It is early September 1942 and the German commander of the Sixth Army, General Paulus, assisted by the Fourth Panzer Army, is poised to advance on the Russian city of Stalingrad. His primary mission was to take the city, crushing this crucial center of communication and manufacturing, and to secure the valuable oil fields in the Caucasus.
What happens next is well known to any student of modern history: a brutal war of attrition, characterized by fierce hand-to-hand combat, that lasted for nearly two years, and the eventual victory by a resolute Soviet Red Army. A ravaged German Army was pushed into full retreat. This was the first crucial defeat of Hitler’s territorial ambitions in Europe and a marked a critical turning point in the Second World War.
But the outcome could have been very different, as Peter Tsouras demonstrates in this thought-provoking and highly readable alternate history of the fateful battle. By introducing minor ‘but realistic’ adjustments, he presents a scenario in which the course of the battle runs quite differently – which in turn sets in motion new and unexpected possibilities for the outcome of the entire war. Cleverly conceived and expertly executed, this is alternate history at its best.
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About the Author
Peter Tsouras is an author and historian
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Führer Directive 41
The Wolfsschanze, Führer Headquarters, Rastenburg, East Prussia, 4 April 1942
As Hitler read through the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW Headquarters of the Armed Forces) Operations Staff briefing for Operation Blau (Blue), the plan for the 1942 summer campaign, the angrier he got. The Wehrmacht's Operations chief, Colonel General Alfred Jodl, had become attuned by now to Hitler's body language and braced himself.
'This is not what I want!' Hitler said. He fumed at the plan and its General-Staff trained officers, so steeped in the traditions from Scharnhorst to Schlieffen, the very system that Hitler had concluded was manifestly inferior to the intuitive judgement of his genius. Behind that contempt was the rage that so many of these generals, as well as the senior commanders at the front, had obeyed his orders grudgingly and with the most obvious of reservations. 'No! No! No! I will have no more of these vague, elastically framed tasks!' By that he meant the mission orders on the Auftragstaktik principle that granted the commander in the field great leeway and initiative in exactly how he executed those orders. Freedom of action was the last thing he wanted to give Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, commander of Army Group South. The last time he had done that for his senior officers was in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union the previous June. And what had they done with that freedom of action? They had failed to take Leningrad and Moscow and were stunned by the Russians' winter counteroffensive. Their precious General Staff methods failed them when the Russians came howling through the snow to throw them back in panic, that brother to blood-stained rout. The whole army would have come apart at the seams if he, Adolf Hitler, who had held no more than a corporal's rank in the Great War, had not issued his stand fast and fight it out order. He had saved the army through this act of sheer will.
Now they were back to their old tricks. Freedom of action be damned. It was only their way of giving themselves the leeway to fail and then blame it on him. His attitude to the professional army was becoming indistinguishable from what he had once told an acquaintance was the way to deal with the opposite sex. 'When you go to a woman, take a whip.' Now he would hold the whip over the Army's generals.
'I want no generalities, Jodl. Do you hear me? I want this plan in exacting detail.' Jodl attempted to explain that senior commanders were traditionally given the initiative to plan their own methods. The look on his Führer's face made Jodl instinctively take a step backwards.
Hitler snatched the plan out of Jodl's hands and said, 'I will deal with the matter myself,' and stormed off, leaving the man shaken.
The conception of Operation Blau was Hitler's. It was his child, and he now had to take it severely in hand after it had been spoiled into sickliness by the Army and Wehrmacht Operations staffs. He would make a man of it. It had the audacity and ambitious sweep of Barbarossa, but this time he would control it and force it to victory. He went to the map of the Soviet Union and swept his fingers across its south. Here, he said to himself, between the Donets and the Don, we will engage and destroy the bulk of the remaining Soviet field forces.
And all this was to be only the opening move to quench Germany's insatiable thirst for oil. Hitler had been driven in so many of his schemes by an obsession with economic resources, and oil was above all his focus. Oil was vital not only for the Wehrmacht but for the very existence of modern Germany, and Germany had no oil. Its synthetic oil production could not come close to meeting demand, and Romanian oil could not either. The only remaining source within Hitler's grasp was in the vast mountainous region of the Soviet Caucasus and Transcaucasus between the Black and Caspian Seas.
