• Hitler's Great Gamble

  • A New Look at German Strategy, Operation Barbarossa, and the Axis Defeat in World War II
  • By: James Ellman
  • Narrated by: David de Vries
  • Length: 8 hrs and 56 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (35 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

On June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, one of the turning points of World War II. Within six months, the invasion bogged down on the outskirts of Moscow, and the Eastern Front proved to be the decisive theater in the defeat of the Third Reich. Ever since, most historians have agreed that this was Hitler's gravest mistake. In Hitler's Great Gamble, James Ellman argues that while Barbarossa was a gamble and perverted by genocidal Nazi ideology, it was not doomed from the start. Rather it represented Hitler's best chance to achieve his war aims for Germany, which were remarkably similar to those of the kaiser's government in 1914. Other options, such as an invasion of England or an offensive to seize the oil fields of the Middle East, were considered and discarded as unlikely to lead to Axis victory.

In Ellman's recounting, Barbarossa did not fail because of flaws in the Axis invasion strategy, the size of the USSR, or the brutal cold of the Russian winter. Instead, German defeat was due to errors of Nazi diplomacy. Hitler chose not to coordinate his plans with his most militarily powerful allies, Finland and Japan, and ensure the seizure of the ports of Murmansk and Vladivostok. Had he done so, Germany might well have succeeded in defeating the Soviet Union and, perhaps, winning World War II.

©2019 James Ellman (P)2020 Tantor
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Full of good information and a pretty well established thesis

I don’t agree with the other reviewer. This book is trending right along the line of Enduring the Whirlwind. Enduring focused half a chapter on why invading Russia when it happened was a pretty decent play and why Germany felt it pretty much had to else compromise their position. Half a chapter is not much but that books aim is to update our thinking on the causes of the 3rd Reichs defeat on the ground in the East. This reasoning is sound and this book and Enduring provide support for this. This books focus is also a bit wider in view. Enduring focused on replacements and losses on the eastern front, this book is much larger in scope but also focused in on the Eastern front. They both buck the trend.

There isn’t much in between heavy academic works about the war, ones that actually stand to change our perceptions of what happened and why, and popular tales such as memoirs which CAN perpetuate falsehood (some purposeful like German staff studies post war, or innocently by a front line soldier 40 years post war). This book tries to bridge this gap some by offering the casual reader some information that is controversial, as it goes against what people have been told all their lives about WW2, and making it a little more accessible.

I found this work to be pretty well supported. The reasoning for attacking Soviet Russia is now really being fleshed out and appears true. They did negotiate with Russia but the Caucuses were needed by Germany and they couldn’t go without them. Thus, they had to invade Russia to support their Eastern allies. The parts that are less well fleshed out are when he begins talking about Japan. I found it all very interesting. Logical as well. It will be interesting to see if more evidence can be found on those interactions to help this narrative of events become more mainstream.

It’s a good book. If you love reading or listening to history, this book is different and interestingness I think you will enjoy it. If you like it, check out Enduring the Whirlwind, that book along with David Glantz’s books are reshaping the narrative of the Eastern front.

7 people found this helpful

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Good solid speculation well documented

A WWII Biggs “good read.” Well to recommend to historians and alt-historians. Worth the price.

2 people found this helpful

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An interesting view of Hitler v. Stalin

The author combines history and "what might have been" potentials for a very interesting narrative. He never gives into the attraction of "counterfactuals" as he tells the tale of what happened verses what could have happened. This indepth look at Hitler's decision to open a second front is well worth your time and energy.

1 person found this helpful

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excellent perspective

interesting perspective. Always wondered why Japan did not attack Russia from East and what would have happened. This book addresses that in detail.

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Interesting, but ultimately unconvincing

In this book the author makes the case that had Japan invaded the Soviet Union rather than gone "south" and attacked the colonial possessions of Great Britain and the Netherlands, then most likely the Soviet Union would have lost the war or, at best, taken a lot longer to push the Germans back from its territory, and that might well have allowed Germany to win the war. It is an interesting premise, but then he goes on to blame Germany's diplomacy for failing to convince Japan to do exactly that, and thus blames Germany's defeat on its failed diplomatic efforts. Thus there are two separate, but linked, ideas here. Did Japan's decision to "go south" change the outcome of the war and, second, was that due to the failure of Germany's diplomacy. The first seems unconvincing to me and the second seems completely wrong.

To buttress these claims Mr Ellman refers to the Soviet Union as Japan's principle potential enemy, but that in itself is only partially correct. The Imperial Japanese Army considered the Soviet Union to be its main enemy, but the Imperial Navy considered the United States to be its primary enemy, and Japan's diplomats considered war with the US to be inevitable while war with the Soviet Union was not, and felt that Japan could continue abiding by the non-aggression pact it had with the USSR as long as it wished to do so.

Further, had Japan actually attacked the USSR and tied down its Asian Army, and had Germany then attacked Moscow it would have found itself in the same kind of house-to-house fighting that it did in Stalingrad and Germany's supply lines, already at the breaking point, would probably have not been able to stand the pressure. A German Army fighting an urban war without needed supplies would likely have faltered and failed, just as it did at Stalingrad. In the end Japan attacked south for a variety of reasons, including oil and other raw materials, and it seems very unlikely to me that Germany's diplomacy could have changed what Japan ultimately considered to be its best course of action in the war.

On the positive side the book is full of very interesting information that I have not seen anyplace else, and the details of some of the discussions between Germany and the USSR and between Germany and Japan were well worth the time I spent on the book.

The narrative is very well done and very helpful since parts of the book felt more like a college text book than anything else. Phrases like "Let us consider" ought to be banned from books of this type. Still, all in all, this was a positive reading experience for me and I have rated the book as Pretty Good.


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Intriguing tho disappointing at times

I’m impressed for the most part for this book. The subject material is very interesting and although there is research and creativity I must sadly point out that the author doesn’t think his theory’s completely through.
He makes both simple and complex mistakes in his facts (at one point he states “no army enjoyed a complete mechanized advantage”) not thinking of the American forces who didn’t take a single horse with them to Europe or Asia, they in fact DID go to war with mechanized forces.
The author states that the Nazis could have won if only they’d sharpened their negotiating skills in having Imperial Japan attack into Siberia and Finland take Leningrad.
I must disagree. His book goes into the realms of pure fantasy.

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Just don’t suffer the stupidity

I think someone played a bit too much Axis & Allies as a kid then as an adult decide to use the game play as his has operating theory to write a book. I actually hope the author goal was a simple money grab on ww2 book popularity and not his actual-beliefs because it would make me fear for the future of scholarly thought.