Titans Clashed” by Glantz & House

“When Titans Clashed” by David Glantz and Jonathan House is an excellent account of the Second World War from a Soviet perspective, focusing on the Soviet Union’s participation to the war through its main coordinates: the German attack on the Soviet Union, Soviet resistance in the winter of 1941 and the causes of why the German offensive was stalled before Leningrad and Moscow, as well as the Soviet counteroffensive, the successes of Kursk and Stalingrad and the eventual conquest of Berlin.

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The book is based on a wide array of documents from formerly classified Soviet archives, which definitely gives it a background perspective and initiates the reader into the mindset of Soviet strategy during the war. It also underlines the relations existing between the powers of the time, including between the Western allies and the Soviets and analyzes the degree to which this relation helped shape the final result of the war.

The book is scholarly and, in order to put things in a historical perspective, the analysis starts with the actual creation of the Red Army in 1918, during the Civil War in Russia that opposed the Bolsheviks to the White Armies. The first chapter focuses on the period from 1918 to 1939, essential in the creation of the Red Army. The authors also mention the purges in the Army during this period of time, something that arguably weakened the Red Army because of the losses it encountered in its officer corps. The first three chapters continue to analyze the political framework of the relations between Germany and the Soviet Union, including the pacts of 1939 and the partition of Poland with the start of the war. As the conflict between the two powers becomes more evident, the author gives an account of the two armies at the beginning of their standoff in 1941, just before the launch of Barbarossa.

Looking at the way the book is divided, it seems that the authors chose to split the action into three different parts, named as three period of the war. The first period covers the German offensives of 1941 and 1942. This is a period mostly of German victories, but, increasingly, also of a staunch Soviet resistance. After the initial tactical and strategic mistakes that led to the German offensive of 1941, the Soviet troops found the necessary resources, both human and financial, to reverse the trend and push the Germans back, sustaining great offensives around Stalingrad and Kursk.

The second part of the book refers exactly to these great Soviet offensives, with the Operation Uranus and the battle of Kursk as the two most relevant Soviet efforts that literally changed the course of the war. At the same time, the third chapter portrays the victorious Soviet army on its quest towards the conquest of Germany and Berlin.

The authors insist on several points of this campaign that they deem more important to the point they are trying to make, notably that the Soviet army was a strength in itself and successfully managed to defeat the enemy through its own forces and war effort. The chapter dealing with the Operation Bagration is quite relevant in this sense. It is also interesting to note, as an additional argument to what has been mentioned, that the last period from January 1944 to May 1945 is, in fact, the most extensively discussed, in over 100 pages, as compared to the other two mentioned periods (with the observation that the winter of 1943 is also covered, although not noted as such in the chapter’s title).

When debating the authors’ opinion of the events and facts covered in the book, a good place to start is the title of the book. The fact that this is a titanic clash is reflected in everything from the number of people that engaged in battle to the number of resources, both mechanical, human and financial that were used, and to the geographic area that the battle encompassed. Many of the battles in the war are still some of the largest in history in terms of the troops engaged: for example, the battle of Kursk remains the largest tank battle in the world.

It is also a titanic clash because of the strategists involved, but also the tacticians, the generals putting the plan in action on the battlefield. These are the best that Germany and the Soviet Union have at the same time and, while this is a known fact in most other history books for Germany, the authors of “When Titans Clashed” show better the importance of great generals for the final victory of Soviet Union as well. A new generation of generals, replacing the ones that had died in the purges of the 1930s, show their talents in all the battles of the Eastern front and, subsequently, in the conquest of Berlin. The general acceptance is that these generals could have had even greater success had they not been caught in a political game, where the Commander in Chief, Stalin, was always aware of potential successes that could impact his authority.

The general opinion that the authors seem to share and promote in the book seems to rely on the main idea that, while the Western allies’ helped tremendously in terms of supplying equipment and materials for the war and in opening another front in 1944, these elements were not the essential, key ones for the eventual victory of the Soviet forces and conquest of Berlin. In their opinion, this was a secondary factor to others such as the quality of the Soviet generals, the fighting skills of the soldiers, the overall, eventual strategic leadership of Stalin and other additional factors that made the Soviet Army a redoubtable one.

Following this main thesis, the authors present another tacit conclusion of the relations between the main allies of the war (Great Britain, United States and the Soviet Union): the idea that, while the Western allies did support the Soviet Union’s war effort, many of their actions, especially towards the end of the war, when Germany’s fate was already clear, were actually directed towards deterring Soviet advances and containing the dangers of an expansive Communist force in Europe.

In this sense, one can interpret in that sense the fact that the D-Day and the entire campaign on the Western Front was launched so late (after the Soviet’s victory in the East was no longer under question) and that the whole Western allied effort was directed towards covering as much land as possible, so as to limit the Soviet advance in the West. This is certainly a sustainable thesis, as is, however, the idea that the campaign was launched so late because the focus of the Western Allied war effort had been Northern Africa and, subsequently, Italy, as well as the fact that a campaign like the one in Normandy required a minute preparation.

In an objective book review, there are several things worth pointing out. First of all, this is an excellent boo in terms of the information being presented. Glantz makes a point of following his written information with additional graphic information, including maps, charts and tables that are great complements in the context. While military discussions may seem to be less interesting for those who are not experts in this domain, the authors of this book make a point of presenting the objective information in a way that it can be understood by someone who is not a military specialist as well.

All of this information along with the way that it is presented, is targeted towards the same overall goal: making sure that the reader understands both the importance of the Eastern front in the overall development of the war and that he or she understands why the Soviets eventually won the struggle in the East, including because, at the moment of victory, they had more and better resources than the Germans and a good momentum following all their victories of 1943 to 1945.

As a personal opinion, the reader may sometimes see the facts as being presented out of a much larger global and international context, as well as in an international relations framework. The Soviet Union won the struggle in the East also because of its coordination with the Western allies, including in terms of the supplying of equipment and materials that Great Britain and the United States provided. The numerous high-level conferences between the Allied leaders (Teheran, Yalta, Moscow, Casablanca etc.) showed that the coordination at this political level was, in fact, essential for the eventual success both in the East and the West.


1. Glantz, David; House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas. February 1998