Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Book Review - An infantryman in Stalingrad by Adelbert Holl

An infantryman in Stalingrad : from 24 September 1942 to 2 February 1943 by Adelbert Holl, translated by Jason D. Mark and Neil Page

Sydney : Leaping Horseman Books, 2005                                   ISBN 0975107623

Stalingrad. A name that inspires horror into any person's breast; a name that means death, destruction, desolation, despair, heroism, and the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.

Adelbert Holl was one small part of the German Sixth Army, the force tasked by Hitler to take Stalingrad as part of the Nazi push into the Caucases. What the bare bones version of the Russian front story doesn't emphasise are the large losses borne by the Germans in their push into the Soviet Union. While they inflicted truly horrendous casualties on the Red Army, the Germans too lost many many men in their push eastwards. So, when Hitler determined to make a push for the oilfields around Grozny, he didn't really have enough troops to both do that and take Stalingrad in force. As the advance moved forward, the Stalingrad spearhead was gradually stripped of men and armour, which all turned south to assist in the invasion of the Caucases. This was the first in a chain of events that led to the eventual encirclement and destruction of the Sixth Army by the Russians.

Holl's story has little to do however with grand strategy. The book as we have it here is a diary of little over three months fighting in the city, at first when the Germans were attempting to take the city and then experiences of survival as part of the "Kessel". Holl arrives back at his unit in September after recovering from a wound (his third), to be put in charge of a company attempting to reach the banks of the Volga. The fighting is hard, but successful, with his squad achieving their objectives day by day, but losing many men in the process. The description of the house-to-house fighting is vivid, and Holl's concern for his men apparent. The story becomes more harrowing for his company as the Army is surrounded, and he and his men begin to suffer from the lack of food, ammunition and clothing as the winter sets in. Holl's story is the story of the Sixth Army as a snapshot - the diminishing number of troops available leads to wounded men staying in the front line, the lack of ammunition requires his men to pilfer Russian equipment from the dead, and the lack of food means loyal animals are all slaughtered to keep the men from starving. Holl's retreat to his final position leads to two of his men freezing to death as they walk (at this stage, owing to their lack of condition and to the weather, they can barely make a few kilometres in a day's march). The final pages of the book describe how Holl decides to stay with his wounded comrades rather than retreat further, and the final sentence sees him in his bunker awaiting the arrival of the Russian troops.

The fate of many of the Germans that were captured was not good, many dying in captivity, either from disease or overwork. This edition has an excellent apparatus, including footnotes describing the careers and lives of many of the people Holl mentions; so many of whom died in the battle, or a short time after in captivity. The apparatus also includes many photographs of the areas that Holl fought over, excellent photographic maps showing his positions, and many of the Army's situation reports and orders that refers to areas where Holl was active. There is also an appendix that describes Holl's career from official documents.

It seems that Holl was captured and survived to return to Germany after the war, where he wrote this book in the 1970s as well as another which covered his period in captivity - which has not been translated into English. As an insight into the horrors suffered by both Germans and Russians in Stalin's City, this book is worth reading. One for aficionados.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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