and Chistyakov, the actual leaders of the pincers, are not. Minor ommissions but I knocked off a star, since this book competes with such five star masterpieces as Tuchmans 'Proud Tower' and Massie's 'Castles of Steel'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2013

    The Morgue

    *he plunges a sword into one of the dozen Trolls, the armored creature screeching and falling limp. Several other Trolls cautiously approach. He sheathes his sword on his back, raising his hands. Black lightning flow forth, four of the eleven Trolls spasming then going limp. Two get an idea to charge, and he effortlessly dodges them, stabbing his dagger into the back of the second. Pulling a half-inch disc from his pocket, he tses it up in the air. It unfolds into a black shuriken in midair, nd he catches it, immediatly sending it into a crack between armor plates on the back of the first. He uses Mindride on another prowling Troll, using it to attack another. The attacked Troll dies, confused. The Ridden Troll then leaps off a stone bridge, falling thousands of feet into the mist. The last three charge the stranger, and he pulls a two-foot staff from his pack. Blades extend from the end, and he jumps in the middle, spinning and killing two. Utilizing telekinesis, he slams the beast against a tree, impaling it on a broken branch.*

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2012

    Very Good

    Well written with new historical information, not many first hand accounts but, a good read none the less ......RjP

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2008

    A reviewer

    Ivan's War digs deep into the personal accounts of the eastern front during WWII. Merridale highlights many of the facts she discovered once the Russian archives were opened during the 1990s. A must read for any history buff interested in WWII or the USSR

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