Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942-1943

ISBN 10: 0670870951 / ISBN 13: 9780670870950
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Synopsis: A compulsive narrative of the harrowing siege that was the psychological turning point of World War II, drawn from sources never-before seen by Western scholarsIn June 1941, German forces swept across Soviet territory in an offensive that finally brought them within twenty-five miles of Moscow. But in August 1942, the overconfident Hitler chose the wrong target, Stalin's namesake city on the Volga. The battle of Stalingrad is extraordinary in every way: the triumphant invader fought to a standstill; then the Soviet trap sprung, surrounding their attackers; and the terrible siege, with Germans starving and freezing, forced to fight on by a disbelieving Hitler.The story has never been told as Antony Beevor tells it here. He writes of the great Manichaean clash between Stalin and Hitler, and the strategic brilliance and fatal flaws of their generals. Stalingrad is first and foremost the story of the man on the ground, a soldier's-eye view of fighting house-to-house on an urban battlefield, with helpless civilians caught in the crossfire. Beevor has gained access to Russian reports on desertions and executions that have never been seen by Western scholars, German transcripts of prisoner interrogations, and private letters and diaries. These help re-create the compelling human drama of the most terrible battle in modern warfare.

Review: Hitler made two fundamental and crippling mistakes during the Second World War: The first was his whimsical belief that the United Kingdom would eventually become his ally, which delayed his decision to launch a major invasion of Britain, whose army was unprepared for the force of blitzkrieg warfare. The second was the ill-conceived Operation Barbarossa--an invasion of Russia that was supposed to take the German army to the gates of Moscow. Antony Beevor's thoughtfully researched compendium recalls this epic struggle for Stalingrad. No one, least of all the Germans, could foretell the deep well of Soviet resolve that would become the foundation of the Red Army; Russia, the Germans believed, would fall as swiftly as France and Poland. The ill-prepared Nazi forces were trapped in a bloody war of attrition against the Russian behemoth, which held them in the pit of Stalingrad for nearly two years. Beevor points out that the Russians were by no means ready for the war either, making their stand even more remarkable; Soviet intelligence spent as much time spying on its own forces--in fear of desertion, treachery, and incompetence--as they did on the Nazis. Due attention is also given to the points of view of the soldiers and generals of both forces, from the sickening battles to life in the gulags.

Many believe Stalingrad to be the turning point of the war. The Nazi war machine proved to be fallible as it spread itself too thin for a cause that was born more from arrogance than practicality. The Germans never recovered, and its weakened defenses were no match for the Allied invasion of 1944. We know little of what took place in Stalingrad or its overall significance, leading Beevor to humbly admit that "[t]he Battle of Stalingrad remains such an ideologically charged and symbolically important subject that the last word will not be heard for many years." This is true. But this gripping account should become the standard work against which all others should measure themselves. --Jeremy Storey

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Title: Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942-1943
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