Book: Stalingrad by Antony Beevor

Brilliant book on a horrifying episode of military history

Antony Beevor
Penguin, 1998
ISBN: 0 14 028458 3
431 pages (main text)

Before reading Stalingrad by Antony Beevor, i knew that the events there during 1942 and 1943 were horrible. But I did not know how horrible. This is a brilliant book of military history and will be of interest to anyone interested in the eastern European theater of the second world war. But it should probably be read only by people with strong stomachs.

In 1939, Stalingrad (now Volgograd) was in industrial city on the Volga river with a population of a little less than half a million. Between July 1942 and February 1943, about a million and a half people died in the battle for the city. That's horrifying enough. The details make it much worse.

Mr Beevor begins the book with a brief account of the advance to the east of three large German army groups that began late June 1941 and was code-named Operation Barbarossa. The German armies made large gains, but Soviet resistance, long supply lines, and winter weather eventually brought them to a halt, in one case within sight of the Kremlin. The German armies were ordered to hold their ground during the winter, which they did, suffering considerable losses from exposure.

Come the spring of 1942, German advances began again and the German 6th Army was ordered to take Stalingrad as part of the plan to strike south and capture the oilfields of the Caucasus mountains. By the end of August, the Germans had besieged the city and the German Luftwaffe reduced the city to rubble. Even so, Soviet resistance within the ruined city was fierce and desperate. Once again, the weather turned bad before the Germans could secure a victory. In November the Soviet army, better able to operate in the winter, began Operation Uranus and succeeded in encircling the besiegers. Cut off from supplies and reinforcements and unable to be resupplied by air, the German 6th Army was eventually destroyed. The cost in death and suffering on both sides is staggering.

That pretty trivial account probably sounds worse than the bare numbers above. I assure you that, as the details accumulate, the story gets worse.

As in his later book D-Day, Mr Beevor maintains a thoroughly readable, even dramatic, historical narrative and at the same time provides an astonishing wealth of detail. The narrative never gets lost or bogged down (indeed, it reads like the next thing over from a page-turner) and the detail never feels tacked on. That's a considerable accomplishment and I am eager to read Mr Beevor's other books.

Posted: Sat - March 27, 2010 at 07:03 PM   Main   Category: