The trouble with reading Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad is that after a while, you can’t help but become overwhelmed by the human misery of it. There is just so much of it, atrocity piled on atrocity, gruesome details of death and destruction, massacres of POWs, civilians and soldiers alike dying slowly of wounds, starvation and the cold. Carnage beyond belief, fuelled by the obsessions of political leaders who thought themselves military tacticians.
We didn’t visit Stalingrad on our recent trip to Russia, but we learned from our tour guides how the epic battle that took place there in 1942 is seared into the Russian collective memory. For Russians, the German defeat on the Eastern Front is the defining moment of the war, not D-Day on the Western Front in 1944. It was the first time the Germans had been halted in their march across Europe and it paved the way for the return of occupied Soviet territory and the eventual triumph at Berlin.
The ferocity of the clash between the Soviets defending their iconic city and the Germans determined to take it at any cost is beyond imagination. Beever’s calm retelling, plotting the military tactics of various military units while also detailing the human cost begins to blur after a while, overwhelmed for me by what I saw and heard in Russia: the genuinely melancholy voice of our tour guide explaining that Russia lost 27 million people in World War II – more than the entire population of Australia; the sculptures at the war memorial in St Petersburg; and the photo displays in museums, of the destruction caused by the scorched earth tactics in this theatre of World War II.
I finished it, but military history books are not for me.
Author: Antony Beevor
Publisher: Penguin, 1999
Source: The Spouse’s Personal Library (yes, we share!)