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Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad

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Stalingrad, the bloodiest battle in the history of warfare, cost the lives of nearly two million men and women. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler; it foretold the Russian juggernaut that would destroy Berlin and make the Soviet Union a superpower. As Winston Churchill characterized the result of the conflict at Stalingrad: " the hinge of fate had turned."

William Craig, author and historian, has painstakingly recreated the details of this great battle: from the hot summer of August 1942, when the German armies smashed their way across southern Russia toward the Volga River, through the struggle for Stalingrad-a city Hitler had never meant to capture and Stalin never meant to defend-on to the destruction of the supposedly invincible German Sixth Army and the terror of the Russian prison camps in frozen Siberia. Craig has interviewed hundreds of survivors of the battle-both Russian and German soldiers and civilians-and has woven their incredible experiences into the fabric of hitherto unknown documents. The resulting mosaic is epic in scope, and the human tragedy that unfolds is awesome.

457 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1973

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About the author

William Craig

55 books33 followers
William Craig (1929-1997) was an American author and historian.

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Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
December 29, 2016
A study of World War II is an exercise in tragedy. To compare it to a Greek or even Shakespearean play is to engage in understatement and reverse hyperbole: World War II is comparable to nothing else in history.

A student will delve into the political and economic backstory, come to vaguely understand the causes and the historical indices of what was to come. Next he will learn of the epic battles and the strife that engaged millions. But lurking in the shadows, like an especially miserable and haunting ghost is the name:


There the scholar will fail to grasp the scope of the calamity, be logically unable to find a way to comprehend the depths to which humans can descend. Stalingrad, in a collection of names that evoke horror, names like Auschwitz, Dresden and Hiroshima; stands apart. Like World War II itself, it is like nothing else.

William Craig, in his brilliant 1973 chronicle of the battle has recounted the meeting of an unstoppable force (the German blitzkrieg) and an immovable object (the stubborn and obstinate Communists) passionately defending their ground – in an action eerily similar to the American Civil War Battle of Gettysburg – where the initial goals were unrelated to the eventual conflict. Stalingrad was a city the Germans had not intended to take and shielded by Russians who had not anticipated to defend.

The numbers and statistics are incomprehensible. What does more than 800,000 dead look like? Stalingrad, now Volgograd (approximately a little north of the latitude of Seattle but in a hot and dusty steppe similar to the North American plains), is a long north to south river city (skirting the Volga River) with miles of streets adjacent to and parallel to the docks and the shoreline. The invading Germans, used to gobbling up miles and rolling up hapless defenders in days, met an obdurate Soviet city situated against a natural barrier. The mechanized war machine ground to an ugly halt in what would become blocks and blocks of urban warfare.

The fast and lethal panzer divisions of the Nazi blitzkrieg were accustomed to lightning fast successes and up until then, they had proven unbeatable. In Stalingrad, there progress was measured in street to street gains and with determined, dug in Soviets who gave ground unwillingly and then would retake a city block with a seemingly limitless supply of reserves coming in from the east.

This was a street fight: brutal, malicious and ugly. Fighting in the streets, fighting in the same building, hand to hand combat. Sniper duels, close range artillery, tanks set afire by Molotov cocktails thrown from upper story windows and then set upon by civilian factory workers. The Soviets hid in cellars and attacked at night, they traveled through the sewers to fall in behind the attackers.

Crossing the river to urban entrenched defenses, the inflexible, overconfident German tactics are reminiscent of the Union advance at Fredericksburg, with tenacious and merciless defenders employing heavy armaments at homicidal proximity and with hideous affect. The November Soviet counter-offensive that surrounded the over extended Nazis is likely still studied today.

Told with an eye towards objectivity and with the good, the bad, and the ugly of both sides; this is still more sympathetic to the Russians: the stolid defenders of the city. Craig fills his military history with colorful stories and frontline remembrances. One anecdote told of three Russian soldiers cut off from their unit and were lost for days in the burning city. The starving communists found a line for food and got in, were served a cup of soup and sat down at a table and only then realized all the others at the same table were speaking German. They quietly finished their hot meal and left.

Craig tells the stories of not just the leaders of both sides, the generals and political heads; but also, and most notably, the privates, sergeants and junior officers who form the bulk of each army, and who bore the brunt of the deadly chess match played from far off Moscow and Berlin.

And if you need a new reason to hate either Stalin or Hitler, especially the German leader, then this book provides plenty of cause of loathing for both.

Of course, much of this battle was fought on the Russian steppe in winter, so the twin specters of starvation and deathly cold played out in Napoleonic fashion. Craig’s descriptions made these difficulties seem real and painful, transforming this narrative into an organic experience for the reader.

An inspired, well researched, but brutally violent and frequently difficult to read military history.

Profile Image for 'Aussie Rick'.
422 reviews212 followers
October 4, 2012
This title was the catalyst for my enduring fascination with books covering the fighting on the Eastern Front during World War Two. This is a great story of the fighting at Stalingrad endured by the German and Russian armies. Although not as deeply researched as Glantz’s titles this book offers an insight into the soldier’s war and does it brilliantly. This is still one of my top ten books ever which isn’t bad considering it was first published in the early 1970’s. Recommended for anyone who loves a good historical account.
Profile Image for Veeral.
360 reviews133 followers
March 1, 2013
One would not be entirely correct if one thinks that the movie Enemy At The Gates was based on this book, even though the movie posters claims it to be so. Somehow, it resembles more with the book War of the Rats by David L. Robbins, which is a fictionalized account of the duel between two sharpshooters in the warzone of Stalingrad. In my opinion, Stalingrad (1993) is a way better movie than the Hollywood one.

This book in fact covers the whole battle of Stalingrad from the German perspective.

Following statistics shows the magnitude of horror that perpetrated at Stalingrad which makes a personal duel between two sharpshooters relatively inconsequential if one looks at the whole picture.

Lives lost at Stalingrad:
Russians: 750,000 men killed, wounded or missing in action.
Germans: almost 400,000 men lost.
Italians: 130,000 men lost out of 200,000 total.
Hungarians: 120,000 men killed.
Rumanians: 200,000 men lost.

Civilian population of Stalingrad: There were 500,000 people prior to the outbreak of War. After the war ended, a census found only 1,515 people who had lived in Stalingrad in 1942. Sure, many were evacuated before the siege, but it has to be noted that about 40,000 civilians were known to have died in the first two days of bombing in the city.

In five months of fighting and bombings, 99 percent of the city had been reduced to rubble. More than forty-one thousand homes, three hundred factories, 113 hospitals and schools had been destroyed.

But with hindsight, one wonders, why try to capture Stalingrad at all?

Infact, the original plans for Case Blue (Fall Blau) did not call for the capture of Stalingrad. The city was not even a primary target for attack. As originally conceived, the strike force was to consist of two groups of armies, A and B. Army Group A, under the command of Field Marshal List, included the Seventeenth and First Panzer armies. Army Group B, under Fedor von Bock, boasted the Fourth Panzer and Sixth armies, which were to be aided by the Hungarians in support of their rear echelons.

The army groups were to move eastward on a broad front to the line of the Volga River "in the area of" the city of Stalingrad. After "neutralizing" Russian war production in that region by bombing and artillery fire, and after cutting the vital transportation line on the Volga, both army groups were to turn south and drive on the oil fields of the Caucasus.

But Hitler himself had altered the scope of the campaign after German intelligence reported that the Russians had few reliable divisions on the west bank of the Volga. The Armed Forces High Command also determined that the defense lines between the Don and Volga were primitive at best.

Hitler concluded that the Red Army was not about to make a major stand at Stalingrad, and he ordered Sixth Army to seize the city by force as soon as possible.

