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Soviets encircle Germans at Stalingrad

Soviets encircle Germans at Stalingrad

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On November 22, 1942, a Soviet counteroffensive against the German armies pays off as the Red Army traps about a quarter-million German soldiers south of Kalach, on the Don River, within Stalingrad. As the Soviets’ circle tightened, German General Friedrich Paulus requested permission from Berlin to withdraw.

The Battle of Stalingrad began in the summer of 1942, as German forces assaulted the city, a major industrial center and a prize strategic coup, if it could be occupied. But despite repeated attempts, the German 6th Army, under Paulus, and part of the 4th Panzer Army, under Ewald von Kleist, could not break past the adamantine defense by the Soviet 62nd Army, commanded by Gen. Vasily I. Chuikov, despite having pushed the Soviets almost to the Volga River in mid-October and encircling Stalingrad.

Diminishing resources, partisan guerilla attacks, and the cruelty of the Russian winter began to take their toll on the Germans. On November 19, the Soviets made their move, launching a counteroffensive that began with a massive artillery bombardment of the German position. The Soviets then assaulted the weakest link in the German force-inexperienced Romanian troops; 65,000 were ultimately taken prisoner by the Soviets.

The Soviets then made a bold strategic move, encircling the enemy, launching pincer movements from north and south simultaneously, even as the Germans encircled Stalingrad. The Germans should have withdrawn, but Hitler wouldn’t allow it. He wanted his armies to hold out until they could be reinforced. By the time those fresh troops arrived in December, it was too late. The Soviet position was too strong, and the Germans were exhausted. It was then only a matter of time before the Germans would be forced to surrender.

READ MORE: How Did the Nazis Really Lose World War II?

German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union

Approximately three million German prisoners of war were captured by the Soviet Union during World War II, most of them during the great advances of the Red Army in the last year of the war. The POWs were employed as forced labor in the Soviet wartime economy and post-war reconstruction. By 1950 almost all surviving POWs had been released, with the last prisoner returning from the USSR in 1956. [1] According to Soviet records 381,067 German Wehrmacht POWs died in NKVD camps (356,700 German nationals and 24,367 from other nations). [2] [3] According to German historian Rüdiger Overmans ca. 3,000,000 POW were taken by the USSR he put the "maximum" number of German POW deaths in Soviet hands at 1.0 million. [4] Based on his research, Overmans believes that the deaths of 363,000 POWs in Soviet captivity can be confirmed by the files of Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt), and additionally maintains that "It seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that 700,000 German military personnel listed as missing actually died in Soviet custody. [5] [4]

&ldquoGerman Vlasov&rdquo

When Soviet officers first attempted to turn Seydlitz at the POW camp, they found fertile ground. The general was highly disillusioned by the German leadership and shocked by the Stalingrad catastrophe.

Seydlitz agreed to collaborate with the Communists in no time at all. The U.S. historian Samuel W. Mitcham wrote in Hitler&rsquos Commanders: &ldquoHe was convinced that any step that sped the fall of Hitler was good for Germany &ndash even if it meant working for Stalin.&rdquo

Along with 93 officers, Seydlitz formed a League of German officers, where he was selected as president. He also became deputy chairman of the National Committee for a Free Germany, led by German Communists.

Seydlitz&rsquos activity mirrors that of General Andrey Vlasov, a captured Soviet general who defected to Germany and led the so-called Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia.

Walther von Seydlitz actively took part in the propaganda war. He tried to convince the German commanders that Hitler had betrayed Germany by allowing the catastrophe at Stalingrad, that they had taken an oath to their land, not the Fuhrer.

&ldquoAfter Hitler is gone, Germany will make peace,&rdquo he said. Seydlitz wrote to the commander of the 9 th Army Walter Model in October 1943: &ldquoMake Hitler resign! Leave the Russian land and take the Eastern Army beyond the German borders. This decision will secure an honorable peace that will give the German folk the rights of a free nation.&rdquo (link in Russia)

Seydlitz&rsquos messages didn&rsquot find a receptive audience among the Wehrmacht generals. However, his call to Konigsberg&rsquos defenders to lay down their weapons accelerated the capitulation of the garrison in April 1945.

The most important wish and purpose for Seydlitz was to form German units which would fight the Nazis along with the Soviets on the battlefield. But such permission had to be granted by Stalin.

Soviets stop Germans at Kursk

Though the Soviets had crushed the Germans at the Battle of Stalingrad, they had not yet managed to push back a summer offensive by the Wehrmacht. Could it be that the Red Army was trapped in a disturbing pattern of victory in the winter (at the Battle of Moscow in 1940/1 and Stalingrad in 1942/3) and defeat in the summer (during the initial invasion in 1941 and Operation Blue in 1942)? This was the question that many observers were asking, and which would only be definitively answered at Kursk in the hot summer of 1943.

It didn&rsquot take a sophisticated military analyst to spot where the German offensive was likely to come in 1943. West of the city of Kursk in south central Russia there was a large bulge where the Red Army had advanced into the German front line &ndash nearly 20% of all Soviet forces were contained there. i A German attack from the north and south would obviously cut off and encircle large numbers of Soviet forces and threaten the city of Kursk with capture &ndash and then the road to Moscow lay open to the Germans, with the capital 400 miles away to the north.

So Stalin called for a Soviet offensive to pre-empt any possible German attack. But in April 1943 Marshal Zhukov compiled a report which cast severe doubts on the idea. The Soviets were already receiving intelligence reports which showed that a German offensive was likely. Why not prepare for it, Zhukov argued, and then launch a counter attack into the unsuspecting Germans as they advanced? Once again, just as he had been during the planning of Operation Uranus, Stalin was prepared to listen to expert advice. His own idea of an offensive was quietly dropped and the Red Army prepared its line of defence. ii

The Soviets received detailed information about German intentions from a whole variety of sources &ndash not least their own spy, John Cairncross, who worked at the secret British decoding centre at Bletchley Park. Armed with this valuable intelligence, the Soviets constructed six separate lines of defence behind their own front line, laid 4,000 mines and dug an incredible 3,000 miles of trenches. More than 1,300,000 Soviet troops now waited for the German attack. iii It was to be the largest single battle in the history of the world, fought over an area the size of Wales.

As a result of the military intelligence the Soviets had received, the German offensive, of course, had now completely lost the element of surprise &ndash a problem that was compounded by the fact that &lsquoOperation Citadel&rsquo (as the Germans called the attack) was postponed a number of times, partly because Hitler wanted the new Panther tanks to take part.

Marshal Zhukov was finally told from intelligence sources that the Germans planned to launch the offensive at 3 o&rsquoclock in the morning on 5 July 1943. So Zhukov called for massive Soviet air and artillery attacks to be launched just one hour before the German advance in order to disrupt their plan. From that moment onwards the Germans struggled to regain the initiative.

&lsquoThe Russians shot &ndash we&rsquod never experienced it before &ndash such an initial barrage,&rsquo says Alfred Rubbel, a German tank commander who fought at Kursk. &lsquoIt was so dense&hellip We crossed the river and immediately afterwards we came into a minefield. All fourteen vehicles got stuck in there. The second company never had a very good reputation, so twelve Tiger tanks were gone.&rsquo

By 9 July the German advance had been held in the north and three days later the Soviets counter-attacked. But in the south the Red Army found the battle harder. Despite all the military intelligence they&rsquod received, the Soviets hadn&rsquot learnt that the Germans had recently strengthened the southern sector. And it was here, in the south, around the town of Prokhorovka, that an enormous tank battle was fought &ndash with 600 Soviet tanks facing 240 German. iv

&lsquoIt was non-stop shooting,&rsquo says Wilhelm Roes, who fought at Prokhorovka with the SS Leibstandarte. &lsquoWe at the time were not aware it was a huge tank battle, be we thought, &lsquoGod! How many tanks are shooting off?&rsquo When a [Soviet] T34 tank explodes the turret flies off and a huge ring of smoke goes up, [and] we saw these rings of smoke coming up. We thought: &lsquoHow many more are coming? All these rings of smoke going up to the sky!&rsquo&rsquo

The German panzers, though outnumbered, were superior to the Soviet T34 tanks. But the Soviets dealt with the greater range of the German tanks by charging close towards them. &lsquoEverywhere burning tanks,&rsquo says Roes, &lsquosmoke everywhere, smell of ammunition, smell of burning corpses. It was like an inferno. It was Hell.&rsquo

By the middle of July the battle was over. Both sides were bloodied &ndash the Soviets losing 300,000 dead, the Germans 100,000. Overall, it was a fiercely fought draw. The Germans had not been able to achieve their objectives, and the Soviets had been prevented from mounting a decisive counter attack to push the Germans as far back as they had hoped.

