In the encirclement of Stalingrad, General Paulus’ 6th army suffered from two critical moments of indecision. Failing to appreciate the gravity of the Russian threat from the west flank, they moved too late. Then, as encirclement seemed inevitable, Paulus took no initiative to attempt a breakthrough before its position solidified. The result of this stagnation was a frozen doom, in their infamous ‘fortress without a roof.’
In my life in the 21st century, the closest feeling I get toward any kind of impending doom is the panic of air travel. That is not to say I fear flying, but more so, I fear not flying:
I have a horrible tendency to miss flights.
Now this defeat can be achieved through a variety of tactical miscalculations.
The most reoccurring blunder occurs in the booking operation, where I aim for the wrong date and fire with the mouse. Additional problems have arisen from logistical errors in the transport division; unexpected sabotage of railways, enemy cars blocking motorway progress… all resulting in decisive delays. The supply chain has also known to falter, where once I arrived for a Ryanair flight without the necessary papers.
However there have been victories too. Recognising the risk of a potential wrong date, a quick call to Easyjet head of commands, India division, allowed rapid recoordination without inflicting any monetary casualty. I have also been known to see danger as it emerges, and have frequently radioed in taxi support at critical moments.
While the tactics may change, as with the victors and losers, a battle it always remains. And a battle changes a man. It makes a general of a civilian; you learn to see the weaknesses, know your surroundings, detect the scent of risks, and react unnervingly.
Reading Stalingrad made me all the more prepared for the battle I were to face this morning. Online checkin for a 2pm flight did not work at 10am, displaying ‘currently not available, try later or at the booking desk.’ Enemy deception if ever such a thing existed. Danger signals flashed, and thinking to Paulus, I reflected upon the risks of hesitation. A train for the airport left in 10 minutes, without knowing anything for sure, I packed a bag in 30 seconds and ran to the station, leaping through the enemy barrier with great bravery as I boarded the train without any papers, seconds before departure. War means sacrifice, and I hence had to lose a few euros for a taxi between the terminals.
But upon arrival at the Easyjet trench my worst fears were confirmed: overbooking! The hydrogen bomb of the commercial flight sector. My flight had cost me 250 sterling soldiers, and my mission was crucial; retreat was not an option. However the early and immediate action I had shown under pressure proved crucial, as being the first of the overbooked to have arrived, I was instantly provided a ticket. Pure exultation took me as I revelled in the thrill of victory.
Though as with any victory in war, the feelings in its aftermath slowly start to sour. Like those lucky enough to have been flown out in the final luftwaffe flights from Stalingrad, I am left with some kind of survivor complex. Why is it me who can go through? What of the others? As I write now, a man, a woman, a child, suffers below at the trench, as the Easyjet lady does not yield. They realise the overbooking has encircled them, and that, unaware of the impending doom, they had attempted their breakthrough too late.
As many of you who read this account of battle are friend and family, I can understand that you will be grateful that I have made it.
Some of us shall see each other this evening, and rejoice.
However I hope you will also take a moment to think upon those whose place I took, and those who did not make it, and the families and friends in London that they will not be able to see again (this weekend).
To the fallen, I salute you…