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The Battle of Stalingrad
October 27, 2010 8:25 PM   Subscribe

In the scale of its intensity, its destructiveness and its horror, Stalingrad has no parallel. It engaged the full strength of the two biggest armies in Europe and could fit into no lesser framework than that of a life-and-death conflict which encompasses the earth. - The New York Times, February 4, 1943

Anthony Beevor's is considered the definitive history. The battle is the backdrop of Vasily Grossman's major novel Life and Fate.
posted by Joe Beese (61 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is a lecture at Columbia University this Friday on "The Stalingrad Campaign: Myths and Realities by Author COL David Glantz" Feel free to memail me for details.
posted by shothotbot at 8:44 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


War of the Rats is an entertaining novelization, and partly the inspiration for the movie Enemy at the Gates.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:50 PM on October 27, 2010


i just like saying:
Vasily Zaytsev
posted by clavdivs at 9:17 PM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


For those of us increasingly incapable of reading actual books, Dan Carlin told the story of Stalingrad memorably in Show 29 of his Hardcore History podcast.
posted by intermod at 9:26 PM on October 27, 2010 [15 favorites]


That Carlin podcast was absolutely bloody terrific, I listened to it a few months ago, blew me away. His Shatnerian delivery also really grows on you after a while!
posted by smoke at 9:47 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I grew up with stories of Stalingrad. My late mother was obssesed with this battle and with the teen-aged Russian girl snipers who killed so many NAZIs. One went to her city for a war bonds rally and this girl had killed 100 NAZIs.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:51 PM on October 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


War of the Rats is an entertaining novelization, and partly the inspiration for the movie Enemy at the Gates.

"Enemy at the Gates" by Craig is the inspiration for the film of the same title. A gripping read. Beevor has problems with it.

As someone with a prior professional interest, Enemy at the Gates is one of the few popular histories that I feel I don't need to criticize.

But, truly, Stalingrad was an amazing, human tragdey that had the elements of drama the writers only hope to emulate. The name of the city is the name of one of the dictators. The reversal of fortune there is so textbook--all the elements. The hubris of feeding division after German division into the shattered city to achieve its capture, while defending the flanks with Romanian and Hungarian divisions neither trained nor equipped to defend in the conditions present. The famed Red Tractor Factory assembling tanks and then having them roll out unpainted to fight, driven by the workers. And finally, the hunter becoming the hunted as the Soviets counterattacked. To my 13-year old mind--this was history, writ titanic. It shaped me, sent me into the study of history as a discipline. And the ghastly cost! They just shrugged it off. Although I think the Russians could have survived if they lost, it certainly shortened the war.

Glantz is a great historian--detail unheard of in a treatment in English.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:56 PM on October 27, 2010 [12 favorites]


Good post, Beese.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:58 PM on October 27, 2010


Vasily Chuikov really should be a household name in the west.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 10:18 PM on October 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I finished reading Beevor's Stalingrad last month, finished his Fall of Berlin earlier this month. Both books really well written, compelling reading.

Fighting on a scale that US citizens can barely comprehend. Fact is that I don't believe that US citizens can comprehend it. The Germans and the Russians fought one another with a savagery unheard of in the battles of Germany against Britain, France, the US, which were like a civilized tea party with crumpets in comparison, the Russians would have been jerking off to have casualties as light (in comparison) as were suffered by the Allies on D-Day.

What so few know (outside of Russia, Poland, Ukraine, et all) is that while yeah, it's absolutely true that the Germans had this real hatred and bloodthirst for and toward Jews, they had a real hatred and bloodthirst for and towards everyone on that front, that the Jews were the first to go but the rest of the populations were going to go eventually. You either fought Germans or resigned your people to their fate, which wasn't going to be a good one if the Germans won.

Hitler was fucking crazy. I mean, yeah, duh, not news, right? But the fucker was really, really crazy, and dangerous crazy, the worst crazy, he was crazy and smart and charismatic. (Imagine Cheney if he hadn't have been so transparently such a sick, cockbite motherfucker, imagine Bush -- either of them -- if they'd had balls and brains and charisma, now multiply by two hundred, there's Hitler.) Hitler wrote everything he was going to do in his book and then by god was on his way until he got nailed in Russia...

Crazy bastard...