But whilst militarily the honours might have been even, psychologically this was a huge victory for the Red Army. They had stood up to the might of the Wehrmacht when both the terrain and the weather seemed to suit the tactics and expertise of the Germans. As a result, the morale of the Soviet soldiers grew ever stronger.

Mikhail Borisov, who fought with the Red Army at Kursk, says it was &lsquoa love&rsquo of his country that made him want to &lsquofight to the last breath. That is how we were brought up. And this feeling remained with us for the rest of our lives. I keep saying to myself, &lsquoIf Russia finds itself in hard times again, even now I can do something to defend it.&rsquo&hellip I come from a Cossack family and my ancestors were all Cossacks. And love for the Motherland and love for weapons came with a mother&rsquos milk.&rsquo

Stalin promised in a speech, later in 1943, that Kursk would mark the last great offensive the Germans would make on the Eastern Front. v And he was right. It was the Soviets who would mount the next massive summer offensive, in June the following year &ndash Operation Bagration. And in the process the Red Army would finally drive the Germans out of the Soviet Union.

i See Laurence Rees, World War Two: Behind Closed Doors. Stalin, The Nazis and The West, BBC Books, 2009, p. 208
ii See William Spahr, Zhukov: The Rise and Fall of a Great Captain, Novato, 1993, pp. 119-120
iii See Niklas Zetterling, &lsquoLoss Rates on the Eastern Front During World War II&rsquo, The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, vol. 9, issue 4, 1996, pp. 895-906
iv These latest estimates taken from Chris Bellamy, Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War, Macmillan, 2007, p. 583
v Speech made by Stalin on 6 November 1943, on the anniversary of the October Revolution

WI: The Germans decided to encircle and besiege Stalingrad?

The Volga is an extremely wide river with extensive cliffs and marshes that make such a landing impossible. The Germans do not have the boats or engineering resources with which to stage such a crossing, and would have to spread out their forces wide to make a double entendre behind the city while preventing the Soviet forces from attacking out of it (and, of course, preventing the significant Russian forces still on the other side of the Volga outside of Stalingrad from attacking). This would leave them weak everywhere and strong nowhere.

When asking this sort of question, the first thing to consider is, "This clearly wasn't done IOTL, so why might that be?" There is almost always a good reason.




Substantial portions were recovered in the early weeks of 1943 so I don't think Manstein was able to do much with regards to scorched earth given the planting season had yet to happen. North Caucasus, however, was recovered in full in time for the aforementioned planting and thus probably explains why overall Soviet production only declined by 1% despite the Potato crop failures in the Ural region.

The Bread of Affliction: The Food Supply in the USSR during World War II, by William Moskoff -

"The central fact behind the increased importance of the collective farm market was the drastic drop in food production, especially in 1942 and 1943, and the diminished proportion that went to the civilians. In 1943 overall agricultural production was only 38 percent of the 1940 level. In 1943, however, the Red Army began to recapture agricultural areas of the Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Caucasus and by the next year, 1944, agricultural output had risen to 54 percent of the 1940 level. Not surprisingly, the collapse of the food economy led to astonishing increases in prices. The most rapid rate [Emphasis by author] of increase in prices took place in 1942 and began to taper off in mid-1943."

As you can see, the moment the Heer pushes the Soviets out of Ukraine and claim the Caucasus, the food situation begins to collapse it is only halted due to the successes of the Soviet counter-offensives in the Winter, which reclaim much of the aforementioned territory. Without the reclamation, the situation would undoubtedly get worse and wasn't sustainable as is, given that starvation deaths were beginning to mount in '43 with production what it was.

On phone so I will be short. Only small parts of Eastern Ukraine was liberated in Early 1943 and after battle of Karkov Soviets were thrown back basically to Russian border I believe.
Lugansk was for example liberated in late February 1943 but Donetsk only in September 1943!

You are of course right with Caucasus. Kuban bridghead was held of course for a while.

Wrecked: How the Soviets Crushed the Nazis After Stalingrad

Meet Operation Gallop: the post-Stalingrad push that helped further turn the tide on the Eastern front.

Key Point: Pushing the Nazis back meant finally regaining the initiative for Moscow. Here is how the Soviets gained the advantage and got ready for the Battle of Kursk.

As Adolf Hitler’s vaunted Sixth Army lay in its death throes in the ruins of Stalingrad, German forces to the west of the city faced their own kind of hell. The inner ring of the Russians’ iron grip at Stalingrad was tasked with the total destruction of German and other Axis troops within the city, but Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin wanted more. In conjunction with the Soviet High Command (STAVKA), Stalin set forth an ambitious plan designed to liberate the Don Basin from Kursk in the north to the Sea of Azov in the south, bringing the vital agricultural and mineral-rich area once more under Russian control.

This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Operation Gallop: Striking the Southern Flank

Germany’s allied armies were a shambles. The Hungarian Second Army and the Italian Eighth Army, positioned along the upper Don River, were shattered by General Filipp Ivanovich Golikov’s Voronezh Front, causing a yawning gap south of the German Second Army, which was assigned to defend the Voronezh area.

Farther south, General Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin’s South West Front, despite heavy opposition, moved toward Voroshilovgrad and Starobelsk. In the Caucasus and along the Donets River, the German troops of Heeresgruppe A (Army Group A) were in a race to the death to escape being trapped by advancing armies of the Trans-Caucasus and the Stalingrad Fronts.

In mid-January, Stalin and STAVKA saw a very distinct possibility of forcing the entire southern flank of the German Army in the east to collapse. With a victory at Stalingrad all but assured, Soviet military planners developed operations aimed at pushing the Germans back to the Dniepr River. The more optimistic planners, including Stalin, hoped for an even bigger push.

A two-pronged attack was finally approved. Operation Skachok (Gallop) would use Vatutin’s South West Front to clear the southern Don Basin of the enemy and push him back to the Dniepr. On Vatutin’s right flank, Golikov’s Voronezh Front was ordered to take Kharkov and then follow the retreating Germans as far west as possible in an operation called Zvezda (Star).

The German Army in Disarray

The German forces facing Vatutin had been ground down by weeks of fighting and retreat. Lt. Gen. Fedor Mikhailovich Kharitonov’s Sixth Army and Lt. Gen. Vasilii I. Kuznetsov’s First Guards Army were fast approaching the Aydar River in the Starobelsk area, while the Third Guards Army under Lt. Gen. Dmitri Danilovich Lelyushenko was threatening to cross the Donets River west of Voroshilovgrad. South of Lelyushenko, Lt. Gen. Ivan Timofeevich Schlemin’s Fifth Tank Army was also moving toward the eastern bank of the Donets.

Vatutin also had a combined arms group commanded by Lt. Gen. Markian Mikhailovich Popov, which contained nearly half of the South West Front’s armor. In total, Vatutin had more than 500 tanks and about 325,000 men to fulfill his mission.

Facing the South West Front was a hodgepodge of German units in the process of trying to regain some kind of defensive line and command control. About 160,000 men and 100 tanks from several decimated divisions struggled to pull themselves into some kind of cohesive force to meet the advancing Soviet forces.

The First Panzer Army, commanded by General Eberhard von Mackensen, was just arriving from a grueling retreat from the Caucasus. It had about 40 combat-ready tanks and an estimated 40,000 troops. Army Abteilung Hollidt was a conglomeration of infantry and panzer division remnants. Commanded by General Karl Hollidt, the unit had about 100,000 men and 60 tanks. Another 20,000 troops came from various support and garrison units.

General Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin: A Gifted Strategist

Aware of the enemy disorganization facing him, Vatutin planned his actions accordingly. Born in 1901, Vatutin joined the Red Army in 1920. He saw service during the Russian Civil War and then attended the Frunze Academy, graduating in 1929. Furthering his career, Vatutin attended and graduated from the General Staff Academy and served on the General Staff from 1937-1940. During the Battle for Moscow, he distinguished himself as chief of staff of the Northwestern Front, and in 1942 he was named commander of the South West Front.

Vatutin was considered a gifted strategist, and his opinions were highly valued. He was enthusiastic about the possibility of liberating the Lower Don Basin and destroying the German units defending it, and STAVKA gave him great latitude in forming his plan of attack, which he worked out with his army commanders and staff.

The main blow was to come from the First Guards and Third Guards Armies, which would take Stalino and then Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. This action, supported by Group Popov and the Fifth Tank Army, would trap most of the German units on the Donets River Line south of Kharkov. Divisions of the Southern Front, on Vatutin’s left flank, would cooperate by advancing along the Sea of Azov to Rostov and beyond.

In theory, the plan was a good one. Intelligence reports indicated that the Germans were in a state of near panic. Other reports stated that enemy troops were hastily withdrawing from the entire area, which gave Vatutin the view that his operation was a means to crush a beaten and demoralized foe.

Strengthening Heeresgruppe Süd

The Soviet assessments were wrong to a large degree. Although the Germans were disorganized, commanders were working together to retain a viable fighting force. German supply lines were much closer since the retreat from the Stalingrad sector, and the ability to form ad hoc units around regimental and divisional cadre was succeeding.

There was also another major factor working for the Germans. Field Marshal Erich von Manstein was in command of the area slated for the Soviet offensive. Architect of the 1940 Ardennes strike against France and the conqueror of Sevastopol in 1942, von Manstein was regarded as having one of the best strategic and tactical minds in the Wehrmacht.

Although the divisions of his Heeresgruppe (Army Group) Don, which became Heeresgruppe Süd (South) in mid-February, were battered, the German commander was already planning a response for what he correctly assumed to be a major Soviet attack in the Don Basin. He knew the Red Army supply lines had greatly lengthened as his own decreased, making it difficult for Soviet armor to receive proper fuel and ammunition replenishment. He also knew that although the Russians had superiority in manpower and equipment their reserves were lacking in numbers for a prolonged attack and breakthrough.

Von Manstein was also lucky in another regard. While the debacle at Stalingrad was still being played out, he had managed to talk Hitler into allowing most of the German forces in the Caucasus to withdraw before being cut off. By the end of January, many of those units, including the First Panzer Army, were regrouping in the Don Basin. The Fourth Panzer Army, commanded by Col. Gen. Hermann Hoth, was also in the process of getting out of the Soviet trap.

As he pressed the issue of the vulnerability of the entire southern sector of the Eastern Front, von Manstein persuaded the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht–German Armed Forces High Command) to release six divisions and two infantry brigades from Western Europe and send them to Heeresgruppe Süd. Among the divisions released were three superbly equipped SS divisions, which had been resting and refitting after the hard-fought 1942 campaign.

The Soviet Offensive Begins

On February 1, 1943, Golikov’s Voronezh Front began its attack to liberate Kharkov. Excellent progress was made during the first days of the offensive, with General Ivan Danilovich Chernyakowskii’s 60th Army taking Kursk on February 8. As Kursk fell, Golikov’s 40th and 69th Armies, along with the Third Tank Army, advanced on Kharkov, slamming their way through the undermanned defenses of the German Second Army.

Two days before Golikov’s offensive began, Vatutin launched Operation Gallop. On January 29, Kuznetsov’s First Guards Army crossed the Aydar River and hit General Gustav Schmidt’s 19th Panzer Division in the Kabanye–Kromennaya area along the Dnester River. Reeling under a series of hammer blows, the Germans were forced to retreat under a constant barrage of Soviet artillery.

On Kuznetsov’s right flank, Kharitonov’s Sixth Army, after crossing the Aydar, smashed into elements of Colonel Herbert Michaelis’s 298th Infantry Division. With the bulk of the 298th dug in along the Krasnaya River, the forward elements of the division were brushed aside by the advancing Soviets.

Pursuing the retreating Germans, Kharitonov’s 15th Rifle Corps made it to the Krasnaya before being stopped by the 298th’s makeshift defenses on the western bank. Under heavy fire, the 350th Rifle Division forced crossings north and south of Kupyansk and established bridgeheads on the German side of the river, but further progress was retarded until reinforcements arrived on the scene.

January 30 found the First Guards Army crossing the Krasnaya near the town of Krasny Liman. Pleased with the progress of his assault troops, Vatutin ordered Group Popov to advance and form up at the juncture of the First Guards and Sixth Armies in order to exploit any major breaches in the German line.


By the spring of 1942, despite the failure of Operation Barbarossa to decisively defeat the Soviet Union in a single campaign, the Wehrmacht had captured vast expanses of territory, including Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic republics. Elsewhere, the war had been progressing well: the U-boat offensive in the Atlantic had been very successful and Erwin Rommel had just captured Tobruk. [24] : 522 In the east, the Germans had stabilised a front running from Leningrad south to Rostov, with a number of minor salients. Hitler was confident that he could break the Red Army despite the heavy German losses west of Moscow in winter 1941–42, because Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) had been unable to engage 65% of its infantry, which had meanwhile been rested and re-equipped. Neither Army Group North nor Army Group South had been particularly hard-pressed over the winter. [25] Stalin was expecting the main thrust of the German summer attacks to be directed against Moscow again. [21] : 498

With the initial operations being very successful, the Germans decided that their summer campaign in 1942 would be directed at the southern parts of the Soviet Union. The initial objectives in the region around Stalingrad were to destroy the industrial capacity of the city and to block the Volga River traffic connecting the Caucasus and Caspian Sea to central Russia. The Germans cut the pipeline from the oilfields when they captured Rostov on 23 July. The capture of Stalingrad would make the delivery of Lend Lease supplies via the Persian Corridor much more difficult. [26] [27] [28]

On 23 July 1942, Hitler personally rewrote the operational objectives for the 1942 campaign, greatly expanding them to include the occupation of the city of Stalingrad. Both sides began to attach propaganda value to the city, which bore the name of the Soviet leader. Hitler proclaimed that after Stalingrad's capture, its male citizens were to be killed and all women and children were to be deported because its population was "thoroughly communistic" and "especially dangerous". [29] It was assumed that the fall of the city would also firmly secure the northern and western flanks of the German armies as they advanced on Baku, with the aim of securing its strategic petroleum resources for Germany. [24] : 528 The expansion of objectives was a significant factor in Germany's failure at Stalingrad, caused by German overconfidence and an underestimation of Soviet reserves. [30]

The Soviets realised their critical situation, ordering everyone who could hold a rifle into the fight. [31] : 94

If I do not get the oil of Maikop and Grozny then I must finish [liquidieren "kill off", "liquidate"] this war.

Army Group South was selected for a sprint forward through the southern Russian steppes into the Caucasus to capture the vital Soviet oil fields there. The planned summer offensive, code-named Fall Blau (Case Blue), was to include the German 6th, 17th, 4th Panzer and 1st Panzer Armies. Army Group South had overrun the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1941. Poised in Eastern Ukraine, it was to spearhead the offensive. [32]

Hitler intervened, however, ordering the Army Group to split in two. Army Group South (A), under the command of Wilhelm List, was to continue advancing south towards the Caucasus as planned with the 17th Army and First Panzer Army. Army Group South (B), including Friedrich Paulus's 6th Army and Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, was to move east towards the Volga and Stalingrad. Army Group B was commanded by General Maximilian von Weichs. [33]

The start of Case Blue had been planned for late May 1942. However, a number of German and Romanian units that were to take part in Blau were besieging Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. Delays in ending the siege pushed back the start date for Blau several times, and the city did not fall until early July.

