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Hitler's Great Gamble: A New Look at German Strategy, Operation Barbarossa, and the Axis Defeat in World War II

Released September, 2019 from Stackpole Bools


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. Drawing on a wealth of primary and secondary sources (including many recently released), Hitler’s Great Gamble is a provocative work that will appeal to a wide cross-section of World War II buffs, enthusiasts, and historians.




This startlingly original account places one of the key episodes of World War II in an entirely new light. Deeply researched and briskly written, it contradicts the standard view that Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union was an act of military madness. Ellman's work reshapes our understanding of history--and shows how much remains to be learned about the 20th century's great cataclysm. (Stephen Kinzer, author of The True Flag and Poisoner in Chief)


The author challenges conventional wisdom with a bold, fresh interpretation of one of the watershed events of the twentieth century: Operation Barbarossa, Adolf Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. In a sweeping overview of events--based in part on official archival sources and recollections of key participants, Ellman argues that, far from being a catastrophic mistake, Hitler's decision to attack Russia was a 'logical gamble . . . that came extremely close to success.' The fast-paced narrative will give laypersons and historians alike much to contemplate. (Craig Luther, author of Barbarossa Unleashed and The First Day on the Eastern Front)


Both the Russian and Western worlds are built on a degree of propaganda rooted in their victory over Nazi Germany. Deconstructing that propaganda is neither easy nor comfortable as it challenges the very story we tell ourselves about ourselves. James Ellman does precisely that in his new book Hitler's Great Gamble in which he makes the deeply uncomfortable assertion that Hitler's assault upon the Soviet Union did not fail due to numbers or weather or ideology, but instead diplomacy. If Nazi Germany had simply nudged Japan and Finland a bit more, the USSR would have fallen and the world would've ended up much different from what we know. This is far from a historical footnote or an item limited to academic quibble. With the global order collapsing, a full and accurate reading of European history becomes critical. Ellman's work suggests we don't know our past as well as we think we do, and that triggers some seriously heavy thinking about the immediate future. (Peter Zeihan, author of The Absent Superpower and the upcoming Disunited Nations)