Stalin was just as crazy, in fact crazier, a total fucking psycho wack-job. But smart, dangerous crazy, the deadliest human being of the twentieth century, more dangerous by far to his own people than he was to the Germans and he was plenty dangerous to them.

I've heard stories that some US generals would have wanted to go up against the Russians once Germany finally went down; I'm no war historian or whatever but I do believe that the Russians would have stomped a mudhole in our ass. They'd turned into this gargantuan collossus, spitting out tanks and planes and anything and everything else, unbelievable. They've never, ever gotten the credit that they've deserved for putting down the Germans, not from the rest of the world outside of Russia anyways, who believe what they've seen in horses-ass US war movies.

I'm next in line at the Austin library for Grossmans A writer at war : Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945

I don't know why/how I've developed this interest in the fight between those two countries; I hate war, it's humanities largest insanity, a mass insanity, worse even than Texas A&M. I mostly try to get inside the skin of the men fighting it, who'd have been brothers at any other time, who'd have gladly helped on another at harvest time or whatever but were now set upon one another like fighting dogs in the ring (fighting dogs with machine guns and artillery and air support and tanks and on and on). These men were forced into it, they had no choice, no chance, they weren't allowed to say "Oh, no thanks, I'd rather not go kill a bunch of strangers or get killed myself." Truly, hell on earth.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:18 PM on October 27, 2010 [30 favorites]


Geez, dancestoblue, that comment was a pleasure to read.
posted by kingv at 10:49 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Playing the Stalingrad in some old Call of Duty game led me to learn about the actual history of it. I watched movies and even learned a little Russion.
posted by thylacine at 10:52 PM on October 27, 2010


(jeez, I just downloaded all 3 of Dan Carlin's podcasts on the Eastern Front on smoke's mention, never having heard of him before. Is is popular? I found him... totally unendurable)
If anyone can suggest an audiobook or audio commentary on the siege of Stalingrad, please do.
posted by Auden at 11:28 PM on October 27, 2010



I finished reading Beevor's Stalingrad last month, finished his Fall of Berlin earlier this month. Both books really well written, compelling reading.

Yes! Highly recommended.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:41 PM on October 27, 2010


There are all kinds of things about that campaign that are bone-chilliing, but this little story always makes me feel a bit sick:

The Red Army sent a lot of units into Stalingrad with one rifle per two men. When men with rifles were hit, the ones without were supposed to pick up those weapons and begin to fight.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:46 PM on October 27, 2010


I finished reading Beevor's Stalingrad last month, finished his Fall of Berlin earlier this month. Both books really well written, compelling reading.

Hey, me too! (Well, I listened to the audiobooks, but they were fantastic nonetheless. Spain is on deck.)
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:48 PM on October 27, 2010


Photos here hero
posted by hortense at 12:00 AM on October 28, 2010


There are all kinds of things about that campaign that are bone-chilliing, but this little story always makes me feel a bit sick:

German tank squadron (or whatever) gets mired in a swamp, gets exterminated by the Russians. Winter comes the next day, covers everything in a foot of snow, which just gets deeper and deeper.

Come springtime, the Red Army is triumphant, an entire Germany is gone (only five or so thousand of the original three hundred thousand will ever make it back to Germany). The snow is melting. A lone Russian tank crests a small ridge and the ground gives way. It disappears into the mess of German flesh and machinery that's been waiting in limbo since November.

Two years later, local farmers discover the complicated remains.
posted by philip-random at 12:04 AM on October 28, 2010


I think I stopped reading Enemy At the Gates for a while after the bit where the German soldier trapped without shelter in the Russian winter wakes up to find rats eating his frostbitten toes.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 12:20 AM on October 28, 2010


an entire Germany is gone

hmmm? I think that was supposed to read: "an entire German army is gone".

Can't we just start again?
posted by philip-random at 12:32 AM on October 28, 2010


We in the west have come to believe that it was us who won the war in Europe. We certainly did our great, historic part, however at the end of the day the war in Europe was settled on the Eastern front, and it was Stalingrad that was the set piece that turned the tide.

When the USSR fell it opened a treasure trove of archive and history hitherto unknown, and modern historians are still mining the information. Antony Beevor was one of the first to really bring this information to life. Richard Evans is another historian who is doing great work in this regard.

