Stalingrad was not only the most-crucial battle on the Eastern Front, it was the main turning point of the whole Second World War in Europe. The Third Reich had suffered setbacks earlier, notably at El Alamein in North Africa in October 1942, but the scale of the fighting on the Eastern Front was incomparably larger than any of the other war fronts and it was the fate of the armies there that decided the outcome of the global conflict. After the demise of the German 6. Armee at Stalingrad in February 1943 it was clear that Nazi Germany would lose the war.
This book brings together three After the Battle stories devoted to that historic struggle. It opens with a detailed account of the fight for the city of Voronezh. Lying on the great Don river, it was a prime initial objective of the German summer offensive towards the Caucasus launched on June 28, 1942. Possession of Voronezh would secure an eastern anchor point for a northern defensive line needed for the southward advance to Stalingrad. The city was taken with relative ease in early July but, when the Soviets launched a counter-offensive, the Heeresgruppe Süd commander, Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock, allowed his panzer and motorised divisions to be drawn into the protracted fight. This week-long delay – which infuriated Hitler – severely disrupted the timetable for the main offensive, and fatally contributed to the failure to seize Stalingrad in a surprise raid.
The main part of the book is taken up by a comprehensive description of the gargantuan seven-month battle for Stalingrad itself. All stages are described in detail: the advance of the German armies to the city in August, the stubborn and heroic defense of the besieged Soviet 62nd Army against overwhelming German superiority in September-November; and the subsequent encirclement and annihilation of the doomed 6. Armee in the winter, ending in total capitulation on February 2, 1943.
Due to the wholesale destruction of the embattled city, it was long thought impossible to apply After the Battle’s ‘then and now’ format to Stalingrad but with the help of a local expert and acknowledged student of the battle, Alexander Trofimov, we managed to match up numerous combat photos taken all over the city, giving full treatment to the months-long struggle for the city on the Volga. The same goes for Voronezh where we found another local expert, Sergey Popov, who achieved equally astounding comparisons. Without them, this book could not have been made.
The German catastrophe at Stalingrad, with around 150,000 men killed or succumbing to the winter cold and around 100,000 taken prisoner (of whom only some 5,000 survived captivity), remained a national trauma in Germany. Coming to terms with the event proved difficult, the sorrow over the loss of so many German lives being surmounted by guilt over the fact that Germany had been the aggressor. In many ways, Stalingrad became a taboo, remembered in silence but avoided in public discussion. Illustrative of this is the fact that it took a full 50 years before a major feature film on Stalingrad could be produced in Germany. It was only in 1992 that the German film industry felt the time was ripe and produced and released Stalingrad, the first full-fledged war movie on the battle. We include the story of the making of this film as an epilogue to the main story.