Read this only if you have nerves of steel, a temporarily hardened heart and a strong stomach! Stalingrad will go down in history as one of the epochal and seminal books ever penned on the subject of war. With the publication of this tour de force, Antony Beevor has firmly cemented his place as one of the greatest military historians of all time.
Squalor and Sacrifice; Daredevilry and Desertion; Hubris and Hindsight; Massacre and Munificence engage in a joust of hear rending and gut wrenching contradictions as in a prose – that is as ruthlessly unsparing as the happenings on the vast and desolate steppes of the former Soviet Union – Beevor brings to life one of the bloodiest and brutal battles ever fought in the history of armed conflicts. On Sunday the 22nd of June, 1941, the sycophant-perceived-to-be-a-savant Adolf Hitler launched his most ambitious and pride fueled assault ‘Operation Barbarossa’ (German: Unternehmen Barbarossa) invading the intimidating territory of the former Soviet Union. This act was primarily the consequence of a demented ideology that had as its backbone, an irrational desire to subjugate and conquer the Western Soviet Union, not to mention the plans to annex the oil resources in the Causcasus. This invasion was carried out by over four million Axis personnel along a 2,900-kilometer front, thereby representing the largest invasion force in the history of warfare. In addition to troops, the Wehrmacht employed some 600,000 motor vehicles and between 600,000 and 700,000 horses.
(The Battle of Stalingrad. Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons)
Braving both the unforgiving elements of a biting cold winter and the undying, unbending and unyielding resilience of the Soviet Forces, the German Army in-spite of experiencing a spate of initial triumphs was left to fend for itself in a ruinous state. The huge mass of the much vaunted Sixth Army with their formidable Panzer Divisions were encircled in a pincer like movement by their adversaries. This ‘Kesselring’ or the cauldron ultimately sounded the death knell of the hapless soldiers ravaged by starvation, ripped apart by enemy artillery and riddled with a plethora of deadly diseases like typhus and malaria. However the most insidious killer of them all was the dreaded frost bite which led to the unfortunate soldier losing both life and limb. Antony Beevor dazzles in recounting this fateful Siege of the city named after the Great Russian dictator. Beevor’s research leaves no stone unturned and its meticulousness leaves one gasping and gawking in astonishment. Beevor chronicles with impeccable precision the dire consequences of a mindless battle waged between a psychopath and a despot. The fall out of such an ominous clause could only be calamitous for the warriors plunging headlong into a vortex of death and devastation. Beevor describes in painstaking detail some of the cruelest acts ever perpetrated by man against his fellow human beings. The heartless butchery of captured Prisoners Of War, wanton rape of women and the merciless slaughter of children as young as four years old leaves an indescribably disturbing impression on the reader. The harsh realities of war such as being forced to be clad in lice infested clothing for days together without the prospect of a wash or warming one’s palms by the warmth generated from one’s own relieving depicts in no small detail the perils of aimless aggression and greedy ambition.
(Battle of Stalingrad as captured by the State Panorama Museum. Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons)
Beevor demonstrates his mastery of the genre of his choosing in every page, every line and in every sentence. ‘Stalingrad’ is the closest one can come to experiencing the horror that was the preserve of millions of young and old men and women who were involuntarily pitted against one another in a frightening war of attrition. The urge to annihilate solely due to the desire of preventing being annihilated portrays the meaningless consequence of unbridled pride and unexplained motives. Cannibalism and consumption of carcasses represented just two of the desperate measures resorted to by the starving German soldiers to ward off the steady and unrelenting advances of the Grim Reaper.
When the dust finally settled and the Commander of the Sixth Army, Friedrich Paulus, finally laid down his arms, the damage caused by the Siege of Stalingrad had become incalculable. In addition to the millions dead and missing, a humongous mass of civilian population of Stalingrad, consisting mainly of women and children were laid to utter waste. Mass destruction of property and razing down industrial establishments left a once imperious city in unrecognizable ruins. However what remained intact and consequently proved indestructible was the indomitable Russian Pride.
A pride that could only be paid homage to by the work of Antony Beevor!
Stalingrad – MONUMENTAL!
(Written as part of the Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge) – PART 19 ALPHABET S)