Stalingrad may well be the most epic of all battles fought in the sad and sordid history of warfare amongst men. It has no equivalent. Stripped of all the nationalism, patriotism, and other thin trappings, Stalingrad is a narrative of savage inhumanity and suffering, human endurance and ingenuity, love, brotherhood, and unspeakable, pointless horror.

It is very true that no western army would have lasted through a fraction of what the German and Russian soldiers endured, but then again, no western army would have ever committed to the intensity, savagery, and bitter hatred that really was the cause of Stalingrad. It was an ancient settling of scores writ large in the new, industrial age.

I have made this claim for most of my life as a historian, that throughout the jingoism of the cold war, no American would ever want to face a Russian in battle as long as the Russian had any memory of WWII and Stalingrad. And every Russian remembers.
posted by Aetius Romulous at 12:56 AM on October 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


There are all kinds of things about that campaign that are bone-chilliing, but this little story always makes me feel a bit sick:

For me, it is Stalin's refusal to allow civilian evacuations of the city.
posted by Snyder at 1:32 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]



For those of us increasingly incapable of reading actual books, Dan Carlin told the story of Stalingrad memorably in Show 29 of his Hardcore History podcast.


Really, really love this guy -- and the 4-part Ghosts of the Ostfront series is the cream of the crop.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:58 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


no western army would have lasted through a fraction of what the German and Russian soldiers endured

I dunno about that one. I don't think there's some secret "bad-ass" gene that Russians have more than English or French... that kind of endurance is the product of having no other option but death. I think any defending army, placed in that situation, would find seemingly superhuman reserves of endurance and will.
posted by Mister_A at 5:55 AM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think if you are going to read Beevor's book it would also be wise to read John Erickson's Road to Stalingrad. It's much more dry than Beevor's history but I think it gives increased insight into the Russian side of the equation which is often missing from many of the books written by Western Historians.

It's truly a fascinating battle because truthfully it became a struggle of wills between the leadership and soldiers of two nations. It didn't really have substantive strategic value, indeed initial plans were to have it neutralized and bypassed rather than conquered much like the Germans had fought kessel battle after kessel battle in 1941. It became an obsession on the part of the Nazi leadership and resources far in excess of the strategic value were poured into a battlefield that neutralized the German advantages of training and maneuver. Of course this was helped by the myth that Russia was always on the verge of eminent collapse and surrender. Even though the Nazi leadership was fighting a battle of attrition for the better part of a year they never really conceived of the possibility that they were bleeding out just as fast as their opposition. Men, Tanks, Guns, etc were just numbers on paper.

What's interesting is that in various conflicts since then belligerents have repeatedly gotten wrapped up in similar exercises: bomb tonnage dropped, kill ratios, body count, etc while forgetting that simply killing the opposition is not only a mediocre strategic objective but that it tends to reinforce morale of the opposition.
posted by vuron at 7:19 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Germans and the Russians fought one another with a savagery unheard of in the battles of Germany against Britain, France, the US, which were like a civilized tea party with crumpets in comparison

I've been wondering about a facet of that recently- is there much documentation about differences between the way German occupiers acted in France and Russia? Like, you always seem to hear about things being terrible in occupied Russia, mass killings and rapes, etc. But in France, my impression is that it was mostly just looting (well, and institutional anti-Semitism). True? Just a facet of the fact that there was a lot more actual fighting in Russia than there was in France?
posted by COBRA! at 7:32 AM on October 28, 2010


[folks, download links to rapidshare "get this in copyright thing for free" are really not what MeFi is for for a number of reasons. Feel free to take up the discussion in MeTa if you need to, changed the link to an Amazon one]
posted by jessamyn at 7:35 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I too read Stalingrad recently, and while I've read many war books, this one was, without a doubt, the most depressing. I can't imagine what the soldiers on both sides endured, but especially the Germans once they were surrounded and trapped. Yikes.
posted by elder18 at 7:39 AM on October 28, 2010


Man, a few years ago I was talking to my German friend Cory. I felt like I finally was close enough to her to bring up the war. I've always been really fascinated with the Eastern front; it's one of the things that motivated me to get a Russian degree. And my grandmother had the book Stalingrad, which I read when I was 12 and which had a big impact on me. So I asked Cory, what did your grandfather do during the war? And she (who is not at all interested in or knowledgeable about WWII), said "Oh, I don't know. He was in some battle called Stalingrad. He never talked about it."

