Book Reviews: September 2002

By Lee Arten

by Z.M Smirnova-Medvedeva
Edited by Kazimiera J. Cottam
83-21 Midland Cresent
Nepean, On K2H 8P6
$14.95 CAN/$11.95 US
Order Line 1-888-780-4125
Reviewed by Lee Arten

Zoya Matveevna Smirnova-Medvedeva joined the 25th Chapayev Division of the Soviet Army in July 1941 as a machine gunner. She had wanted to be a flyer but was kept from entering a club to learn to fly because there were so many male applicants. The Chapayev Division had originally been formed during the Russian Civil War or 1918-1921. It fought the “interventionists,” British, French and American troops sent to Russia to oppose the Bolsheviks after the revolution of 1917, and also the monarchists, or White Russians.

One of the Bolshevik secular saints of the period was “Anka the Machine Gunner,” a woman who enlisted in the 25th Chapayev Division and fought in the Civil War.

Medvedeva and Nina Andreyevna Onilova, another female machine gunner, who became Medvedeva’s mentor, took Anka as their role model. Onilova was killed during the fighting near Sevastopol, a port city on the Black Sea during the German drive into the Soviet Union in 1942. She was posthumously decorated as a Gold Star Hero of the Soviet Union 20 years after “ The Great Patriotic War.”

Medvedeva was partially blinded in the defense of Sevastapol, was treated in a hospital, and went back to the front. Her vision was still poor, but she continued to serve until the fall of 1944, becoming a senior lieutenant. She was concussed during an air raid and was invalided out of the Soviet Army. It took 10 years for her to regain some vision, and after that she began to write.

“I am still interested in the history of my famous unit and have not forgotten my promise given to Nina Onilova in the spring of 1942 that, were I to survive, I would tell the story of my comrades-in-arms of the Chapayev Division...”

There are some interesting stories in the book. One is her recently formed unit’s first trip on a troop ship and the difference between them and experienced troops. The best tale was told in Chapter IV, “Breaking Out Of Encirclement.” This told the story of a group of released hospital patients, unarmed, who managed to overpower Germans, gain weapons and transport, and escape from a German encirclement.

One of the problems I found with the book is the lack of detail. Although Medvedeva was supposedly able to strip and reassemble a machine gun blindfolded, she never identifies the gun with more than the generic “heavy machine gun” or “Maxim.” Identification of other weapons, including captured Wehrmacht ones, was equally imprecise.

Another thing that rang false to me was the human perfection of the Soviet troops described in the book. Medvedeva does mention one hurried and unauthorized retreat but most troops fight almost to the last man. Aleksandr Solzhenitzen revealed that political officers in the field were hated for having troops arrested and sent to the Gulag for critical remarks made in letters or in casual conversation. Medvedeva paints the same class of Soviet operatives as beloved by the troops. In On the Road To Stalingrad, we read of only one mild warning against anti-Soviet speech.

The basic work of the book was done while the Soviet Union was still an expansionist military power which supported insurrections around the world and ran a brutal domestic Gulag. Perhaps the book would have been different if written after the Soviet Union had fallen.

by David L. Robbins
ISBN 0-553-5831-58135-X
Bantam Books
1540 Broadway
New York, NY 2000
Reviewed by Charles Cutshaw

The Germans besieging Stalingrad called it Rattenkrieg —”War of the Rats,” and it is from this term that this riveting novel derives its name. The Germans and the Soviet soldiers opposing them were the “rats” that scurried about in their “runs” - trenches and tunnels - during some of the most intense close combat battles in history. There was no better term for the horror and desperation that characterized the pivotal battle of World War II. City combat is bad enough, but Stalingrad was something else. Rather than a single large battle or siege, Stalingrad was characterized by close combat at only a few meters’ distance. Many small unit actions were fought inside a single building. For the Soviets it was a battle to preserve the Rodina, the Motherland. For the Nazis, Stalingrad was essential to Hitler’s overall strategy of isolating Crimea and Moscow so that the Nazi war machine would have access to much-needed Crimean oil.

