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An alternate history
Peter Tsouras
Frontline Books, London, 2013


With forward by Ralph Peters, 242 pgs, extensive bibliography, endnotes ( including imaginary end notes) 11 maps, 16 illustrations.


This is a remarkable example of 'alternate history' at its best, which I highly recommend. Unfortunately I cannot discuss the plot in detail without spoiling the adventure for the reader, especially one who knows the actual history of World War II and the Battle of Stalingrad. Obviously, from the title we may presume that the outcome Peter Tsouras has conjured up involves a German victory rather than the disastrous defeat it was. But how could that have happened? That is the essence of the extensive and very plausible narrative and analysis the author has developed - a narrative that grips the reader all the more as he/she turns each page to seek the answer to what could have gone wrong for the Russians.
Disclosure - Pete Tsouras was an outstanding student in my class on Russian and Soviet history at the Defense Intelligence University in the 1980's and he mentions in his introduction participating in a special seminar on Soviet military history in 1992 at the Russian Military History Institute. I organized that seminar as part of an extensive tour of military specialists throughout western Russia and Ukraine hosted by Russian and Ukrainian military historians. Pete delivered an excellent paper himself. And we all benefited from and learned a lot during the tour from Vyborg to Sevastopol. I should also mention that Tsouras is the editor of another 'alternate history of WWII, Third Reich Victorious, in which he contributed the final chapter - developments in a campaign in Russia pitting Rommel versus Zhukov.
Ralph Peters, another 'old hand' and long-time friend, has provided his usual very insightful commentary in the Forward organized around his 'Five Pillars of Alternative History' themselves worth the reader's retention.
When picking up a history text, I first turn to the bibliogrphy. For this book, the author has recourse to an extensive set of sources, Russian, German, British, American (including several of his own books.) We find many well-known experts including Glantz, Ziemke, Rudel, Manstein, Carel, Beevor, and Doentiz. Then I look at the end notes. Here Tsouras has shown the depth of this imagination. Fortunately, he makes clear to the reader in his Introduction that in fulfilling the academic expectations for full citations to sources, he has created end notes appropriate to his fictitious story and kindly marked each with an asterisk. So this prompted this inquisitive student to see how and were the author considered such fiction necessary in spinning out his 'tall tale'. None appear in the Introduction - 4 in chapter 1 necessary to expand the deep background - 1 in chapter 2 - 1 in chapter 3 - 5 in chapter 4 - 6 in chapter 5, which is a remarkable narrative of a naval battle full of valid data - 18 in chapter 6, which is a key description of the author's alternative outcome - only 3 in chapter 7, a vivid and graphic description of the actual fighting in Stalingrad - only 8 in chapter 8, remarkable considering the essence is fiction - only 3 in chapter 9 - 8 in chapter 10 - 7 in chapter 11 - 9 in chapter 12 - 6 in chapter 13 - 8 in chapter 14 - 6 (all of them) in the final Coda. This is evidence of how little the author had to "document" his own ideas considering the several hundred valid end notes. But don't check these end notes out before you read the book.
Some 'alternate history' books take the result of a given event opposite from what actually happened and then build on that to conger up what significant changes there might have been in the subsequent course of history. This book, like some others, concludes with the change posited in the title and creates a 'back story' on how that might have come to pass.
So, what about the story? I won't reveal it. But to give a hint, consider what the development of this alternate result required. The author would start with his final result - in this case a German victory at Stalingrad (not the final outcome of World War II). Then he would have to work backwards, first establishing a tactical and operational situation in which such a victory could occur. He dates this to November 1942. But the German invasion of Russia began in summer 1941. Clearly, the entire course of the war would have to create a strategic and operational situation that by November 1942 could make such a local status of German and Russian forces that might enable a German victory. Well, the actual history of events shows that contingencies could have thrown the balance either way. Contingencies have a way of doing that. But from his Introduction on the author rightly places very great emphasis on the importance of logistics (supply, transport, manufacture and more) on the outcome of tactical and operational level warfare. So potential shifts in the logistic situation of the two sides at Stalingrad by November 1942 could have played a significant role. But logistics developments involve a 'big picture' both geographically and over time. Thus the author introduces the reader to wartime actions from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf. Moreover, critical decisions were made not only by the Russians and Germans, but also by the British and Americans, (and others also). Decisions involve knowledge, thus the intelligence capabilities of all the actors become significant (and intelligence collection means cryptography). Some actors are dealing at the level of grand strategy, thus diplomacy is involved. But warfare at all levels from the highest political leaders to the individual soldier in a tank rests on the personal capacities, personalities, emotional stability, private desires and objectives of each actor. All of this the author captures so well as his narrative jumps seamlessly back and forth between national command headquarters and individual staff officers, snipers, pilots, submariners, and others.
Well, I did mention that Chapter 5 depicts a naval battle. This description stands alone for its graphic detail based on the extensive technical capabilities of the ships and aircraft engaged. It reads like a story about Midway or Coral Sea. Every aspect is included from the intellegence successes and failures at national headquarters to the fighting spirit of individual pilots and ship officers.
At this point I will mention the only possible "slip-up" I noted in the author's detailed description, namely, one American capital ship is mentioned at San Diego in mid-June 1942 and then near Iceland 2 weeks later, remarkable, if possible.
So read the book and enjoy the fast-paced exposition of detail provided, and be prepared for a surprising ending.


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