Operation Fridericus I by the Germans against the "Isium bulge", pinched off the Soviet salient in the Second Battle of Kharkov, and resulted in the envelopment of a large Soviet force between 17 May and 29 May. Similarly, Operation Wilhelm attacked Voltshansk on 13 June, and Operation Fridericus attacked Kupiansk on 22 June. [34]

Blau finally opened as Army Group South began its attack into southern Russia on 28 June 1942. The German offensive started well. Soviet forces offered little resistance in the vast empty steppes and started streaming eastward. Several attempts to re-establish a defensive line failed when German units outflanked them. Two major pockets were formed and destroyed: the first, northeast of Kharkov, on 2 July, and a second, around Millerovo, Rostov Oblast, a week later. Meanwhile, the Hungarian 2nd Army and the German 4th Panzer Army had launched an assault on Voronezh, capturing the city on 5 July.

The initial advance of the 6th Army was so successful that Hitler intervened and ordered the 4th Panzer Army to join Army Group South (A) to the south. A massive traffic jam resulted when the 4th Panzer and the 1st Panzer choked the roads, stopping both dead while they cleared the mess of thousands of vehicles. The delay is thought to have delayed the advance at least one week. With the advance now slowed, Hitler changed his mind and reassigned the 4th Panzer Army back to the attack on Stalingrad.

By the end of July, the Germans had pushed the Soviets across the Don River. At this point, the Don and Volga Rivers are only 65 km (40 mi) apart, and the Germans left their main supply depots west of the Don, which had important implications later in the course of the battle. The Germans began using the armies of their Italian, Hungarian and Romanian allies to guard their left (northern) flank. Occasionally Italian actions were mentioned in official German communiques. [35] [36] [37] [38] Italian forces were generally held in little regard by the Germans, and were accused of low morale: in reality, the Italian divisions fought comparatively well, with the 3rd Mountain Infantry Division Ravenna and 5th Infantry Division Cosseria showing spirit, according to a German liaison officer. [39] The Italians were forced to retreat only after a massive armoured attack in which German reinforcements failed to arrive in time, according to German historian Rolf-Dieter Müller. [40]

On 25 July the Germans faced stiff resistance with a Soviet bridgehead west of Kalach. "We had had to pay a high cost in men and material . left on the Kalach battlefield were numerous burnt-out or shot-up German tanks." [41]

The Germans formed bridgeheads across the Don on 20 August, with the 295th and 76th Infantry Divisions enabling the XIVth Panzer Corps "to thrust to the Volga north of Stalingrad." The German 6th Army was only a few dozen kilometres from Stalingrad. The 4th Panzer Army, ordered south on 13 July to block the Soviet retreat "weakened by the 17th Army and the 1st Panzer Army", had turned northwards to help take the city from the south. [42]

To the south, Army Group A was pushing far into the Caucasus, but their advance slowed as supply lines grew overextended. The two German army groups were too far apart to support one another.

After German intentions became clear in July 1942, Stalin appointed General Andrey Yeryomenko commander of the Southeastern Front on 1 August 1942. Yeryomenko and Commissar Nikita Khrushchev were tasked with planning the defence of Stalingrad. [43] Beyond the Volga River on the eastern boundary of Stalingrad, additional Soviet units were formed into the 62nd Army under Lieutenant General Vasiliy Chuikov on 11 September 1942. Tasked with holding the city at all costs, [44] Chuikov proclaimed, "We will defend the city or die in the attempt." [45] The battle earned him one of his two Hero of the Soviet Union awards.

Red Army

During the defence of Stalingrad, the Red Army deployed five armies in and around the city (28th, 51st, 57th, 62nd and 64th Armies) and an additional nine armies in the encirclement counteroffensive [46] (24th, 65th, 66th Armies and 16th Air Army from the north as part of the Don Front offensive, and 1st Guards Army, 5th Tank, 21st Army, 2nd Air Army and 17th Air Army from the south as part of the Southwestern Front).

Initial attack

David Glantz indicated [47] that four hard-fought battles – collectively known as the Kotluban Operations – north of Stalingrad, where the Soviets made their greatest stand, decided Germany's fate before the Nazis ever set foot in the city itself, and were a turning point in the war. Beginning in late August, continuing in September and into October, the Soviets committed between two and four armies in hastily coordinated and poorly controlled attacks against the Germans' northern flank. The actions resulted in more than 200,000 Soviet Army casualties but did slow the German assault.

On 23 August the 6th Army reached the outskirts of Stalingrad in pursuit of the 62nd and 64th Armies, which had fallen back into the city. Kleist later said after the war:

The capture of Stalingrad was subsidiary to the main aim. It was only of importance as a convenient place, in the bottleneck between Don and the Volga, where we could block an attack on our flank by Russian forces coming from the east. At the start, Stalingrad was no more than a name on the map to us. [48]

The Soviets had enough warning of the German advance to ship grain, cattle, and railway cars across the Volga out of harm's way, but Stalin refused to evacuate the 400,000 civilian residents trapped in Stalingrad. This "harvest victory" left the city short of food even before the German attack began. Before the Heer reached the city itself, the Luftwaffe had cut off shipping on the Volga, vital for bringing supplies into the city. Between 25 and 31 July, 32 Soviet ships were sunk, with another nine crippled. [49]

The battle began with the heavy bombing of the city by Generaloberst Wolfram von Richthofen's Luftflotte 4, which in the summer and autumn of 1942 was the single most powerful air formation in the world. Some 1,000 tons of bombs were dropped in 48 hours, more than in London at the height of the Blitz. [50] The exact number of civilians killed is unknown but was most likely very high. Around 40,000 civilians were taken to Germany as slave workers, some fled during battle and a small number were evacuated by the Soviets, but by February 1943 only 10,000 to 60,000 civilians were still alive. Much of the city was smashed to rubble, although some factories continued production while workers joined in the fighting. The Stalingrad Tractor Factory continued to turn out T-34 tanks up until German troops burst into the plant. The 369th (Croatian) Reinforced Infantry Regiment was the only non-German unit [51] selected by the Wehrmacht to enter Stalingrad city during assault operations. It fought as part of the 100th Jäger Division.

Stalin rushed all available troops to the east bank of the Volga, some from as far away as Siberia. Regular river ferries were quickly destroyed by the Luftwaffe, which then targeted troop barges being towed slowly across by tugs. [43] It has been said that Stalin prevented civilians from leaving the city in the belief that their presence would encourage greater resistance from the city's defenders. [52] Civilians, including women and children, were put to work building trenchworks and protective fortifications. A massive German air raid on 23 August caused a firestorm, killing hundreds and turning Stalingrad into a vast landscape of rubble and burnt ruins. Ninety percent of the living space in the Voroshilovskiy area was destroyed. Between 23 and 26 August, Soviet reports indicate 955 people were killed and another 1,181 wounded as a result of the bombing. [53] Casualties of 40,000 were greatly exaggerated, [54] and after 25 August the Soviets did not record any civilian and military casualties as a result of air raids. [Note 3]

Lloyd Clark, Kursk: The greatest battle: Eastern Front 1943. 2011 [55]

The Soviet Air Force, the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (VVS), was swept aside by the Luftwaffe. The VVS bases in the immediate area lost 201 aircraft between 23 and 31 August, and despite meagre reinforcements of some 100 aircraft in August, it was left with just 192 serviceable aircraft, 57 of which were fighters. [56] The Soviets continued to pour aerial reinforcements into the Stalingrad area in late September, but continued to suffer appalling losses the Luftwaffe had complete control of the skies.

The burden of the initial defence of the city fell on the 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, [52] a unit made up mainly of young female volunteers who had no training for engaging ground targets. Despite this, and with no support available from other units, the AA gunners stayed at their posts and took on the advancing panzers. The German 16th Panzer Division reportedly had to fight the 1077th's gunners "shot for shot" until all 37 anti-aircraft guns were destroyed or overrun. The 16th Panzer was shocked to find that, due to Soviet manpower shortages, it had been fighting female soldiers. [57] [58] In the early stages of the battle, the NKVD organised poorly armed "Workers' militias" similar to those that had defended the city twenty-four years earlier, composed of civilians not directly involved in war production for immediate use in the battle. The civilians were often sent into battle without rifles. [59] Staff and students from the local technical university formed a "tank destroyer" unit. They assembled tanks from leftover parts at the tractor factory. These tanks, unpainted and lacking gun-sights, were driven directly from the factory floor to the front line. They could only be aimed at point-blank range through the bore of their gun barrels. [60]

By the end of August, Army Group South (B) had finally reached the Volga, north of Stalingrad. Another advance to the river south of the city followed, while the Soviets abandoned their Rossoshka position for the inner defensive ring west of Stalingrad. The wings of the 6th Army and the 4th Panzer Army met near Jablotchni along the Zaritza on 2 Sept. [61] By 1 September, the Soviets could only reinforce and supply their forces in Stalingrad by perilous crossings of the Volga under constant bombardment by artillery and aircraft.