War of the Rats is without doubt one of the best, if not the best, historical war novel this reviewer has ever read. It reads like a fictional thriller but is a historically factual account of the Battle of Stalingrad in general capturing the horrible essence of war in almost every detail. War of the Rats at its core is a study of the career of the heroic sniper Vasily Zaitsev and his comrades who wreaked havoc on the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad. In that context the book also chronicles in some detail the events that transpired at Stalingrad during the last months of 1942. Most of the book’s protagonists are historical characters about whom little personal information has been passed on to their posterity, but Robbins has investigated every possible detail of their lives to bring them to life in a way that is rare in modern writing. The sole fictional character is a German corporal, added to provide balance to the book from the German standpoint.

This is not only a book about the Battle of Stalingrad, but a book about sniping under the most horrendous conditions imaginable. Although this reviewer makes no pretense of being a true sniper, he has undergone sniper training, graduated from one sniper school and has knowledge of how snipers work. War of the Rats has the ring of truth. Robbins clearly has done his technical homework in describing combat sniper operations. There are very few technical errors in War of the Rats. Robbins also makes it very clear that sheer number of “kills” does not make a good sniper. Indeed, Zaitsev cashiers a member of his team who is intent only on running up a large number of kills. As mentioned, Robbins has also done his homework from the standpoint of character development. He studied the early life of the primary characters and works this into the book, using it to show how they became effective as snipers and what drove them to the near-fanatical urge to kill as many Germans as possible. Much of the research that went into this book was based on personal notes and letters from people who participated in the battle. Each character has his or her reason for being a sniper and each personality is carefully developed. The reader feels that he actually knows each of the central characters. Only personal thoughts and details are fiction, but the characters are real, thanks to Mr. Robbins’ literary craftsmanship. This book is a tribute to these heroic individuals who stopped the German juggernaut at Stalingrad.

The well-known romance between Vasily Zaitsev and Tania Chernova is included, as is the “duel” between Zaitsev and the German Colonel Thorvald. This is the central theme of the novel, around which all other events and actions revolve. Zaitsev was so effective, reputedly killing upwards of 300 Germans, that he was a real “morale buster” for the German forces at Stalingrad. At the same time, Zaitsev became a national hero to the Russian people due largely to his publicist, political officer (Capt.) Igor Danilov. As Robbins puts it, “...the men in the trenches had come to believe that there was no haven.... Any movement, even while smoking or relieving themselves could draw a sniper’s attention.” While dying for one’s country is bad enough, dying in battle was considered at least a noble end by the Germans. Getting one’s head shot off from 400 meters while taking a pee or having a morning smoke, on the other hand, was not. The German command also realized that Zaitsev was boosting Russian morale, not only at Stalingrad, but nationwide. Thus, the Germans decided to do something about Zaitsev and called upon their premier sniper, Colonel Heinz Thorvald (NOT Major Koenig) to eliminate the Soviet sniper. The events leading up to the duel between Thorvald and Zaitsev have the ring of truth, as does the rest of the novel. The duel between Zaitsev and Thorvald is a study in countersniper operations that might well serve as a text on the subject.

While many of the events described in War of the Rats have little historical detail beyond the fact that they happened, the author of War of the Rats obviously has conducted meticulous research into the subject and fleshes out details of the Battle of Stalingrad at the “grunt” (or rat) level in a way that this reviewer has seldom encountered. War of the Rats immediately grabs the reader “by the stacking swivel” and doesn’t let go until the “ride” is over. It is one of those rare books that is difficult to put down once one begins reading. Robbins is an author on a par with the best. Unlike the writers of “techno thrillers,” who depend mostly on action to keep their thinly written novels moving, Robbins develops his characters while at the same time weaving a historical plot and subplots, all the while keeping up almost nonstop action. War of the Rats is without doubt the best novel to come out of the Stalingrad Battle since Cross of Iron, but in the opinion of this writer it surpasses Willi Heinrich’s classic in terms of readability and realism because the central characters are themselves real. War of the Rats is a MUST READ for any student of military history, World War II, the Battle of Stalingrad, or sniper operations. It is destined to become a classic.

Hitler’s Garands: German Self-Loading Rifles in World War II
by W. Darrin Weaver
ISBN 0-88935-275-5
Collector Grade Publications
PO Box 1046
Coburg, Ontario K9A 4W5
US $69.95
Reviewed by Charles Cutshaw

Although many have referred to World War II German semiautomatic rifles as German “Garands,” the semiautomatic rifles developed by the German arms industry were not the equal of the Garand. The German rifles functioned acceptably for the most part, save for the earliest versions, but even in their final interations they were not the equal of the American M1 Garand. The two self-loading German rifles were designed by Mauser and Walther and designated Gewehr 41(M) and Gewehr 41(W), respectively. Both, interestingly, were “gas trap” designs, like early Garands, which also proved unreliable and were changed to a more reliable gas port system. Both German rifles were clumsy, too long, lacking in reliability and unpopular with soldiers. The Mauser version of the rifle was particularly unpopular and was relegated for the most part to rear echelon troops because of its heavy weight, complexity and difficulty to maintain.

