Why do we often have a fascination for the grisly facts of warfare? Is it because our behaviour in war reveals something about the truth of human nature? We find elements of the highest courage, heroism, self-sacrifice and utter brutality, cruelty, sadism, destructiveness. The outline of these features seem to stand out so much more starkly in warfare.  As I child I had received a subscription to one of those weekly journals with grainy black and white photos which built up into a multi-part binder set. It was Purnell’s History of the Second World War ( and’s_History_of_the_Second_World_War). The scale and horror of the events described seemed so incomprehensively distant from the peace and security of my little island in the English Channel in the 1960s. Ironically, as I discovered after only a few weeks of reading – The Channel Isles were in fact the only part of UK territory to be invaded by the Germans. They had only left 25 years previously in May 1945. Later, when I was 12 or so, and my parents thought I could stomach it, they took me to ‘The German Underground Hospital’ ( This is a complex of tunnels dug into one of the only hills that Jersey possesses. It was intended as a defensive location and then, from 1943, for the treatment and recuperation of the German officer corps and was dug out by hand using slave labour from Eastern Europe. It is now a full scale tourist attraction and as such has been ‘rebranded’ The Jersey War Tunnels ( At any rate, in the whole apocalyptic story it was the denouement in Berlin which captivated me most. What was this city – heart of an ‘evil’ empire? What awesome power and mystical allure had transformed it into a potential world capital? Who were the men who dreamt of being ‘Gods’, even if that meant the systematic destruction of entire other races? It was all a bit perplexing when one’s most strenuous obligation was to feed the family Golden Retriever and walk her upon the beach. Antony Beevor ( has tackled all these questions with an heroic endeavour equal to the scale of the events in Berlin: The Downfall 1945.

The advance on Berlin – which was to be the largest battle ( in history (unless you count the advance on Moscow by the Wehrmacht 4 years earlier) – began at exactly 4am on 16 April, 1945. Along the Oder Neisse front, two and a half million Soviet troops attacked one million Germans. The panic induced in the German civilian population is easy to imagine. Hitler had sworn that Germany would never be invaded, yet now overwhelming Soviet armies were advancing on Berlin. The utterly deranged Hitler, ensconced deep in his concrete bunker, could only scream at his military staff. Denouncing the cowardice of the Wehrmacht, he had become convinced that Germany’s defeat proved that its people were not worthy of him – that they deserved to die. This book reconstitutes the experience of those millions caught up in the nightmare crescendo of the Third Reich’s final defeat – a story encompassing the realities of those who suffered to the end from folly, cruelty and the exercise of naked power. Beevor reveals the battle for Berlin as a terrifying example of fire and sword, pillage, hundreds of thousands of German females from 8 to 80 savagely raped (, and outright bloody murder. Do we live in a world where nothing like this could ever happen again? You’ve got 528 pages to decide.


Today Berlin is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe! ( Its shopping, architecture, museums, culture, parks and entertainments are second only to London. It’s staggering to think this has been achieved in only 60 years since the place was a completely shattered ruin with wolves wandering in the snow chewing on corpses. Mutantur omnia.


For a cinematic introduction to the events (the ‘twilight of the Gods’) showing immaculately researched period detail watch Downfall (Der Untergang,, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel in 2004. It stars Bruno Ganz as Hitler. Not for the faint hearted, it mostly depicts Hitler’s psychological disintegration in the bunker.


Available on DVD at

528 pages in Penguin paperback edition

ISBN 978-0141032399


Antony Beevor

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