Thus the onus of conquering Stalingrad fell upon the shoulders of Col. Gen. Friedrich von Paulus, commander of the Sixth Army. Paulus (as indicated by William Craig) stopped annihilation of the Jews by the 6th Army which was done by clockwork precision until Paulus took over the command from his predecessor. And until the fiasco of Stalingrad, Nazis were considered invincible by almost everybody. The battle of Stalingrad changed that. For the first time the Allies realized that after all, Germans were not supermen.

But one has to take into account the fact that the battle of Stalingrad was totally different from other theaters. And the serious shortcomings of the Nazi War Machine were exposed at Stalingrad. As they relied heavily on U-Boats in the naval warfare while ignoring the superior power of aircraft carriers, similarly at the land arena, Germans depended heavily on their Blitzkrieg tactics which were rendered useless in the street fighting of Stalingrad. The Russians in Stalingrad hid in cellars and used the sewer systems to good advantage. And the mighty Russian Winter also played a huge role in the German defeat.

For example, the Dzerhezinsky Tractor Works in Stalingrad, the assembly point for thousands of farm machines, which since the war was one of the principal producers of T-34 tanks for the Red Army, ran for more than a mile along the main north-south road. Its internal network of railroad tracks measured almost ten miles. And Stalingrad was full of such factories which was a real achievement for the socialist regime. For once, the name "Stalin" was attached to something in which the Soviet citizens took real pride - Stalingrad.

As I said earlier, the movie of the same name only addresses a minor event that took place at Stalingrad, and true to its commercial "Hollywoodian" nature, the script only tells a fraction of the truth. Even if you overlook the British accent of Jude Law while depicting a real life Russian hero Vassili Zaitsev (He could have at least tried to sound more like a Russian, to give the movie an authentic feel), the film never fails to disappoint.

Yes, there truly was a 15 year old boy named Sacha Fillipov who lived in the suburb of Dar Goya with his family. While his parents and ten year old brother stayed inside their house, the diminutive, frail Sacha went out to fraternize with the enemy. A master cobbler from his training at trade school, Sacha introduced himself to German officers occupying a nearby building and offered his services to them while infact he was working as a double agent and was pointing out the precise locations of the German army to the Russians. His end was bad as depicted in the movie but more depressing. He was hanged in front of his parents alongwith two other boys by the retreating Germans when his true purpose was found out.

And Tania Chernova was more badass than the film leads one to believe. She embarked on a relentless war against the enemy, whom she always referred to as "sticks" that one broke because she refused to think of them as human beings. As a partisan, she had broken several "sticks" in the forests of Byelorussia and the Ukraine until she came to Stalingrad to break more “sticks”.

The famous sharpshooter, Vassili Zaitsev had killed nearly forty Germans in ten days time, and correspondents gloatingly wrote of his amazing ability to destroy his enemies with a single bullet. Tania Chernova was one of his students. They also became lovers. But alas, after the war, they were separated as Tania was told incorrectly that Vassili Zaitsev was killed in action. But he survived and Tania came to know of his survival only after more than two decades. But by then, Zaitsev was married for more than 15 years to another woman.

As Zaitsev was a national hero, and as his fame spread across no-man's-land, the Germans took an inordinate interest in him. They called a Major Konings out from Berlin to kill him. Unaware of the German plan, Zaitsev continued his one-man war and began to teach thirty other Russians his specialty. The third morning, Zaitsev had a new visitor, a political agitator named Danilov, who came along to witness the contest. At first light, the heavy guns began their normal barrage and while shells whistled over their heads, the Russians eyed the landscape for a telltale presence. Danilov suddenly raised himself up, shouting: "There he is. I'll point him out to you." Konings shot him in the shoulder. As stretcher bearers took Danilov to the hospital, Vassili Zaitsev stayed very low and finally was able to kill Konings once his hiding place was revealed to him. With a total of 240 confirmed kills by the end of the war, Vassili Zaitsev became one of the most well known Russian shooters of World War II.

Zaitsev and Tania were even sent on a mission to kill Paulus at his 6th army headquarters but he was not there.

The book follows many such brave heroes that fought on both sides.

On the Russian side, Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov was made commanding general of the 62nd Army, which was to hold Stalingrad itself. He developed the important tactic of “hugging the enemy,��� by which under-armed Soviet soldiers kept the German army so close to them as to minimize the superior firepower enjoyed by the Wehrmacht. This tactic also rendered the German Luftwaffe ineffective, since they could not attack Red Army positions without firing upon their own forces.

Dr. Ottmar Kohler, a surgeon in the German army, kept treating wounded soldiers even though he broke his upper jaw in Russian shelling. He held his jaws together by inserting a cork into his mouth while treating the wounded. He had moved his hospital to within a half mile of the front. Stubbornly insisting that all German aid stations treat men within minutes of their being wounded, he had fought the traditions of the German Army.

And one of the most famous “sites” of the battle of Stalingrad was perhaps “Pavlov’s House” where a relentless Russian soldier named Jacob Pavlov had created a stronghold in the central part of Stalingrad.

Once four tanks came and fired pointblank into the building. But the wily Pavlov was ready for them. Because the tanks could neither elevate nor depress their cannon at such close range, he had moved some of his men to the fourth floor and others to the cellar. A single shot from his lone antitank gun put one enemy panzer out of action and machine-gun fire scattered the German infantry. As the foot soldiers bolted, the tanks skidded back to safety around the corner. “Pavlov’s House” became a beacon of resilience for Russian soldiers fighting for Stalingrad.

Captain Ignacy Changar was an expert guerrilla fighter and preferred to work with a knife—a technique he had perfected in the forests of the Ukraine, where he spent months during the first year of the war. There he had seen the Germans at their worst and the experience affected him deeply. One of his skirmishes with the Germans at Stalingrad is worth mentioning here.

Ordered to occupy a half-demolished building west of the Barrikady Plant, he had led fifty men into it only to find a sizable German force entrenched in a large room across a ten-foot-wide hallway. The corridor was impassable. No one on either side dared mount a rush, and Changar tried to estimate the size of the opposition. From the babble of voices, he judged it sufficient to hold him in check. Days went by. Food and ammunition were passed in through the windows. Changar assumed the Germans were doing the same so he ordered special equipment: spades, shovels, and 170 pounds of dynamite. The Russians broke through the concrete floor and started a tunnel. Digging two at a time, they slowly worked a passageway under the corridor. To mask the noise of the tools, they sang songs at the top of their voices. The Germans also burst into song from time to time, and Changar immediately figured the enemy was planning to blow him up, too. On the eleventh day, Changar ordered a halt to further excavation. After carefully placing the dynamite at the end of the tunnel, he cut and lined a fuse along the dirt passage up into the main room. The Germans were singing again, and someone on the other side of the hall had added a harmonica as accompaniment. While his men sang a last lusty ballad, Captain Changar lit the fuse and hollered to the two men still in the hole to "run like hell." With the fuse sputtering, everyone tumbled out the low windows and scattered hastily across the yard, but the explosion came too quickly. It picked them up and hurled them down again with stunning force. The shaken Changar looked back to see the strongpoint rising slowly into the air. It expanded outward, then broke into hundreds of pieces. A huge ball of fire catapulted up from the debris. He rose and called for his men. Only two had failed to get clear, the men who had been in the hole. Changar realized he had cut the fuse too short and he worried about the error until the next day, when he went back to examine his handiwork. He counted three hundred sixty legs before he lost interest and left, satisfied that the 180 dead Germans were a partial payment for his error.

While the street fighting was ongoing, Russians had already launched a major offensive to take Stalingrad back, Operation Uranus.

