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Endgame at Stalingrad (Book One), by David Glantz (“with” Jonathan House, whatever that means), is the latest in what was originally to have been a trilogy of books about the Stalingrad campaign but has by now morphed into what can only be called a quintilogy. Thus it is actually now only the third of a planned five books on the battle by Glantz, who is truly the Robert Jordan of military history.
The first volume of the “trilogy” covered Soviet attempts to cope with Case Blue, the 1942 German offensive on the East Front, particularly as that campaign approached the environs of Stalingrad and met its highwater mark. The second volume of the “trilogy,” far more claustrophobic, concentrates intensely on the fall fighting for Stalingrad itself, pitting the German 6th Army against the Soviet 62nd Army, and also covering the various Soviet counterattacks north and south of Stalingrad and their effects on the overall battle.
This book, “Book One” of “Volume 3” of the “trilogy,” steps back from Stalingrad (in fact, the fighting in Stalingrad is rarely mentioned and Chuikov, the “star” of Volume 2, is barely even mentioned in this volume). This book, hereinafter referred to as “Book One,” covers two subjects. First, it takes about 180 pages to discuss the background of and preparations for Operation Uranus, the Soviet counterstroke at Stalingrad that ended up destroying the German 6th Army. Second, the bulk of the book covers the operations of only the first eleven days of the Soviet offensive, from November 19 through November 30. It is, then, by far the narrowest book in time frame of the whole quintilogy.
David Glantz, the author, is something of an icon among both scholars and buffs of East Front military history. His books sell well and grace the shelves of many a military history buff. However, grace those shelves though they may, they also tend to gather dust on them—the dirty little secret about David Glantz is that the number of people who own books by David Glantz far outnumbers the number of people who successfully finish any of them.
I want to note right up front that Glantz has many strengths. He was a pioneer in utilizing compilations of Soviet documents released by Russian archives and he has certainly enhanced our understanding of a variety of East Front operations. He has the ability to assess military operations (which, oddly enough, many military historians do not), and for the most part, his judgments tend to be sound and accurate. I should also note that, though I do not know Glantz personally, I know a number of people who have interacted with him, from professional historians to various hobbyists and buffs, and universally they describe him as friendly and willing to help. I feel it is important to stress these things before embarking upon a somewhat harsh review of someone often thought rather highly of; this review contains serious criticisms of both Glantz and his publisher (in this case, University Press of Kansas, though they could apply about as accurately to Helion). What I’d like to see is both Glantz and his editors work to eliminate the weaknesses of his works and focus on expanding the strengths. I think every student of East Front military history would benefit as a result. (people who want to skip the negative stuff can scroll to the very end where I summarize the three main ways that this book adds to the literature)
Before getting into the nitty gritty, I’d like to address the writing. Glantz is a very fast writer, something that has enabled him to produce a long series of cube-shaped books in a relatively short period of time, but always not a careful writer, nor is he any sort of stylist. His prose tends to be clean but uninspired. It is also sloppy at times and his books need careful line-editing and proofreading, which they do not always seem to get. Helion, the publisher of his Smolensk books, written more or less contemporaneously with his Stalingrad series, has been a worse offender than Kansas, seemingly doing little more than spell-checking Glantz. As a result, those books are full of glitches such as confusing the words “breach” and “breech” or misusing the word “literally,” a word that Glantz honestly seems not to understand. The Stalingrad books are, in general, better edited, but only relatively. Indeed, in the very first page of the preface to Book One, Glantz writes that the Red Army “literally [turned] Germany’s world upside down.” Really? Germany’s world was literally turned upside down? I don’t blame Glantz for this—or other misuses of the word “literally” that appear in this volume—so much as I do whoever was responsible for editing his book. That’s pretty inexcusable. The book suffers from other errors of hasty compilation and/or insufficient editing and proofreading, such as referring to Jason Mark’s Death of the Leaping Horseman as a history of the 25th Panzer Division rather than the 24th Panzer Division.
