STALINGRAD (Antony Beevor)

Children’s_Dance_fountain_in_Stalingrad,_23_August_1942“I admit I find Beevor a bit lightweight,” says Martin in the TV comedy Peep Show. “Yeah, he’s rubbish” Mark agrees, in shock. Martin continues: “he’s fine for an overview.” Mark can’t help himself now. “Yeah, I read him just for the overview. I get the detail elsewhere.” Many a word said in jest, but I didn’t expect these ones to be so true. You see, this author is an English public schoolboy. He was educated at Winchester and Sandhurst so he’s one of the Establishment. The doors of the publishing world are always open to his entitled kind. There will be no rebellious David Irving–type surprises here.

I assume that the likes of Antony Beevor already have literary deals waiting for them before they finish their privileged education. Complete with thirty translations at the ready to bliktzkrieg all the big retailers and libraries around the world. Because with his kind of education his books must be mass-produced for the working class masses to feast on. Mr Beevor’s parents didn’t waste all that money for him not to turn out a success. “I studied under John Keegan,” he can boast. “Really?” says Mr Publisher, breaking out the cigars and martinis as he speculates how much the first advance should be. “How fascinating.”

Moving on to the review…

This is a readable, simple and superficial book. Although this may seem like a criticism although the reality is that superficial books have their place for people who are first approaching a subject and don’t want to read a vast, technically written, tome. This book is a combination of some secondary sources plus a bit of primary research. But not much research! Makes you wonder what they actually do at Winchester. Or Sandhurst. Apart from having one John Keegan lying on top of them.

The author has indicated that the one thing that he has found which was not generally known was the very large number of Russians who were used as auxiliaries and helpers in the Stalingrad Campaign. Due to troop losses a number of these Russians appear to have become combat troops with the Sixth Army. Apart from that insight, the book summarizes longer works such as Ericsons “the Road to Stalingrad” and Glanz’s “When Titans Clash.” So you are not getting much originality here, partly because this battle has been so well documented.

battleThe author then gives the book a more human dimension by quoting a range of other sources about the minutia of the campaign. Soldiers letters, discussions between generals as things start to happen and the like. Other reviewers have spoken about the book’s readability, and all of that is true; the book is easy to read and for a person unfamiliar with the material it is no doubt an engrossing account of a dramatic event which was important in determining the outcome of the war. The faults of the book relate to its portrayal of the military aspects of the campaign. The author fails to pick up on a number of points.

The major one is that the Germans had no idea of the Soviet force levels and the number of reserves available. If they had been aware then the advance so far into Soviet territory and the splitting of the invading force into two were serious mistakes. The depth of the advance made the supply of the army at Stalingrad almost impossible. At the time of the encirclement the Sixth Army had very limited stocks of ammunition and petrol. Once the Sixth Army was encircled there was no way it could break out as it had no supplies. Its collapse would lead leave the Caucusus region open for the Red Army to steamroll through. The decision to stand was thus in reality the only rational one available.

StalingradThe author tends to accept the German Generals self-serving portrayal of themselves in their memoirs. That is that they opposed Hitler in this period. The reality is that the German Staff only started to have problems with the regime when defeat became closer. The failure of the Stalingrad operation was not because of Hitler’s interference in operational strategy, it was because of the flawed nature of the whole plan. None of the German General Staff opposed the operation at its inception. The author has also not read some other relevant material, such as Glantz’s “Zhukov’s Greatest Defeat” which described how at the same time that the Germans were being defeated in Stalingrad, the Russians were mounting another massive operation against Army Group Centre which was defeated. Despite these quibbles the book clearly is of interest to some and serves as a good introduction to an important event in the history of the last century.


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