Summary: a brief but clear and gripping account of one of the pivotal battles of European history
This is a fine, concise account of the war between the Soviet Union and Poland in 1920 and particularly the climatic battle of Warsaw. The book focuses primarily on Józef Pilsudski, the Polish head of state who commanded Polish forces in the war and was architect of the victory, conceiving of a manoeuvre, highly reminiscent of Hannibal’s tactics at Cannae, that led to the Soviet rout. However the author also recognizes the pivotal role played by General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Poland’s Second World War leader until his assassination by the Soviets (probably by the British traitor Guy Burgess using the agency of MI6), in the defeat of the Red Army on the Vistula.
Zamoyski argues that Stalin, who was part of the Soviet Army devastated by the Poles in 1920, developed a pathological hatred of the Poles as a result of this that culminated in his massacre of Polish prisoners of war in Katyn. Interestingly this is the motive that Putin also ascribed to Stalin when he finally publicly acknowledged Soviet responsibility for the Katyn atrocity. Hence the book reads, ultimately, as a prologue to an even greater tragedy, when many of the actors in this drama were cruelly murdered and Poland itself dismembered by the Nazi-Soviet alliance.
In spite of that this is a gripping work on a pivotal and ill remembered aspect of history.