Another writing issue that appears in this book is bloat. Glantz is among the writers most susceptible to bloat and the majority of his books suffer from it. The tendency to bloat seems to stem from two sources: 1) his tendency to write hastily (it is a commonplace among writers that it is often easier to write a longer text than it is to craft a well-edited shorter piece on the same subject) and 2) his “kitchen sink” philosophy, which is simply to throw everything in rather than weigh its true usefulness. As a result, Glantz is actually a master of a variety of different kinds of bloat, from “reproducing text” bloat (most evident in his recent Smolensk books, which are virtually lightly-rewritten reproductions of Soviet orders and daily action reports) to “biographical background” bloat (in which Glantz provides the career resume of virtually every officer mentioned in a book, however briefly) to “endnotes” bloat (in which Glantz fills the endnotes with unimportant additional information) to “order of battle” bloat (in which Glantz fills page after page with lists of units, many very unimportant) to “appendix” bloat (which is fairly self-explanatory). The result of all of this is that most of his books are far larger than they need to be, which can be aggravating for a number of reasons.
Book One suffers from endnote bloat but especially from order of battle bloat. Indeed, the main reason that Glantz takes 180 pages to describe the preparations for Operation Uranus is that much of this section is devoted to endless listings of military units, many of which are never again mentioned in the text. Does Glantz really need to take the time to list the 26th, 100th, 101st, 102nd, 130th, 28th, and 37th Pontoon-Bridge Battalions (subordinated to the 5th Tank Army and 1st Guards Army)? The answer is no; they turn out to be irrelevant to the text. But Glantz mentions them and endless other formations in this section, taking up page after page. Glantz mentions various aerial formations, too, even though the entire book contains virtually no discussion of air operations. Order of Battle fixations like this are one of the things that typically divide professional historians from amateur historians—amateur historians love compiling this sort of order of battle minutiae—and it is not clear why Glantz falls into this trap. But he does.
With all of this text (Book One clocks in at 655 pages), one would think that the book must be well-researched. Is it? Sometimes it is hard to tell. Another sort of bloat that this book suffers from is bibliography bloat—there are many works cited in the bibliography that absolutely have no relevance to this book. For example, Glantz cites a work on Soviet partisans. Are partisans discussed in this book at all? No, they are not. So why does this book even appear in the bibliography (another good question is why Soviet partisans are not in fact discussed in the book; Italian memoirs reveal that they were present and quite active in the area)? This is just one of countless questionable books that show up in the bibliography.
The endnotes are more revealing. They clearly show the use that Glantz makes of primary and secondary Russian-language sources, which should not be surprising, as that’s basically Glantz’s claim to fame. But they also reveal that the range of sources actually used for the book, as opposed to simply appearing in the bibliography, are more narrow than one would think—and what is actually taken from those sources more narrow than the entire range of information that they contain. So, for example, Glantz makes rather sparing use of Soviet memoirs (whether of commanders or low-ranking officers or men), and even less so of German. There are obvious reasons to use such memoirs (or contemporary documents such as letters or diaries, etc.) carefully, stemming as most do from the Soviet era, but eschewing them to the degree and in the way that Glantz does negates their main advantage: their ability to provide context and description to the reader that formal after action reports simply cannot. Glantz does provide a very small number of such quotations, to rather good effect, so it is not clear why he did not do this more often (certainly the source material for such exists). I should note, though, that on one occasion he does provide a very unfortunate passage from the memoirs of German pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel that has a good chance to have been made up out of whole cloth.
Glantz’s sources are also extremely Soviet-centric. While this is understandable to a certain degree, given Glantz’s desire to highlight previously opaque Soviet operations, the plain fact is that operational level histories need to look at both sides. Glantz actually did a much better job of utilizing German sources in Volume Two than he does here in Book One of Volume Three. Historians such as David Stahel have shown how illuminating looking at some of these lower level German records can be; it would be nice if Glantz made more use of such sources himself than he has here and in the past. Book One adequately describes German operational countermeasures to the Soviet breakthrough, but is oddly lacking in its discussion of higher level German decision making (lacking to a much greater degree than in previous volumes of this “trilogy” or in his Smolensk books as well)—a subject of crucial importance to the battle of Stalingrad (so much so that one historian in the 1980s actually devoted an entire book to it). As a result, the reader will come away with a rather incomplete impression of how the Germans actually reacted (in a non-operational sense) to the Soviet counterstroke.
