History Read Along – Inferno: The World at War, Chapters 15-16

New chapter notes for our summer read-along through some World War II history. If you noticed the lack of Civil War posts on this blog on Monday, my apologies; I encountered some travel craziness (read: extreme weather delays) and couldn’t keep my eyes open by Sunday night to write.

The good news – I did get to have a good discussion about World War II history and that conflict’s historical interpretation with a historian during that trip.

Moving onward now into this new section, and just a reminder – rough language and war details in the book itself, so I’d recommended families and kids read the chapter notes and save the full text for a few years. 

Chapter 15 – The Bear Turns: Russia In 1943

  • By 1943, Russia out-built and out-recruited Germany, nearly guaranteeing the reclamation of their territory, but struggling leadership and untrained troops created massive casualties.
  • Along with the battlefield losses, famine continued to take its toll, wiping out entire villages.
  • Early in the year, Russians recaptured Kharkov and Kursk and approached the Dnieper River; however, in March the Germans counterattacked, taking Kharkov.
  • Desertion rates climbed and by early summer, over two thousands Soviets defected per month while the Germans also deserted in comparatively high numbers.
  • The Battle of Kursk pitted 1.3 million Russians against 900,000 Germans, eventually ending in a Russian victory, at the cost of a half-million casualties in 50 days of fighting.

Soviet machine gunners during the Battle of Kursk.

  • By the end of the years, the Germans had lost significant territory and strategic cities on the Eastern Front, along with heavy casualties which they could not replace.

Quote of the chapter: “So many families have lost their fathers, brothers, the very roofs over their heads. I have only been here a few days, but we have marched far through a devastate country. Everywhere lie unploughed and unsown flieds. Only chimneys and stone ruins  survive in the villages. We saw not a single man or beast. These villages are real deserts now. At night the whole western side of the sky is lit up, copper-red. It makes the soul rejoice to pass an undamaged village…” Yuri Ishpaikin, Soviet soldier (page 376)

Chapter 16: Divided Empires

  • Imperialism still dominated the ideology of Allied powers, especially Britain.
  • A few nations managed to stay officially neutral during the war, including Switzerland and Sweden.
  • Within the powerful countries, citizens of “enemy nationalities” were often detained, separated, or imprisoned.
  • Racial and ethnic conflict arose as Allied nations claimed to be fighting for freedom, yet still enforced segregation at home and in the military.
  • In the Allied oversees empires, some people in the colonial holdings favored supporting the “mother country,” other resented the conscription, supply drain, and lack of commodities caused by the war.

Approximately 2.5 million Indians fought for the Allies during World War II, recruited from the British colonial holding.

  • In India – still a British colony at the time – nationalists took the opportunity to advocate peacefully and violently for independence; what if a colonial holding didn’t want to be defended and didn’t want to support the ruling nations war?
  • Mahatma Ghandi insisted the British should leave India at that time, but the British responded with harsh or brutal measures to the nationalist movements.
  • Famine struck and tormented most of the major British colonies during the war.
  • Thousands of people around the war had no love for the Axis but did not agree with the Allies either, seeking their own independence and taking the opportunity of the conflict to organize national movements.

Quote of the chapter: “It [is] obvious that the average man in India is so full of bitterness against the British that he would welcome any attack on them.” Jawaharlal Nehru, nationalist leader in India. (page 403)


I’m continuing to see the importance of the European Eastern Front during World War II and am surprised at how little I’ve known about that part of the conflict.

I thought the chapter about the dissent within Allied countries and empires was powerful. How some people were pulled into a conflict with little choice and how they attempted to escape by working for their own independence. Really interesting facts to think about.

Your Opinion

What was interesting to you? What are you finding surprising? What do you want to read more about? Let’s chat in the comments.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Read Chapters 17-18 to get ready for next week…

2 thoughts on “History Read Along – Inferno: The World at War, Chapters 15-16

  1. I am in agreement–the Eastern Front is certainly where the action is. I was unaware of how divided the Allied efforts were. Apparently, America was far more interested in some payback for Pearl Harbor than any stuff in Africa, Italy, or France. I had no idea how that was handled. I also am surprised by the author’s assessment of Allied generalship. I guess we did not field our A-Team. Building a military for a war takes a while–Germany had an army when they started. Everyone else was sort of caught unprepared.

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