“Whatever we British may claim for the great struggle on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, the Battle of Stalingrad was the real decider and Beevor’s account of it is extraordinarily gripping. He combines a sense of strategic grasp with the incredibly detailed story of ordinary men’s experiences based on their own accounts. He did a huge amount of research into both the Russian side and the German side and he has come out with a masterly book.” Read more...
Stalingrad was the psychological turning point of the war. It took place between 23 August 1942 to 2 February 1943 and it was the largest battle on the Eastern Front. Nazi Germany and their allies were fighting for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwest Russia. The geopolitical turning point of the war came slightly earlier, even though people didn’t really recognise it at the time. It was in December 1941, when the German armies were repulsed in front of Moscow and Hitler decided to declare war on the United States after Pearl Harbor. But Stalingrad was vital in its own particular way because the Red Army for the first time held its ground in the city, fighting in desperate circumstances. Also, its new commanders had the foresight to do what they felt was necessary rather than being terrified of being arrested for their actions, which was the case in the earlier part of the war.
Two Soviet generals, Georgy Zhukov and Aleksandr Vasilevsky, came up with this plan to encircle the whole of the Sixth Army, which was incredibly ambitious. The Germans saw that it was a possibility but they simply did not believe that the Red Army was capable of carrying it out. And the very fact of achieving that meant that the whole psychology of the war, not just in the Soviet Union but elsewhere as well, led to this belief that finally the Germans were beaten and the Allies could win. As far away as Chile the poet Pablo Neruda wrote his homenaje a Stalingrado – so Stalingrad had this tremendous effect on the resistance throughout the world. Stalingrad itself was a byword for courage and it was also a byword for suffering.
This is really what I was trying to do when I researched the Russian military archives. I wanted to find out the detail of what life was like for the soldiers and it was simply terrifying. They executed 13,000 of their own men during the course of the battle, which is something that we simply could not imagine.