The two oilfields at Maikop in the Kuban east of the Black Sea and Grozny, capital of the Chechens, in the mountains produced about 10 per cent of all Soviet oil. South of the mountains in the Transcaucasus, however, lay the richest oilfields of all around the capital of Soviet Azerbaijan at Baku on the Caspian Sea. These fields produced 80 per cent of Stalin's oil, about 24 million tons by 1942. Transcaucasia, which included the Soviet republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, was also the location of the richest manganese mines in the world, supplying the Soviet Union with 1.5 million tons annually, half of its needs.
The struggle between the Donets and Don was meant only to clear the way for the simultaneous thrust across the Caucasus to the oilfields of Baku on the coast of the Caspian and farther north to Astrakhan at the mouth of the Volga. Oil was what Germany and the Soviet Union both needed. With this stroke he would take it and at the same time deprive the enemy of it. As a bonus, the route for Allied supplies to the Russians from Persia would be severed at the moment when it seemed to be reaching the tonnage of aid sent by the Arctic convoys.
His imagination took flight as he dictated to his secretary ten single-spaced pages of minute directions for the upcoming offensive. As he finished he could see Stalin being dragged in a cage through the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate his triumph.
The Kremlin, Office of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, 7 April 1942
Stalin had unconsciously divined Hitler's plan for the summer offensive. All you had to do was look at the map. The wide open steppe that stretched from the Donets to the Volga and beyond fairly beckoned to a mechanized invader. Yes, it would be a drive to the south that the Germans would try, then across the mountains of the Caucasus. This region was rich in economic targets, and he knew of Hitler's obsession with such booty. But then he made a further divination that obscured the spot-on accuracy of the first. He believed that, before heading south, Hitler would drive on Moscow for the decisive battle to take the ancient Russian capital. Only then, Stalin concluded, would he turn to the Caucasus. He did not know that, two days before, Hitler had issued Führer Directive No. 41, that ordered just such an attack to the south as the primary German effort for 1942.
The directive was based on the conclusion that the 'enemy in his anxiety to exploit what seemed like initial successes has spent during the winter the bulk of his reserves earmarked for future operations.' The Stavka, or command element of the armed forces of the Soviet Union,had indeed accumulated eleven new reserve armies as a strategic reserve. Georgi Zhukov, the most brilliant and successful of Stalin's generals, urged him to concentrate that force to destroy the German Army Group Centre. Instead, Stalin distributed them across five fronts for the defence of Moscow. The Germans had done their best to make Stalin's wish father to that thought. They had conducted numerous reconnaissance missions over Moscow and left detailed city maps to be captured by Soviet patrols. It was all Stalin needed to continue to deceive himself. It was a remarkable achievement in self-deception in the face of the accurate intelligence to the contrary from a number of highly placed Soviet agents of proven veracity.
Hitler's directive instead stated that the centre of the front was to be held on the defensive 'while all available forces are concentrated for the main operation in the southern sector, with the objective of annihilating the enemy on the Don and subsequently gaining the oilfields of the Caucasian region and the crossing of the Caucasus itself.' Hitler's emphasis at this point was clearly on securing the oil of the Caucasus. He said plainly, 'If we don't secure Maikop and Grozny, then I must put an end to the war.' The city of Stalingrad on the Volga did not loom at all in the scale of things for Hitler. Its only importance was as a war armaments centre and Volga crossing, both of which would be lost to the Soviets if the city were simply bypassed.
The Wolfssehanze, 13 April 1942
'Yes!' said Hitler has he took off his spectacles. 'This is just the sort of analysis I need.' He then read it out loud to the officers assembled at the Führer Naval Conference.
In their endeavour to support Soviet Russia, Great Britain and the United States will make every effort during the coming weeks and months to increase shipment of equipment, materiel, and troops to Russia as much as possible. In particular the supplies reaching Russia on the Basra-Iran route will go to the Russian Caucasus and southern fronts. All British or American war materiel which reaches Russia by way of the Near East and the Caucasus is extremely disadvantageous to our land offensive. Every ton of supplies which the enemy manages to get through to the Near East means a continuous reinforcement of the enemy war potential, makes our own operations in the Caucasus more difficult, and strengthens the British position in the Near East and Egypt.
Hitler's summation was simple, 'This reads like an annex to my Directive 41. I congratulate the naval staff. Its conclusions fully support that directive.'
