E. R. Hooton, Stalin’s Claws: From the Purges to the Winter War, Red Army Operations before Barbarossa 1937-1941.

  • Declan O'Reilly University of East Anglia


E. R. Hooton is a defence journalist who has written respected books on the
Luftwaffe, the Spitfire and also the 1914-18 air war on the western front and despite
its rather lurid title Stalin’s Claws is a valuable addition to Red Army studies, the
history of Stalinism and Russia’s contribution to World War Two in general. Its focus
is the evolution of Red Army operations between the catastrophic self-wound of
Stalin’s military purge in 1937 and the German invasion of Soviet Russia in June 1941.
A key theme of the book is the enduring atmosphere of fear engendered by Stalin’s
purges, which run like a bloody thread throughout the work. These did not begin and
end with the Ezhovchina (named after Nikoli Yezhov, the diminutive and murderous
Peoples Commissar for Internal Affairs) but continued right up until 1942 when
senior generals were still being executed, this time for incompetence and cowardice,
rather than political unreliability. The author spares few details of how ghastly and
brutal the whole bloody business was; he has a particularly gruesome description of
Beria, Stalin’s notorious security chief, personally torturing Blyukher (one of the first
five Marshals of the Soviet Union) to death. Never was the precariousness of Russia’s
service state more aptly demonstrated.

Book Reviews