The first part of Operation Blue, the advance towards Stalingrad and the Caucasus, was the last time the Germans were able to make such dramatic advances on the Eastern Front, but as this book makes clear those advances were the result of a major gamble, by an army that was operating at the limit of its capabilities and supplies.
Surprisingly neither side was able to find especially capable commanders for this key battle. On the German side von Bock was methodical and Paulus was a good staff officer. On the Soviet side Timoshenko had reached high command because of his close ties to Stalin, and few of the other senior commanders had much experience. Both Hitler and Stalin repeated replaced commanders during this campaign, although in general we see Stalin replacing failed commanders while Hitler replaced von Bock two weeks into a successful attack!
Hitler was also more prone to interfere in the detailed conduct of the battle. The main problem with that in this particular case is that Hitler cleared decided that the campaign had already been won well before it had actually achieved any of his objectives, so instead of focusing on a single objective he intervened to split his armies in the south into two, one heading for the oil fields and the other for Stalin, and even went as far as ordering Manstein’s army to move north to Leningrad!
The role of Germany’s allies in the later stage of the Stalingrad campaign is well known, but I hadn’t realised how numerous they were in the earliest stages of the attack, with almost half a million Hungarians and Italians involved in the attack.
This part of the campaign is often skipped over rather briefly, so it is interesting to have a full account of the major battles that saw the Germans actually reach Stalingrad. The course of the campaign is clear, and there are plentiful maps to illustrate the details. The narrative is well balanced, with material from both sides, so we learn about the repeated Soviet counterattacks as well as the more successful German attacks. Overall this is an interesting book, and a good start to a new trilogy on Stalingrad.
Origins of the Campaign
The Battlefield Today
Author: Robert Forczyk