He had every reason to give praise. By midsummer of 1941, it had become apparent to both Moscow and London that the Germans were thrusting towards the Caucasus. The British and Russians jointly occupied Iran in August, ousted the pro-Axis shah, and began to prepare the ports, oilfields, railways and roads to receive supplies and equipment. After Pearl Harbor large numbers of American troops began arriving to serve in auxiliary capacities for the British as American ships began to reach Persian Gulf ports. From January to April 45,000 tons of cargo originating from the USA and Canada had been transferred to the Soviets. Britain contributed another 2,500 tons. In May alone the tonnage was expected to double, almost equalling the tonnage sent by one Arctic convoy. The first American Douglas A-20 Havoc light bomber was flown into Persia in February. By April another 38 had arrived with monthly deliveries of about a hundred a month scheduled. The Americans built a truck assembly plant which began work in April and was scheduled to assemble almost 400 that month and over a thousand a month thereafter. The Persian Corridor was beginning to swell with cargoes headed for the Soviet Union just as Hitler had determined that that door to the Caucasus must be slammed shut.
German Embassy, Ankara, 15 April 1942
Franz von Papen, the German ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, had every reason to feel satisfied. General Emir Erkilet had just told him that 'participation in the war against Russia would be very popular in the Army and in many sectors of the population'. The pro-German element in the Turkish Army was becoming more assertive, with encouragement coming from Berlin. Germany had been plying the Turks with reasons to enter the war on its side for over a year. Noted military historian John Gill observed,
In an especially well-received measure, the Führer wrote a personal letter to Turkish President Ismet Inönü recalling the comradeship of the First World War, the common interest in reducing British influence in the Mediterranean and the shared concerns about the USSR. These efforts culminated in a treaty of friendship signed by the unsuspecting Turks on 18 June 1941, only four days before the invasion of the Soviet Union.
MAP No 1 THE PERSIAN CORRIDOR
The poorly equipped Turkish Army became the recipient of huge amounts of captured French and Soviet equipment, especially artillery and machine guns. German training teams were actively at work with the Turks to bring their army out of its World War I mindset into something vaguely resembling readiness for modern war. If the Turks were to join the Axis, they had to be prepared to contribute effectively.
Papen had assured the Turkish leadership that Turkey would have 'a leading place in the Axis new order', and that Germany would ensure that important 'territorial rectifications' would be made in Thrace, the Dodecanese Islands, northern Syria and Iraq all the way down to Mosul, and even in the Crimea. Especially attractive was the promise of Turkish territorial expansion into parts of the Caucasus inhabited by ethnic Turks, the Azeris, and even into Central Asia with its Turkic Uzbeks, Turkmen, Kazakhs and Kyrghiz. This had great appeal to the Pan-Turanism of important elements in Turkish society.
Probably the most important encouragement was a remarkable gesture by Hitler to transfer all of the Muslim prisoners captured from the Red Army, most of whom were of Turkic origin, to Turkey for 'internment'. These numbered over a quarter million of the over three million Soviet POWs taken in the great encirclement battles of 1941. The gesture by Hitler had come about because of the visit to the Eastern Front at the height of the German rampage in 1941 by a group of senior Turkish officers arranged by Colonel Ali Fuat Erden. They were aware of the death by starvation that awaited Soviet POWs and pleaded with Hitler to spare their fellow Turkic Muslims.
Hitler had been impressed by the opportunities. He had looked upon the Turks positively as former allies from the First War but had come to see them in another light after the recent visit of an Arab delegation. The Arabs had told him that the Germans really should be Muslims because it fitted their nature better. He had not known much of Islam before this encounter but was now intrigued by it. He pondered the history of Europe and concluded that the defeat of the Arab invasion at Poitiers (Tours) in AD 732 had been a great lost opportunity for the Germans.
Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers - already, you see, the world had fallen into the hands of the Jews, so gutless a thing was Christianity! - then we should in all probability have been converted to Mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies heroism and which opens the seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world. Christianity alone prevented them from doing that.
In his recorded dinner conversations he would constantly insult Christianity as making the Germans too weak and compassionate, but praise Islam as the only religion he could respect. Come the final victory there would be an end to the churches in Germany:
... all the confessions [denominations] are the same. Whichever one you choose, it will not have a future. [Italian] Fascism may in the name of God, make its peace with the Church. I will do that, too. Why not! It won't stop me eradicating Christianity from Germany root and branch. You are either a Christian or a German. You can't be both.
If Hitler looked upon the Soviet Muslims as useful auxiliaries in his war against Bolshevism, he would have nothing to do with anti-Soviet East Slavs Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians. Although he had millions of them in POW camps, very many of whom would have been glad to join the war against communism, he abhorred the idea of putting weapons in their hands. It was a justifiable conclusion given what he intended to do to them after his victory those who survived were to be reduced to illiterate serfs of the Herrenvolk.