But if Glantz’s coverage of the German side is lacking, he has a much bigger problem when it comes to sources, and that is the Romanian question. Glantz understands Russian and he understands German, but he does not apparently read Romanian (or Italian or Hungarian). For Volumes One and Two, this was not really a problem, as the Romanian Third Army was not important. But for this particular book, one focusing so narrowly on the Nov 19-20 breakthrough and the immediately following operations, the Romanians played a starring role. The Romanian Third Army was the major target of the Southwestern Front, while the Romanian formations of Fourth Panzer Army (often referred to as the Romanian Fourth Army) was the breakthrough target of the Stalingrad Front. Thus for the first several day so fighting, the bulk of the Axis combatants were actually Romanians, and they continued to play a major role through the rest of November. Unfortunately, Glantz does not utilize any Romanian language sources (though someone of his reputation could easily have gotten assistance from Romanian archivists, and he also could have hired one or more research assistants). Instead, the bulk of Glantz’s information about Romanian participation comes from a single book: Mark Axworthy’s (et al) Third Axis, Fourth Ally. Someone reading the book without checking the endnotes might at first be impressed by how often combat involving Romanians is discussed—far more so than in almost any other study of the battle (German-centric works tend to portray them simply as collapsing and running away, sometimes throwing a bone to Lascar). However, except for some information from the Soviet perspective, virtually all of the endnotes for this Romanian material come from Axworthy’s book, which is cited again and again and again. Glantz’s reliance on a single work for information on this important subject certainly is somewhat risky at best. Does this actually matter? The answer is yes, it does. For example, in a previous work Glantz discusses to some degree the subsequent Soviet operation that destroyed the Italian 8th Army. Not doing research in Italian language sources, Glantz made several factual errors that he never would have made had he consulted the copious Italian sources on the matter. Could the same be true here? That is certainly possible. I have to say that in this post Cold War era, it is pretty hard to write the definitive book about the Stalingrad counteroffensive without adequately treating the Romanian issue.
The last thing that I want to discuss here is what constitutes the bulk of Book One: Glantz’s descriptions of the Soviet operations (and German responses) during the period November 19-30. Book One is, after all, a work of operational level military history. Unfortunately, Glantz approaches operational level military history at this level from a rather problematic perspective. With operational level military history, the main duty of the historian is to describe the course of military operations and the reasons why those operations took the form and course that they did, so that the reader can understand the nature and flow of the combat operations.
This is not, however, what Glantz does. Although it seems hard to believe, Glantz rarely seems very interested in what factors shaped a particular military operation, what the course of it was, what it was like (including the impressions of participants) and, basically, what happened in that combat. So, for example, in Volume Two Glantz very rarely addressed the issue of terrain when discussing the city fighting in Stalingrad. One might think that, if beginning to describe the fight for a particular factory complex, Glantz might attempt to describe the complex, the nature of the terrain and the relevant considerations it played. However, he rarely did that, nor does he do much of anything equivalent here in Book One, either. Terrain, whether natural or manmade, doesn’t interest him that much, though there will be the occasional reference to gullies, etc.
More importantly, Glantz does not describe what happens in the vast majority of the fighting that he depicts. Why was a particular attack successful? What happened before it was successful? By and large, the reader will never know from reading this book. Rather, in Book One Glantz adopts the role of the ultimate “phase line” historian. He is not so much interested in what happens during an attack than in simply how it turns out. Did the attack gain one kilometer or three? Did it get five kilometers closer to Place X or just four?
Glantz structures the combat operation descriptions in Book One in a very rigid fashion. Essentially, he divides the fighting by day, then by front, then by army, and takes every single one in turn. Thus he will start describing operations on November 22. He will first take the Southwestern Front. Then he will take Formation X in the Southwestern Front and detail the operations of that army or corps. Then he will take the next formation in the front and so on. When he is through with Southwestern Front, he’ll move to Don Front and do the same. Then on to Stalingrad Front for the same thing. Then maybe a short section on German reactions. Then it is November 23 and lather, rinse, repeat, until we have reached November 30.
