I knew the basics about Stalingrad before reading this book: that it was perhaps the most important battle of the war and a huge turning point, that i...moreI knew the basics about Stalingrad before reading this book: that it was perhaps the most important battle of the war and a huge turning point, that it involved sniper battles, house-to-house fighting, huge casualties on both sides, and entire armies from Germany and Romania pretty much disappearing. This book gave me a more complete picture of the battle, its scope, and how it unfolded.
It wasn’t a happy read. The Soviets get pushed back almost all the way to the Volga and barely hang on. They suffer horrible casualties and inflict a lot in return. Then the German armies and their allies are surrounded and slowly starve. A bunch of them die in fighting, a bunch of them starve to death, and when they run out of ammunition (some time after they’ve run out of food) they surrender. Then, as POWs, the Germans and their allies still starve to death and die by the thousands (or tens of thousands).
Craig tells the story by following soldiers on both sides of the conflict and some Soviet civilians. One of them, a German soldier surrounded by the Red Armies early on in the siege (inside Der Kessel), expresses faith that the German army will be rescued or adequately supplied from the air, because surely Hitler wouldn’t leave an entire army to rot on the steppe. Poor man. Yes, Hitler did leave an entire army out to rot on the steppe by refusing to grant them permission to break out. The Russians stopped a relief attempt by ground, and a combination of the weather, Soviet aircraft, and Soviet antiaircraft weapons made relief from the air grossly inadequate.
I think that’s the biggest tragedy of the battle—the fate of the German sixth army. There were other tragedies, too—all the civilians in Stalingrad and in the rest of Nazi-occupied territory, the harsh treatment the Soviet soldier received from his own commanders, the armies from Romania and Italy that were crushed so completely. But the sixth army didn’t have to starve and then disappear into gulags, for the most part never to return. Yet that’s what happened, because Hitler didn’t care enough about his own people to let them save themselves, and Paulus was too obedient to defy him.
A side note and big plot spoiler on the movie version (a friend was curious about how close the book and movie are, so I thought I’d add it here since I’m going to write it anyway). The book shows the whole scope of the battle. The movie, on the other hand, tells the story of a few people, and I think there was additional research beyond what Craig’s book tells and some Hollywood/storytelling adjustments. Vassili Zaitsev was a real person, and he did engage in a sniper war with a Major Konings, sent out from Germany to hunt him down. The movie stretches the duel out longer than it lasted in real life, but did keep some of the details—Koning’s last sniper nest, the fact that Koning thought he’d killed Zaitsev and was then killed when he went to check. There was also a highly-educated woman named Tania in real life, and she and Vassili were lovers during Stalingrad. As in the movie, Tania was hit by shrapnel in the stomach and almost died. But the book explains that Vassili wasn’t too far behind her, and he was actually the one who picked her up and took her to the hospital. In real life, Vassili was injured in an explosion some time after that, and Tania was told he was dead. She thought he was dead for the next twenty-plus years, and by the time she knew he was alive, he was married to someone else. In the movie, she’s injured while Vassili is stalking Major Konings and in the end he finds her in the hospital. Not quite how it happened in real life, but it does make for a happier movie. There was a political officer/political agitator named Danilov in real life. According to the book, he even visited Vassili during the sniper duel and was shot in the shoulder. The complex friendship, rivalry, and love triangle from the movie are either Hollywood or found from a different source. Lastly, there was a boy named Sacha Fillipov. As the movie portrays, he was a cobbler and he went to work for the Germans while also working with Soviet intelligence. He was caught and hanged. In real life, he was fifteen. I don’t think the movie specifies his age, but he looks younger. Also, the movie connection between Sacha, Vassili Zaitsev, Tania Chernova, and Danilov must have been based on sources other than Enemy at the Gates, or it’s a Hollywood addition. Despite the historical discrepancies, I’d still recommend the movie, especially if you can get a copy like mine that has all the sex and swearing edited out. Just know that the movie, though well-done, isn’t completely accurate.(less)
Totally worth reading, but maybe not buying. I read it about two years ago and still think about it on occasion. (Ex: if only King Lear had read the c...moreTotally worth reading, but maybe not buying. I read it about two years ago and still think about it on occasion. (Ex: if only King Lear had read the chapter on Economic Outpatient Care. Sigh.)(less)
**spoiler alert** I enjoyed this series: exciting stories, interesting characters. I didn't think this one was quite as good as the first two. After C...more**spoiler alert** I enjoyed this series: exciting stories, interesting characters. I didn't think this one was quite as good as the first two. After Carlos finally died I thought "it's about time, why didn't this happen a few hundred pages ago?" Though I enjoyed this series, I don't think I'll read any more Robert Ludlum. I'm sure his other works are just as good, but I'm sick of all the profanity.(less)
Oh little gray grammar book, why did I sell you back to the bookstore at the end of the semester so many years ago? I'm glad we're now reunited so I c...moreOh little gray grammar book, why did I sell you back to the bookstore at the end of the semester so many years ago? I'm glad we're now reunited so I can easily be reminded when to use who and when to use whom, the difference between continuously and continually, and all those other tricky English rules I have trouble remembering.