I very nearly died right there on the spot. Holy crap. Her (now-deceased) grandpa was one of those 5000 men? And she never asked him about it? And he never talked about it? "Some battle called Stalingrad"????

Stuff like this drives me insane.
posted by staggering termagant at 8:37 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


staggering termagant: "Man, a few years ago I was talking to my German friend Cory. I felt like I finally was close enough to her to bring up the war. I've always been really fascinated with the Eastern front; it's one of the things that motivated me to get a Russian degree. And my grandmother had the book Stalingrad, which I read when I was 12 and which had a big impact on me. So I asked Cory, what did your grandfather do during the war? And she (who is not at all interested in or knowledgeable about WWII), said "Oh, I don't know. He was in some battle called Stalingrad. He never talked about it."

I very nearly died right there on the spot. Holy crap. Her (now-deceased) grandpa was one of those 5000 men? And she never asked him about it? And he never talked about it? "Some battle called Stalingrad"????

Stuff like this drives me insane.
"

Well - they were Nazis (and the aggressor)! I kinda have a a feeling they aren't too keen on celebrating and remembering the past. Even a simple reminiscence might be too guilt inducing, and , if Stalingrad was really as bad as everyone is saying, I'm sure there might be some heavy PTSD issues around the matter.
posted by symbioid at 9:56 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Some battle called Stalingrad"????

Stuff like this drives me insane.


My dad was deep in the heart of the action along the German/Dutch border in the waning days of WW2. Not a good comparison to Stalingrad because A. he was in the victorious army, B. it wasn't the Eastern Front ...

But he NEVER talked about it either; certainly nothing beyond acknowledging that he was there, that it wasn't fun and "... hey, how about those Maple Leafs? Can you believe they've now lost nine straight?"

The more extreme one's experience of war, the more likely they are to walk away unable to put it into words.
posted by philip-random at 10:02 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The more extreme one's experience of war, the more likely they are to walk away unable to put it into words.

Paul Fussell:

But for [U.S. Marine Eugene B.] Sledge the worst of all was a week-long stay in rain-soaked foxholes on a muddy ridge facing the Japanese, a site strewn with decomposing corpses turning various colors, nauseating with the stench of death, "an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell's own cesspool." Because there were no latrines and because there was no moving in daylight, the men relieved themselves in their holes and flung the excrement out into the already foul mud. It was a latter-day Verdun, the Marine occupation of that ridge, where the artillery shellings uncovered scores of half-buried Marine and Japanese bodies, making the position "a stinking compost pile":
If a Marine slipped and slid down the back slope of the muddy ridge, he was apt to reach the bottom vomiting. I saw more than one man lose his footing and slip and slide all the way to the bottom only to stand up horror-stricken as he watched in disbelief while fat maggots tumbled out of his muddy dungaree pockets, cartridge belt, legging lacings, and the like....

We didn't talk about such things. They were too horrible and obscene even for hardened veterans. ... It is too preposterous to think that men could actually live and fight for days and nights on end under such terrible conditions and not be driven insane.

posted by Joe Beese at 10:56 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've heard stories that some US generals would have wanted to go up against the Russians once Germany finally went down; I'm no war historian or whatever but I do believe that the Russians would have stomped a mudhole in our ass.

I have a masters in it, focusing on the social history of the German Army in the period 1880-1933. And you are indeed right, sir.

When the German Army attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the Soviets had more operational armored fighting vehicles than all of the other nations on Earth combined. It demonstrates the staggering stupidity of the German assault on Russia.

But those who say "if only" don't get it. The only purpose of the Second World War for Hitler was assaulting the Soviet Union. Poland was just to get the common border, France was to cover his rear. He wrote it all out in his posthumously famous "Second Book" written in the late 1920's. The Party convinced him to not publish it, because they would never get elected. Laid out the entire plan, which he executed, in order. So if anyone tells you "he was great, but lost it" they are just totally full of shit. Guy was for the balls out war that they could never win, and drove the entire nation into a scarred ruin just to execute that plan. And they did, throughout his remaining life, and a week after his death. Total dumbassery. Literally the stupidest plan ever conceived and executed by a leader, anywhere.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:14 AM on October 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've been wondering about a facet of that recently- is there much documentation about differences between the way German occupiers acted in France and Russia?

