July 12, 2015 § 2 Comments
Justifiably heroic but not criminally homicidal.
Such was Stalin’s justification for deciding upon seven and a half million as the official number of Soviet casualties, knowing full well that they were in excess of twenty million. With four out of five Germans dying on the Eastern Front the outcome of the war was decided in the east. Having suffered enormous casualties in the summer of ’41, largely due to Stalin’s incompetence and his fear of antagonizing Hitler by massing his forces to the west despite numerous reports of an impending attack, the battle for Stalingrad swung the war in favour of the Russians. With Hitler’s mind bent upon capturing the city that bore Stalin’s name, and the Marshal of the Soviet Union decreeing that it must be “held at all costs”, the despots locked horns.
Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad is an amalgam of the military campaigns that took place between the Don and the Volga; how this affected; and what it meant to the men on the ground. Beevor draws upon a multitude of sources from journals and letters, to official reports sent back to HQ.
The book opens in Berlin on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, and the frantic diplomatic attempts by the Russians to clarify the troop build-up along their borders. With the German forces being divided into three army groups: North, Centre, and South the invasion of Russia was launched on 22nd June 1941. Such was the extent of German hubris that they believed that the “rotten edifice of Russia” would come crumbling down in four weeks. As a result no winter clothing was issued. As Field Marshal von Rundstedt wrote to his wife weeks into the operation: “the vastness of Russia devours us.” The optimism was slowly beginning to give way to unease.
Hitler believed that having a mechanized army at his disposal would allow him to advance farther than Napoleon, and yet the Corsican actually reached Moscow. The repulsion of the Wehrmacht attack on Moscow definitely boosted the morale of the Russians, but it was the fighting for Stalingrad that proved that the mighty German army could be defeated.
The trend in history books of late seems to be a narrative of military campaigns, and all the technical details, interwoven with personal accounts of the fighting, ideally from both sides. Stalingrad by Antony Beevor falls into this category, and does an excellent job of depicting the battle from both angles.