The effect of this, lurching from formation to formation, is rather disjointed, and arguably not the best approach. For example, given that the breakthrough operations of Southwestern and Stalingrad Fronts were totally independent until they linked up after several days of fighting, might perhaps it have been better to discuss all of the Southwestern Front operations during those days in one section, and then do the same for Stalingrad Front? This would allow readers to more easily follow the course of operations, and would also eliminate one of the problems inherent in the methodology that Glantz did choose, which is that Glantz must continually repeat himself whenever he loops back to a particular army (thus some events are referred to two, three, or even four or more different times).
And when Glantz does describe the operations of a particular formation (5th Tank Army, 1st Guards Army, whatever), here is how he always does it. He will describe in great detail the exact positions of every attacking (or defending) unit. Then he will announce, one by one, the results of each unit. Unit A’s attack got three kilometers. Unit B’s attack stalled after 400 yards. And so forth. Note that he doesn’t typically describe what happens in those attacks (though sometimes he will make an offhand reference about tanks lost or a counterattack or some other vague factor), only the results. In essence, then, what Glantz does repeatedly throughout this book is simply describe the end-lines for each day’s combat. On day x, army y got to point z. Over and over he does this.
So even a careful reader will basically only learn how well each formation did during each snippet of time, without necessarily understanding why this was the case. This is in sharp contrast to better-written works of operational military history, in which the reader comes away with a much more holistic understanding not only of the results, but how things got to those results. Alvin Coox’s magisterial Nomanhan, for example, allows the reader to understand exactly why various Japanese or Soviet attacks succeeded or failed, and to come away with an understanding of what was important in those battles. Valeriy Zamulin’s Demolishing the Myth often allows readers to understand far more than what the phase lines of the battle of Kursk were, but what actually happened during those operations. Charles Sharp and Jack Radey’s recent The Defense of Moscow 1941: The Northern Flank also does a far better job of operational level military history, using many of the same types of sources used by Glantz.
In Book One, moreover, it is often difficult even to follow Glantz’s “phase line” approach to operational level military history. This is due to the book’s greatest weakness: its maps. Good maps often mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful work of military history and Glantz is infamous for his horrible maps. The maps in Book One are among his worst. First, Glantz does not use one style of cartography. He uses a variety of non-consistent map styles, which only rarely have keys or legends, and some of them are so bizarre (the map on page 210 in particular is incomprehensible). Some of the maps are fairly decent and usable (oddly, the best maps tend to be maps depicting offensive plans rather than actual operations), while others are so bad as to be virtually incomprehensible.
The most common type of map, which Glantz has utilized many times before, is a photocopied or scanned German situation map onto which Glantz pastes (perhaps literally) unit designations and sometimes other markings. He uses these copied situation maps at a variety of scales, from a scale so large that no place names are even legible to a scale so magnified (see the map on page 295, for example) that it doesn’t even look like a map at all, but the scratches and scribbling of a child or a crazy person. Because place names on these maps are German in origin, they use a different transliteration of Russian than Glantz does, which means you might not be able to find a place on the map (unless Glantz has pasted a new transliteration, which he does once in a while). Often, though, the copies are so bad and reproduced at such a scale that virtually nothing on the map is comprehensible—and certainly not the positions and operations Glantz often intends the maps to display.
I cannot emphasize the poor map quality enough. I wish Glantz would look at works of operational level military history with excellent maps and try to emulate them. For example, Amersfoort and Kamphuis’s May 1940: The Battle for the Netherlands, or Grant and Tamayama’s Burma 1942: The Japanese Invasion. Or the U.S. Army “green” books, for that matter, whose style of cartography Glantz is certainly familiar with. Glantz’s descriptions of the operations later in November suffer in particular from extremely poor maps that make it really difficult to understand the operations described.
I should note, too, that if this book had better maps, it could be a lot shorter. So much of the bloat in this book is taken up with describing in detail exactly where each unit is at a particular point in time, either before or after an attack. But that sort of information is exactly what maps portray better and more concisely than prose can. If Glantz had better maps, and more of them, the reader could much more easily understand the course of the breakthrough at Stalingrad, the subject of the book.
