Stalingrad 1942-43 (1): The German Advance to the Volga
Robert Forczyk is a retired US Army armor officer who has written some really outstanding books on WW2. With his professional background, he is able to get past many of the older myths and facile explanations to really dig into what happened, and what alternatives were truly available in the past. He also has the rare gift of being able to write in-depth, detailed narratives without losing sight of the major direction of the story.
I was really excited to see that Osprey had commissioned him to write a three-part series on the Stalingrad campaign, which was obviously one of the pivotal campaigns of WW2. Forczyk has opened the series with the June - August 1942 period. In 96 pages, he provides the strategic background and then describes operations in the summer of 1942, including the Red Army's failed offensives and then Fall Blau (Case Blue) the German-Axis advance to Stalingrad and the Caucasus. The second book in the trilogy will cover the battles around the city from September to November 1942, up to the eve of the Red Army's counteroffensive that encircled the Sixth Army. The final volume will cover the November counteroffensive and reduction of the Stalingrad pocket through February of 1943.
As per Osprey's usual format, the author begins with the origins of the campaign. Here Forczyk does a great job pointing out that, although Germany undoubtedly still held the initiative in spring 1942, it was far weaker than in 1941. Unlike 1941, when the Germans could mount simultaneous strategic-level offensives across the entire front, by 1942 it could only launch and sustain one offensive action, leaving Army Groups North and Center relatively idle. Additionally, despite giving the Case Blue forces priority in some classes of equipment and personnel, units were still understrength and allied armies (Romanians, Hungarians and Italians) had to be used on less-critical tasks.
Here, an Italian armor unit equipped with the L6/40 light tank, which was the equal of a Panzer II or T-60, but was wholly inadequate for infantry support or tank-v-tank combat.
Good maps are key to understanding any battle, and particularly one as complex as the Stalingrad campaign. The maps here are quite good. There are also illustrations of some smaller-division-and-below actions.
Most of the book summarizes the actions of the Germans as they drove towards the Volga and Caucasus, and the Red Army's failed defensive measures. Forczyk reminds the reader that the city of Stalingrad did not even figure prominently in the initial planning for the campaign, which was intended to take the Caucasus oil fields, deny this resource to the Soviets, and provide a defensive barrier so the region could be held. Stalingrad was significant only as a location from which a defense of the Caucasus could be anchored, and as a location near which it made sense to cut traffic on the Volga. It is frankly astonishing that the Germans gave battle in the city at all; they could have more easily accomplished their objectives without it.
The Red Army's failures at Kharkov in May 1942 are described briefly, and one hopes a modern history of that battle will be written also.
In describing the German advance to the Volga and Caucasus, the author shows what a near-run thing it was right from the start. The Germans did not have the logistics backbone to support the operations they had launched, so German units frequently ran out of essential supplies, and lost opportunities as a result. Their undoubted tactical superiority (with vastly higher standards of training and small unit leadership) kept them successful, but not to the same degree as in 1939-41. The Red Army, meanwhile, was not yet the force it would become by spring 1943. Equipment was short, logistics management was abysmal, training levels even lower than in 1941, and skilled commanders were still in short supply. One gets the impression of two weak, battered opponents grappling for victory throughout the campaign - not just in later, urban fighting but right from the start. Both sides lost good opportunities for success, over and over. On the Germans side, this was mostly due to thin logistics, although Paulus' weakness as a commander also played a role. On the Soviet side, the Red Army was simply not up to snuff yet, and the training program was bloody. (As an aside, the book Days and Nights by Konstantin Simonov, though a work of fiction, is a great insight into the state of the Red Army at that time).
Overall, Forczyk provides an easy-to-follow account, told mostly at the divisional and regimental level, of operations in the summer of 1942. The maps and good introduction help keep this all in the perspective of the wider campaign.
Osprey campaign series books always include some color plates. Here's a dramatic one, showing Red Army units overrunning an Italian defensive position.
This an excellent book, with sensible organization, good maps, and top notch research and writing. If you have never read anything on Stalingrad (why are you here? ;) ) this is a really good introduction to the campaign. If you've read plenty, as I have, this is still a refreshing look with some new insights. Forczyk excels at combining narrative and analysis. This is a superb addition to the literature on Stalingrad.
Very Highly Recommended for Beginner to Advanced builders.
Thanks goes out to Osprey Publishing for this review sample.
Reviewed by Dan Egan
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