Saturday, June 9, 2007

Stalingrad by Michael K. Jones

I've been anticipating this book for a few months now. I am in touch with a few authors who told me about the upcoming publishing of it and the fact that both helped Jones prepare it made me aware that this would be something worth looking into. I was not disappointed. It still amazes me that almost two decades after the Soviet Union has disappeared myths, half truths, and events taken out of context still exist regarding the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the most famous and widely written about events of the Second World War.

While most would look to Beevor's "Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege" as a guide to the battle, I would tell them to not waste their time. Jones, constantly, proves how Beevor has misinterpreted the history of the battle in one way or another or rather propagated already established myths. Beevor likes to claim he works in the archives, perhaps he does, in fact I'm sure he does, but how does Jones find so much more than Beevor? I would also point out that Craig's "Enemy At the Gates", written decades before Beevor's work, includes everything that Beevor's work does and then some.  It is, overall, a better book and a better starting point for those interested in the battle of Stalingrad.

I'm sure some of you are wondering what myths will be ripped apart within the pages of this new addition to the literature on Stalingrad. The first which stuck in my mind was the fact that Pavlov's House was not in fact known as such nor did Pavlov play as major a role as has been ascribed to him. Rather there were officers who were in charge, Pavlov was an NCO, and the garrison, which regularly is listed as having 24 men, numbered at times over 100. For propaganda purposes 24 seemed to make a point that these men while grossly outnumbered still stood their ground and defended this structure for 58 days against endless German counterattacks! Interestingly enough Beevor then mistakes what happened to Pavlov after the battle, claiming he became a monk, in fact Pavlov died a Communist and Beevor confused him with another Pavlov who also participated in the Stalingrad battle, sloppy research? Perhaps.

Another claim made by Beevor was that 13,500 soldiers were executed during the Stalingrad battle. Sadly, he gives no real source for this. In fact the Stalingrad front was made up of more than one army, the 62nd being the main army holed up in Stalingrad. In September the NKVD blocking detachments detained more than 1,218 men who were retreating from the field of battle, 21 were executed, 10 arrested, and the rest went back military units in the front. I can only wonder where that number of 13,500 came from. When the 62nd Army was struggling for its life, a division worth of men would not simply be killed off.

It was interesting to discover that Zaitsev, the famed Stalingrad sniper, was not the initiator of the sniper movement so many speak of today (Beevor among them). Rather it was he himself who was taught by another sniper who was the real initiator of the movement. This sniper and his story have been changed to accommodate the version that was created about Zaitsev, all of this is recounted in this book. Along with many other propaganda driven stories which elevated from the ruins of this city and have persisted in publications regarding Stalingrad to this day.

What this book does that no other comes close to is to describe the psychological relationship that the commanding officers, and not Lieutenants and Captains (although them as well), had with their men. Colonels and generals listened to the lowest private regarding his ideas about how to best fight the Germans and they incorporated those ideas with their own. At times it was almost a democratic process! Officers also held the line with their men and it was their courage and bravery that proved an inspiration for those they were leading time and time again. It started with Chuikov and Rodimtsev, the commanders of the 62nd Army and the 13th Guards Rifle Division, respectively. They were formidable adversaries for Paulus and the German 6th Army. It would continue with a multitude of other divisional commanders that would successively cross the Volga and be thrown into fierce bloody battles that held off the Germans for that small amount of time which was needed to keep them pinned down and let Zhukov and Vasilevsky accumulate forces on the flanks of the German 6th Army who in turn would eventually encircle it. These commanders included: Gorishny, Batyuk, Guriev, Smekhotvorov, Zholudev, Gurtiev, Lyudnikov, and Sokolov. These men kept their headquarters less than a kilometer from the enemy positions and took part in fighting with their men from time to time. No one was safe, and some of these commanders would be wounded in battle or buried alive as mortars and artillery zeroed in to their positions. This goes in the face of all those authors who think that the Red Army was a mass of heroic illiterates who could only throw themselves at the enemy without any initiative due to Stalin's purges of the Red Army and the atmosphere that prevailed in that time. Stalingrad surpassed that and showed the Red Army for what it was capable of being, both its commanders and privates.