Despite severe casualties, Paulus’s requests of the German retreat were repeatedly refused by Hitler, even though Stalingrad was no longer worth the price. If it (6th Army) left Stalingrad, Hitler declared, "we'll never get it back again."

The 6th army needed to retreat immediately before the Russians gathered enough forces to crush it under its pincer movements. Even to hold out until relief arrived from north under Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, 200 tons of air supplies were required daily, as supply from land had become impossible. No German soldier believed that the Luftwaffe was upto that daunting task and the final decision of a timely retreat depended on that decision. Hermann Göring – much to the chagrin of everybody else except Hitler – promised loftily to fulfill the 200 ton quota of daily requirement of the 6th army through air drops. As expected, he failed miserably. But by then, the chance of retreat has passed as the 6th army was now completely surrounded by the Russians. There was no way out anymore.

Even the "freedom of action" on Russian ultimatum of surrender was denied to Paulus by Hitler. The Führer was insisting on a fight to the death, because "…every day the Army holds out helps the entire front…." Hitler was now looking for a glorious chapter of German martyrdom which, according to him, would resonate with the battle of Thermopylae.

The battle of Stalingrad had eventually degenerated into a personal struggle between the egos of Stalin and Hitler.

Finally the combination of pincer tactics adopted by the mighty Red army and the great Russian winter proved too much for the Germans. Paulus surrendered to the Russian army on 31 January 1943, thus starting a chain of events that would end with the suicide of Adolf Hitler and the eventual fall of Berlin henceforth obliging World War-II historians to rightly note that, Stalingrad was the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.
Profile Image for Sweetwilliam.
157 reviews55 followers
December 2, 2017
Enemy at the Gates is a narrative full of eye witness accounts that makes the battle of Stalingrad come to life. You will not be able to put it down. I promise you that this book will haunt you through the rest of your days.

I am haunted by the contents of this book. First, I read it on my kindle. I liked it so well that I ordered the audio version. I listened to the audio version two or three more times. As I read about 6th Army advancing toward Stalingrad I could see the dust of the panzers rising on the steppes. I could feel the hubris of the German conquerors and the panic of the Russian troops. At times, I felt like I was reincarnated and actually at the battle. I could almost feel the hunger pangs, bite of the cold, and smell of the bandages. I was left with vivid mental images of the desperation of men engaged in hand-to-hand and house-to-house street fighting in the frigid cold. Panzers could not elevate their guns low enough to fire at targets so close. Troops would be intermingled. Germans in the basement of a building were fighting Soviets on the first floor of the same building for days on end. I could feel the panic on the back of my neck as the author described the German ambulatory wounded fighting each other to board what could be the last flight out of the shrinking pocket around Stalingrad. Finally, I could feel the fear as the would-be conquerors surrendered and were marched off into captivity. Nearly all were never to be heard from again.

The Russians saw the dust cloud of the advancing 6th Army and deserted by the droves rather than stand and fight the Wehrmacht. The Soviets addressed this crisis with the tried and true number one tool that Communism uses to motivate troops: A bullet to the back of the head. A commander of a Soviet Division executed every tenth man until his revolver was empty in an attempt to motivate the loyal soldiers that hadn’t deserted from his division. The NKVD routinely executed men in the rear echelon if they didn’t have the proper pass or if they somehow became separated from their units. They didn’t ask questions. Lose your way lose your pass and “kablam” to the back of your head! Isn’t socialism wonderful!!! Many Russians being ferried across the Volga to fight the Germans attempted to escape by diving into the river. They were shot in the back by the NKVD. It is estimated that 14,000 Russian Military personal were executed by fellow Russians during the battle of Stalingrad. That exceeds the Union and Confederate combined total casualties at the battle of Shiloh! This was desperation on an epic scale that the world had never seen before!

Before long it would be the powers of the Axis that would suffer. Hitler makes many mistakes and there are consequences. In a move that defies all axioms of military science, Hitler orders 6th Army to halt and break contact with the fleeing Soviets so that 4th Panzer Army could cross its front in order to join Army Group A that was attempting to capture the oil fields in the Caucuses. This delayed the pursuit of the crumbling Soviets for a week and diluted the forces attacking Stalingrad. The author points out that Hitler’s imbecilic order would allow the Soviets to escape destruction, regroup, and live to fight another day. The Soviets were off the hook. Hitler later countermanded this disastrous order and redirected 4th Panzer Army to attack northeast towards Stalingrad but stripped it of key Panzer divisions. Later there would be a second German opportunity lost. This time it would be Paulus who would blunder. Paulus delayed and failed to link up with Papa Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army outside the city. The Germans could have destroyed two Soviet Armies on the open steppes just outside of Stalingrad. Instead, those armies were allowed to escape to the city and dig in. This set the stage for a house-to-house slug-fest that negated any tactical advantage that the Wehrmacht and blitzkrieg previously enjoyed.

The tide had turned. With 6th Army bogged down in street fighting in the city, Stalin was able to launch the great Soviet counter attack against German flanks guarded by comparatively weaker Italian, Romanian, and Hungarian troops. 6th Army would find itself encircled. The German men in the ranks didn’t panic. They had been cut off before. It was one of the realities of Blitzkrieg. Sometimes you advanced so fast and gained so much ground that you found yourself cut off in enemy territory. Stalingrad wasn’t the first time the Army had been cut off. At the time they could have easily broke out and retreated in good tactical order but Hitler wouldn’t allow it (this was the 3rd major blunder of the campaign). Goring promised to sustain Stalingrad by air. Only Goering and Hitler believed that the Luftwaffe could do it. No one else in an axis uniform believed this to be true. Von Manstein and Army Group Don tried to relieve 6th Army but they bogged down within 20 miles of Stalingrad. Von Manstein tried to persuade Paulus to disregard Hitler’s orders and break out towards the corridor provided by Army Group Don but Paulus refused. By the time Hitler’s chief of staff was able to convince Hitler to allow a withdrawal of 6th Army it was too late. 6th Army lacked the fuel and the Soviets were well entrenched in their rear. Hitler looked at his Chief of staff and threw his arms up in the air and said something like “what do you want me to do.” The gig was up for the paper-hanging, Austrian Corporal. There would be no more victory jigs for this guy. The battle was lost and so was the war.

Off into captivity marched the remainder of 6th Army. The Russians officially said that the Wehrmacht wasn’t sufficiently vaccinated against typhus to account for the high death toll. That may be true but the Germans would find out that the gulag – the cornerstone of Soviet Communism - is almost as efficient a killing machine as the German concentration camps. The Italians told stories of brutal treatment and resorting to cannibalism to survive. Only a handful would survive the systematic starving of the gulags and ever see home again.

Enemy at the Gates is a narrative full of eye witness accounts that makes the battle of Stalingrad come to life. You will not be able to put it down. I promise you that this book will haunt you through the rest of your days. It is nothing like the bad Hollywood movie of the same name. Enjoy!
Profile Image for Deb M.
9 reviews26 followers
May 25, 2023
I had watched the movie several times before reading the book, so my review is affected by that.
The book is a well written historical account that delves into the events of one of World War II's most significant battles. While the movie adaptation of the same name gained considerable acclaim, the book offers a level of depth and nuance that surpasses the movie, I think.

Firstly, the book provides a comprehensive and meticulously researched examination of the Battle of Stalingrad, presenting a more detailed narrative than the film's condensed storyline. It explores the strategic and tactical aspects of the battle with remarkable clarity, allowing readers to gain a profound understanding of the immense challenges faced by both the German and Soviet forces.

Secondly, the book goes much deeper into the personal experiences of the people, offering a perspective that is difficult to capture on screen. The vivid descriptions of the harsh conditions, the psychological toll of war, and the resilience of individuals involved bring a level of emotional depth that goes beyond what the movie could convey.

