A revisionist account of the Soviet Winter Offensive of 1941-1942. Through journals, memoirs, and wartime correspondence, Stahel takes us into the Wolf's Lair and reveals a German command at war with itself, as generals on the ground battle to maintain order and save their troops while Hitler's capricious directives become all the more irrational.
No man is better qualified to offer up such judgments than Mr. Stahel, whose work on the first six months or so of the Russian campaign dominates the field ... if the earlier volumes were written as conventional academic military history, this one has much more color and vivid detail and is written as a pacey narrative, with analytical 'glades' appearing now and then to allow the reader to stand back and assess the bigger picture. The result is an engaging, fine-grained account of an epic struggle, one that restores contingency and perspective to a battle that has been mythologized for too long ... Mr. Stahel describes these days brilliantly, switching among various levels of command while reminding us of the experiences of the soldiers on the ground and the civilians caught up in the Nazi 'war of annihilation' ... Mr. Stahel’s argument is well-made and generally convincing but not compelling in every respect. The wider framing of the war is sometimes problematic. For example, far from underestimating America’s military potential, as Mr. Stahel claims, Hitler had long been in awe of it. Indeed, the U.S. was Hitler’s principal preoccupation during the first half of December 1941. There is also an inherent difficulty in judging Soviet performance without more use of Russian sources. (The vast majority of the author’s material is drawn from the German side.) Finally, it is hard to be sure whether Hitler’s stand-fast order was justified or not. His fear that even minor retreat might spark a rout was certainly widely shared by commanders at the time. But even if his readers do not follow Mr. Stahel all the way to every conclusion, they will surely be thankful to him for taking a fresh look at a crucial series of battles about which we wrongly thought we already knew everything there was to know.
... comprehensive ... What, then, is the significance of the German winter campaign of December 1941–February 1942? Although Stahel poses the question in his introduction, he does not provide a direct answer. One obvious justification for this meticulously researched work is the number of myths it explodes—the most fundamental being the claim that the winter campaign represented a strategic victory for the Soviet Union ... Stahel has done a vast amount of research, including what must have amounted to months in the German military archives in Freiburg. His arguments are convincing, his prose always lucid. On the debit side, the fact that he is arguing against an interpretation which emphasized the 'significance' of this period in the context of the overall war naturally diminishes the importance of his subject. One also wonders whether the general reader will want 560 pages on three months of war on the Eastern Front. Yet this is a serious work of scholarship: a well-argued piece of revisionist history, and a reminder that, for all the misery and slaughter in the West, it was even worse in the East.
While firmly in the camp of operational military history, this present work still includes related elements that impacted the German war effort, including the influence of the American entry into the war on German soldiers’ psyches, combined with the scarcity of food, usage of drugs and alcohol, the soldiers’ sexuality, and the treatment of prisoners of war, both German and Soviet. Hitler’s oversight remains an overarching theme ... A solid analysis of the 1941–42 winter campaign, this work should appeal to readers interested in operations on the World War II’s eastern front.