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Chatting Up A Storm - Claudia Cragg


Nov 11, 2010

Professor Antony Beevor speaks here with Claudia Cragg about his latest book 'D Day, The Battle for Normandy'.   The Normandy Landings that took place on D-Day involved by far the largest invasion fleet ever known. The scale of the undertaking was simply awesome. What followed them was some of the most cunning and ferocious fighting of the war, at times as savage as anything seen on the Eastern Front. As casualties mounted, so too did the tensions between the principal commanders on both sides. Meanwhile, French civilians caught in the middle of these battlefields or under Allied bombing endured terrible suffering. The most vivid and well-researched account yet of the battle of Normandy. As with Stalingrad and Berlin, Antony Beevor's gripping narrative conveys the true experience of war.

His best known works prior to this include the best-selling Stalingrad and Berlin - The Downfall 1945 and recount the World War II battles between the Soviet Union and Germany. They have been praised for their vivid, compelling style, their treatment of the ordinary lives of combatants and civilians and the use of newly disclosed documents from Soviet archives.Beevor's works have been used as sources and credited as such in many recent documentary films about World War II. Another one of his best known works is Crete: The Battle and the Resistance for which he won the Runciman Prize, administered by the Anglo-Hellenic League for stimulating interest in Greek history and culture.

Beevor is a visiting professor at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck, University of London. He is descended from a long line of women writers, being a son of "Kinta" Beevor (born Carinthia Jane Waterfield, 22 December 1911 – 29 August 1995), herself the daughter of Lina Waterfield, and a descendant of Lucie Duff-Gordon (author of a travelogue on Egypt). Kinta Beevor wrote A Tuscan Childhood. Antony Beevor is married to Hon. Artemis Cooper, daughter of Duff Cooper, granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper. He was educated at Winchester College and Sandhurst. He studied under the famous military historian John Keegan. Beevor is a former officer with the 11th Hussars who served in England and Germany for five years before resigning his commission. He has published several popular histories on World War II and the 20th century in general.

Professor Beevor has encountered criticism on his work in Russia. The Russian ambassador to the UK denounced the book as "lies" and "slander against the people who saved the world from Nazism". O.A. Rzheshevsky, a professor and President of the Russian Association of World War II Historians, has charged that Beevor is merely resurrecting the discredited and racist views of Neo-Nazi historians, who depicted Soviet troops as subhuman "Asiatic hordes"In an interview with BBC News Online, Rzheshevsky admitted that he had only read excerpts from Berlin: The Downfall 1945 and had not seen the book's source notes. He claimed that Beevor's use of phrases such as "Berliners remember" and "the experiences of the raped German women" were better suited "for pulp fiction, than scientific research." Rzheshevsky also defended Soviet reprisals against Germans, stating that the Germans could have expected an "avalanche of revenge".

Beevor responded to Russian criticism on his book Berlin: The Downfall 1945.  This criticism centres on the book's discussion of atrocities committed by the Red Army against German civilians – in particular, the extremely widespread rape of German women and female Russian forced labourers, both before and after the end of the war. Beevor stated however that German women were part of a society that supported Hitler and thus can't be seen as victims in the same way than Jews, Poles and Russians.

Beevor, though, stated that he was accused by the Russian media of being the "chief slanderer of the Red Army" for describing repeated and relentless rape by the Red Army of young women taken from the Soviet Union by the Nazis for slave labor. Beevor states that he used excerpts from the report of General Tsigankov, the chief of the political department of the 1st Ukrainian Front, to cite the incident. He responded to Rzheshevsky by saying, "Professor O.A. Rzheshevsky even accused me of repeating Nazi propaganda, when in fact the bulk of the evidence on the subject came from Soviet sources, especially the NKVD reports in GARF (State Archive of the Russian Federation), and a wide range of reliable personal accounts." Beevor hopes Russian historians will take a more objective approach to material in their own archives which are at odds to the heroic myth of the Red Army as "liberators" in 1945.

"Other historians such as Richard Overy, (see here also an interview with Richard Overy on his latest book) a historian from King's College London, have criticised Russian "outrage" at the book and defended Beevor. Overy accused the Russians of refusing to acknowledge Soviet war crimes, "Partly this is because they felt that much of it was justified vengeance against an enemy who committed much worse, and partly it was because they were writing the victors' history.