Finally, the author's meticulous research and attention to detail in Enemy at the Gates make it an invaluable historical resource. I thought this was a solid read for those who read books on this battle or WWII in general who seek a comprehensive understanding of the Battle of Stalingrad.

Profile Image for Katherine Addison.
Author 16 books2,798 followers
January 1, 2016
I found this book deeply problematic. Partly this is because I am irredeemably fussy and will nitpick anything to death, given half a chance. But I think my fundamental concern is a valid and important one. In this book, Craig has made some choices with which I vehemently disagree. One is to tell the story of Stalingrad rather than the history, which he does by largely turning the progress of the siege into a series of interlaced human interest stories. The other, related choice is to radically decontextualize the battle of Stalingrad.

What do I mean by that? I mean that, for the vast majority of the book, it is possible, and indeed encouraged, to forget that the German soldiers with whom we are asked to sympathize are in fact the tools of an abhorrent, genocidal ideology and government. (It is never encouraged, and rarely possible, to forget that the Russians are the tools of Communism--which Craig, writing in 1973, clearly expects his readers to find abhorrent.) Craig uses the word Nazi as little as possible, and never in connection with the men whose stories he follows; when he mentions the Germans' passionate belief in their ideology (which he does very rarely), it's only the cult of the Führer and the German Fatherland, never the equally prevalent belief in the racial inferiority of the Slavs and the German Manifest Destiny* to rule all of eastern Europe and most of Asiatic Russia also. He describes the Einsatzgruppen dismissively as "homicidal maniacs" (11), and clearly feels that he can place the blame for the genocide of the Jews only on them, leaving his German soldiers and officers untainted. He uses the word "holocaust" more than once, without any seeming awareness that it has particular connotations in any discussion of German participation in World War II, and late in the book, he says, "Paulus stopped trying to convince his superiors that further resistance was mass murder" (356)--without any recognition that "mass murder" was actually happening elsewhere in German-occupied Europe, in Auschwitz, Sobibor, and the other death camps.

Also, while Craig is quick and lavish in his description of the suffering of German and Axis POWs at the hands of the Russians, he absolutely and categorically ignores the systematic, programmatic starvation of Russian POWs by the Germans, and the equally systematic, programmatic, articulated as a matter of policy starvation of the civilian population in German-occupied Ukraine. He's stacked the deck, in other words, and I don't find that acceptable.

Do I think that the German soldiers and officers of the Sixth Army deserve sympathy? I certainly do. Their sufferings were horrible and pointless, and I feel sympathy--sometimes unwillingly--for anyone who believed in Hitler and was betrayed (which would be everyone who believed in Hitler). But I don't think that the outcome of the battle of Stalingrad, and the suffering of the Sixth Army, somehow negates the reasons and the choices that put them there in the first place. The Wehrmacht and its soldiers were not innocent of the Nazis' crimes. Craig's sentimentality and valorization of warfare are horribly misplaced in the story he's telling (even more horribly misplaced if he were actually writing history), and his belief that the battle of Stalingrad is a tragedy, the "gradual moral and physical disintegration of the German soldiers" (xii), is predicated on the idea that the Germans weren't morally bankrupt before they ever crossed the Don.

And I find that idea, as I said, deeply problematic.

*Yes, I'm using that term deliberately and with intentional multi-directional irony.
Profile Image for A.L. Sowards.
Author 16 books1,074 followers
October 31, 2012
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 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.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
983 reviews363 followers
April 22, 2013
An entirely sobering account of the epochal battle of Stalingrad. The ruthlessness and inhumanity of war is nakedly exposed. Corpses abound – towards the end rotting bodies are stacked up in makeshift German hospitals.

Stalingrad is what can happen to invaders. Although one feels sympathy for the Germans in reading their letters home to their wives and parents – there is no introspection in these letters of the reasons of why they were so far from their homeland. When one seeks to destroy a city (and in the case of Russia this amounted to many cities) there will eventually be a terrible price to pay.

In the “World at War” documentary episode on Stalingrad a Russian comments: “These German soldiers are a funny lot with their shiny black boots attacking Stalingrad – did they think they were on a joy-ride?”

This book should be viewed as manifesting the ultimate evil and destructiveness of war – millions paid a horrible price.
Profile Image for Evan.
1,072 reviews739 followers
March 30, 2009
Don't even harbor the thought that the film version of "Enemy at the Gates" bears anything but cursory relation to this book. The movie was actually based on a fictionalized book called "War of the Rats." If you want to read one book about the Hell that was World War II, this is the one. This is a sweeping chronicle of the most heinous campaign in the history of human warfare - Stalingrad. William Craig's command of the material is complete; the realities of everyday life and death are essayed through the situations of many real people. I was especially fascinated by the horrors faced by Germany's General Paulus, undersupplied and urged on by Hitler's irrational tactical commmands. The sniper story that makes up the plot of the movie version only takes up a couple of pages in this book. Craig doesn't spend much time on it; he only considered it a minor blip in the action and hard to verify as factual (and a lot of it was undoubtedly embellished for propaganda purposes). This and Harrison Salisbury's massive "The 900 Days," about the siege of Leningrad (with its own litany of horrors), are my two favorite war books. -EG
Profile Image for Chris.
Author 35 books11.2k followers
September 19, 2019
A classic of military history -- and for good reason. A wrenching, detailed account of the Battle for Stalingrad in 1942-1943. Among the most interesting surprises and particularly memorable characters? The Soviet female sniper. The young Russian teenager who pretended to be a cobbler repairing German officers' shoes, but was actually providing valuable reconnaissance to the Soviet Army. And the Italian physician, who found astonishing ways to survive in the POW camp until the end of the war.
Profile Image for Bryan--The Bee’s Knees.
407 reviews56 followers
November 3, 2018
William Craig's account of the battle for Stalingrad is overwhelmingly taken from interviews and accounts, diaries and letters, and official memorandum. Thus, while the movements of troops and of strategic planning is described so that the reader has an overall picture of the theater, it is the human element that gives the book its structure. Vignette after vignette unrolls as Craig follows the German Sixth Army across the steppes to Stalingrad, and how their initial enthusiasm turns to surprise at the city's defense, and finally to despair in the last days; and at the same time details the grim determination of Stalingrad's defenders, to the eventual counterattack by the Soviet forces and encirclement of their enemy, to the celebration of victory. All of it is recorded as it was witnessed, from the generals to the privates, cooks, doctors and quartermasters.

Turning more or less to a random page, the reader finds a brief account of the Russian experience in the middle of September:

In Stalingrad's main railroad station, west of Red Square, Lt. Anton Dragan's company was enduring ferocious bombing that blew down the walls and buckled the iron girders. When the Germans surrounded him on three sides, Dragan took his men across the street to another building, the nail factory, from which he commanded a good view of the intersection leading east to the Volga.

Barely settled in a workshop, Dragan took stock of his supplies and realized he had no food, little ammunition, and no water. In a frantic search for something to quench their thirst, the Russians fired machine guns into drain pipes to see if any liquid remained. There was not a drop.

Or this, from the last days in January:

At the Schnellhefter Block across from the tractor plant, Dr. Ottmar Kohler had run out of morphine. Wallowing in filth and blood, he operated under flickering lights and in incredible cold. Outside the building, lines of soldiers crowded the entrance, looking for a place to sleep. An officer went to the door and begged them to go away because there was no room, but they said they would wait until morning.

At sunrise, the visitors were still there, huddled together against the below-zero temperature. During the night they had all died from exposure.