This is not precisely about the occupation, but more about the character of the fighting.

It's my understanding that the Germans and the western Allies bilaterally observed the Geneva Convention when it came to their treatment of POWs. But the Germans and the Soviets did not have such an agreement. POWs in the Soviet / German war were basically fucked.

Neither side could (or would) spare much in the way of food or medical care for the other. Germans were entrained in unheated boxcars to the eastern Soviet Union; those who survived this journey were enslaved in work camps. Soviets POWs were locked up in barbed-wire enclosures that were otherwise completely open to the elements of the naked steppe. Many 'liberated' Soviets faced accusation, imprisonment, and/or execution at the hands of the NKVD. Stalin was suspicious of soldiers who preferred surrender to fighting.

So, you either won, or you died, and that made the fighting especially savage.
posted by Sauce Trough at 11:20 AM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've been wondering about a facet of that recently- is there much documentation about differences between the way German occupiers acted in France and Russia? Like, you always seem to hear about things being terrible in occupied Russia, mass killings and rapes, etc. But in France, my impression is that it was mostly just looting (well, and institutional anti-Semitism). True? Just a facet of the fact that there was a lot more actual fighting in Russia than there was in France?


No. Der Kommisarbefehl.

Plus, the Germans didn't line up 2.2 million Jews and shoot them in France. They did that in Russia. For real.

This was the genocidal war to end all genocidal wars.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:22 AM on October 28, 2010


It's my understanding that the Germans and the western Allies bilaterally observed the Geneva Convention when it came to their treatment of POWs. But the Germans and the Soviets did not have such an agreement. POWs in the Soviet / German war were basically fucked.

The Germans were fighting a war of racial extinction.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:24 AM on October 28, 2010


The Soviet soldiers had literally nothing left to lose. After a certain point, Stalin issued no retreat orders, and to retreat pretty much got you shot by the guys behind the lines who were told to shoot you if you retreated, and if they otherwise caught you alive, they'd likely kill your family as punishment, so forward was actually their only way to survive. The Soviet command had absolutely no regard for the welfare of their own men -- it was cheaper and faster to clear minefields by sending a platoon across them than to send in mine-clearing equipment, so that was frequently what they did. The Nazis simply had no response to this level of brutality, and neither would have the Americans.

Hitler gambled that he was more brutal and ruthless than Stalin, and he lost that gamble by a huge margin. The US would have been ground to sand.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:35 AM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Plus, the Germans didn't line up 2.2 million Jews and shoot them in France. They did that in Russia. For real.

Ukraine 1942, Jewish Action [operation], Ivangorod"
posted by Joe Beese at 11:35 AM on October 28, 2010


Plus, the Germans didn't line up 2.2 million Jews and shoot them in France. They did that in Russia. For real.

This was the genocidal war to end all genocidal wars.

The Germans were fighting a war of racial extinction.

The Soviet command had absolutely no regard for the welfare of their own men -- it was cheaper and faster to clear minefields by sending a platoon across them than to send in mine-clearing equipment, so that was frequently what they did.

Ukraine 1942, Jewish Action [operation], Ivangorod"


But don't you just wish you coulda been there, had a chance to show your quality?
posted by philip-random at 11:57 AM on October 28, 2010


To those contributors to this thread who know more about this than me:

My one beef with Beevor's book is that his explanation for why the Germans fought so futilely for so long basically amounts to Hitler being nuts and obsessed with victory at all costs. He basically ignores what I see as a central motivation for mounting the operation and staying long past the expiration date: the regime's obsession with killing as many Jews as possible. The longer you can hold your ground, the longer the extermination campaign can continue. Can anyone shed some light on how and the extent to which this factored into the Germans' persistence and insistence on mounting the operation and fighting it out?

Thanks!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:06 PM on October 28, 2010


My take on the "the U.S. never would have been able to fight the war that was fought on the Eastern Front" business is - maybe, had the war been on American soil. I think we could get every bit as vicious and murderous as the combatants in Stalingrad were, and needed to be.