All in all a gripping account, one that needed to be told, and mainly through accounts of the veterans themselves. Their struggle, their passion, courage, perseverance, and endurance. This combined with an excellent leadership ability on the part of their commanders and their opponents ineptness for street fighting, hand to hand combat, and night battles (not to speak of the mistakes made by Hitler and Paulus throughout the battle), gave rise to a catastrophe the likes of which Germany had never experienced before. A must read, a big thanks to the author for his hard work and dedication to this project!


Golikov said...

Your analysis seems rather good, actually I'm searching the most accurate info about Stalingrad events, and I think I'll buy that book as soon as possible.
I have three questions, if you please, as you seem to have studied a lot on this subject.
- Why so few Russian authors within your reviews ?
- What do you think is the best book bout Stalingrad campaign : this one or yet another ?
- What about novels written by veterans, such as Nekrassov, for example ?
I'd greatly like to know your mind on these.

One more thing : in a forum you spoke about Shtrafbat, which I agree is also excellent material a very good movie. But what do you think about Kursanty, which for me is at least as good as the other (maybe not so in accuracy that in roleplay, though) ?

T. Kunikov said...

Glad you liked the review and I do recommend you buy the book if you'd like some well known myths dispelled. I have few Russian authors because this blog caters, as you can tell, to the American/English public. The best book on Stalingrad thus far is this book and what Jason D. Mark has put out via his publishing house "The Leaping Horseman", I've helped him with his latest book so I can attest to the fact that he uses archival sources, etc. Soon David M. Glantz will come out with a two volume set on Stalingrad which will also dispel a lot of myths, how soon that will happen, I cannot say. Novels...a good question, I think you'd enjoy Vassily Grossman if you're interested in Stalingrad, he was there and I think his work is one of the best in regards to WWII in general, specifically I'm talking about "Life and Fate."

Which forum do you mean? Shtrafbat is pretty inaccurate, if I said something to the contrary I'd like to correct that right now :). Kursanty was interesting, I enjoyed it but cannot comment on its accuracy as it was so long ago and nothing sticks out in my mind.

golikov said...

Thank you for your advice.
Never mind about the forum, I should have been mistaken.
I'm very glad indeed to find at last a serious critic on the subject. The fact is I collected a certain amount of info on Stalingrad here and there, read some books, such as Eremenko's or Beevor's, and as I deemed (and your analysis confirms) they may be not wholly accurate in some aspects.
It's hard to know, for an amateur like me, wether a figure given by the author is close to the reality. One can only guess (and I did, at least tried to :) from the manner in the writing if there is indeed concrete facts behind, or if the affirmation is more questionnable, and must be taken with more caution than its authors purposes.
There is nothing more annoying than finding different (sometimes in a rather great scale) facts and figures in each material you come across. And you just contributed to help finding the right way. I already considered reading Grossman, now I'll double speed!

T. Kunikov said...

There are a few forums you can visit which have quite a few Russian members who are also quite knowledgeable about this subject. Here are two:
I am a member of both, under the pseudonym, "Kunikov." Grossman is excellent, and so is Simonov if you're interested.

Anonymous said...

Can you advise German authors similar to Michael K Jones or simply the ones you recommend as authors and historians on WWII, Stalingrad in particular?

T. Kunikov said...

There aren't too many authors like Michael K. Jones, sadly. David M. Glantz is coming out with a new book on Stalingrad in April of 2009, if you're interested. A lot of new information will be found there, it will be the first volume of a trilogy. You might also try William Craig's "Enemy at the Gates," for another good volume on Stalingrad.

joe mack said...

Excellent review!

I recently read this book and was very impressed. I didn't realize how close the Germans had come to winning. I thought they had blown their chance earlier in the battle.

Also didn't know the Turks were reconnoitering the border and ready to enter the war with a German victory.

Growing up in the cold war I was also surprised to hear how democratic the Russians made decisions.

Do you know of any books from the German perspective?


joe mack said...

Excellent review

I recently read this book and had no idea how close the Germans had come to winning. I thought they had blown their chance earlier.

Also didn't know that the Turks were reconnoitering across the border and ready to enter the war with a German victory.

Growing up in the cold war I was surprised to learn how democratic the Russians were in making decisions.

Can you recommend any books from the German perspective?


T. Kunikov said...

For the German point of view of the battle, if that's what you mean, you might want to take a look at some Leaping Horseman publications. You can check them out here: