REVIEW: The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 (2021)

A book by by Colin Turbett

Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Continuing my late winter history book dive, I’ve decided to get into a topic I know a bit about, but from an entirely different perspective than what I’ve come accustomed to. Being from the American school system, we all know that the USSR were part of the Allied Forces in WWII, however, there was always an explicit attempt by textbook writers to downplay their involvement and champion US-Centric takes on the war. It’s a shame since Russia carried that war largely on its own shoulders. I enjoy books by Pen and Sword because they are generally VERY in depth on a specific topic, and challenge y comfort zone on what I think I know; The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 is one such book.

This book can be seen, in some ways, as an analysis of the Communist Party of Great Britain – going from Nazi Sympathizers early on, due to Hitler’s initial alliance with the USSR, to being “neutral” seeing the war as a Capitalist charade, to finally being pro war, and seeing the war as a fight against Fascism. This secondary narrative is illustrated masterfully by the authors descriptions, and examples of official party literature in his own collection. Its not unheard of to see politics change at such a whiplash pace, but we always see COMMUNISM through the eyes of decades of State-led propaganda, even today. Its interesting to see just how fluid it was.

While the Anglo-Soviet Alliance was mostly born out of necessity, with both sides not being 100 percent on board at any given time, it was a testament of what good can come from a pragmatic alliance during wartime. Whether it be the UKs sandbagging and delay at opening a second front to pull pressure out of Belarus and Ukraine, or Stalin committing a political Genocide in Poland and covering it up, only to be found out then flat out lying about it, neither the USSR or UK were “the good guys” in many ways. neither side trusted each other politically, but all accounts from soldier level are that everyone got along for the most part. It’s a shame to see how everything ultimately fell apart, and in many ways we aligned ourselves with Fascists far too easily with fears of making everyday Germans too mad at us. This is a common thing that still happens today that always upsets me – being tolerant of intolerance ultimately leads to intolerance, but I digress. Who knows where we’d be without the Cold War, good or bad.

Colin Turbett did a excellent job with this book, his insight and items from his personal collection regarding the CPGB and its relationship to wartime politics, was very interesting and paints of vivid picture of this period both internationally and domestically in the UK. I was most taken aback by the general feeling that Russia was this unsung hero of the war (until deemed otherwise), being the focal point of fundraising drives, and pro-USSR charity events. This was very thought provoking, and runs counter to my notions of where Russia sat within the media at the time. Perhaps people were willing to look the other way to a maniacal monster like Stalin, much like how we do now with many of our “allies”, but the whole thing comes across as if the UK somewhat used the USSR and perhaps they used the UK.

Another solid offering from Pen and Sword, highly recommended.

Omon Ra (1998)

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I’m fascinated by the concept, albeit pretty much firmly in the realm of fantasy, of lost cosmonauts. The idea that the USSR was so obsessed with besting America in the space race that they would stop at absolutely nothing to do so is interesting and horrifying at the same time. In a way, this is a sarcastic book about that very subject as well as a criticism of blind nationalism and the concept of “national heroes”.

One of the more outlandish things in the book takes place when the main character, Omon, enlists in a flight school only to discover that they do not create any pilots, but push their students through a series of grueling ordeals (like forced foot amputations) in order to turn them into national heroes. He thankfully escapes this fate and goes to cosmonaut training which is even more disturbing. I did a bit of research and (according to Wikipedia) this whole thing is a reference to a famous Soviet ace-pilot Alexey Maresyev, “who despite being badly injured in a plane crash after a dogfight, managed to return to the Soviet-controlled territory on his own. During his 18-day-long journey, his injuries deteriorated so badly that both of his legs had to be amputated below the knee.” In the World of Omon Ra, this is seen as the quickest way to create national heroes.

This book reminds me of Doctor Strangelove in many ways – it’s very surrealist, a dark comedy, and very acerbic towards the failings of the USSR. This book is not for everyone, but if you have an interest in history, dark comedy, or the space race this might be a fun read, and at only 150 pages or so, it’s a quick one. Perhaps my only big quibble with the book, and with many translated books, is that the writing is very simplistic, meaning that much of the nuance of the original book was probably lost in translation. I will definitely have to find more books by Victor Pelevin in the future.


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