This was a war of extermination, and represents a pinnacle of sorts in human history. Right-wing historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote a piece a few years back on how the "Cowboys of the West defeated the Nazis." A taste:

Revisionists now tend to credit the lion's share of the Allied victory over Hitler to the Soviets who probably killed two out of every three soldiers of the Wehrmacht. Yet the Russians waged a one-front war in comparison to the Anglo-Americans. They did not invade Italy or North Africa, and opportunistically took on an already defeated Japan only in the very last days of the war. Global submarine campaigning, surface naval warfare, long-range strategic bombing, massive logistical aid — all vital to the allied success, were beyond the scope of monolithic Russian power.

The Americans and British went from the windswept and hard-to-supply beaches of Normandy to the heart of Germany — on some routes about the same distance as Moscow to Berlin — in about a fourth of the time it took the beleaguered Red Army to cross into Germany.


I wanted to strangle the fucker when I read that.
posted by kgasmart at 12:48 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can anyone shed some light on how and the extent to which this factored into the Germans' persistence and insistence on mounting the operation and fighting it out?

Not that Hitler didn't pursue the Final Solution to the detriment of the war effort. For example: he continued using his increasingly scarce resources of rail transport ferrying Jews to the death camps, even after it was badly needed to supply his troops.

But capturing Stalingrad was a legitimate strategic goal - as it would have taken away the rich oil resources of the Caucasus from Stalin and placed it at the service of the Wehrmacht. It's unlikely that Hitler could have achieved his larger goals in Russia without it.

And his continuing the assault probably had as much to do with his sense that German forces could accomplish anything if driven hard enough as it had to do with his hatred of the Jews.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:10 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


For a good novel, see Plievier's Stalingrad. The movie of the same name was based on this book.
posted by No Robots at 1:24 PM on October 28, 2010


> I think if you are going to read Beevor's book it would also be wise to read John Erickson's Road to Stalingrad. It's much more dry than Beevor's history but I think it gives increased insight into the Russian side of the equation which is often missing from many of the books written by Western Historians.

Thanks, I'm ordering it as we speak.

And yeah, Victor Davis Hanson is an asshole.
posted by languagehat at 1:30 PM on October 28, 2010


But don't you just wish you coulda been there, had a chance to show your quality?

Huh?
posted by Ironmouth at 1:35 PM on October 28, 2010


Not that Hitler didn't pursue the Final Solution to the detriment of the war effort

For Hitler, it was one of the primary goals of the war effort.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:35 PM on October 28, 2010


It's my understanding that the Germans and the western Allies bilaterally observed the Geneva Convention when it came to their treatment of POWs. But the Germans and the Soviets did not have such an agreement. POWs in the Soviet / German war were basically fucked.

The Germans were fighting a war of racial extinction.


I made the point about racial extinction because it is a common canard of the German right and also of the American right that the reason the war was so barbaric was because the Soviets had never signed on to the Geneva Convention.

That's a lie often used by those who want to distinguish between the "good" Germans fighting the "commies" and the "bad" Germans fighting the US of A.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:38 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Germans were fighting a war of racial extinction.

Hitler also saw the state of war as good in itself as part of his anti-enlightenment project of cleansing the race.
posted by shothotbot at 2:07 PM on October 28, 2010


Hitler gambled that he was more brutal and ruthless than Stalin, and he lost that gamble by a huge margin.

The Germans were fighting a war of racial extinction.

A couple of things I took away from reading Beevor's book several years ago: Hitler could very well have won the whole thing, if he made any attempt at clearing the very very low bar of "being nicer than Stalin" even temporarily – the Soviet territories that he conquered were quite ready to openly revolt, and it was only when they found out that the Germans were even worse that the population began to steel themselves for a real fight. The other thing is that Stalin won because of the two dictators, he was the less principled – when he realized he was in serious danger, he stopped purging his officers, started giving them actual latitude, and adopted a patriotic "For the Motherland" stance that was fairly at odds with Communist ideology. Hitler was not adaptive at all.
posted by furiousthought at 2:23 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


it is a common canard of the German right and also of the American right that the reason the war was so barbaric was because the Soviets had never signed on to the Geneva Convention.

Please forgive my lack of clarity. I intended to put forward the lack of observance of the Geneva Convention as a symptom of Soviet / German brutality, not as the cause of that brutality.

I understand that as signatories to the Convention, the Germans were required to observe it regardless of whether their opponents were doing so, and that the Germans kinda let the world down on that one.
posted by Sauce Trough at 3:19 PM on October 28, 2010


Jesus, I need to keep away from that Victor Davis Hanson thing.

