Ian Baxter, The Destruction of 6th Army at Stalingrad (Pen & Sword, 2020)
Pen & Sword’s Images of War series continues to expand in interesting directions. Ian Baxter’s The Destruction of 6th Army at Stalingrad returns us to the Eastern Front during World War II in a volume that is somewhat problematic but still valuable.
After a brief survey of the background that brought Paulus and his 6th Army into the 1942 campaign on the Eastern Front, Baxter begins his narrative with the operations leading to the disaster at Stalingrad. The 6th Army started east of Kharkov and advanced steadily, pushing the Soviets back across the steppes from the Don to the Volga. There the smooth progress ended in attritional street warfare that cost both sides dearly, but the Germans could not afford their losses. The Soviet offensive around the city in November, coincided with the onset of Winter, and the 6th Army was soon surrounded. A relief force in December failed to get through. Paulus fought on until the Soviets literally fought their way to his door. A useful appendix outlining the Orders of Battle concludes Baxter’s book.
To make these books work, the accompanying photographs have to add to the narrative as well as telling stories in themselves. Baxter gets that aspect right for the most part with an excellent selection of photographs depicting German soldiers, with his captions highlighting details we otherwise might miss. The images begin with the Germans advancing in high spirits and well-resourced. Then we see more smoke on the horizon, and more Soviet POWs. The problem is that it takes a long time for Baxter to get his 6th Army into Stalingrad – the first snow photograph is on page 114 out of 150 – and the army’s destruction is narrated with photographs for only eleven pages at the end; for an army that had endured 199 days of ‘brutal combat’ that coverage seems very condensed. It is as if Baxter has baulked at the final fence, and it is not clear why he did so given the title of this book. For well-annotated images of the German advance into the Soviet Union, this is a very good book; but those interested in the plight of the 6th Army at Stalingrad could be very disappointed. 6/10