These short, staccato bursts from the eyewitness accounts are buttressed by Craig's survey of the larger movements, to allow for a coherency that the eyewitnesses alone can't convey. Together, they make for a extremely readable and engrossing account--to the extent that in the middle of the book, when Field Marshal Manstein was making his doomed effort to relieve General Paulus' beleaguered Sixth Army, Craig was able to make it read as if the outcome were still in doubt, and I felt myself almost on tenterhooks as I read about events that happened seventy-five years ago.

This is a very humanist rendering of the battle--it may not suit all readers, especially those who would rather divest their history of emotion. On the other hand, I thought it made the events more immediate. But Craig is not sensational here--goodness knows that there were enough carnage and atrocity and utter despicableness at Stalingrad to fill any amount of books--but one has the sense that he is actually rather restrained. That does not prevent him from detailing the most horrible events; still, I never had the sense that he exploited them to add dash to his rendering.

Craig finished his book in 1972, and though I can't put my finger on it just yet, it seems to me that historiography of this period is different than that of today. Reading works by some other prominent historians working in this time (Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August, The Zimmerman Telegram; William Manchester, American Caesar, The Arms of Krupp) I notice a similarity in their tone, or perhaps in their overall effect. These accounts seem generally even-handed in their reporting, where all the actors are given room to display their humanity, even if it's their inhumanity we remember them best for. I find the popular historians of this time (and I haven't read Cornelius Ryan or William Toland, but I wonder if they might not be similar as well) very absorbing; I feel I have a very good grasp of events when I set the book down. I had actually misjudged Craig's book--I expected something superficial, something 'light'. It was not graphic, but I would not call it 'light' either.

It will be interesting to read Antony Beevor's account of the battle, when I get to it, and compare that with Craig. The only other book by Beevor that I've read is The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 which I liked, but on reflection, seems very dry compared with what I read here. On the other hand, I think perhaps it was more thorough, so it might not be a question of which is the better account, but rather that they may both have strong and weak points. If, for some reason though, I was never able to get to Beevor's book (and I'm not really ready to jump into another account of Stalingrad immediately) I think I've been well served by Craig. And if Beevor's account is a bit dry--though more precise--then Craig's book would make an excellent introduction to the topic, and perhaps make the broad strokes clear before further study.

ETA: Readers coming to Enemy at the Gates looking for the story of Vasily Zaytsev (Zaitsev in Craig's book) as portrayed in the film of the same name are likely going to be disappointed. That story is told in a dozen pages, and while the film, I think, still hits some high marks for its chilling look at the battle, it is also adapted to deliver a narrative that just isn't present in the book. Furthermore, Antony Beevor claims to have discovered that the duel between German supersniper Major Erwin König and Zaytsev was "a clever figment of Soviet propaganda," (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018...)-- not that that should take anything away from Zaytsev's actual accomplishments. His 'duel' may have been fictionalized, but his 225 kills between November and December of 1942 were not.
Profile Image for Mike.
1,115 reviews153 followers
October 18, 2012
One of the best battle accounts incorporating both sides while keeping a fair perspective. Fascinating and bloody, the battle was a key turning point to the war and this one should be read. *Oct 2012 Reread* This book remains a "must-read" on Stalingrad. It ranges from the grand strategy of Hitler's invasion of the USSR down to the grunts in the cellars and rubble of the city. Horror, cruelty and suffering yet flashes of humanity and charity in a titanic battle. Excellent reading even if it is almost 40 years since it was first published.
Profile Image for Richard.
210 reviews41 followers
November 3, 2016
This book is an account of one of the most decisive battles of World War II. It marks the spot in history when the Russian Army stopped retreating from the relentless German invasion which was started in June 1941, and when the utter, catastrophic defeat of the Germans gave the Russians and their allies in the United States and Great Britain a huge morale boost. This was one of those turning points where the ultimate outcome of a great conflict could trace its origins.

The invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany in 1941 (Operation Barbarossa) was initially a huge success. The Germans used their tried and tested "Blitzkrieg" tactics involving fast-moving tank columns, supported by air support, and followed by mechanized infantry, to gobble up vast tracts of Russia. After the winter of 1941-42, the upcoming German strategy included an attack on the Russian Caucasus oil fields by Army Group South. This would deprive the Russians of their access to oil and place the supply in German hands. The German dictator, Hitler, added an additional objective to the attack plan and split the Army Group by diverting the German 6th Army to capture the city of Stalingrad. Benefits of this action would include the elimination of a Soviet manufacturing center, and receipt of positive propaganda that would ensue from capturing a city renamed after the Soviet tyrant and dictator.

The German army, led by General Friedrich von Paulus, expected an easy victory. The city was reduced to rubble first, by the German air force. Tens of thousands of Russian civilians were killed in the opening days of the campaign, which started in the warm weather of July. The German forces found themselves engaged in a door-to-door battle in a pile of rubble defended by Soviet soldiers who were committed to defend the city or die in the attempt. All of the German advantages of fast movement, heavy guns and air superiority were cancelled; they found themselves fighting for a fixed patch of land, and could not use artillery or aerial bombs to support their forces because their enemies were engaged with them, literally face-to-face. An army which was used to overrunning a hundred kilometers of enemy ground a day was reduced to sending its soldiers to die or be wounded trying to capture single buildings. Casualties on both sides piled up as battles were waged to capture, lose, and regain single buildings, sometimes multiple times.

If you think this review is turning into your least un-favorite high school history class, don't despair. This battle, like all great conflicts, has tons of books devoted to it. A student of history could spend unlimited time just studying the data surrounding such actions, and that is all good and well if you want to research this subject deeply . William Craig, however, has written this book for the general reader; he has presented a story of the struggle of millions of people, soldiers and civilians alike, who found themselves involved in this human tragedy of huge proportions. He, of course, gives the background of the battle in order to understand its context, but he is not writing a statistical treatise or army "order of battle" of the conflict. He makes extensive use of first-person accounts, including available historical records, and interviews which he has conducted with survivors. As such, this is a work which, in a non-partisan way, tells how civilians caught in a hotly contested war zone suffered from brutal abuse and starvation; how attacking soldiers found themselves living for months in deadly proximity to their enemies, facing exposure to ever-increasing freezing weather with inadequate winter clothing and diminishing rations while slowly realizing that there will be no retreat or rescue from certain death or capture; how defending soldiers had to absorb unending casualties fighting in a city bordered by a river which they would not be permitted to re-cross until their desperate, deadly enemy was subdued.

The key to the outcome of the battle was the location the river Volga, which ran against the eastern edge of the city. The Germans, despite taking heavy losses, were able to push the Soviets back against the river to the extent that they eventually controlled about ninety percent of the city. Even then, the Soviet commander, Marshal Georgi Zhukov, kept reinforcing his army in the city by sending them across the river first, in boats, then by foot across the ice. The advance into the heart of the city by the Germans actually became their trap, because Zhukov was readying a counter-offensive in the Germans' rear. In the best German-inspired "blitzkrieg" fashion, the attacking Russian forces on the Germans' flanks converged on a spot defended by the Germans' inferior allied forces from Italy and Romania (Germany augmented its forces in Barbarossa with Italian, Romanian and Hungarian army divisions). This Russian pincer movement closed, and trapped over a quarter of a million German soldiers, and many more of their puppet allied forces, in an ever-decreasing area. Now, the Volga worked against the Germans. They could not cross the river, because the Russians were on the other side, and they were surrounded by Russian forces outside the city. Another German army group tried to break through the Russian noose but was repulsed. The German commander, Paulus, did not receive permission from his superiors to break out of the trap, and he dithered until it was too late to act on a break-out effort.

The most famous soldier to emerge from this battle undoubtably was the Russian sniper Vassili Zaitsev. He was a peasant soldier who was extremely deadly with a rifle. He actually became an instructor of the sniper school the Russians set up in the ruins of a Stalingrad factory, and he proved to be the most proficient of the snipers who killed probably several thousand Germans there. He was supposed to have killed forty Germans in a ten-day period, out of a total 225 Germans that he killed.

Zaitsev was a windfall for the Russian wartime propaganda machine, even as the Stalingrad battle was raging. He became a genuine Russian war hero. He is the central story in the Hollywood film "Enemy at the Gates", which depicts Zaitsev's love affair in the rubble of the city with army volunteer Tania Chernova. Zaitsev later wrote about his war experiences, including the famous "duel" depicted in the film, with a German master sniper named Major Konings, or Konig, or Koning (Craig spells it "Konings"). According to
Craig, Konings was dispatched to Russia in order to kill Zaitsev, after he became famous for killing Germans by the score. Konings and Zaitsev eventually found themselves stalking each other and only one was going to survive. Craig's book, which covers the "duel" in three or four pages, was not the main source of material for the film. The filmmakers supposedly relied more on David L. Robbins' "War of the Rats", named after the name used by German soldiers to describe fighting in this battleground of city ruins.

The edition of "Enemy at the Gates" I read is described as the movie "tie-in", containing pictures of Jude Law and Joseph Fiennes on the cover. I really don't care much for editions called "movie tie-in", do you? Just let me read the book the way the publisher's original art was used. The cover of this book contains the notation "An inspiration for the major motion picture...", evidence that it was not the main source material for the film.

The doomed German army continued to fight on until, by the end of January, 1943, its last remnants were about to be overrun. The mad dictator at the German command post at the Wolfs Lair in East Prussia forbade surrender. Hitler then cabled an order to Paulus which promoted him to the exalted rank of Field Marshal. This was not an empty gesture; it was a calculated attempt to force Paulus' suicide. No German Field Marshal had ever surrendered to the enemy, and the implication was clear that Paulus should give the Nazis a morale boost by making himself a martyr and going down in flames with his heroic army. A physically and psychologically haggard Paulus instead contacted Zhukov and surrendered. Craig notes Hitler's reaction to this attempt by Paulus to save the remnants of his depleted command from annihilation with the quote about the heroism of his soldiers being "nullified by one single characterless weakling .." (p. 383).

Craig drives the full impact of this moment in history home in his description of the actions of soldiers in all ranks of the Wermacht, from privates to generals, committing suicide with their weapons as the Russians closed in on their hiding places. Many thousands of Germans did surrender. Some were kept in Stalingrad by the Russians to help in rebuilding the city; probably none survived the hard labor and disease that afflicted them. The remaining prisoners were scattered to more than twenty camps ranging from the Arctic Circle to the southern deserts. Again, Craig lets the impact of the predicament of these prisoners take effect on the reader. The surviving German and other Axis prisoners were about to leave one scene of constant horror to a predicament of almost certain slow death to most of them. One of many graphic horror stories involves the macabre death struggle taking place inside train cars containing German prisoners on their way to Central Asia, where the occupants killed each other for bits of food thrown into their cars every two days.

Craig writes that more than four hundred thousand of the five hundred thousand German, Italian, Rumanian and Hungarian prisoners were allowed to perish, mostly by starvation, by the Russians from February to April of 1943. Starting in May, the Russians made more attempts to provide for sustaining the remaining prisoners until the end of the war. These final survivors starting filtering home after May, 1945. No more than five thousand German soldiers ever returned home, of the 91,000 remaining prisoners.

William Craig provides an excellent history of the most costly battle, in terms of lives lost, ever. The general reader interested in World War II, or the Battle of Stalingrad in particular, will be exposed to the ugly reality of warfare as very few can describe it.

Profile Image for Jean.
1,707 reviews742 followers
February 3, 2016
This book was first published in 1973 then was reissued in 2001, as a movie-tie book for the film of the same name. The book is considered one of the best written about the siege of Stalingrad. The battle for Stalingrad was waged from August 23, 1942 to February 2, 1943. The battle was critical to the fate of the Eastern Front.

General Frederick von Paulus’s German Sixth Army was fresh from crushing the Ukraine. In three years of warfare the Sixth Army was undefeated, having scored victories in Poland, France, Yugoslavia and now Russia. The Sixth Army was closing its pincers on two badly battered Soviet Armies near the western bank of the Don River. Stalingrad, formerly called Tsaritsyn (now called Volgograd) was now the focal point of the German Army.

Craig divided the book into two parts with part one detailing the German offensive and part two covering the Russian counteroffensive. This was a costly battle with a well equipped German Army against a poorly equipped and trained Russian Army. The Russians used Molotov cocktails again the German Tanks caught in the narrow streets of the City. The battle became famous for its sniper warfare. The German snipers with their scopes caused enormous loss for the Russians. Soviet women fought bravely in this battle. Tania Chebova a Russian sniper killed 80 Germans in three months.

The book was meticulously researched. Craig spent five years poring over documents on three continents. He interviewed hundreds of survivors of the battle. The book is well written and includes photographs. The Russians had the greatest loss of lives both military and civilians during World War II. I learned a lot and enjoy reading/listening to this book. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. David Baker does an excellent job narrating the book.

Profile Image for Steve Coscia.
219 reviews4 followers
February 18, 2012
For WWII history buffs, this book is mandatory. The Russians had no idea that they had trapped so many Germans in Stalingrad during their November 1942 pincer movement. The bold Russian move along with diminishing supplies and brutal weather sealed the German's fate. This book details the day-by-day and hour-by-hour deterioration of German existence inside the Stalingrad pocket or "kessel" (Cauldron).

Descriptive personal testimony of trauma, starvation, frostbite and even post-war follow up on many of the survivors.

History will forever debate whether Paulus should have broken out of the kessel in December 1942 in defiance of Hitler's orders. Both Manstein and Hoth admitted that Paulus was too subservant to Hitler and that Paulus should have broken out when he had the chance. Of course, both Manstein and Hoth speak with 20/20 hindsight. In Manstein's defense, he was a maverick and he did defy Hitler's orders more than once - and he was correct to do so.

I would have given this book 5 Stars if it had more maps detailing the various troop movements. I had to rely on other WWII maps to follow the geography.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews428 followers
November 23, 2014
-En el imaginario popular, la batalla más famosa de la Segunda Guerra Mundial y casi de la Historia-.

Género. Historia.

Lo que nos cuenta. Comenzando en el verano de 1942, y echando un poco la vista atrás para situar al lector, narración del durísimo enfrentamiento en Stalingrado y sus alrededores, que describe también las consecuencias posteriores para muchos de los supervivientes y nos traslada finalmente hasta el año 1955, en el que sus ecos todavía resonaban.

¿Quiere saber más del libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Calzean.
2,597 reviews1 follower
September 30, 2019
Written in the early 70s, the author had the opportunity to interview survivors from the Russian forces, local civilians, German soldiers and a couple of Italians. Coupled with access to the war records available at the time this is a terribly fascinating military history study. The book is sensibly divided into two halves - the Battle for Stalingrad followed by the Russian pincer movement and entrapment of the German Sixth Army. The battle descriptions ranged from broad summaries of troop movements to individual accounts of brutal deaths in brutal conditions. Not for the faint hearted.
There's plenty of analysis into the actions of Stalin, Hitler and their Generals. But the highlights are the individual letters and recollections of the people who survived this maelstrom.
Profile Image for Jerome Otte.
1,746 reviews
March 22, 2019
An accessible, riveting, graphic and very well-written history of the battle.

The narrative is engaging, insightful and balanced, and Craig vividly covers the savagery and human toll of the fighting, the horrible conditions the Russians and Germans fought under, and the courage and brutality of the men there. Along with the coverage of the strategic and tactical picture, Craig does a great job putting a human face on the struggle, and explaining the battle’s context and significance.

