Antony Beevor’s critically acclaimed historical masterpiece is a gripping and frequently harrowing account of the Red Army’s capture of the German capital in World War II’s final stages. Berlin: The Downfall 1945 was the Non-Fiction winner of the Folio Readers’ Choice 2017.
On finally reaching the Reich in January 1945, the Red Army had revenge on its mind. The ensuing story of rape, massacre and destruction is truly shocking. The reluctance of the Nazi chiefs to allow the evacuation of civilians resulted in the deaths, through extreme cold or execution, of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, with more than seven million fleeing to the west to escape the marauding Russian forces.
The confrontation between the hubris of an insane German Führer willing to sacrifice Berlin and all its inhabitants and the ruthless determination of Stalin to seize the city ahead of the Allies (no matter what the cost) represented the ultimate battle between two of the most powerful military leaders in all history. Its outcome would change the face of Europe for ever.
Beevor tells both of inhuman cruelty and of startling acts of kindness, generosity and compassion. His intricate and absorbing narrative describes mass atrocities committed by both sides; Stalin’s manipulation of his leading generals against each other; Hitler’s increasingly paranoid and delusional behaviour from the safety of his bunker; the 14-year-old boys sent on bicycles in suicide missions against Soviet tanks; the ferocious battle to capture the Reichstag; the horrors of Allied bombing raids; and the SS squads roaming Berlin hunting for deserters.
From the senior Allied, German and Russian commanders through the foot-soldiers of the Wehrmacht and the Red Army to the civilians caught up in the bloody swathe of destruction in continental Europe, Berlin reveals the conflict from the perspectives of all the parties involved.
Packed with riveting detail and anecdotes of the campaign and the everyday life of combatants and bystanders, the text features specially researched contemporary photographs ranging from the atmospheric and tragic, to the graphic and horrific. These include memorable depictions of Berliners digging anti-tank ditches around the city; a Russian T-34 tank approaching Berlin; and rows of bombing-raid casualties lining the streets.
There had never been any doubt in the minds of the Nazi leadership that the fight for Berlin would be the climax of the war. ‘The National Socialists,’ Goebbels had always insisted, ‘will either win together in Berlin or die together in Berlin.’
Continuing the series launched by Antony Beevor’s equally lauded Stalingrad, this Folio Society edition is housed in a pictorial slipcase depicting the Red Army raising their flag over Tempelhof airport. The book’s blocked binding shows a Russian soldier shooting from a Breslau balcony in 1945, while photographic endpapers feature the ruins of the Reichstag plus Soviet soldiers marching through Berlin.
Antony Beevor is the author of Crete: The Battle and the Resistance (which won the Runciman Prize); Stalingrad (the Samuel Johnson, Wolfson and Hawthornden Prizes); Berlin: The Downfall (Longman–History Today Trustees’ Award); The Battle for Spain (Premio La Vanguardia); D-Day (RUSI Westminster Medal, Prix Henry Malherbe); The Second World War; and, most recently, Ardennes 1944 (shortlist Prix Médicis) for which the Belgian government made him Commandeur de l’Ordre de la Couronne. He was made Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and received the Cross of the Order of Terra Mariana in Estonia. His work has been translated into thirty-two languages and has sold more than seven million copies. He has received the Pritzker Prize for lifetime achievement in military literature and the Medlicott Medal for services to history. A former chairman of the Society of Authors, he has received four honorary doctorates, is an honorary fellow of King’s College London and a visiting professor at the University of Kent. He was knighted in 2017.
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