Seriously, a wonderful reference. A little on the snotty side, but easy to use, concise, and clear.(less)
This is a screenwriting book, and I don't write screenplays, I write novels, but I had several writer friends recommend it. Actually, they over-recomm...moreThis is a screenwriting book, and I don't write screenplays, I write novels, but I had several writer friends recommend it. Actually, they over-recommended it. I was expecting the greatest book on writing ever. And it’s good, and I’ll probably read parts of it again, and I’d recommend it to others who like to write screenplays or novels, but it’s not the only good writing book out there.(less)
This book did an impressive job of covering the air war in Europe, focusing on the US Eighth Air Force, based in England. The parts I most enjoyed wer...moreThis book did an impressive job of covering the air war in Europe, focusing on the US Eighth Air Force, based in England. The parts I most enjoyed were the experiences of the bomber crews, but he also covered strategic air theory going into the war, the debates and decisions of those higher up, American/British relationships, and the view from the German side.
Miller showed the ugly side of war—the results of fire-bombing, the intense mental strain the men were under, mistreatment of POWs and internees, and the huge cost of the air campaign. The statistic that most stood out to me was that the Eighth Air Force endured more fatalities than the entire US Marine Corp during the war. Miller also devoted time to questions of precision-bombing (well, trying to be precise) vs carpet bombing and the morality of bombing non-combatants.
Along with the ugly side of war and the hard questions, he also showed amazing examples of cooperation between crew-members, endurance during difficult circumstances, and tremendous bravery as the men still flying got into their planes again and again and again.
One of the questions raised is “was it worth it?” Early Air Corp leaders thought they could bomb Germany into submission, without an invasion. That theory was proved wrong, but I think it is fairly clear that the air war contributed significantly to the war’s end. It inhibited Germany’s ability to wage war, diverted German manpower and resources that would have otherwise been used elsewhere, and it’s doubtful D-day could have been pulled off if the Allies hadn’t achieved air superiority by June 1944.
Miller bounced around a bit—chronologically and up and down the command chain. For the most part, he did a good job with this, but there were a few times when I thought it was a little jarring. But even with that, this was the most comprehensive WWII ETO air war book I’ve ever read (not that I’ve read a ton on the subject, but this wasn’t my first air war book). If it’s a subject you’re interested in, this book is well worth picking up.(less)
I had mixed feelings about this book. It has a lot of good information-even if the advice at times conflicted with other books I've read. On the other...moreI had mixed feelings about this book. It has a lot of good information-even if the advice at times conflicted with other books I've read. On the other hand, all the stories about 2 pound babies and months and months in the NICU were enough to earn this book a spot on my "horror" shelf, if I had such a bookshelf.(less)
Yeo-Thomas worked for British Intelligence during WWII, completing several trips into Nazi-occupied France to organize and coordinate the efforts of t...moreYeo-Thomas worked for British Intelligence during WWII, completing several trips into Nazi-occupied France to organize and coordinate the efforts of the various French Resistance groups. When one of his close associates was captured, Yeo-Thomas decided to go back to France and launch a rescue. His superiors didn’t want him to go—he knew too much, so if he were caught, SOE’s efforts in France would be seriously compromised. (view spoiler)[Well, he was caught. And tortured. And sent to a series of prisons and concentration camps. But he never talked. And against all odds, he survived.
Yeo-Thomas was an amazing man. He was courageous and quick-thinking, loyal to his friends, uncompromising with the Nazis. Even in the midst of horrible conditions he was able to keep up the spirits of his fellow prisoners with his inner strength, self-discipline, and determination to survive. He knew the importance of hope and dignity, and he clung tightly to those virtues. (hide spoiler)]
An amazing true story. The writing was competent—nothing special, perhaps, but good enough to tell the tale. Recommended for those interested in WWII espionage and survival stories. 4.5 stars.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)