September city battles

On 5 September, the Soviet 24th and 66th Armies organized a massive attack against XIV Panzer Corps. The Luftwaffe helped repel the offensive by heavily attacking Soviet artillery positions and defensive lines. The Soviets were forced to withdraw at midday after only a few hours. Of the 120 tanks the Soviets had committed, 30 were lost to air attack. [62]

Soviet operations were constantly hampered by the Luftwaffe. On 18 September, the Soviet 1st Guards and 24th Army launched an offensive against VIII Army Corps at Kotluban. VIII. Fliegerkorps dispatched wave after wave of Stuka dive-bombers to prevent a breakthrough. The offensive was repelled. The Stukas claimed 41 of the 106 Soviet tanks knocked out that morning, while escorting Bf 109s destroyed 77 Soviet aircraft. [63] Amid the debris of the wrecked city, the Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies, which included the Soviet 13th Guards Rifle Division, anchored their defence lines with strong-points in houses and factories.

Fighting within the ruined city was fierce and desperate. Lieutenant General Alexander Rodimtsev was in charge of the 13th Guards Rifle Division, and received one of two Heroes of the Soviet Union awarded during the battle for his actions. Stalin's Order No. 227 of 27 July 1942 decreed that all commanders who ordered unauthorised retreats would be subject to a military tribunal. [64] Deserters and presumed malingerers were captured or executed after fighting. [65] During the battle the 62nd Army had the most arrests and executions: 203 in all, of which 49 were executed, while 139 were sent to penal companies and battalions. [66] [67] [68] [69] The Germans pushing forward into Stalingrad suffered heavy casualties.

By 12 September, at the time of their retreat into the city, the Soviet 62nd Army had been reduced to 90 tanks, 700 mortars and just 20,000 personnel. [70] The remaining tanks were used as immobile strong-points within the city. The initial German attack on 14 September attempted to take the city in a rush. The 51st Army Corps' 295th Infantry Division went after the Mamayev Kurgan hill, the 71st attacked the central rail station and toward the central landing stage on the Volga, while 48th Panzer Corps attacked south of the Tsaritsa River. Rodimtsev's 13th Guards Rifle Division had been hurried up to cross the river and join the defenders inside the city. [71] Assigned to counterattack at the Mamayev Kurgan and at Railway Station No. 1, it suffered particularly heavy losses.

Though initially successful, the German attacks stalled in the face of Soviet reinforcements brought in from across the Volga. The Soviet 13th Guards Rifle Division, assigned to counterattack at the Mamayev Kurgan and at Railway Station No. 1, suffered particularly heavy losses. Over 30 percent of its soldiers were killed in the first 24 hours, and just 320 out of the original 10,000 survived the entire battle. Both objectives were retaken, but only temporarily. The railway station changed hands 14 times in six hours. By the following evening, the 13th Guards Rifle Division had ceased to exist.

Combat raged for three days at the giant grain elevator in the south of the city. About fifty Red Army defenders, cut off from resupply, held the position for five days and fought off ten different assaults before running out of ammunition and water. Only forty dead Soviet fighters were found, though the Germans had thought there were many more due to the intensity of resistance. The Soviets burned large amounts of grain during their retreat in order to deny the enemy food. Paulus chose the grain elevator and silos as the symbol of Stalingrad for a patch he was having designed to commemorate the battle after a German victory.

In another part of the city, a Soviet platoon under the command of Sergeant Yakov Pavlov fortified a four-story building that oversaw a square 300 meters from the river bank, later called Pavlov's House. The soldiers surrounded it with minefields, set up machine-gun positions at the windows and breached the walls in the basement for better communications. [70] The soldiers found about ten Soviet civilians hiding in the basement. They were not relieved, and not significantly reinforced, for two months. The building was labelled Festung ("Fortress") on German maps. Sgt. Pavlov was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union for his actions.

The Germans made slow but steady progress through the city. Positions were taken individually, but the Germans were never able to capture the key crossing points along the river bank. By 27 Sept. the Germans occupied the southern portion of the city, but the Soviets held the centre and northern part. Most importantly, the Soviets controlled the ferries to their supplies on the east bank of the Volga. [72]

Strategy and tactics

German military doctrine was based on the principle of combined-arms teams and close cooperation between tanks, infantry, engineers, artillery and ground-attack aircraft. Some Soviet commanders adopted the tactic of always keeping their front-line positions as close to the Germans as physically possible Chuikov called this "hugging" the Germans. This slowed the German advance and reduced the effectiveness of the German advantage in supporting fire. [ citation needed ]

The Red Army gradually adopted a strategy to hold for as long as possible all the ground in the city. Thus, they converted multi-floored apartment blocks, factories, warehouses, street corner residences and office buildings into a series of well-defended strong-points with small 5–10-man units. Manpower in the city was constantly refreshed by bringing additional troops over the Volga. When a position was lost, an immediate attempt was usually made to re-take it with fresh forces. [ citation needed ]

Bitter fighting raged for every ruin, street, factory, house, basement, and staircase. Even the sewers were the sites of firefights. The Germans called this unseen urban warfare Rattenkrieg ("Rat War"), [73] and bitterly joked about capturing the kitchen but still fighting for the living room and the bedroom. Buildings had to be cleared room by room through the bombed-out debris of residential areas, office blocks, basements and apartment high-rises. Some of the taller buildings, blasted into roofless shells by earlier German aerial bombardment, saw floor-by-floor, close-quarters combat, with the Germans and Soviets on alternate levels, firing at each other through holes in the floors. [ citation needed ] Fighting on and around Mamayev Kurgan, a prominent hill above the city, was particularly merciless indeed, the position changed hands many times. [74] [75]

The Germans used aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery to clear the city with varying degrees of success. Toward the end of the battle, the gigantic railroad gun nicknamed Dora was brought into the area. The Soviets built up a large number of artillery batteries on the east bank of the Volga. This artillery was able to bombard the German positions or at least provide counter-battery fire.

Snipers on both sides used the ruins to inflict casualties. The most famous Soviet sniper in Stalingrad was Vasily Zaytsev, [76] with 225 confirmed kills during the battle. Targets were often soldiers bringing up food or water to forward positions. Artillery spotters were an especially prized target for snipers.

A significant historical debate concerns the degree of terror in the Red Army. The British historian Antony Beevor noted the "sinister" message from the Stalingrad Front's Political Department on 8 October 1942 that: "The defeatist mood is almost eliminated and the number of treasonous incidents is getting lower" as an example of the sort of coercion Red Army soldiers experienced under the Special Detachments (later to be renamed SMERSH). [77] On the other hand, Beevor noted the often extraordinary bravery of the Soviet soldiers in a battle that was only comparable to Verdun, and argued that terror alone cannot explain such self-sacrifice. [78] Richard Overy addresses the question of just how important the Red Army's coercive methods were to the Soviet war effort compared with other motivational factors such as hatred for the enemy. He argues that, though it is "easy to argue that from the summer of 1942 the Soviet army fought because it was forced to fight," to concentrate solely on coercion is nonetheless to "distort our view of the Soviet war effort." [79] After conducting hundreds of interviews with Soviet veterans on the subject of terror on the Eastern Front – and specifically about Order No. 227 ("Not a step back!") at Stalingrad – Catherine Merridale notes that, seemingly paradoxically, "their response was frequently relief." [80] Infantryman Lev Lvovich's explanation, for example, is typical for these interviews as he recalls, "[i]t was a necessary and important step. We all knew where we stood after we had heard it. And we all – it's true – felt better. Yes, we felt better." [80]

