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Red Army chief of staff Vasilevsky called August 23, 1942, when the Germans reached the Volga, “an unforgettably tragic day.” The Russians had never been able to stop a good-weather German offensive, ...
Red Army chief of staff Vasilevsky called August 23, 1942, when the Germans reached the Volga, “an unforgettably tragic day.” The Russians had never been able to stop a good-weather German offensive, and it appeared that Stalin’s namesake city would be lost. Indeed, Soviet armies on all sides were falling back before Hitler’s summer offensive, and only one, the 62nd Army, was assigned to hold out in the city to defy the Wehrmacht. Who could have guessed that this sole force, surrounded on three sides, the river at its back, hiding out in ruins, would create such a bleeding sore that the Wehrmacht was never to recover?
Combining eyewitness testimony of Red Army fighters with fresh archive material, this book gives dramatic insight into the thinking of Soviet commanders and the desperate mood of ordinary soldiers. Col-General Anatoly Mereshko, a staff officer to 62nd Army commander Chuikov, worked closely with the author and provided testimony that is entirely new. His accounts of the battle are supported by other key veterans and recently released war diaries and combat journals.
For three months in Fall 1942 the Germans held a preponderance of force in Stalingrad as they tried to root out the diehards of 62nd Army. The latter force was nearly annihilated on several occasions, as guns from across the river failed to stem the German attacks and the Luftwaffe plunged into the chaos, bombing at will. The Russians could only respond by going underground, in caves near the river and in the labrynthine ruins of the city itself. Yet, as the rest of the Motherland held its breath, the small, surrounded force—motivated by inspirational leadership as well as a grave sense of the battle’s vital importance—continued to deny the Nazis a victory.
As we now know, Stalin was not idle while the courageous remnants of 62nd Army continued to defend his city. On November 19 and 21, new Soviet armies in overwhelming strength counterattacked across the Volga, turning the tables on the Germans to begin one of the most pitiful sagas in Western history.
The more famous siege of the Germans, concluding on February 2, 1943, has dominated the literature of Stalingrad. This book reminds us that the greater time-line of the battle consisted of the Russians besieged, and just barely holding on.
“Of all the books written about Stalingrad, there have not been many like this one. . . . Michael Jones probes the minds of men at the edge of the abyss, digging into the psychological factors that allowed them to withstand hopeless odds and untold horrors, and still emerge victorious.”
—STONE & STONE
"...a very valuable piece of work that helps to reveal a more accurate view of the fighting on the Eastern Front"
History of War
“…outstanding new book…important for two reasons: it provides a previously too-often ignored Soviet point of view of t he battle; and the compelling eyewitness testimonies of the Red Army Veterans who fought it cuts through much of the Communist era mythmaking about how the battle actually unfolded…compelling reading…”
“…a compelling Military history and analysis that lives up to its title…one of a kind testimony grounded in the words of the people who witnessed history itself.”
The Wisconsin Book Watch 12/2007
“Although the epic quality of the battle has attracted many historians…, Jones' contribution is special for two reasons. First, he seems to have been able to dig deeper into the Soviet archives than previous authors, and he got some extraordinary testimony from survivors. Second, he addresses the core question of just what it was that motivated these men to keep on fighting, given the low probability of survival and the terrible conditions. The order to hold every position until death was well known, but Jones demolishes the notion that the soldiers fought solely under duress. …compelling and moving.”
Foreign Affairs, March/ April 2008
"... compelling, draws us into a vivid, illuminating account of how much of a "near run thing" the legendary Red Army victory was..."
World War II Magazine, 04/2008
Michael K. Jones, an experienced writer on battles, has written a fine account of Stalingrad, the battle that saved the world. It is based on eyewitness testimony, interviews with veterans of the battle, and the 62nd Army's war diary and combat journals.
Stalin's directive number 227, issued on 28 July 1942, said, "Every commander, soldier and political worker must understand that our resources are not unlimited . To retreat further would mean the ruin of our country and ourselves. Every new scrap of territory we lose will significantly strengthen the enemy and severely weaken our defence of our Motherland. . Not a Step Back! This must now be our chief slogan. We must defend to the last drop every position, every metre of Soviet territory, to cling to every shred of Soviet earth and defend it to the utmost."
Lieutenant Anatoly Mereshko, a key member of 62nd Army's HQ staff, said, "Order 227 played a vital part in the battle. It opened the eyes of the army and the people, and showed them the truth of the situation facing the country. It led to the famous slogan at Stalingrad: 'There is no land for us beyond the Volga.' We were no longer just fighting for a city. It inspired us to fight for every metre of ground, every bush and river, each little piece of land. Order 227 brought an incredible ferocity to our defence of Stalingrad."
Machine gunner Mikhail Kalinykov said, "To be honest with you, there was considerable uncertainty about the fate of the city - whether we could hold it or not. And yet, after Order 227, we felt that we had to hold out at Stalingrad regardless of that uncertainty - somehow, we had to make our stand there. You see, the soil was now precious to us, and we had to defend every metre of it. It was our promise to the Motherland."
As against Anthony Beevor's vicious lies (in his book Stalingrad) about 62nd Army's commander, Lieutenant-General Vasily Chuikov, Jones shows the qualities of Chuikov's leadership - his toughness in command, his distrust of blueprints, his democratic method of work, his trust in the ordinary soldier, his listening to his soldiers, his leadership by example, his courage (his HQ was always in or near the frontline), his decisiveness, his clear and direct orders, his high demands on both himself and his soldiers, and his ability to motivate his troops. Interestingly, Jones claims that on 14 October 1942 Khrushchev briefly sacked Chuikov. Stalin reinstated him at once.
The Nazi lie was that the Soviet Union won only because of its greater numbers of men and munitions. At Stalingrad the opposite was the case. The Red Army was hugely outnumbered and outgunned and the Nazis also had total command of the air. Yet the Nazis lost - because the Red Army had a better strategy, better tactics (especially in street-fighting) and higher morale.
Posted May 8, 2010
No text was provided for this review.