In 1942 the Herreswaffenamt (HWaA) requested Walther to improve the G41(W)’s design. This was probably not only due to the unpopularity of the Mauser rifle, but also because Mauser Werke was fully occupied with other production. The result was the Gewehr 43. The story of the transition from G41(W) to G43 is beyond the scope of this review, but essentially Walther copied the Soviet SVT gas system and made other modifications to develop the G43, later designated K43. The rifle continued in production as the G/K43 by several manufacturers until the end of the war.

Like most Collector Grade Publications, Hitler’s Garands is meticulously researched and provides a definitive account of its subject. The book begins with an account of Germany’s earliest unsuccessful attempts to develop semiautomatic rifles, dating back to the turn of the 20th Century. These accounts set the background for the developments that followed during World War II. This book is filled with detailed and unique information directed primarily at the collector, but is also an invaluable reference for the student of small arms history. For example, it was a HWaA requirement that virtually mandated the unsuccessful “gas trap” operating system of both G41 variants. The HWaA mandated that no semiautomatic military rifle have a barrel bored to extract gas, that no part on the upper surface move with the automatic loading components and that if the automatic mechanism were to fail, the rifle must still be usable in a manner similar to that of the Model 98. The first two requirements would have eliminated the M1 Garand, one of the finest and most reliable semiautomatic military rifles ever manufactured from competition! Another little known fact covered in detail in Hitler’s Garands is that the G/K43 was produced by slave labor at the notorious Buchenwald Camp and also at the less well-known Neuengamme Camp. Since the gas system of the G43 was derived from that of the Soviet SVT40, there is also a chapter on Soviet semiautomatic rifles. All manufacturers of the G43 are covered in detail, along with magazines, accessories and optics. The use and manufacture of rifles and components in other countries and after World War II are also covered in some detail. And finally, since all of these rifles along with their accessories are now desirable collector’s items, chapters are included that will prove invaluable to the collector. These are “Fakes, Frauds and Fantasies” and “Waffenamts, Codes and Serial Numbers” and “A Summary of Data Sheets” that compares specifications of rifles from all manufacturers. The first chapter covers and debunks popular myths surrounding the rifles and exposes many frauds passed off to collectors. The second covers markings of all rifles and components. The data summaries list all salient characteristics of every variant of German semiautomatic rifle. Finally, the book ranks G/K43 rifles as to their desirability for collectors, provides an “obtainable” collection of representative rifles and lists sources. There is also an extensive bibliography.

In summary, Hitler’s Garands is a high-quality, comprehensive and invaluable reference for the collector and student of military small arms. It was clearly a labor of love on the part of the author. The book is profusely illustrated with high resolution photographs and drawings. This reviewer knows of no single source which provides the amount of data available in Hitler’s Garands. Like most Collector Grade Publications, Hitler’s Garands is not inexpensive, but then there is nothing else available that is quite like it.

Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942-1943.
By Antony Beevor
New York, London, Victoria, Toronto, Auckland:
Penguin Books, 1999.
xv + 494 pp., illus., maps, preface, notes, bib., index
USD $1695 pb
ISBN #0-1402-8458 3
Reviewed by Vic Fogle

The battle of the Atlantic was, without a doubt, the most important battle of World War II. Contested above, on and under the ocean’s surface, this hard fought contest lasted the entire six years of the war. Everything else in the European Theater depended upon its outcome.

That concession that made the war was decided by three further battles. They were climactic battles that represented turning points in their theaters of operation; battles at whose beginning Axis forces were at full extension and in which Axis momentum stopped and was rolled back into even contracting areas. These were the battles of Midway, El Alamein, and Stalingrad. After these battles, neither the Japanese nor the Germans would ever command so much territory while their former advances would turn into retreats toward their capitals.