Just three-and-a-half years after America's abrupt entry into the war the Nazis were not merely checked or defeated — but rather annihilated

Of course, Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, which occurred almost six months earlier, was not a decisive factor in the Nazis' annihilation.

What a fucking troll.
posted by Sauce Trough at 3:51 PM on October 28, 2010


A couple of things I took away from reading Beevor's book several years ago: Hitler could very well have won the whole thing, if he made any attempt at clearing the very very low bar of "being nicer than Stalin" even temporarily – the Soviet territories that he conquered were quite ready to openly revolt, and it was only when they found out that the Germans were even worse that the population began to steel themselves for a real fight. The other thing is that Stalin won because of the two dictators, he was the less principled – when he realized he was in serious danger, he stopped purging his officers, started giving them actual latitude, and adopted a patriotic "For the Motherland" stance that was fairly at odds with Communist ideology. Hitler was not adaptive at all.

This is where I differ from Beevor. This was not a winnable war for Hitler, ever. The problems of space, movement and population exceeded the capabilities of the least mobile army in the war, the German Army. So much emphasis is put on the Panzer divisions, it need be said that there were not that many, and the rest of the divisions were barely motorized, with the vast, vast majority of those fighting in Stalingrad for the Germans having reached there on their own two feet. No other major army in the European theater was so poorly motorized. Note that the vast majority of transport for these divisions was horse-drawn. Hard to believe.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:54 PM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


"...largest insanity, a mass insanity, worse even than Texas A&M"

As an Aggie, and a former cadet, I have to say, that's about the coolest thing I have heard someone say about us in years. Thanks!

Yeah, I think Americans have been fed a lot of propaganda about "how we won the war". We may have been the deciding factor, but only after we let the Soviet Union absorb a great deal of what Hitler had to throw.

The flip side of that is that had we entered the war earlier, Hitler may not have engaged the Soviets with such single mindedness - possibly prolonging the war, or even changing the outcome. Not necessarily an Axis victory, but possibly an outcome with with a much more intact Germany.

I am not denigrating or dismissing the early efforts of our army in North Africa, or our strategic air war on Axis industry - but seriously, the Soviets fought like hell, and deserve recognition for it. No doubt it made it easier - not easy, but easier - for the Allies because we waited until 1944 to invade.
posted by Xoebe at 5:31 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This was not a winnable war for Hitler, ever

If you mean taking over most of the globe yes. He won a war with France and England was not far from falling, if the nazis stopped offensive operations in spring 41' That assertion might not hold.
true about the vast stalingrad mule train, i.e lack of sufficent motorized vechiles but no one did at that point, the Germans used tactically deployed overstrengh motorized recon to help bridge the lack of transport as well as the Luftwaffe. It was planned that the rail sytem would be captured and used, this is imporatnt when considering invasion as the russians had a differant gauged rail sytem then germany, the russians did this way before 39' for that very reason, not to allow the enemy to use its rail system.

it is not hard to believe because history shows it was one of the most rapid advances in the history of warfare.
posted by clavdivs at 5:35 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


We may have been the deciding factor

we were, the Russians had little in the way of effective war machines until we gave it to them...yes they devised and imployed there own. t-34 was a wonderful tank, no doubt. But look at the manifests of what was sent to them and the real kicker was uncle joe didnt want anyone to know. Stalin was the worst commander of w.w. II. He threw lives away like water and recoiled in his rat like hole when he was invaded. (perhaps he thought he was going to killed by Voroshilov, and i wish he would have if not only to avenge Kirov)
posted by clavdivs at 5:45 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chocolate Pickle: "The Red Army sent a lot of units into Stalingrad with one rifle per two men. When men with rifles were hit, the ones without were supposed to pick up those weapons and begin to fight"

Yes. One of the more remarkable interviews in Russia's War - Blood Upon the Snow (an amazing documentary that explains WW2 from the Russian POV) is with a couple of charming old Russian grandmothers who fought at the front during the war. Their job was simple: they positioned themselves behind the waves of unarmed/lightly armed Russian men who were in some sort of disfavour. The guys had to run at the heavily armed German lines, with the few armed guys in the front. When they fell, those running behind had to pick up their guns and keep running at the Germans, firing. The women had the simple task of shooting any of the Russians who stopped running forward or even tried to run away - an unsubtle way of stiffening their resolve.
posted by meehawl at 7:25 PM on October 28, 2010


kgasmart: "[Victor Davis Hanson]:Yet the Russians ... opportunistically took on an already defeated Japan only in the very last days of the war."

