Monday, April 18, 2016

With Paulus at Stalingrad by Wilhelm Adam and Otto Ruhle

This text by Wilhelm Adam is a bit of a mixed bag.  There is no doubt it was written with a bias that precluded any real "honest" commentary on what the author thought of the Red Army, Soviet leadership, or the Soviet Union in general.  Criticisms that are to be found are rather tame and platitudes toward both the Soviet state and people come in waves toward the end.  Similarly it becomes readily evident that Adam's thoughts on Paulus are that of an admirer, which means criticisms (where they are evident) are also somewhat mild.  But simultaneously, we in the West have few histories of Stalingrad from inside of the Sixth Army's command staff, which makes this text in some ways still a useful look at the Sixth Army's march toward Stalingrad, the ensuing fighting for the city and their eventual surrender.

The actual fighting for the city receives less attention than I thought it would, but since Adam is constantly at Paulus's side and he's at Sixth Army headquarters, or the headquarters of corps/divisions, that's partly understandable.  The real interesting commentary here is more so about the Sixth Army's initial attempts to deal with the Soviet Kharkov offensive in the spring of 1942 and the actions of Paulus after the Sixth Army is surrounded in Stalingrad.  Here we see that initially the German lunge toward Stalingrad was not a sure thing, nor was the Soviet defeat around Kharkov a foregone conclusion.  There were numerous issues that the Wehrmacht in general had to deal with in order to achieve a victory against Timoshenko's forces and there is reason to believe a victory might have been achievable by the Red Army if proper reconnaissance, better command and control, and more forces were allocated to the offensive.  Although, after the numerous offensives undertaken by the Red Army in the wake of the Moscow Counter-offensive, the lunge against the Sixth Army was still a risky move that did not pay off.

The actual fighting for the city showcased the consistent casualties that German forces suffered as units slowly melted away in urban fighting and Red Army forces continued to desperately cling to every building and meter of ground they could get their hands on.  Adam regularly mentions the growing front-line and the reliance on allied formations (Romanian, Italian, Hungarian) in helping to hold the front.  With the eventual Soviet offensive to encircle the Sixth Army, the reader is offered an intimate look at the decision making process within the Sixth Army as Adam, initially caught outside the encirclement, flies into the city and continues to serve at Paulus's side.  Here the usual lament by many is that Paulus should have immediately broken out, such an argument is easily made with the aid of hindsight.  It took days for the encirclement to close around the Sixth Army, at which point units needed to be reorganized to meet the new threat to every front of the Sixth Army.  With Paulus trying to orient himself and figure out what the Army High Command's plans were for the Sixth Army and Army Group B, time began to be wasted.  Everyone vacillated as Army Group Don was created and Manstein was given the job of breaking through to the Sixth Army.  With this hope and the continued belief that the Luftwaffe would supply the troops with enough supplies, Paulus continued to believe that the Sixth Army would not be forsaken (and on more occasion Adam is critical of Paulus's inability to make decisions and assume responsibility).  One division that attempted to ignore orders and withdrew to eventually attempt a breakout was destroyed by Red Army forces, it was simply too late to make a concentrated effort, at least for forces caught outside the city of Stalingrad itself.  Thus, Paulus had a hard time orienting himself between Manstein, Hitler, and others and could not himself make up his mind, deciding to simply follow orders as otherwise it would set a poor example for other commanders (or so Adam tells us this was part of his reasoning).  Considering Manstein could have also taken the initiative to give Paulus the order to breakout, solely blaming the commander of the Sixth Army seems too simple.  The real problem is that Paulus had no idea what Manstein was planning or capable of and neither did Manstein know the exact situation the Sixth Army was experiencing.  Everyone had their own ideas and unfortunately a lack of initiative meant everyone stayed the course as best they could.

Eventually, with the destruction of the Sixth Army Adam is taken prisoner and slowly converts to a "Soviet" or "socialist" point of view with respect to the war.  The latter parts of the book discuss his time in prison camps and the various generals and officers he encounters, who joins the "Soviet cause" and who opposes it, etc., rather less interesting than the rest of the book.  Thus, overall this text offers an interesting and intimate, although somewhat biased, look at the Sixth Army's attempt to capture Stalingrad and the eventual defeat suffered by German forces.

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