There are a few problems, though. For some reason Paulus is sometimes called “von Paulus.” At one point Cossacks are called “Kazakhs.” He also seems to cover atrocities as if they were random, but doesn’t explain how systematic some of them were. The Russians covered also come off as a lot more faceless or robotic than the Germans, and the coverage of how they devised a counteroffensive is hazy. More maps would have helped. The focus on personal stories can make the operational picture a bit blurry at times. The book also appears to be based mostly on German sources.

An intense, comprehensive, and well-researched work.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews428 followers
November 23, 2014
-En el imaginario popular, la batalla más famosa de la Segunda Guerra Mundial y casi de la Historia-.

Género. Historia.

Lo que nos cuenta. Comenzando en el verano de 1942, y echando un poco la vista atrás para situar al lector, narración del durísimo enfrentamiento en Stalingrado y sus alrededores, que describe también las consecuencias posteriores para muchos de los supervivientes y nos traslada finalmente hasta el año 1955, en el que sus ecos todavía resonaban.

¿Quiere saber más del libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Nikola Jankovic.
550 reviews109 followers
February 7, 2017
Bitka svih bitaka, ispricana kao "velika istorija", pokrivajuci bitku iz ugla njene vaznosti za tok 2. svetskog rata, kao i kroz strategiju, taktiku i odluke na frontu. Medjutim, ono sto je cini interesantnijom su i price pojedinaca, koje je Craig intervjuisao (knjiga je izasla 1973) i koji uspevaju da od velikog konflikta koji bi nas inace prenerazio "statistikom", visokim brojkama mrtvih, ranjenih i poslatih u logore, naprave licne price. Takav fokus postize to da svaku od tih stotine hiljada zrtava mozemo da vidimo kao nekoga od desetina pojedinaca na koje se autor fokusira. Jedna od tih prica je i snajperski dvoboj izmedju Vasilija Zajceva i nemackog majora, ali prica o Zajcevu je samo veoma mali deo ove monumentalne studije.

Ono sto nisam ocekivao je da se knjiga, pogotovo u svom drugom delu, vise fokusira na nemacku stranu price. Iz dana u dan je prepricana tragicna sudbina 6. armije generala Van Paulusa, od koje je Hitler zeleo da stvori mucenike nalik na spartansku armiju kod Termopila. Pred sam kraj je uporno zabranjivao cak i predaju svojih skoro 200,000 vojnika, tvrdeci da svaki sat nastavka borbe opkoljene armije, pomaze u celokupnoj nemackoj strategiji na istocnom frontu.

Svakako jedan od boljih istorijskih naslova. Cesto mucan za citanje, kao i vecina dobrih ratnih studija, pokazuje nesmisao ratovanja i pokazuje se vise kao anti-ratna nego ratna literatura.
Profile Image for Matthew.
515 reviews36 followers
June 29, 2022
Few if any battles in the history of warfare can equal the scale and momentousness of the Battle for Stalingrad. This history of the almost unimaginably grisly conflict, written in the early 1970's, does a nice job of laying out the various movements of the armies involved, the decision-making processes of the commanders, and shows many instances of how the outcome turned on a mistake here, a misunderstanding there.

But where the book really shines is in the first person accounts from both the Nazi and Soviet sides, many of which involved interviews with the author. It really puts the reader there in the thick of it, which made for extremely difficult reading at times.

In fact, sometimes it felt like we went a bit too far down that road. Author William Craig writes with more of a sympathetic touch towards some of the German combatants in particular than I was comfortable with. Additionally, the word "holocaust" was used multiple times to describe events that had nothing to do with the modern day, capital-H usage of that word, which was extremely distracting. Inappropriate, but likely a by-product of the era in which the book was written.

All things considered, this was an informative but taxing reading experience.
Profile Image for Jay Wright.
1,524 reviews3 followers
June 20, 2021
This took me forever to finish. It is still a good book but it is about a sense4less act. Prior to the battle of Stalingrad 600,000 people lived there. When it was over, 1,500 persons lived there and a good number of those died in the opening days of battle. We will never know the numbers of Russians that died in the battle. Much like Grant, Stalin with superior numbers just sent battalion after battalion to the battle until he won. Hitler could not admit defeat and would not allow a timely retreat. We know that in Christmas 1942 there were just over 200,000 German troops. Only 105,000 survived until surrender. Only 5,000 of the prisoners would return home. This was the turning point in the war.
Profile Image for Anthony.
80 reviews7 followers
December 19, 2017


The name evokes pain, suffering, hardship, death. William Craig’s Enemy at the Gates conveys all of the above and more. Published in 1973, Craig’s book is compiled from scores of survivor interviews, letters, communiqués and protagonist memoirs from both sides. The reader is immersed in the freezing trenches and basements of privates and NCOs, the command bunkers of German and Russian generals and Führer headquarters at the Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia. No detail is spared and the brutality of the conflict is recreated in stark detail from first hand accounts; the description of survival in Russian "POW" camps is beyond belief.

Craig also touches on the mismanagement of the German High Command, notably Hitler’s miscomprehension or indifference to a worsening situation and Goering’s assurance of resupply by air, doomed to failure from the outset. One almost feels sorry for the impending sense of disaster, repeatedly asserted by more competent generals. The blame does not solely lie here though. Manstein could have initiated ‘Thunderclap’, the codeword for an all out breakout from Der Kessel to link up with Hoth’s relief force. Paulus too shares some of the blame. His insistence to follow Hitler’s orders to the letter and not apply the initiative of a commander on the ground ultimately doomed the sixth army.

My one criticism is that the book could have done with a few more detailed maps. Manstein’s attempt at breakthrough and the Russian counter offensives were described in detail with place names and direction of attacks, but no maps. That said, it doesn’t detract too much from Craig’s gripping narrative and this is a must read for those interested in the Russian campaigns and WW2 as a whole.

As a side note, the movie of the same name starring Jude Law is loosely adapted from this book, focusing mainly on Vasilli Zaitsev, Tania Chernova and the cat and mouse with Major Konings. I liked the movie, but just couldn't get over the cockney "Russian" accents!
Profile Image for Christian.
138 reviews7 followers
July 14, 2021
One thing that struck me about this book is that it's so narrative-focused, and therefore so accessible. I had concerns throughout much of the book, though, as the author delves quite frequently into the alleged thoughts of the figures he is writing about, and I was worried that he might be embellishing. Furthermore, the author didn't cite sources until the bibliography. However, it seems he did a lot of leg-work and enough of this comes from interviews that I am more comfortable with the style of storytelling. The "where are they now" Epilogue added immensely to the experience and was a nice touch.

Overall, this was a gripping account of one of the worst things human beings ever did to each other. Fantastic work that doesn't pull its punches
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,493 reviews960 followers
April 13, 2016

A couple of months ago I read a non-fiction account of an air-raid against my hometown during World War II. The book ("Ploesti" by James Duggan) whetted my apetite for other similar accounts from that conflagration. Being already familiar with the two famous novels by Cornelius Ryan ("The Longest Day" and "A Bridge Too Far") I turned my attention to the Eastern front and to what is arguably the deciding battle of the whole conflict:

Marked by constant close quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians by air raids, it is often regarded as one of the single largest (nearly 2.2 million personnel) and bloodiest (1.7–2 million wounded, killed or captured) battles in the history of warfare. The heavy losses inflicted on the German Wehrmacht make it arguably the most strategically decisive battle of the whole war. It was a turning point in the European theatre of World War II; German forces never regained the initiative in the East and withdrew a vast military force from the West to replace their losses. [source: wikipedia]

The title was familiar from a movie I watched years ago, but the novel has very little to do with the Hollywood adaptation. I have some reservations about the treatment of the subject by William Craig, and I will try to detail them later, but these complaints should be balanced by the fact that the book kept me glued to the pages for two white nights in a row, in the middle of a working week. That says something both about the importance, the appeal of the subject and about the manner in which the author mixed historical detail with human interest stories. For every description of the units deployed, of their tactics and of the equipment they used in battle, there was an even lengthier look at the real people involved in the actual fighting, military or civilians caught in the crossfire. For every panoramic outlook of the war, played in the high offices of Kremlin or Berlin, there was a scene from the devastated streets and buildings of the town of Stalingrad. The reader cannot help being sucked in into the terrible Maelstrom of urban warfare, when whole regiments were wiped out within hours of entering the battle, where disputed territory was measured in yards or in different levels of the same building that changed hands several times in one day.

