WW2 People

|   29 January 2012

Flying into Stalingrad

The ruins of Stalingrad

Imagine the scene. It’s December 1942 and you are a German officer who has just recovered from sickness, when you are told to report to your commanding General. He tells you that you are to be flown into the besieged German held area around Stalingrad where your comrades in the Sixth Army are currently awaiting capture at the hands of the Red Army.

At one level there is no point in you flying into Stalingrad – as an individual you can’t sway the fate of the battle one way or the other. But you are ordered on this assignment because you are scheduled to serve with the Sixth Army, and not to send you would be to admit to the Germans trapped in Stalingrad that their colleagues have given up on them.

So you fly into Stalingrad in early January 1943 and less than a month later you are captured by the Red Army. You then endure twelve years of imprisonment in the Soviet Union before finally being allowed back to Germany in 1955.

How would you feel?

Well, a former Colonel in the German Army I met some years ago – called Guenther von Below – suffered exactly this fate. And he said that he had no ‘problem’ about being ordered back into Stalingrad. ‘A soldier goes to war knowing that he may fall,’ he remarked stoically.

I was re-reading the transcript of our interview with Colonel Below last week, whilst working on my new book and TV series, both of which deal with some of these issues, and it made me think once again about the nature of heroism. Why could von Below have no doubts about his actions, never – as far as I know – show weakness. Is it training? Is it genetic inheritance? Is it education or parenting? Is it the times and circumstances of history? Is it all of these things mixed together?

2 Responses to “Flying into Stalingrad”

  1. charma1g says:

    It was the Times. The idea was to get on with the job, and not to whine. George MacDonald Fraser, in his “Quartered Safe out here; a harrowing tale of World War II” makes an excellent argument for this attitude.

    Also, I might add, human beings have, on the whole, survived terrible events, like the Black Plague, (in one case, burying 5 sons and a wife, in one day), and gone on with their lives. And without counselors, too!

  2. Julian says:

    New book and series, in Stalingrad… any more teasers? Was hoping you might look toward the naval war and blockade for future works, there must be enough controversy behind the gung ho battle of the Atlantic to warrant investigation. I know you often mention your family in the merchant navy, in fact why so little on the site here too?