Many women fought on the Soviet side or were under fire. As General Chuikov acknowledged, "Remembering the defence of Stalingrad, I can't overlook the very important question . about the role of women in war, in the rear, but also at the front. Equally with men they bore all the burdens of combat life and together with us men, they went all the way to Berlin." [81] At the beginning of the battle there were 75,000 women and girls from the Stalingrad area who had finished military or medical training, and all of whom were to serve in the battle. [82] Women staffed a great many of the anti-aircraft batteries that fought not only the Luftwaffe but German tanks. [83] Soviet nurses not only treated wounded personnel under fire but were involved in the highly dangerous work of bringing wounded soldiers back to the hospitals under enemy fire. [84] Many of the Soviet wireless and telephone operators were women who often suffered heavy casualties when their command posts came under fire. [85] Though women were not usually trained as infantry, many Soviet women fought as machine gunners, mortar operators, and scouts. [86] Women were also snipers at Stalingrad. [87] Three air regiments at Stalingrad were entirely female. [86] At least three women won the title Hero of the Soviet Union while driving tanks at Stalingrad. [88]

For both Stalin and Hitler, Stalingrad became a matter of prestige far beyond its strategic significance. [89] The Soviet command moved units from the Red Army strategic reserve in the Moscow area to the lower Volga and transferred aircraft from the entire country to the Stalingrad region.

The strain on both military commanders was immense: Paulus developed an uncontrollable tic in his eye, which eventually afflicted the left side of his face, while Chuikov experienced an outbreak of eczema that required him to have his hands completely bandaged. Troops on both sides faced the constant strain of close-range combat. [90]

Fighting in the industrial district

After 27 September, much of the fighting in the city shifted north to the industrial district. Having slowly advanced over 10 days against strong Soviet resistance, the 51st Army Corps was finally in front of the three giant factories of Stalingrad: the Red October Steel Factory, the Barrikady Arms Factory and Stalingrad Tractor Factory. It took a few more days for them to prepare for the most savage offensive of all, which was unleashed on 14 October with a concentration of gunfire never seen before. [91] Exceptionally intense shelling and bombing paved the way for the first German assault groups. The main attack (led by the 14th Panzer and 305th Infantry Divisions) attacked towards the tractor factory, while another assault led by the 24th Panzer Division hit to the south of the giant plant. [92]

The German onslaught crushed the 37th Guards Rifle Division of Major General Viktor Zholudev and in the afternoon the forward assault group reached the tractor factory before arriving at the Volga River, splitting the 62nd Army into two. [93] In response to the German breakthrough to the Volga, the front headquarters committed three battalions from the 300th Rifle Division and the 45th Rifle Division of Colonel Vasily Sokolov, a substantial force of over 2,000 men, to the fighting at the Red October Factory. [94]

Fighting raged inside the Barrikady Factory until the end of October. [95] The Soviet-controlled area shrank down to a few strips of land along the western bank of the Volga, and in November the fighting concentrated around what Soviet newspapers referred to as "Lyudnikov's Island", a small patch of ground behind the Barrikady Factory where the remnants of Colonel Ivan Lyudnikov's 138th Rifle Division resisted all ferocious assaults thrown by the Germans and became a symbol of the stout Soviet defence of Stalingrad. [96]

Air attacks

From 5 to 12 September, Luftflotte 4 conducted 7,507 sorties (938 per day). From 16 to 25 September, it carried out 9,746 missions (975 per day). [97] Determined to crush Soviet resistance, Luftflotte 4's Stukawaffe flew 900 individual sorties against Soviet positions at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory on 5 October. Several Soviet regiments were wiped out the entire staff of the Soviet 339th Infantry Regiment was killed the following morning during an air raid. [98]

The Luftwaffe retained air superiority into November, and Soviet daytime aerial resistance was nonexistent. However, the combination of constant air support operations on the German side and the Soviet surrender of the daytime skies began to affect the strategic balance in the air. From 28 June to 20 September, Luftflotte 4's original strength of 1,600 aircraft, of which 1,155 were operational, fell to 950, of which only 550 were operational. The fleet's total strength decreased by 40 percent. Daily sorties decreased from 1,343 per day to 975 per day. Soviet offensives in the central and northern portions of the Eastern Front tied down Luftwaffe reserves and newly built aircraft, reducing Luftflotte 4's percentage of Eastern Front aircraft from 60 percent on 28 June to 38 percent by 20 September. The Kampfwaffe (bomber force) was the hardest hit, having only 232 out of an original force of 480 left. [97] The VVS remained qualitatively inferior, but by the time of the Soviet counter-offensive, the VVS had reached numerical superiority.

In mid-October, after receiving reinforcements from the Caucasus theatre, the Luftwaffe intensified its efforts against the remaining Red Army positions holding the west bank. Luftflotte 4 flew 1,250 sorties on 14 October and its Stukas dropped 550 tonnes of bombs, while German infantry surrounded the three factories. [99] Stukageschwader 1, 2, and 77 had largely silenced Soviet artillery on the eastern bank of the Volga before turning their attention to the shipping that was once again trying to reinforce the narrowing Soviet pockets of resistance. The 62nd Army had been cut in two and, due to intensive air attack on its supply ferries, was receiving much less material support. With the Soviets forced into a 1-kilometre (1,000-yard) strip of land on the western bank of the Volga, over 1,208 Stuka missions were flown in an effort to eliminate them. [100]

The Soviet bomber force, the Aviatsiya Dal'nego Deystviya (Long Range Aviation ADD), having taken crippling losses over the past 18 months, was restricted to flying at night. The Soviets flew 11,317 night sorties over Stalingrad and the Don-bend sector between 17 July and 19 November. These raids caused little damage and were of nuisance value only. [101] [102] : 265

On 8 November, substantial units from Luftflotte 4 were withdrawn to combat the Allied landings in North Africa. The German air arm found itself spread thinly across Europe, struggling to maintain its strength in the other southern sectors of the Soviet-German front. [Note 4]

As historian Chris Bellamy notes, the Germans paid a high strategic price for the aircraft sent into Stalingrad: the Luftwaffe was forced to divert much of its air strength away from the oil-rich Caucasus, which had been Hitler's original grand-strategic objective. [103]

The Royal Romanian Air Force was also involved in the Axis air operations at Stalingrad. Starting 23 October 1942, Romanian pilots flew a total of 4,000 sorties, during which they destroyed 61 Soviet aircraft. The Romanian Air Force lost 79 aircraft, most of them captured on the ground along with their airfields. [104]

Germans reach the Volga

After three months of slow advance, the Germans finally reached the river banks, capturing 90% of the ruined city and splitting the remaining Soviet forces into two narrow pockets. Ice floes on the Volga now prevented boats and tugs from supplying the Soviet defenders. Nevertheless, the fighting continued, especially on the slopes of Mamayev Kurgan and inside the factory area in the northern part of the city. [105] From 21 August to 20 November, the German 6th Army lost 60,548 men, including 12,782 killed, 45,545 wounded and 2,221 missing. [106]

Recognising that German troops were ill-prepared for offensive operations during the winter of 1942 and that most of them were redeployed elsewhere on the southern sector of the Eastern Front, the Stavka decided to conduct a number of offensive operations between 19 November 1942 and 2 February 1943. These operations opened the Winter Campaign of 1942–1943 (19 November 1942 – 3 March 1943), which involved some fifteen Armies operating on several fronts. According to Zhukov, "German operational blunders were aggravated by poor intelligence: they failed to spot preparations for the major counter-offensive near Stalingrad where there were 10 field, 1 tank and 4 air armies." [107]

Weakness on the German flanks

During the siege, the German and allied Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian armies protecting Army Group B's north and south flanks had pressed their headquarters for support. The Hungarian 2nd Army was given the task of defending a 200 km (120 mi) section of the front north of Stalingrad between the Italian Army and Voronezh. This resulted in a very thin line, with some sectors where 1–2 km (0.62–1.24 mi) stretches were being defended by a single platoon (platoons typically have around 20 to 50 men). These forces were also lacking in effective anti-tank weapons. Zhukov states, "Compared with the Germans, the troops of the satellites were not so well armed, less experienced and less efficient, even in defence." [108]

