To the Editors:
Jason Epstein [Letters, NYR, April 13] has finally acknowledged that General A.I. Eremenko was indeed the commander of the Stalingrad Front under Vasilevsky’s supervision. But he demonstrates in his refusal to allow Zhukov any credit for Operation Uranus that he is also incapable of reading David Glantz’s book accurately.
Glantz shows that Zhukov spent far more time preparing Operation Uranus than Operation Mars. According to Glantz’s timetable, from September 26 (when Stalin made Zhukov the Stavka coordinator for Operation Mars) until October 12, Zhukov was in fact visiting the army commanders on the “Stalingrad axis” and studying the ground for Operation Uranus. He was simply not in a position to oversee plans for Mars, especially since the operational orders for it were issued by the Stavka on October 1 and the revised orders on October 10, both during his absence near Stalingrad.
While Vasilevsky visited Eremenko’s armies to the south of the city, Zhukov toured forward positions on the northern side of the Stalingrad salient. Zhukov’s involvement in the planning of Uranus continued up until its launch. He returned to the “Stalingrad axis” with Vasilevsky yet again just before the final meeting in Moscow in November which took place less than forty-eight hours before Uranus’s opening bombardment.
Glantz himself acknowledges that “Uranus was [Zhukov’s] operation as well as Vasilevsky’s.” I still of course accept that my heading, “Zhukov’s Trap,” should be amended. I will also correct my reference to the operation against Army Group Center in the light of Glantz’s revelations. Yet for Epstein to imply in such melodramatic fashion—apologizing to the ghost of General Vasilevsky—that Zhukov played no part in Uranus is utterly wrong, as Glantz’s book makes clear. Furthermore, nothing in this debate about strategy changes what I was writing about, which was the experience of the soldiers on both sides at Stalingrad.
Jason Epstein replies:
Like the British commanders at Gallipoli, Mr. Beevor clings to untenable positions even when all is lost. Is it possible that he still fails to understand that Vasilevsky was not merely the supervisor but the operational commander of the Stalingrad offensive, an assignment made by Stalin himself when he simultaneously appointed Zhukov operational commander of the offensive, code-named Mars, against German Army Group Center? Because Beevor did not understand this crucial fact when he wrote his book and seems not to have grasped it yet, his readers, as I pointed out in my review and again in my replies to his letters, might have assumed that Eremenko, commander of the Stalingrad Front, was in fact the overall Stalingrad commander and not merely the commander of one of the three fronts involved in Vasilevsky’s encirclement.
Of course Zhukov as deputy supreme high commander directly under Stalin was involved in planning the Stalingrad offensive. How could he not have been? But he was not, as Beevor believed when he wrote his book, in operational command of that offensive. His citation of Glantz’s remark that Stalingrad “was Zhukov’s operation as well as Vasilevsky’s” is incomplete. What Glantz wrote in full is that “although Zhukov’s thoughts were still on the north and Mars, he was after all deputy supreme high commander and by virtue of that fact Uranus [i.e., Stalingrad] was his operation as well as Vasilevsky’s” (emphasis added). Zhukov, as Glantz writes, was obsessed with Operation Mars, which was not, as Beevor wrote, a mere feint but a Soviet disaster in which 335,000 troops were killed, missing, or wounded. For Beevor to acknowledge and correct these major errors in future editions of his book will require extensive redrafting. Now that he acknowledges these errors, has the time not come for him to withdraw gracefully from this tedious and useless correspondence and begin rewriting his misleading book?