Understandably, considerable literature has accumulated about each of these battles. In his 1999 book Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942-1943, Antony Beevor updates the story of one of these battles by using material which became available only after the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Beevor opens his preface by quoting the poet Tyuchev’s observation that “Russia cannot be understood with the mind.” He supplements purely military material with diaries, letters, interviews, chaplains’ accounts, prisoner interrogations, security police reports, etc., “to convey the unprecedented nature of the fighting and its effects on those caught up in it with little hope of escape”. Here, then, is the theme which unfolds in a time based narrative that proceeds without becoming bogged down in unit histories. Anyone interested in militaria will find this a splendid approach, for it casts much of the description in the words of the participants.

Beginning with the commencement of the invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany on June 21, 1941, the author portrays the gigantic battle as an obsessive contest of wills between two tyrants. It was launched by Germany as a war of ethnic conquest which went so far wrong that it developed into a struggle for national survival. Besides being a decisive turning point in the war as a whole, Stalingrad broke the Wehrmacht, caused the destruction of the Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian armies, restored the morale of the Russians, and greatly influenced the shape of the post war world.

The book is far more than merely a recital of numbers. It is worth knowing that Hitler’s invasion force totaled more than three million German soldiers and approximately a million additional pro-German fighting men, along with 3350 tanks, 7000 field guns, and more than 2000 aircraft. Yet to balance reality for those overwhelmed by other accounts of Blitzkrieg, we are also informed that Germany was unprepared for a long war, that the Wehrmacht was desperately short of trucks, and that most of its guns, ambulances and stores were pulled by 600,000 horses. Thus, with most of the infantry on foot, the speed of advance would be comparable to Napoleon’s in 1813, a matter of immense importance.

The Russian campaign was distinguished from all others by its general barbarism towards all and by its especial ruthlessness towards civilians. Hitler regarded the people of the Soviet Union as subhuman, temporary custodians of territory that he coveted. He directed that Communist officials, Jews, and partisans be handed over to German military authorities, and he exonerated German soldiers in advance for murder, rape and looting. The Wehrmacht forestalled potential opposition to its large-scale execution of Jews and gypsies by deliberately confusing that issue with rear area control of partisans. Faced with an inadequate supply by the army, individual German soldiers looted anything they could use from those civilians whom they encountered, while the army was ordered to send seven million tons of grain per year back to Germany. On September 3, 1941, the Germans used 600 Soviet POW’s for their initial experiment with Zyklon B gas at Auschwitz. Of other Red Army soldiers who reached POW camps alive, disease, starvation, exposure, and ill treatment killed more than 3 million of 5.7 million.

But whatever may be said about Hitler, Stalin more than matched him. Beevor quotes Goebbels’ description of Stalin as “a rabbit mesmerized by a snake”, who out of paranoia rejected Churchill’s Ultra derived warnings of a German invasion as an attempt to foment a Russo-German war. Stalin would not believe in the possibility of a German invasion until some twelve hours after it had commenced. Up until this time he “remained terrified of provoking Hitler”, and when forced to accept the reality of invasion, Stalin, “whose bullying nature contained a strong streak of cowardice”, contemplated suing for peace by ceding to Germany most of the Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Baltic States. Of course, Stalin would not have been in that position had he not accepted German-planted misinformation suggesting treason with “an inimitable mixture of paranoia, sadistic megalomania and a vindictiveness for old slights” that resulted in the execution, imprisonment, or dismissal of 36,671 Red Army officers, including 404 out of 706 brigade commanders and above. Stalin further decreed that everyone who fell into German hands for any reason was a traitor. As a result, the Red Army executed 13,500 of its own soldiers at Stalingrad alone. After the war, when Red Army soldiers who had been captured wounded and had lived through German POW camps were repatriated, Stalin had them sent straight to the Gulag. So much was Stalin hated and feared that 50,000 of his own people fought on the side of the Wehrmacht in German uniform.

Both armies, along with Russian partisans, looted anything they could use from civilians. While the Ukrainians initially considered the Germans to be liberators, Hitler’s race war and exploitation compelled Soviet citizens to defend Russia and its regime. Meanwhile, Stalin, fearful that the advancing Germans might be able to live off the land, instituted a scorched earth retreat that condemned many of his own people to starvation and to death by freezing.

