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Endgame at Stalingrad: The Stalingrad Trilogy, Volume 3

Book One: November 1942, Book Two: December 1942–February 1943

By David M. Glantz with Jonathan M. House. 655 pp.; 744 pp. University Press of Kansas, 2014. $39.95 each.

David Glantz has done something very few historians achieve. He has redefined an entire major subject: the Russo-German War of 1941–1945. Glatnz’s exploration of newly available Russian archive records has made him an unrivaled master of Soviet sources. His command of German material is no less comprehensive. Add to this perceptive insight and balanced judgment, and the result is a series of seminal and massive volumes that come as close as possible to “telling it like it was”—with “nothing extenuated, nor aught set down in malice,” as Shakespeare put it.

Glantz has done some of his best work in collaboration with Jonathan House, and the team attained peak position with The Stalingrad Trilogy. It is the definitive account of World War II’s turning point, and the final volume, Endgame at Stalingrad, is the best of the three— though, typical of Glantz, he required two books—and a third projected—to present all he needed to say. The work is not for the faint of heart or mind. Its detailed footnotes and bibliography alone are almost worth the purchase price. The 1,400 pages are clearly written and organized well. Data never drowns narrative; narrative never over powers analysis. Perspective makes Endgame at Stalingrad formidable—and invaluable. Glantz and House approach their subject on the operational level. Most military history regards the strategic as more accessible and the tactical as more exciting. But, while comprehensively presenting German and Soviet campaigns in strategic context, the authors demonstrate how goals were ultimately achieved at the operational level.

This was the level imposed by the scale and intensity of the fighting, and the level at which the Germans were the strongest and the Red Army experienced its steepest learning curve. This volume’s focal point, and arguably its major strength, is its presentation of the Soviet development from initial head-on pounding against the Germans in Stalingrad to Operation Uranus—the November 1942 encirclement of the German Sixth Army—to the relatively sophisticated economy-of-force operations that thwarted German relief attempts in early 1943. Evolved incrementally, paid for in steel and blood, this matrix enabled the 1943–1944 offensives that broke the Wehrmacht and determined that the Nazi defeat would be total.

Acknowledging the Stalingrad garrison’s desperate courage and German forces’ skillful defense outside the pocket, Glantz and House leave no doubt that Stalingrad marked a German defeat as much as a Russian victory. Overall blame rests with Hitler and his crucial decisions to forbid retreat and surrender, and to supply the garrison by air—a technical impossibility. But his generals also bear heavy burdens.

In the initial stages, narcotized by “victory disease,” they went beyond risk-taking to recklessness. Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus committed the bulk of his army, including mechanized forces, to a house-to-house fight that neutralized German tactical advantages. The higher commands accepted attrition rates and deployments that left units facing two-to-one odds when the Soviet offensive exploded. Few reinforcements were available; Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s relief operation had some success but lacked the strength to break through to Stalingrad against determined Russian opposition. Paulus, who briefly readied a breakout attempt, failed to order it, partly because Hitler refused consent, partly because Manstein could not guarantee a linkup—and not least because of heavy Red Army attacks against the breakout sector. The authors state that as many as 40 percent of the Sixth Army might have made it back to German lines in a breakout mounted by December 18. A week later, only 10 percent might have escaped—in effect a suicide operation. Only about 5,000 of 90-odd thousand Germans captured at Stalingrad would return home.

Ironically the Germans initially had little interest in or reason for taking Stalingrad. The summer campaign’s aim was the oil fields of the Caucasus, and panzers came within a few miles of them. Operational art requires maintaining the objective, no matter how other opportunities tempt, or how necessary confronting other risks seems. Glantz and House offer a multi-volume demonstration of that principle.

—Dennis E. Showalter, a professor of history at Colorado College, is the author of Armor and Blood: The Battle of Kursk: The Turning Point of World War II.


Originally published in the December 2014 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.