This new history of Stalingrad offers a radical reinterpretation of the most crucial battle in World War II. Focusing on the first half of this epic clash, it reveals new information on how nearly the Germans succeeded, and the incredible courage of the Soviet fighters who held on.
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.
“…a very valuable piece of work that helps to reveal a more accurate view of the fighting on the Eastern Front.”
HISTORY OF WAR, 2010-04-22
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