The German Army was far more practical and appreciated the possibilities these POWs presented. They had a leader ready-made in the captured Soviet general and war hero, Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov. He had been captured after his 2nd Shock Army had been cut off and destroyed in the fighting for Leningrad in early 1942. He surprised his captors by declaring that Stalin was the greatest enemy of the Russian people and stated his willingness to form an army to fight the communists. Hitler would only go so far as to allow the creation of a Russian Liberation Army, simply as a propaganda ploy. Vlasov would receive no troops to command, although a million Soviet citizens were taking up arms fighting for the Germans, but these were German Army controlled personnel. For Vlasov, a Russian patriot, there was only the bitter frustration of a priceless opportunity thrown away.
Hitler's priorities were elsewhere. Thus, by early 1942, the last of the surviving Soviet Turkic and other Muslim POWs had been released into the custody of the Republic of Turkey. Goebbels brilliantly used this Nazi 'humanitarian gesture' to drive home pro-German sentiment in the Muslim world. It also had the effect of demoralizing the remaining Turkic troops in the Red Army and required the most brutal repression by the NKVD, which further alienated that part of the Soviet population.
The Germans expected that, if Turkey entered the war, it would put pressure on the British in Syria, Iraq, and Persia but put its main effort into an invasion of the Caucasus. The Germans as well asked for U-boat access to the Black Sea and for sole access to Turkish chromite ore, vital to German war industry.
Now if only the Turks would go along. The problem was that the Turkish leadership was split. The Army was increasingly for war; the President was unsure, and Prime Minister Sükrü Saracoglu favoured the West. All this time, the British had not been idle and were doing their best to keep Turkey neutral. In the face of this balance, 'Hitler ordered preparation of a plan to rearrange the constellation of political power in Ankara to suit Berlin's purposes better.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Disaster at Stalingrad"
Copyright © 2013 Peter Tsouras.
Excerpted by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
List of Plates vii
List of Maps ix
Foreword: A Matter of Mastery Ralph Peters xi
Introduction: 'The Dancing Floor of War' 1
Chapter 1 Führer Directive 41 6
Chapter 2 A Timely Death 18
Chapter 3 The Second Wannsee Conference 30
Chapter 4 Race to the Don 43
Chapter 5 The Battle of Bear Island 54
Chapter 6 The Battle of 20° East 70
Chapter 7 Counting the Victories 85
Chapter 8 'Those Crazy Mountain Climbers' 104
Chapter 9 The Terror Raid 118
Chapter 10 New Commanders All Round 130
Chapter 11 Der Rattenkrieg 146
Chapter 12 'Danke Sehr, Herr Roosevelt!' 161
Chapter 13 Der Totenritt bei Leninsk 177
Chapter 14 'Manstein is Coming!' 198
Chapter 15 Coda 220
Appendix A Forces in the Battle of 20° East 224
Appendix B Soviet Forces in Operation Uranus 226
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have to agree, an excellently written book of a very plausible outcome. You should have an understanding of military tactics/operations, however.
In his introduction to this book Ralph Peters states the key to the success of a work of "Alternative History" is believability. The reader, especially a serious student of History must walk away from reading the story believing that but for a few twists of circumstance the events described might have happened. Mr. Tsouras succeeds in his efforts in "Disaster at Stalingrad". I found a key element in bringing this tale of how the Stalingrad campaign might have turned out was the author's attention to detail. If the military proverb that amatuers study battles, professionals study logistics is a great truth, Mr. Tsouras' use of relevant statistics and their application to the martial and political dynamics of this part of World War II on all sides enhanced the credibility of the tale. I do have some points of disagreement in the book, such as the unnecessary and unjust smearing of Harry Hopkins and Harry Dexter White as communist agents which they certainly were not. I am also not sure Hitler would have permitted Field Marshal Eric vonManstein so much leeway in response to the Soviet Counterattack. By 1942 Der Fuhrer has become far too confident in his own judgement and too suspicious of his Generals, even the conqueror of Sepastopol. These aside, I enjoyed the book and highly recommend it. Finally, giving Mr. Tsouras' other works in "Alternative History" I would suggest if he wants a real challenge he should write a book on how the Second World War might have come to an end if the events in the Coda of "Disaster at Stalingrad" had occurred. Contrary to the impressions in the story, Germany might still have lost the war, though it would have taken longer and been much bloodier. And Hitler might have been regarded as a Great German.