Battleground Prussia: the Assault on Germany’s Eastern Front 1944-45 by Prit Buttar

This is a good account of the war in Prussia from late 1944 to the end of the war. It’s complementary to Christopher Duffy’s book in that it entirely focuses on Prussia and covers a slightly longer timeframe.

It has a lot of personal anecdotes that are interesting. It also covers the maritime evacuation along with the well known disasters.

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Vitebsk: the Fight and Destruction of the Third Panzer Army by Otto Heidkamper

This describes operations around Vitebsk from May 1943 to June 1944. It shows the steady reduction of German capacity with a corresponding increase in that of the Russian forces. The Germans were able to stave off one problem after another until Bagration in late June 1944. At that time they were seriously degraded.

One question I have wondered is how much the German lack of success was due to interference from Hitler removing operational flexibility. Of course, it’s very convenient for members of the German armed forces to blame their defeats on someone else. Perhaps they really were doomed to defeat.

The title of chapter 1 “the combat situation of the Third Panzer Army in the summer of 1943” gave some humour.

Rising Sun, Falling Skies: the Disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II by Jeffrey R. Cox

This is a reasonable account of the Java Sea campaign of 1942, which ended with the destruction of the American-British-Dutch-Australian fleet and the occupation of the entire Netherlands East Indies. Just about everything that might have gone wrong went wrong.

One key point is that for the Americans, British and Australians, they could accept defeat and retreat. For the Dutch this was the battle, giving up Java was like the British having to give up India.

It paints a very negative picture of MacArthur, claiming that he was very slow to react to events in the Philippines.

The Spy Who Changed History: The Untold Story of how the Soviet Union Won the Race for America’s Top Secrets by Svetlana Lokhova

This is a well researched account of science/technology espionage in the US in the 1930s. It focuses on one agent Stanislav Shumovsky who openly enrolled as an aeronautical engineer at MIT. Along with a number of other Russian students he gained considerable access to a range of industrial/military secrets interacting with the legal and hidden espionage operatives.

It covered something of Trotskyist opposition in the US in the 1930s which was interesting.

Germany Ascendant: the Eastern Frontt 1915 by Prit Buttar

This follows on from Collision of Empires and describes 1915. It describes the steady and relentless reduction of Russia and Serbia. Probably due to focus on the Eastern Front by Germany.

Collision of Empires: the War on the Eastern Front in 1914 by Prit Buttar

An account of WW1 on the Eastern Front in 1914. It reviews the protagonists: Germany, Austria-Hungry and Russia, considering their strengths and weaknesses. One thing I’ve wondered out is aside from the very early phases with the Russian disasters is how well Russia held its own. Probably this is due to lack of focus on the eastern front by the Germans.

It also paints a negative picture of Conrad Graf von Hötzendorf. Some accounts I’ve read describe him as an expert with a weak army. This paints him as doing nothing to improve the professionalism of his army instead relying on outdated ideas of elan and dash.

Empress Dowager Cixi: the Concubine who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

I knew some details about Cixi but had not read nearly as much. Some of the story here contradicted tour guides in China, eg in the Summer Palace, who painted a much more negative picture. I’d not really seen a complete picture from the Taiping, via the Boxers, the Sino-Japanese war to the end of the Qing dynasty with the rise of the republic.