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? How is Jones able to correct his mistakes? Does Beevor have an underlying agenda? Or is he just a sloppy pseudo-historian? I cannot tell give you an answer to these questions, but I can tell you that Craig's "Enemy At the Gates" written decades before Beevor's work includes everything that Beevor's work does and then some, a better book and a better starting point for those interested in the battle of Stalingrad. But, if you do read Craig's work, read this book right after as it is a must for those interested in the Stalingrad battle.
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!