With an estimated 2 million casualties, the Battle of Stalingrad was the deadliest battle in WWII and one of the deadliest battles in the history of warfare. The battle was marked by fierce close-quarters, hand-to-hand combat, and direct air raids on civilians, a reality that was brilliantly depicted in the 2013 Russian film Stalingrad.
Hitler was determined to take Stalingrad due to the city’s strategic importance as a central industrial and transport hub on the Volga and as a springboard into the Caucasus with its vast oil wealth. Vasili Ivanovich Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 62nd Army and later Supreme Commander of Soviet Land Forces, was tasked with stopping the Nazi advance and holding the city whatever the cost.
In this book, Chuikov chronicles in incredible detail what happened in Stalingrad during the five months from August 1942 to the defeat of the Nazi 6th Army in February 1943. Chuikov explains how close-quarters, house-to-house, and even room-to-room combat was, while brutal, a tactical strategy to nullify Nazi air superiority: since Soviet soldiers were so close to Nazi soldiers, the Nazi Luftwaffe couldn’t bomb the Soviets without also bombing their troops. Nazi troops were also unprepared and untrained in close-quarters, hand-to-hand combat, which significantly demoralized Nazi troops based on diaries and letters found on killed Nazi soldiers.
Chuikov describes the heroism and courage of Soviet soldiers struggling against far superior enemy forces under seemingly impossible conditions. Pavlov’s House, where two or three dozen Soviet soldiers under the command of Yakov Pavlov single-handedly survived a two-month siege by Nazi infantry and Panzers in a fortified apartment building, is the most famous. However, as Chuikov writes, there were many other “Pavlov’s Houses” in Stalingrad. Chuikov devotes special attention to the role of women in defense of Stalingrad. Women were equal to men in every respect in the battle against the Nazi invaders. Just as there were many “Pavlov’s Houses,” there were many women “Yakov Pavlovs” in Stalingrad. Chuikov recalls how in a primarily women anti-aircraft unit that took a direct hit from the Luftwaffe, the women remained at their weapons and continued to fight until the last breathe despite being gravely injured (lost limbs, eyes, etc.).
Finally, on November 19, 1942, the Soviets launched Operation Uranus to encircle and crush Nazi and allied Romanian and Italian forces near Stalingrad. Chuikov’s 62nd Army joined in Operation Uranus, and Chuikov describes in vivid detail the defeat and capture of Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, commander of the Nazi 6th Army, and more than 265,000 Nazi and allied troops in Stalingrad on January 31st, 1943.
After Stalingrad, Chuikov and his troops fought all the way to Berlin, where Chuikov personally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi forces in Berlin on May 2nd, 1945. (I shall soon read Chuikov’s memoirs of the Battle of Berlin, which I also own.)
An excellent book and one of my favourite books of all time.