For those brave souls who have read this far, let me end on an up note, and take a minute to mention some of the positive contributions that this book does make, despite its many flaws. First, it provides an illuminating discussion of the genesis of the plans for the Soviet counterattack. Second, it describes in more detail the nature of the Soviet operations (particularly for the period Nov 19-23) than any other book I’ve seen. Most books on Stalingrad, which are German-centric, portray the Soviet attacks as an unstoppable, undifferentiated tide. Glantz allows the reader to understand much better than any other work does the nature of the Soviet attacks, what they were designed to do, and the problems that they faced in trying to carry out their missions. Lastly, Glantz makes a pretty convincing case that the German 48th Panzer Corps, much maligned or even dismissed in the historical literature, actually played a much more effective role than historians have previously given it credit for.
Because of these elements, and others, this book is certainly a must-read for students of the Eastern Front and of the Battle of Stalingrad. But the significant flaws in the book render it less helpful and eye-opening than it otherwise could have been.
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George N. Schmidt
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When I was a young guy growing up in industrial New Jersey in the '50s, I was not alone in working through piles of Sgt. Rock and His Flying Commando comic books (before they were revised to create the diversity that wasn't really there back then) and many of the movies that came out of the immediate post-war era. But I was lucky enough to have parents who had both served in the Army. My Dad ended his war in Austria, having walked from the French coast (a few weeks after D-Day) through the "southern shoulder" of the Bulge all the way to Innesbruk with the 44th Division (one of the majority U.S, combat divisions that never made it to Hollywood). And my Mom ended her war, five months later (more or less) in a field hospital in that hell called "Okinawa." So... My luck was that neither of my parents sanitized or evaded the realities of the war. (it was much later when my Dad declared over beers one night while visiting, "Do you really know what 'in the line' meant?" and went on to make himself clear as never before.
He also taught me that although he was proud of his "service" and that we should be, too (even as Vietnam was putting too many contradictions in the forefront).
But, he pointed out, the real sacrifices had been made by others, especially by the Russians (he never called them the "Soviets"). He reminded me that the horrors of the stories were always found "in the numbers."
And so we would talk about the "Eastern Front" and especially about "Stalingrad" instead of about the fantasy Hollywood versions of the war that were common at the time. And so I spent a lot of time, over time, returning to that question and wishing that my Dad (and Mom) were still around for the conversation...
And to read David Glantz's "book" about Stalingrad, which I've just finished (the fourth volume of the "trilogy"), an epic that makes "War and Peace" look like summer beach reading, but is worth it and should be in every public library -- even if only five people per year will check "it" out. I've added the first four volumes to our family library, even though i doubt that any of my three sons will read the thing. And I'll wait until adding Volume Five -- the "Companion." But this is the history that those of us who always get a chill as the first snows fall and the word "Stalingrad" echoes in the back of the mind have needed all along.
As readers here know, Glantz's first two volumes brought the reader into the Stalingrade cauldron, the block-by-block fighting that stopped the German army on the west bank of the Volga, while the "Russians" built up their forces (from as far away as Siberia) for the counterattack that would change the course of the war. Thanks to the outpouring of materials from both German and "Soviet" sources since the end of Russian-style Communism, this history can finally be written, and we should all be grateful that this teach of historians, led by the author, has done the jobs necessary to bring it all to the shelves.
The sheer horror of the numbers alone insists that the "story" or history of "Stalingrad" can never be completely told, but these volumes had to be brought between covers so that some of the reality can come into focus, albeit through a glass darkly. The Cliffs Notes version of "Stalingrad" is basically that the Red Army held a slim beachhead on the west side of the Volga through some of the most horrific urban fighting in history -- ultimately in many cases hand-to-hand. Then, with great secrecy, the Red Army built us its forces until it was ready to launch the attack through the Romanians north of the city that created the great encirclement that resulted in the surrender of the Sixth Army in early February 1943.