It's also wrong. The USSR demonstrated conclusively at Khalkhin Gol in 1939 that it could easily defeat Japan's overseas forces, even at the height of its military power and before its oil and supply problems. Zhukov proved himself a masterful tactician and he and his staff learned and used strategies similar to those they would use to outflank and encircle the Germans in Stalingrad, while the Japanese military seemed unable to learn anything useful from its defeat. And in the 1945 Soviet invasion of Manchuria, 1,500,000 Soviet troops defeated 1,200,000 Japanese troops, in a three-front war across a massive theatre larger than Western Europe, characterised by the impressive and unexpected elegance and logistical marvels of the very rapid Soviet Army pincer advances, taking it right to the edge of the 38th parallel in Korea, and not for the last time surprising the US and UK planners, who always seemed to have trouble understanding Stalin's ability to keep to treaty agreements he had made (all the better to oppress his captive peoples with).
posted by meehawl at 8:04 PM on October 28, 2010


If you mean taking over most of the globe yes. He won a war with France and England was not far from falling, if the nazis stopped offensive operations in spring 41' That assertion might not hold.
true about the vast stalingrad mule train, i.e lack of sufficent motorized vechiles but no one did at that point, the Germans used tactically deployed overstrengh motorized recon to help bridge the lack of transport as well as the Luftwaffe. It was planned that the rail sytem would be captured and used, this is imporatnt when considering invasion as the russians had a differant gauged rail sytem then germany, the russians did this way before 39' for that very reason, not to allow the enemy to use its rail system.


* England would never have fallen. There was no possible way for Hitler to cross the English Channel with sufficient troops. Hitler was gearing up for the inevitable air war and the war in the Soviet Union. The German economy was still in a shambles, and any war had to happen very very quickly or not at all.

* The British Expeditionary Force in France was fully motorized.

* In terms of efficiency, it goes: Ship, rail, truck, airplane (least efficient). All supplies in World War II were moved by rail as far forward as possible, then transported by truck. The Luftwaffe would never have moved enough supplies (especially given the German lack of fuel) to make a difference. Neither would 'over strength motorized recon'.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:42 AM on November 1, 2010


"The Red Army sent a lot of units into Stalingrad with one rifle per two men. When men with rifles were hit, the ones without were supposed to pick up those weapons and begin to fight"

While this is depicted in "Enemy at the Gates", by tStalingrad, the Soviet Union had enough rifles to give one to every man.

Yes. One of the more remarkable interviews in Russia's War - Blood Upon the Snow (an amazing documentary that explains WW2 from the Russian POV) is with a couple of charming old Russian grandmothers who fought at the front during the war. Their job was simple: they positioned themselves behind the waves of unarmed/lightly armed Russian men who were in some sort of disfavour...

You are describing penal battalions, an idea which was actually first used by the Nazis.

"In July 1942 Stalin directed the creation of 'shtrafbats', (штрафбат, штрафной батальон) or penal battalions by Stavka Order No. 227 (Директива Ставки ВГК №227) in July 1942. Order No. 227 introduced severe punishments, including the summary imposition of the death penalty, for unauthorized retreats.[1] In this order Stalin referred to the positive experience of the Nazis in use of the death penalty and service in penal battalions as a punishment for unauthorized retreats. Pursuant to Order No. 227, the first penal battalions were originally planned at 800 men; penal companies were also authorized, consisting of between 150 and 200 men per company. At this time policy on the use of the battalions was changed in conformance with Stalin's new policy of 'Not One Step Back': the penal units were only to be used in offensives or attacks"

For German penal battalions, see Strafbattalion.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:24 AM on November 1, 2010


The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet lays some groove on the Eastern Front: "Stalin Wasn't Stallin'"
posted by Haruspex at 6:15 PM on November 8, 2010


Just got my copy of the Erickson book; thanks for the tip, vuron!
posted by languagehat at 6:23 AM on November 9, 2010


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