Because of the total focus on the city, the Axis forces had neglected for months to consolidate their positions along the natural defensive line of the Don River. The Soviet forces were allowed to retain bridgeheads on the right bank from which offensive operations could be quickly launched. These bridgeheads in retrospect presented a serious threat to Army Group B. [33]

Similarly, on the southern flank of the Stalingrad sector, the front southwest of Kotelnikovo was held only by the Romanian 4th Army. Beyond that army, a single German division, the 16th Motorised Infantry, covered 400 km. Paulus had requested permission to "withdraw the 6th Army behind the Don," but was rejected. According to Paulus' comments to Adam, "There is still the order whereby no commander of an army group or an army has the right to relinquish a village, even a trench, without Hitler's consent." [109]

Operation Uranus: the Soviet offensive

In autumn, the Soviet generals Georgy Zhukov and Aleksandr Vasilevsky, responsible for strategic planning in the Stalingrad area, concentrated forces in the steppes to the north and south of the city. The northern flank was defended by Hungarian and Romanian units, often in open positions on the steppes. The natural line of defence, the Don River, had never been properly established by the German side. The armies in the area were also poorly equipped in terms of anti-tank weapons. The plan was to punch through the overstretched and weakly defended German flanks and surround the German forces in the Stalingrad region.

During the preparations for the attack, Marshal Zhukov personally visited the front and noticing the poor organisation, insisted on a one-week delay in the start date of the planned attack. [110] The operation was code-named "Uranus" and launched in conjunction with Operation Mars, which was directed at Army Group Center. The plan was similar to the one Zhukov had used to achieve victory at Khalkhin Gol three years before, where he had sprung a double envelopment and destroyed the 23rd Division of the Japanese army. [111]

On 19 November 1942, the Red Army launched Operation Uranus. The attacking Soviet units under the command of Gen. Nikolay Vatutin consisted of three complete armies, the 1st Guards Army, 5th Tank Army and 21st Army, including a total of 18 infantry divisions, eight tank brigades, two motorised brigades, six cavalry divisions and one anti-tank brigade. The preparations for the attack could be heard by the Romanians, who continued to push for reinforcements, only to be refused again. Thinly spread, deployed in exposed positions, outnumbered and poorly equipped, the Romanian 3rd Army, which held the northern flank of the German 6th Army, was overrun.

Behind the front lines, no preparations had been made to defend key points in the rear such as Kalach. The response by the Wehrmacht was both chaotic and indecisive. Poor weather prevented effective air action against the Soviet offensive. Army Group B was in disarray and faced strong Soviet pressure across all its fronts. Hence it was ineffective in relieving the 6th Army.

On 20 November, a second Soviet offensive (two armies) was launched to the south of Stalingrad against points held by the Romanian 4th Army Corps. The Romanian forces, made up primarily of infantry, were overrun by large numbers of tanks. The Soviet forces raced west and met on 23 November at the town of Kalach, sealing the ring around Stalingrad. [112] The link-up of the Soviet forces, not filmed at the time, was later re-enacted for a propaganda film which was shown worldwide. [ citation needed ] .

The surrounded Axis personnel comprised 265,000 Germans, Romanians, Italians, [113] [ page needed ] and the Croatians. In addition, the German 6th Army included between 40,000 and 65,000 Hilfswillige (Hiwi), or "volunteer auxiliaries", [114] [115] a term used for personnel recruited amongst Soviet POWs and civilians from areas under occupation. Hiwi often proved to be reliable Axis personnel in rear areas and were used for supporting roles, but also served in some front-line units as their numbers had increased. [115] German personnel in the pocket numbered about 210,000, according to strength breakdowns of the 20 field divisions (average size 9,000) and 100 battalion-sized units of the Sixth Army on 19 November 1942. Inside the pocket (German: Kessel, literally "cauldron"), there were also around 10,000 Soviet civilians and several thousand Soviet soldiers the Germans had taken captive during the battle. Not all of the 6th Army was trapped: 50,000 soldiers were brushed aside outside the pocket. These belonged mostly to the other two divisions of the 6th Army between the Italian and Romanian armies: the 62nd and 298th Infantry Divisions. Of the 210,000 Germans, 10,000 remained to fight on, 105,000 surrendered, 35,000 left by air and the remaining 60,000 died.

Even with the desperate situation of the 6th Army, Army Group A continued their invasion of the Caucasus further south from 19 November until 19 December. Only on December 28 was Army Group A ordered to withdraw from the Caucasus. [ citation needed ] Hence Army Group A was never used to help relieve the Sixth Army.

Army Group Don was formed under Field Marshal von Manstein. Under his command were the twenty German and two Romanian divisions encircled at Stalingrad, Adam's battle groups formed along the Chir River and on the Don bridgehead, plus the remains of the Romanian 3rd Army. [116]

The Red Army units immediately formed two defensive fronts: a circumvallation facing inward and a contravallation facing outward. Field Marshal Erich von Manstein advised Hitler not to order the 6th Army to break out, stating that he could break through the Soviet lines and relieve the besieged 6th Army. [117] The American historians Williamson Murray and Alan Millet wrote that it was Manstein's message to Hitler on 24 November advising him that the 6th Army should not break out, along with Göring's statements that the Luftwaffe could supply Stalingrad that ". sealed the fate of the Sixth Army." [118] [119] After 1945, Manstein claimed that he told Hitler that the 6th Army must break out. [117] The American historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote that Manstein distorted his record on the matter. [120] Manstein was tasked to conduct a relief operation, named Operation Winter Storm (Unternehmen Wintergewitter) against Stalingrad, which he thought was feasible if the 6th Army was temporarily supplied through the air. [121] [122]

Adolf Hitler had declared in a public speech (in the Berlin Sportpalast) on 30 September 1942 that the German army would never leave the city. At a meeting shortly after the Soviet encirclement, German army chiefs pushed for an immediate breakout to a new line on the west of the Don, but Hitler was at his Bavarian retreat of Obersalzberg in Berchtesgaden with the head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring. When asked by Hitler, Göring replied, after being convinced by Hans Jeschonnek, [123] that the Luftwaffe could supply the 6th Army with an "air bridge." This would allow the Germans in the city to fight on temporarily while a relief force was assembled. [112] A similar plan had been used a year earlier at the Demyansk Pocket, albeit on a much smaller scale: a corps at Demyansk rather than an entire army. [124]

The director of Luftflotte 4, Wolfram von Richthofen, tried to get this decision overturned. The forces under the 6th Army were almost twice as large as a regular German army unit, plus there was also a corps of the 4th Panzer Army trapped in the pocket. Due to a limited number of available aircraft and having only one available airfield, at Pitomnik, the Luftwaffe could only deliver 105 tonnes of supplies per day, only a fraction of the minimum 750 tonnes that both Paulus and Zeitzler estimated the 6th Army needed. [125] [Note 5] To supplement the limited number of Junkers Ju 52 transports, the Germans pressed other aircraft into the role, such as the Heinkel He 177 bomber (some bombers performed adequately – the Heinkel He 111 proved to be quite capable and was much faster than the Ju 52). General Richthofen informed Manstein on 27 November of the small transport capacity of the Luftwaffe and the impossibility of supplying 300 tons a day by air. Manstein now saw the enormous technical difficulties of a supply by air of these dimensions. The next day he made a six-page situation report to the general staff. Based on the information of the expert Richthofen, he declared that contrary to the example of the pocket of Demyansk the permanent supply by air would be impossible. If only a narrow link could be established to Sixth Army, he proposed that this should be used to pull it out from the encirclement, and said that the Luftwaffe should instead of supplies deliver only enough ammunition and fuel for a breakout attempt. He acknowledged the heavy moral sacrifice that giving up Stalingrad would mean, but this would be made easier to bear by conserving the combat power of the Sixth Army and regaining the initiative. [126] He ignored the limited mobility of the army and the difficulties of disengaging the Soviets. Hitler reiterated that the Sixth Army would stay at Stalingrad and that the air bridge would supply it until the encirclement was broken by a new German offensive.

