. . . I should say that for my enemies, not for our soldiers. For the speed with which our soldiers have now traversed territory is gigantic. Also what was traversed this year is vast and historically unique. Now I do not always do things just as the others want them done. I consider what the others probably believe, and then do the opposite on principle. So if Mr. Stalin expected that we would attack in the center, I did not want to attack in the center, not only because Mr. Stalin probably believed I would, but because I didn't care about it any more at all. But I wanted to come to the Volga, to a definite place, to a definite city. It accidentally bears the name of Stalin himself, but do not think that I went after it on that account. Indeed, it could have an altogether different name. But only because it is an important point, that is, there 30 million tons of traffic can be cut off, including about 9 million of oil shipments. There all the wheat pours in from those enormous territories of the Ukraine, of the Kuban territory, then to be transported to the North. There the manganese ore was forwarded. A gigantic terminal was there; I wanted to take it. And do you know, we're modest: that is, we have it; there are only a couple of very small places left there. Now the others say: Why aren't you fighting there? Because I don't want to make a second Verdun but would rather do it with very small shock units. Time plays no part here. No ships come up the Volga any more-that is the decisive thing. They have also reproached us, asking why it took us so long at Sevastopol? Because there, too, we did not want to cause an enormous mass murder. Blood is flowing as it is-more than enough. But Sevastopol fell into our hands, and the Crimea fell into our hands. We have reached goal after goal, stubbornly, persistently. And if the enemy, on his part, makes preparations to attack, don't think I want to forestall him there, but at the same moment we let him attack also. Because then defense still is less expensive. Then just let him attack; he'll bleed to death that way, and thus far we have always taken care of the situation anyhow. At any rate, the Russians are not at the Pyrenees or before Seville; that, you see, is the same distance as for us to be in Stalingrad today, or on the Terek, let us say;-but we are there; that can really not be disputed. That is a fact, after all. Naturally, when nothing else will do any more, they also say it's a mistake. Then they suddenly turn around and say: "It is absolutely a mistake for the Germans to have gone to Kirkenes, or to have gone to Narvik, or now perhaps to Stalingrad-what do they expect to do in Stalingrad? For Stalingrad is a capital mistake, a strategic mistake." We will just wait and see whether that was a strategic mistake.I have a Wehrmacht city map of Stalingrad, dating from June 1942. On it, the city is long, but narrow, hugging the Volga. From the map it looks like it would be so easy to simply punch through to the river. The reality was otherwise, but even as the Red Army encircled the Germans at Stalingrad, they continued operations to capture the last Russian positions in the ruined city, that according to the war diaries . . . Postscript: This has been an interesting thread. I would like to thank all who commented, it is the sign of a capable audience when they are able to interact with the initial argument and expand on it considerably, adding many additional pieces to the vast mosaic. I think we are able to consistently achieve that on MilPub as shown by the many posts by various authors and corresponding dialectical commentary on this blog . . . we should keep on keeping on . . . Four points to close with. First, we are talking about perhaps the most terrible military campaign in history. The geographical and human dimensions are almost beyond our comprehension; the scale of destruction, loss and tragedy are impossible to measure in numbers since the ripples are still touching Eastern Europe in various ways today. Second, and this a repeat of an earlier argument, that being that we have an adequate description of the totalitarian nature (both specific to the Nazis and general regarding other totalitarian systems) of political movements. My post on Hermann Rauschning's The Revolution of Nihilism introduces the basic ideas. I blended in some of Hannah Arendt's ideas from her classic The Origins of Totalitarianism, but did not begin to do Arendt's thesis justice. It would take much more study, and probably a better mind than mine to achieve that. I consider this very important since following the basic concepts, I would argue that we see a resurgence of totalitarian thinking today in the US. This is particularly evident in our predilection to see violence as the preferred method of dealing with foreign policy issues. Third, I mentioned a Clausewitzian connection. This is the concept of the Feldherr which influenced not only German, but Soviet, French and JFC Fuller as well. Professor Hew Strachan (who else?) has a great lecture which covers this topic:
So the Feldherr was a military genius who, because he was distinguished by more than his "will, brains, understanding, self-confidence, by something still higher than a longing for fame and honour," became a statesman. For Hesse, the role model was Frederick the Great. The challenge of the 1920s, after the Kaiser's abdication not least because of his failure to fulfil that role, was how to meet its demands in future. The German army had failed to understand Clausewitz before 1914 because it had read him in a narrowly military way, focusing on battle, not on war as a whole. Because Clausewitz saw war as a continuation of policy by other means, he also understood war, according to Adolf Leinveber, writing in 1926, as "an organic whole, from which the individual parts are not separable." Leinveber accepted that politicians had to give unity to war through policy and through the war plans that flowed from that policy. But what therefore followed-not only for Leinveber but also for many others-was that war required "a magnificent distinguished head, a strong character." The Feldherr would unite the conduct of war and policy, so that he became a statesman without at the same time giving up the capacity to conduct war: "he embraces with a glance on the one hand all state issues, while on the other he is sufficiendy confident in his knowledge of what the means which lie in his control can do." p 389The need for a Feldherr was seen by those representing the entire political spectrum in Germany, from liberals to monarchists. The French used Clausewitz after the war to further develop their concept of the Generalissimo and Fuller's approach to Grand Strategy is much more difficult to achieve without this position. In the USSR, Trotsky, Frunze and Svechin argued for the subordination of specialized and conventional (as opposed to partisan) military command to the political leadership residing in the leader of the Communist Party. Thus we see the position of both Hitler and Stalin - along with the totalitarian elements which in this case are separate but still obviously important - as being influenced by the experience of the First World War and this being common to both democratic and totalitarian governments. Finally, there is something of the Liddell Hart notion of the "indirect approach" to Fall Blau, the German campaign in the summer of 1942. Hitler wished to bypass the political center of Moscow and instead seize the southern resources/stop movement along the Volga as a way to cripple the USSR. I don't think he actually expected to come to terms with Stalin, but rather to so weaken the Soviet government that they could be held off indefinitely. It was not a question of time or strategy, but simply a "fact" as Hitler mentions in the linked speech. The Germans were on the Volga and the Terek and they would remain there, and the Feldherr as maker and shaper, "history's actor" had made it so. As I think the readers of this blog are aware, we have seen similar notions of arrogance and self-absorption, of ideologically-tainted wishes replacing strategic thought, of the conceit of violent and limited minds attempting to remake political existence in line with their own whims . . . let's hope this extreme example from the past acts as a caution to temper our own future. Second Postscript: Very interesting German soldiers's film from the times . . . Towards the end . . . Stalingrad and Fall Blau . . .