Interestingly enough, Beevor concludes that a major battle for Stalingrad was not really inevitable until September. Hitler became obsessed with the city when, as the author puts it, “the war of movement turned into a war of virtually stationary annihilation”. He came to believe that winning the war on the eastern front meant taking the Caucasus and that he was being denied victory by a city named for his hated enemy. On August 23, the Luftwaffe carpet bombed the city with 1200 aircraft then hit it again two days later. When Stalin heard that the battle had reached the Volga, he decided to make a stand there, alarmed that his country would be divided and that he would lose both the waterway and the oil fields. But as the Russian winter began to arrive, only a few realized that Richthofen’s bombing raids had “turned the city into a perfect killing ground” for the Russians to defend.

“Not a house is left standing,’ a lieutenant wrote home, ‘there is only a burnt-out wasteland, a wilderness of rubble and ruins which is well-nigh impassable... In parkland, there are tanks or just tank turrets dug-in, and anti-tank guns concealed in the cellars make it very hard going for our advancing tanks.

Much of the fighting consisted not of major attacks, but of relentless, lethal little conflicts. The battle was fought by assault squads, generally six or eight strong... They armed themselves with knives and spades for silent killing, as well as sub-machine guns and grenades...The assault squads sent into the sewers were strengthened with flamethrowers and sappers brining explosive charges.”

Beevor also showcases the differences in fighting methods between the two adversaries. Russian defenders early noticed that the Wehrmacht disliked close quarter fighting, especially at night, preferring instead unexceptional daylight action under a Luftwaffe umbrella. Consequently Russian generals negated the air superiority advantage by ordering their forces to remain within fifty yards of the Germans forcing them to fight house to house. Germans found artillery fire in the city to be disconcerting and shellbursts brought down both masonry and shrapnel. The Russians also did everything possible to maintain pressure and to stretch the Germans nerves:

“If only you could understand what terror is, a German soldier wrote in a letter captured by the Russians. At the slightest rustle, I pull the trigger and fire off tracer bullets in bursts from the machinegun. The compulsion to shoot at anything that moved at night, often setting off fusillades from equally nervous sentries down a whole sector, undoubtedly contributed to the German expenditure of over 25 million rounds during the month of September alone”.

The most gripping parts of the book are Beevor’s smooth and complementary choices of varied participant descriptions of the sights and sounds of the battle.

“The air is filled, wrote a panzer officer, with the infernal howling of diving Stukas, the thunder of flak and artillery, the roar of engines, the rattle of tank tracks, the shriek of the launcher and Stalin organ [Katyusha rocket launcher], the chatter of sub-machine guns back and forth, and all the time one feels the heat of a city burning at every point. The screams of the wounded affected men most”.

“Fighting in Stalingrad...represented a new form of warfare, concentrated in the ruins of civilian life. The detritus of war-burnt-out tanks, shell cases, signal wire and grenade boxes-was mixed with the wreckage of family homes-iron bedsteads, lamps and household utensils...German infantrymen loathed house-to-house fighting. They found such close-quarter combat, which broke conventional military boundaries and dimensions, psychologically disorienting... Often an enemy was unrecognizable, with every uniform impregnated by the same dun-colored dust.

“German generals do not seem to have imagined what awaited their divisions in the ruined city. They lost their great Blitzkrieg advantages and were in many ways thrown back to First World War techniques, even though their military theorists had argued that trench warfare had been an aberration in the art of war. The Sixth Army, for example, found itself having to respond to Soviet tactics by reinventing the ‘storm wedges’ introduced in January 1918: assault groups of ten men armed with a machinegun, light mortar and flame-throwers for clearing bunkers, cellars and sewers. “In its way, the fighting in Stalingrad was even more terrifying than the impersonal slaughter at Verdun. The close-quarter combat in ruined buildings, bunkers, cellars and sewers was soon dubbed “Rattenkrieg” [war of the rats] by German soldiers. It possessed a savage intimacy which appalled their generals who felt they were rapidly losing control over events. The enemy is invisible, wrote General Strecker to a friend. Ambushes out of basements, well remnants, hidden bunkers and factory ruins produce heavy casualties among our troops”.

When German tanks and infantry attacked together, they found themselves skirting strengthened buildings into channels that the Russians had mined. Then Russian trench mortars separated infantry from tanks, and the tanks were then attacked by dug-in camouflaged anti tank guns and T-34’s.

