Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Lighthouse of Stalingrad by Iain MacGregor

Overall, this volume is an interesting mix of well-known information and some new, original research coming mainly from first person accounts from both the German and Soviet side. The first half of the volume is devoted to the larger history of the Eastern Front up through the German approach to Stalingrad and the beginning of the fighting for the city. Some of the fiercest fighting took place in mid-September for the center of Stalingrad and that included the German 71st Infantry Division and the Red Army's 13th Guards Rifle Division. The author has access to regimental commanders' memoirs from both units and offers an in-depth look at their thinking, planning, and experiences against each other's force. It's commendable that so much attention is being paid to the actions of the 13th Guards Rifle Division, but it does take away from the actions of other units. It's partly understandable as the focus is supposed to be on Pavlov's house, at the center of the city, which was controlled by men of the 13th Guards, but readers should keep in mind there were numerous other units operating in and around Stalingrad that are omitted from this narrative. While this volume is entitled "The Lighthouse of Stalingrad" there is really not enough attention on Pavlov's house, out of 19 chapters, perhaps 2-3 at most deal in some detail about what happened, but the majority of the book goes over well-known information.

Some odd errors are evident as when the author claims the Red Army possessed 'fewer than two thousand operated vehicles in the western theater' when speaking of 'Soviet armor in 1941.' Although there were fewer than 2,000 T-34s and KV tanks, there were over ten thousand tanks in the western military districts, from the border to Moscow. In fact, the author later mentions that 'twenty thousand tanks' were destroyed as the Germans approached the outskirts of Moscow. While most authors writing on the Soviet-German theater use 'rifle' to designate Red Army forces and 'infantry' for German, the author intermixed them at times and we end up reading about Paulus's 'rifle battalions.'

Having said the above, for those interested and unfamiliar with Stalingrad, this isn't a bad volume to start with. If you've read Michael Jones "Stalingrad: How the Red Army Triumphed" this is written in a similar style, a lot of first-person recollections along with some higher-level strategic and operational commentary. But does this volume change our understanding of the Battle of Stalingrad?  No. Does it offer some new and interesting information about Pavlov's house?  Sure, but that could have been done in a journal article rather than an entire volume.

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