But, oh, the details necessary to understand all this. For years, many commentators (especially Germans) had done the Romanians injustice, by leaving behind a record that makes it seem as if they just cut and ran as soon as the counter attack began. Glantz has corrected so many records that this small correction almost gets lost in the narrative, but it's important. If history is written by the victors, it is also regularly written by the surviving "losers" -- and so, partly because of the Cold War, we were limited to the versions of history told by the surviving German officers and generals, especially Erich Von Manstein.
Glantz has corrected so much it would be impossible to go across all the details. The Cliffs Notes "Stalingrad" left us with the idea that once the circle had been sealed, the Sixth Army was doomed. That was obviously absurd, given that the two armies at that point were the toughest in the world, and the Germans were far from worn out. As Glantz narrates, with all the documentation anyone could want, even into mid-December 1942 it was not absurd to believe (as Paulus had to, and told his slowly disintegrating army) that his comrades would break through and end the suffering of his men. Some of the previous notions about "Stalingrad" still hold (the claim by Hermann Goering that the Luftwaffe could supply Sixth Army was always an absurd boast, but a fatal one for those who would pay the price for Goering's grandiosity), Glantz helped me understand the details of why the Luftwaffe "failed." Not the least was that the Russian winter weather, even before winter formally arrived in December 1942, was not going to cooperate with Goering's macho fantasies. But an equal reason was that the Red Army slowly moved against each of the airfields, both inside and outside the ring, that made even the minimal relief attempts possible.
Well, I have other things to write tonight.
Let's be glad that future generations, hopefully never to be able to imagine what took place between "Barbarossa" and "The Ring" from 1941 through February 1943, will at least be able to read with respect how all this took place.
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F. Carol Sabin
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A complex historical event such as Stalingrad battle requires extensive and complex books, painstaking research and analysis from many sources and archival documents. This can be done objectively and thoroughly by experienced authors who can understand the story from ALL perspectives, especially when in the battle were involved more than two opposing parties. This can be viewed as a (moral) responsibility for all authors who attempt to write a superlative book or a “definitive account” of a battle/operation.
Never before has a work on this subject been presented so thoroughly from the Eastern front’s expert point of view and its high level would not be reached in the near future. As far as the content goes this tome is NEARLY the definitive thing.
There are at least three welcomed threads of information stemming from Endgame at Stalingrad (book 1).
The first one is also the most important since it eliminated the historical misconceptions and myths of wildly routing Romanian forces maintained by many authors and nearly every book that described this battle for over 70 years. The authors substantially demonstrated that the vast majority of the Romanian forces held their ground and defended the best they could do, fought against overwhelming odds, had not broken en masse or fled as many authors suggest in some books. Resistance of many units collapsed, due to lack of modern heavy antitank guns, but it was not the retreat en masse! After first day (not mentioned in the book!), there were only two breakthroughs: one in 89th Inf. Regiment sector/ROU 13 Inf. Div. (10-12 km wide and 35 km depth in Kletskaya sector) and one in 13th Inf. Regiment/ROU 14 Inf. Div. (15-18 km wide and 15 km depth in Blinov sector). So, two regiments out of 24 ROU regiments!
The shoulders of both penetrations were firmly held until 22-23 Nov. 1942, allowing a successful counterattack, if mounted by 48 Pz. Corps. The disaster was amplified by Soviet tanks in the rear areas since there were no credible reserves to stop them. In the Rzhev area, Soviets tanks (MG Solomatin’s 1st Mech. Corps) penetrated German lines (352 Grenadier Reg./246 Inf Div.-15-20 km wide and 30-40 km depth), but their advance was stopped by German powerful panzer reserves (1, 12, 19, 20 Panzer Divs.).
Many previous authors didn’t take into account that when German forces encountered fleeing Romanians soldiers (including here “eagle-eye” H. Rudel), they were seeing many times administrative, logistics or rear area units with minimum training, but also remnants of some front line units. Antonescu spoke many times about German units fleeing and gathered in Morozovsk.