Above all, the Russians made Satlingrad a never ending, twenty-four hour a day battle. Besides the dusk and dawn attacks, Russians fired flares at odd intervals to suggest the possibility of additional attacks. Every night Russian aviators raided German strong points. Russian night bombers drew fire from numerous flak batteries, contributing to the din and the Germans’ nervousness, while small biplanes would approach, switch off their engines, and glide silently to their targets, further alarming the Wehrmacht. But as deadly as the aviators’ artillery spotters made life for the German, they were not the only threats from above. There were also the Russian snipers.

What Deevor calls “a new cult of ‘sniperism’” arose, with recognition and awards for “the largest number of Fritzes killed”. Upon reaching forty kills, the sniper would receive the For Bravery medal and the title “noble sniper”. Best known was Vasily Zaitsev with 149 kills. Sergeant Passar, a head shot specialist, had 103. Studentov was credited with 124, Ilin 185, Zikan 224. Anatoly Chekhov once bagged seventeen in two days; he was particularly skilled at hiding in the tops of tall buildings, where he employed a flash hider and tried to have a white wall behind him. At least two Soviet snipers used remotely operated flags or scarecrows to lure Germans into exposing themselves. If there was similar sniping activity on the German side, Beevor does not say so. His only mention of German sniping is to doubt the story of the confrontation between Zaitsev and the head of the German sniper school that served as a basis for the film Enemy at the Gates.

Beevor implies that it was during the battle for Satlingrad that Hilter lost most of his tenuous at best hold on reality, becoming increasingly lost in his maps and in making intuitive, grandiose plans for military units that no longer effectively existed. “Hilter’s notion of the power of the will had completely parted company with military logic. He was fixated upon the idea that if the Sixth Army ever withdrew from Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht would never return. He had sensed that his was the high-water mark of the Third Reich”. It was at this time that Hitler demanded that “Fortress Stalingrad” be held “whatever the circumstances.”

The remainder of the book, from the time Hitler ended any chance of a breakout, is a depressing, harrowing recital of the disintegration of Paulus’ Sixth Army. Some of the elements of this unraveling, upon which it is unnecessary to dwell in detail, include exhaustion of supplies, death by battle, death by starvation, death by freezing, death by disease, death by ill treatment, and cannibalism.

Unfortunately, the most interesting question of the Russo-German conflict is one that Beevor does not address in detail: the question of whether Hitler’s adherence to his allies, Japan and Italy, cost him victory in Russia.

It is well known that Hitler did not plan to fight the U.S. until 1944 or 1945, when he would have a Navy of 300 submarines and an impressive surface fleet. Yet he allowed himself to be finessed into declaring war on the U.S. four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by hints from the Japanese that if he did so, they would attack the Soviet Union from the Pacific side. This attack never occurred.

But it was the Italians who were much more of an impediment to German plans. Part of the reason Hitler was compelled to postpone his invasion of Russia from May 15 until June 21 was because of the need to extricate Mussolini from a series of ill advised adventures in quest of booty and territory. At the same time that Hitler was losing five critical weeks of good weather, his already under-supplied armed forces consumed prodigious quantities of supplies in aiding the Italians. Mussolini, who hoped to establish a second Roman Empire, had begun by attacking Ethiopia in 1935. This invasion was followed by similar forays into Albania in 1939 and Greece in 1940, but Italian failures caused Germany to have to attack the Greeks in late 1940 and the Yugoslavs in 1941 in order to rescue the Italians. Moreover, Italy’s loss to North Africa to Britain in January of 1941 brought Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Corps to the rescue the following month. Rommel’s success in January 1942 came from German command of the Mediterranean, resulting from air superiority gained by Luftwaffe units brought back from Russia. In mid-summer of 1941, the Afrika Corps alone required 40,000 to 50,000 tons of supplies per month, with additional quantities for the Italians. Germany continued to try to supply the Afrika Corps until Britain finally ended the struggle in North Africa in May of 1943, following the Battle of El Alamein. Compare this tonnage with the 700 tons per day (21,000 per month) that Beevor tells us Hitler wanted the Luftwaffe to supply to the Sixth Army to sustain it in the final days at Stalingrad. The supplies and transport which Germany squandered in the Balkans and North Africa, where Germany had almost no legitimate national interests, could easily have made the difference in Hiltler’s attempt to conquer Russia. A detailed consideration would have been most intriguing.

This book is likely to be among the best regarded treatments of this titanic struggle for some years. Readers should be aware that it stresses description over interpretation, but in description it is very good indeed, and it is heartily recommended.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N12 (September 2002)
and was posted online on January 3, 2014


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