- Stalingrad Revisited
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Over sixty years have passed since the end of World War II, arguably the twentieth century’s most terrible of wars. During the ensuing half century, hundreds of historians representing every nation that took part in the struggle have striven mightily to describe accurately the causes, course, and outcome of the war as a whole, as well as its conduct in its many theaters of military operations. Nowhere has this process of identification and analysis been more difficult than when studying the war on Germany’s Eastern Front, the Soviet-German War (1941–1945), or, as Soviets and Russians have styled it, their Great Patriotic War. Despite decades of intensive and careful study, the absence of extensive and credible archival materials, particularly on the Soviet side, has prevented comprehensive description and analysis of the war’s countless battles and military operations.
In the case of the Soviet Union and, to a far lesser extent, its successor Russian Federation, the sad reality has been that, for political, ideological, and military reasons, if not pride alone, the official historical “establishment” and its constituent historians have frequently ignored or deliberately concealed the most unpleasant or unseemly aspects of their nation’s wartime military record. Applicable to numerous battles that have been totally or partially “forgotten,” this blanket statement also pertains to vital aspects and details of many “well-known” battles, even those bearing such familiar names as Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, Belorussia, and Berlin.
Ignoring these constraints and weaknesses, Soviet and Western historians alike have penned numerous histories of the war, including surveys of the war as a whole and studies of the war’s most famous or infamous battles and military operations. Quite naturally, because Stalingrad proved to be a vital turning point in the war, it has been the subject of many of these books. This process began in 1958 when Marshal of the Soviet Union V. I. Chuikov, who commanded the Red Army’s 62nd Army during its defense of Stalingrad, published his seminal memoir about the battle. The publication of Chuikov’s memoir in English translation in 1964 opened what would ultimately become a flood of books about the famous battle. Thereafter, tens of Western historians, drawing heavily on Chuikov’s memoirs, wrote their own exposés of Stalingrad, however, without understanding that, although exquisite in its detail and accurate in the main, since the Soviet general wrote the book without benefit of full archival access, through no fault of his own, the book contained numerous factual errors. And, in the absence of new archival releases, these errors lived on in all subsequent histories of the battle.
Other factors further complicated the historian’s task of accurately reconstructing what precisely did occur at Stalingrad. Foremost among these was the spirit of pacifism dominant in German historiographical circles, if not society as a whole, which inhibited full exploitation of the vast amount of German archival materials pertaining to the war. Simply put, emphasis on more seemly social aspects of the conflict relegated military detail...