Stalingrad, now called Volgograd is located on the river Volga in the southern part of western Russia. It was of extreme importance because it was the last stronghold protecting the vast oil fields that lay beyond it to the east. Hitler believed his Operation Barbarossa would be an easy victory, claiming that troops would be home for Christmas. There was much symbolism in Hitler’s decision to attack Stalingrad and that was due to that it was named after the Russian leader Stalin and would cause a great loss of morale in the Russian army if the German army could capture it. The German 6th Army ran into incredibly fierce resistance on the part of the Russians. As the battle waged on for nearly 3 months the daily bloodbaths of the street battles began to take their toll on both sides.
Russia’s use of snipers began to cost the Germans more and more lives everyday. Most famous of all Russian snipers was Vassili Zaitsev who became a role model for many soviet troops and was a huge boost in morale for the Soviet Army. Eventually Germany’s scorch earth plan was beginning to cost them as well as many German soldiers began to die off due to starvation. And if they weren’t dieing to the Russians or due to starvation the Russian winter began to also take lives as temperatures reached well into the negative double digits. Eventually on November 19th the Russians launched a counter offensive which caught the Germans by surprise and forever changed the tide of the war and the world.
The battle of Stalingrad cost the lives of nearly 2 million men and women. “Enemy at the Gates” describes in great detail both the strategies of the Germans and the Russians and also the ferociousness of the day to day fighting. It can be seen as the beginning of the end for Hitler and his third Reich. Since the book is written by an American author in 1973, a time when anti-communist feeling was mainstream the book is written with a pro-axis slant. The fighting quality of the German soldiers is often admired and they are referred to constantly as “valiant”. The author does an excellent job in describing the hardships the men faced, one section of the book, although not long tells about the soldiers resorting to cannibalism to survive.
The way this was described was very gripping and gut wrenching at the same time. One section of this book I found to be inaccurate after taking a course in Russian history in high school was that the author assumes that December 24th is Christmas for both the Russians and the Germans and spends a large part of one chapter describing the events of this holiday. However Russia is Christian Orthodox and celebrates Christmas on January 7th, not December 24th; and either way it was prohibited by Communism. Through the conversations of German Officers the author hints that some soldiers were aware of Hitler’s arrogance with his decisions in the Eastern front. All in all I found this to be an excellent book if you are interested in the tales of battle and the courage of man when put in extraordinary situations.
Since almost the entire book describes the brutality of street battles this is an excellent book to read if you are interested in the on going war in Iraq. However since Stalingrad was a battle of attrition it was on a much larger scale. The movie which came out a few years back bearing the same title as this