Enemy at the Gates

Published in 1973, Craig’s book is loaded with first-hand accounts of the brutality that was Stalingrad. Graig spent five years interviewing survivors of the major armies of the battle. Historians continue to pour over the turning point of the German Eastern Front and the Soviet Great Patriotic War, changing opinions here and there. Craig’s book stands up to the scrutiny very well because he avoided opinions as much as possible.

Neither did he take sides. As a good historian, he simply tried to tell us what happened and to some extent why it happened as it did.

I am impressed with how Craig was able to handle the technical details without boring us and fleshing them out with accounts from privates to generals. A little known fact is that the German 6th Army had three armies on their left flank–one each from Romania, Hungary, and Italy–as well as two armies on their right flank–the German 4th Panzer and another Romanian. Only the 4th Panzer engaged the Russians in the early months.

The fighting was concentrated at Stalingrad. It was a long and narrow city running some 30 miles along the west bank of the Volga River with a population of about 400,000. It was one of the most important industrial cities in the USSR,. The tractor factory was so large that it contained 10 miles of rail line in and around it. Until the attack, it had been producing the T-34 tanks in vast numbers.

From August to November, the German 6th Army was in control, though there were two pockets of some five or six acres in the city that remained in the hands of the Soviet 63 Army until the very end.

By the end of December, the Germans were under siege and the Russians held the upper hand. That was because numerous Russian armies swept around the flanks of allied armies who were supposed to protect the Germans and cut the 6th off from everyone else. Other Russians were able to keep the allies occupied until they were ready to attack them as well.

No one knows how many people died in what was the largest single battle of the war. Reasonable estimates list 50,000 civilians, 750,00 Germans and allies, and at least 500,000 Soviet soldiers. Of the 107,000 Germans who surrendered, only about 5,000 are known to have survived captivity, most dying in the -20 degree weather combined with starvation. The numbers for the allied armies weren’t much better.

If you watched the movie of the same name, you will have some idea of conditions during the fighting. The sniper duel which was the bulk of the movie took up three pages in this book. Vassili Zaitsev was credited with 242 kills.

If you are looking for a readable book on the history of Stalingrad, you can’t do much better than this one. The library’s first edition I read looks big, but the paper is thick. It is only about 400 pages, including some photos.

Mike Lawrence

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