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A masterpiece
Jul 09, 2003 01:19 AM 8272 Views
(Updated Aug 02, 2003 01:39 PM)



History tells us that World War II was one of the defining events of the last century. History also tells us that it was to a major extent one man's desire, however outrageous it may be, to see a world governed by one superior race. That man was Adolf Hitler and the race in question was the Aryan race. History also tells us that World War II was not just one major long drawn out battle, on the contrary it was a series of skirmishes - both major and minor - played out in different parts of the world from Asia to Africa and Europe to America. Eventually the side that would win the major battles would, logically, win the war. And so it turned out. For a very long time the Germany led Axis coalition won more than it lost till Stalingrad happened. And then the war turned inexorably in favour of the allies and history was written.....

In Jun 1941, Hitler-led Germany launched Operation Barbarossa to invade Russia. Preceded by careful planning and strategy and taking into account Russia's unpreparedness and internal confusions, this was a move that was bound to succeed, if everything went to plan and all schedules were tightly adhered to. The amount of confusion in the Russian ranks is evident by the fact that it took Stalin more than 12 hrs to order his army to fightback. By then the damage had already been done. Moving with clinical precision, the German juggernaut mowed down everything in its way. After a number of setbacks, many minor, the German army stood at the banks of the Volga and Stalingrad was in sight. What should have been a simple mop-up job for the German army then turned into one of the bloodiest and longest drawn out battle of attrition as the Russians dug deep into their reserves of grit, determination and pride to thwart the German offensive. Showing amazing character and hitherto unseen planning, the disorganised Russian Red Army then fought back the towering German 6th Army and encircled them to break the seige of Stalingrad starting with Operation Uranus in Nov 1942. The German army never recovered from this rout. Hitler's pride had been shattered. Delivering blow after mighty blow the Red Army grew from strength to strength as did the Allied coalition as it reclaimed all its territory and some more in a fantastic counter-strike to reach Berlin and strike Hitler's dreams a death blow. The rest, as they say is history. The Americans may have hastened the end with their bombing of Japan, but it is here, in Stalingrad, that the war was won and lost

Antony Beevor's book is a masterpiece. Period. The book itself functions on two different levels. The first is the content of the book itself purely from a literature point of view. The other and, in my opinion, binding view is the sheer drama and emotions that it uncovers from the tangled web of history. The beauty of this book is that the latter point of view is emphasised from the former. As such there are no separate chapters or content devoted to it. One leads to the other.

The literature - Having access to various archives, mainly from NKVD[Russian security police], and maps, letters and plans Beevor mixes unknown facts to known history brilliantly in his narrative of the seige of Stalingrad and the events that immediately preceded and followed it. Details of the decisions taken by the two megalomaniacs involved - Hitler and Stalin - and their reasons for it is lucidly described. The Hitler appeasing mentality of the generals of the German army which resulted in most of them pandering to his every whim as the camapaign was underway is highlighted. The result of their actions is dealt with in great detail. Also covered in immaculate style is the Russian side of the events which bring to light details about how the Russian think-tank with Stalin at the helm committed enough mistakes of their own to almost hand over Russia to their enemy. The deep rooted fear of treachery that the Russian top brass had of their men fighting at the frontlines is mentioned.The best thing about the book is the way details are presented without any bias shown towards either of the sides. The account highlights achievements and shortcomings of the people in charge without praise or criticism which is a very important requirement for writing of this genre.

The drama - A risk of writing something about something as well-known as the seige of Stalingrad is that one does tend to provide information which is probably well-known already. Beevor's effort here is a class apart because he goes beyond the politics and high level army decisions and maneuvers on either side. He provides information about the soldiers on either side and the hapless civilians of Russia and Stalingrad in particular. And it is this very information that separates his writing from the other literature on this topic.

The high optimism of the Germans making way for hopeless desperation as they see the Russians emerge from the ruins and hit them again and again is so beautifully depicted. The vain hope that Hitler would rescue them and then the agony of knowng that they have been abandoned to die a death in an unknown land so far away from home. How more painful can it get? The poems written during Christmas, those letters to loved ones just stating that they'll never return and not to forget them ... that is what this book is all about.

The pain and anger of the Russians making way for grim[or is it grimm] determination for revenge and do unto Germany what Germany did to them makes you stop wondering abt the carnage wrecked by the Red Army as it razed Berlin. The spirit of the Red Army rising from individuals who challenge the 6th Army when its at its peak, the immense pleasure derived from seeing the commander of the 6th Army sign the surrender ... thats what this book is all about.

And then there were the surviving citizens of the ruined city of Stalingrad. Rallying around their army and volunteering to help in any way they can, they are the true heroes of this seige. Defying pain, starvation, punishment and the loss of loved ones to serve ones country. To know that the Red Army would get all priority in case of food and medicine but still stand behind their army ... thats what this book is all about.

This book is a celebration of the indomitable human spirit. To the never-say-die will in all of us, this is a salute. To the extra-ordinary city and citizens of Stalingrad, this is a tribute. To life, this is a dedication....

The Battle of Stalingrad remains such an ideologically charged and symbolically important subject that the last word will not be heard for many years --- Antony Beevor

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Stalingrad: The Fateful Seige, 1942-1943 - Anthony Beevor