The is a "but" though, and it has to to with a subtle yet persistent impression that the author is more interested in the professionalism and personal heroism of the German troops rather than in the sacrifices and dedication of the Russian defenders. The sections dealing with the Wehrmacht are about twice the length of those dealing with the Soviets, and most of the comments are either positive or complimentary towards the Germans. Craig even finds excusable circumstances for the poor decisions taken by Von Paulus, who was admittedly under strict orders from the Fuhrer and not a free agent. While the author doesn't shy away from the atrocities perpetrated by both sides, especially the sustained bombing of the city by the the Luftwafe and the punishment of deserters by the Russians, the overall impression for me is still one of an apologist rather than a critic of the Nazis. An objective reason for the preponderence of information from the German side can be found in the secrecy and propaganda that the Russians used in their later accounts of the battle and the difficulty of an American historian to penetrate the Soviet archives, but even so, after five years of intensive research he did for the book, I would have expected William Craig to be more balanced.

On a personal note, the battle of Stalingrad is of particular interest for Romanians, because it caused the almost total destruction of our regular national army. Two Romanina Army corps were deployed to guard the flanks of the battlefront, assisted by other satellite nations like the Italians and the Hungarians. Despite frequent intelligence reports that the Roussians were amassing troops for a counteroffensive and that the Romanian armies were poorly equipped and stressed thin on a very long front, Von Paulus preferred to concentrate all his efforts on the town itself. When the breakthrough came, it was exactly through the Romanian sectors, who had nothing to counter tanks and heavy artillery. They were treated and they died like cannon fodder. Von Paulus ended up surrounded and eventually became the first Field Marshall to surrender his army. A second tidbit of information of local relevance is that the same Von Paulus was married with a Romanian lady connected with the Romanian aristocracy, a wife that was much less enamored of Hitler than her husband:

Paulus was awed by Hitler's grasp of the technical aspects of warfare. He considered him a genius.
His wife did not share his beliefs. The former Elena Constance Rosetti-Solescu, Coca to her friends, a descendant of one of Romania's royal houses, had married Paulus in 1912 and gave him a daughter and twin sons.

The most famous incident in the Stalingrad siege is the subject of the movie of the same name : "Enemy at the Gates", with Jude Law playing the role of the Russian sniper Vasily Zaytsev. In the book, the events from the film occupy only a few pages from the middle of the battle, and a mention in the afterword. Zaytsev may be the most celebrated hero of the Stalingrad conflict, but Craig does a good job of cutting Zaytsev down to size from the myth created around him, and of making it clear he is only one many soldiers that fought and died in those days, often remaining unnamed or forgotten. For me, the one name that stuck is that of Lt. Hersch Gurewicz, an unlucky grunt who gets injured and blown to pieces time and time again, yet refuses to give up and returns to the frontline after each lengthy hospital stay.

Conclusion: A very well documented account of one of the greatest battles of WWII, a true page turner that excells in the human interest stories from the actual participants in the conflict.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
712 reviews80 followers
March 27, 2017
Excellent book despite its age, a very personal look at the Battle of Stalingrad from the Generals to the soldiers on both sides suffering its effects. Reads quickly and doesnt have a single dry spot.
Profile Image for Kenneth Decroo.
Author 5 books18 followers
May 1, 2018
This non-fiction book reads like a novel. It is very informative. Written from extensive interviews and diary accounts from both sides of the battle of Stalingrad. I could not put it down.
Profile Image for Bogdan.
888 reviews1 follower
March 15, 2020
This was an impressive, dramatic, and heart ripping account of that part of the European history.
I wanted some point of view from the side of the ordinary soldiers and other people implicated in this colosal battle and in this peculiar volume you have it all, from the german to the italian and rusian side. There was also a small passage about the romanian army, but, as usual, there aren`t a lot of information about them in this kind of books. AT the time of the writing this book Romania was a deeply communist state so I guess that it`s one of the factors for this peculiar lapse.

But, anyway, because of it`s scope and the whole magnitude of the battle, I can`t recommended it enough to be read and meditate upon it.

Ps: Just saw these day the movie Stalingrad (1993)-about The "336 Pionier Bataillon- and a lot of the events depicted in the film I found to be written in this book.

Highly ,highly recommended!
Profile Image for Robert Chang.
56 reviews2 followers
December 6, 2021
Every couple of years, I read or re-read a book about Stalingrad. I don't know why - probably to remind me that however bad life gets, life will hopefully never get "Stalingrad from 1942 to 1943" bad.

So, some horrific highlights:

1. Lice are everywhere. Wounded soldiers fall asleep and wake up to lice crawling into their wounds because it's warm. Lice flee from the bodies of dead soldiers because they quickly freeze.

2. German soldiers called it RattenKrieg (Rat War) because they bombed the city into rubble, the Soviet army fled into the ruins and in order for the Nazi's to take the city, they have to fight one building at a time. One incident sticks out where a group of German soldiers in a two story building wait hours downstairs to ambush some Soviet soldiers that are upstairs. A sniper is shooting into the second floor. A day later, the Germans finally peak upstairs and realize everyone is dead and they've been waiting for nothing.

3. Russia is cold. Soldiers freeze to death a lot. Also, there is starvation. A lot of horses are eaten.
Rations are eventually reduced to a square inch of bread a day. During an officer's birthday, his loyal subordinates cook him a meaty stew. During the meal, another officer storms in and demands to know where his German Shepherd is. Everyone looks at their feet. The birthday officer realizes what he's eating and is embarrassed. After the angry officer leaves, the birthday officer finishes his stew.

4. Cannibalism, mostly documented by Germans because Germans like documentation. This is frowned upon for obvious reasons, so mostly the cannibals wander around at night, especially around the hospital. They are shot when discovered. Dead bodies are everywhere, but the cannibals have standards and don't like the frozen dead ones - they want freshly killed people. One wounded brother flees from a group of cannibals and his older brother has to protect him for in a locked building. The wounded brother dies eventually but his brother prevents his body from being eaten. The experience makes him go crazy.

5. It smells bad. The city has been bombed, and rebombed so many times that people don't bother to bury the bodies. Or there just continues to be more bodies. During the winter time, it's not bad because they are all frozen, but the whole city smells like rotting meat during the summer.

6. People get desensitized. Because of the heavy snow, soldiers need to leave markers to show where the road is. They use frozen arms and legs from dead bodies to stick in the snow like sticks as markers.

The book is a bit dated (originally published in 1973 I think) so before all the Soviet archives became available but still excellent documentation and written when survivors were still around. The actual numbers of dead were still estimates (turns out around 1.1 million Soviets 800,000 Germans, 40,000 civilians). Numbers on that scale from a single battle (well, a siege) that lasted a single year seems incredible. Admittedly some occasional visceral satisfaction from reading about Nazis getting destroyed.

Mostly a reminder of how nice life can be when people aren't killing each other on a massive scale.

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