The supposedly weak Romanian forces gave actually a far stiffer fight than originally assumed by the Soviet planners. However, to be honest, Marschal Antonescu, in one letter addressed to Manstein, spoke about isolated cases of “lack of resistance”. As authors stated in their book, the Romanians and other allies could perform much better if provided with new equipment from Germany. It was always promised, but remained only on the paper, few arrived and too late (for example, Romanian armies needed 300.000 mines and received 50.000).
In my opinion, the most important reasons for the Romanian defeat were: huge frontages (3 ROU Army, 1.5 miles per battalion and 8 miles! per battalion in the 4 ROU Army), very weak AT defense (37/47 mm AT guns and one 75 mm AT battery per division), insufficient panzer reserves (“green” ROU 1 Panzer and incomplete German 22 Panzer divisions able to seal only one penetration on one direction!) and poor supply and logistics (under German command) and lastly, Soviet overwhelmed superiority in all capabilities (personnel, tanks, guns, aircraft), now revealed maybe for the first time at its true extent in valuable tables and ending a persistent controversy and mythology (largely sustained by Soviets!) that the opposing forces were almost equal.
Second, this book offers unprecedented detail and fresh perspectives about the genesis of Plan Uranus, competing offensive concepts and the triumph of the “different solution”- broader encirclement of the Sixth Army.
Concerning the date/period of Uranus planning, rejecting the overestimate Soviet wisdom, one question still bother me for a long time, even prior to this book: How could the Soviets plan an operation, almost two months before its start, knowing that: 1) the Stalingrad will not fall soon, even in September or October 1942 it was very close to collapse 2) the flanks of the Sixth Army will be defended by Axis allies, thus allowing the “different solution” and 3) these forces have no adequate AT guns and no proper operational tank reserves? Is there something missing from the puzzle? Please note that there were no fewer than eight attempts (offensives) orchestrated by the Red Army to defeat or slow the Axis advance in South Russia, with no relevant gains.
Third, this study mention Soviet achievements (four “firsts” on pages 378-379) during this operation (surrounding an entire Axis army, the ability to penetrate Axis tactical defenses, the defeat of the (weak) operational reserves in the operational depth and logistical feats), but also the outright disappointments (among other things, it took five days and not three to complete the encirclement).
Fourth, it provided additional information about the successes of the Axis operational reserves in disrupting offensive’s timetable, when properly employed. As Leyser’s 29 Mot. Inf. Div. successful counterattack in South or the mobile defence of the weak 48 Pz. Corps in North demonstrated that the presence of stronger mobile reserves, as in Rzhev area, could thwart any Uranus-style operation.
Fifth, as authors showed the sharp and carefully Soviet planning of Uranus Operation didn’t go as smoothly as planned, like a clockwork training exercise, and it took more days to fulfill the mission than anticipated, due to determined defence of the most German and Romanian units.
Eventually, the authors claimed that the Germans were caught unprepared to deal the Uranus offensive. The deployment of the 22 Pz Div., the planned deployment from France of the 6 Pz Div., constant Romanian intel reports, additional archival documents in which Antonescu said clearly “we were forewarned about the imminent Bolshevik offensive” are enough examples of measures taken in order to prevent the incoming onslaught. Actually, they had very few measures available to counter any possible offensive.
Surely one can read between the lines and see the seeds of my concern and disappointment.
With the opening of long-sealed Soviet and other communist countries archives beginning in the 1990s, English-speaking readers have begun to better comprehend the enormity and decisive nature of the fighting between Germany and her Axis allies and the Soviet Union. Despite the huge scale of the fighting and the interest to reveal the truth, much of its history remains hidden (see forgotten battles) and imperfectly understood. This “trilogy” is one of the first sets of its kind to present a history of the Eastern Front that includes up-to-date information culled from long-sealed archives by some of the foremost military historians of the Eastern Front.
Like the authors' first two books, this one has also significant archival material from Russian sources. This material is still far from exhausting all that's available in Russian, but it does provide original and new information and the necessary context. This is good thing. Not as good is the apparent depth of research into Romanian archival documents. If you look at the notes in any of the first two books, but also in other books (Slaughterhouse, Red Storm over Balkans, etc), you'll find that most accounts about Romanian forces are sourced to Axworthy et Co, Third Axis, Fourth Ally, proclaimed on page 163 to be, somehow accurately, but still an irksome explanation for such high-caliber historians, “the standard English-language source on Romanian forces in the war”. Don't get me wrong; the authors can use whatever sources they believe are relevant and that study is good enough. But, the bottom line for me is that I was expecting more insight research into archives&books for the reason of the importance of the Romanian Army participation in Operation Uranus and follow-on battles.
I'm not sure that I emphasize enough the necessity of revealing the whole story from all perspectives and that’s one of my chief reasons why I'm not giving the book five stars. A good book, claimed to be the definitive story of the Battle of Stalingrad, cannot be written without full Romanian perspective of these events. They missed along the way, important aspects such as accurate number of troops surrounded (actually, there were 12.607 Romanians not 20.000, and only 2-3.000 survived the siege), losses (between 19.11.1942-07.01.1943 Romania lost over 158.000 troops or 16 out of 18 divisions, 50% of all armed forces; compare this with Germany losses - 10% of their all armed forces), countless events, ROU air force attacks, equipment, actions, counterattacks or command relationship between Romanian-German HQs - not always friendly, to mention just a few.
Let’s force an example Dr. Glantz and Dr. House: How would look the “definitive book” of the Battle of the Bulge only from German and English, Belgian and French villagers’ perspectives?
I saw many times reviewers that complained about the Glantz&House style, often tedious, dull or the abundance of the information. Serious students don’t really bother about these aspects and I don’t blame the authors, since I knew their style for years and I can skip some parts, if necessary. However, there is one positive side of this “abundance of information”: no doubt, Glantz&House hit where everybody failed, that is, the Soviet archives. Their access was impressive and they deserve the credit for providing, with whatever cost (it must be a cost/swap when dealing with Soviets!), huge amounts of interesting information. They dig and dived into Russian archives more than anyone else and, I guess, took everything they could digest. I see no other (Western) researcher in the near future with such access, except probably, the Russian historians that are not departing too much from official versions. So, thanks to their dedication, now, the readers and future historians can analyze and select, from their abundant material, the most important parts and expands their achievements.
The chronological presentation of the events and actions on both flanks is also the best format to show the operation; even Romanian books/archives use this format, perfectly fit for this situation.
I paid a special attention to the failed companion piece to operation Uranus, code-named Mars (pages 79-81). The authors made a sound connection between these events, providing enough elements to judge why one succeeded and the other one failed. But I saw no phrase about the influence of the Allied landings in North Africa (November 8, Operation Torch) or the military occupation of the Vichy France (November 1942, operation Anton). Both were mentioned in Romanian archives as having an important influence on OKW decisions making and added pressure on the possible use of some of the best German tank reserves. The earlier deployment on Eastern Front of the 6 (arrived on 24 November!) and 7 Panzer divisions, not to mention, the three SS Panzergrenadier divisions, might have changed the history!
The book has 43 maps – not all ok, a bit more time spent on polishing and editing them would have helped immensely. Graphically, the book is a mixed bag. There are some poor, small or simple maps, but also never-seen-before plans or maps. Fortunately, with few exceptions, Romanian archives have the maps and plans of this battle, even the military colored maps dedicated to the battle, so I cannot complain too much. A minor effort to use only the necessary maps would have also avoided some of the reviewers’ observations.
Concerning the photos, I must say they are depicting, virtually, all Soviet commanders involved in the operations plus their troops in action; unfortunately, Soviet chiefs of bakery stations and laundry of the three fronts are missing from this selection! No Romanian commanders or troops are shown and just few German generals are presented.
The extensive text is complemented by large notes section (56 pages), selected bibliography (German Sixth Army’s Rediscovered Daily Records included) and the usual index.
No doubt, this tome is a solid piece of work (it took me five weeks to receive it from UK sibling of Amazon), as the whole “trilogy” and it will stand as a landmark in the Eastern front literature and, in many respects, a model for future researchers. However, for many reasons that could be easily avoided, it will not be the definitive book about Stalingrad.
I recommend this book with a 4/5 star rating based on my aforementioned comments and some faults.