Supplying the 270,000 men trapped in the "cauldron" required 700 tons of supplies a day. That would mean 350 Ju 52 flights a day into Pitomnik. At a minimum, 500 tons were required. However, according to Adam, "On not one single day have the minimal essential number of tons of supplies been flown in." [127] The Luftwaffe was able to deliver an average of 85 tonnes of supplies per day out of an air transport capacity of 106 tonnes per day. The most successful day, 19 December, the Luftwaffe delivered 262 tonnes of supplies in 154 flights. The outcome of the airlift was the Luftwaffe's failure to provide its transport units with the tools they needed to maintain an adequate count of operational aircraft – tools that included airfield facilities, supplies, manpower, and even aircraft suited to the prevailing conditions. These factors, taken together, prevented the Luftwaffe from effectively employing the full potential of its transport forces, ensuring that they were unable to deliver the quantity of supplies needed to sustain the 6th Army. [128]

In the early parts of the operation, fuel was shipped at a higher priority than food and ammunition because of a belief that there would be a breakout from the city. [129] Transport aircraft also evacuated technical specialists and sick or wounded personnel from the besieged enclave. Sources differ on the number flown out: at least 25,000 to at most 35,000.

Initially, supply flights came in from the field at Tatsinskaya, [130] called 'Tazi' by the German pilots. On 23 December, the Soviet 24th Tank Corps, commanded by Major-General Vasily Mikhaylovich Badanov, reached nearby Skassirskaya and in the early morning of 24 December, the tanks reached Tatsinskaya. Without any soldiers to defend the airfield, it was abandoned under heavy fire in a little under an hour, 108 Ju 52s and 16 Ju 86s took off for Novocherkassk – leaving 72 Ju 52s and many other aircraft burning on the ground. A new base was established some 300 km (190 mi) from Stalingrad at Salsk, the additional distance would become another obstacle to the resupply efforts. Salsk was abandoned in turn by mid-January for a rough facility at Zverevo, near Shakhty. The field at Zverevo was attacked repeatedly on 18 January and a further 50 Ju 52s were destroyed. Winter weather conditions, technical failures, heavy Soviet anti-aircraft fire and fighter interceptions eventually led to the loss of 488 German aircraft.

In spite of the failure of the German offensive to reach the 6th Army, the air supply operation continued under ever more difficult circumstances. The 6th Army slowly starved. General Zeitzler, moved by their plight, began to limit himself to their slim rations at meal times. After a few weeks on such a diet, he had "visibly lost weight", according to Albert Speer, and Hitler "commanded Zeitzler to resume at once taking sufficient nourishment." [131]

The toll on the Transportgruppen was heavy. 160 aircraft were destroyed and 328 were heavily damaged (beyond repair). Some 266 Junkers Ju 52s were destroyed one-third of the fleet's strength on the Eastern Front. The He 111 gruppen lost 165 aircraft in transport operations. Other losses included 42 Ju 86s, 9 Fw 200 Condors, 5 He 177 bombers and 1 Ju 290. The Luftwaffe also lost close to 1,000 highly experienced bomber crew personnel. [132] So heavy were the Luftwaffe ' s losses that four of Luftflotte 4's transport units (KGrzbV 700, KGrzbV 900, I./KGrzbV 1 and II./KGzbV 1) were "formally dissolved." [50]

Operation Winter Storm

Manstein's plan to rescue the Sixth Army – Operation Winter Storm – was developed in full consultation with Führer headquarters. It aimed to break through to the Sixth Army and establish a corridor to keep it supplied and reinforced, so that, according to Hitler's order, it could maintain its "cornerstone" position on the Volga, "with regard to operations in 1943". Manstein, however, who knew that Sixth Army could not survive the winter there, instructed his headquarters to draw up a further plan in the event of Hitler's seeing sense. This would include the subsequent breakout of Sixth Army, in the event of a successful first phase, and its physical reincorporation in Army Group Don. This second plan was given the name Operation Thunderclap. Winter Storm, as Zhukov had predicted, was originally planned as a two-pronged attack. One thrust would come from the area of Kotelnikovo, well to the south, and around a hundred miles from the Sixth Army. The other would start from the Chir front west of the Don, which was little more than forty miles from the edge of the Kessel, but the continuing attacks of Romanenko's 5th Tank Army against the German detachments along the river Chir ruled out that start-line. This left only the LVII Panzer Corps around Kotelnikovo, supported by the rest of Hoth's very mixed Fourth Panzer Army, to relieve Paulus's trapped divisions. The LVII Panzer Corps, commanded by General Friedrich Kirchner, had been weak at first. It consisted of two Romanian cavalry divisions and the 23rd Panzer Division, which mustered no more than thirty serviceable tanks. The 6th Panzer Division, arriving from France, was a vastly more powerful formation, but its members hardly received an encouraging impression. The Austrian divisional commander, General Erhard Raus, was summoned to Manstein's royal carriage in Kharkov station on 24 November, where the field marshal briefed him. "He described the situation in very sombre terms", recorded Raus. Three days later, when the first trainload of Raus's division steamed into Kotelnikovo station to unload, his troops were greeted by "a hail of shells" from Soviet batteries. "As quick as lightning, the Panzergrenadiers jumped from their wagons. But already the enemy was attacking the station with their battle-cries of 'Urrah!'" By 18 December, the German Army had pushed to within 48 km (30 mi) of Sixth Army's positions. However, the predictable nature of the relief operation brought significant risk for all German forces in the area. The starving encircled forces at Stalingrad made no attempt to break out or link up with Manstein's advance. Some German officers requested that Paulus defy Hitler's orders to stand fast and instead attempt to break out of the Stalingrad pocket. Paulus refused, concerned about the Red Army attacks on the flank of Army Group Don and Army Group B in their advance on Rostov-on-Don, "an early abandonment" of Stalingrad "would result in the destruction of Army Group A in the Caucasus", and the fact that his 6th Army tanks only had fuel for a 30 km advance towards Hoth's spearhead, a futile effort if they did not receive assurance of resupply by air. Of his questions to Army Group Don, Paulus was told, "Wait, implement Operation 'Thunderclap' only on explicit orders!" – Operation Thunderclap being the code word initiating the breakout. [133]

Operation Little Saturn

On 16 December, the Soviets launched Operation Little Saturn, which attempted to punch through the Axis army (mainly Italians) on the Don and take Rostov-on-Don. The Germans set up a "mobile defence" of small units that were to hold towns until supporting armour arrived. From the Soviet bridgehead at Mamon, 15 divisions – supported by at least 100 tanks – attacked the Italian Cosseria and Ravenna Divisions, and although outnumbered 9 to 1, the Italians initially fought well, with the Germans praising the quality of the Italian defenders, [134] but on 19 December, with the Italian lines disintegrating, ARMIR headquarters ordered the battered divisions to withdraw to new lines. [135]

The fighting forced a total revaluation of the German situation. Sensing that this was the last chance for a breakout, Manstein pleaded with Hitler on 18 December, but Hitler refused. Paulus himself also doubted the feasibility of such a breakout. The attempt to break through to Stalingrad was abandoned and Army Group A was ordered to pull back from the Caucasus. The 6th Army now was beyond all hope of German relief. While a motorised breakout might have been possible in the first few weeks, the 6th Army now had insufficient fuel and the German soldiers would have faced great difficulty breaking through the Soviet lines on foot in harsh winter conditions. But in its defensive position on the Volga, the 6th Army continued to tie down a significant number of Soviet Armies. [136]

On 23 December, the attempt to relieve Stalingrad was abandoned and Manstein's forces switched over to the defensive to deal with new Soviet offensives. [137] As Zhukov states, "The military and political leadership of Nazi Germany sought not to relieve them, but to get them to fight on for as long possible so as to tie up the Soviet forces. The aim was to win as much time as possible to withdraw forces from the Caucasus (Army Group A) and to rush troops from other Fronts to form a new front that would be able in some measure to check our counter-offensive." [138]

Soviet victory

The Red Army High Command sent three envoys while simultaneously aircraft and loudspeakers announced terms of capitulation on 7 January 1943. The letter was signed by Colonel-General of Artillery Voronov and the commander-in-chief of the Don Front, Lieutenant-General Rokossovsky. A low-level Soviet envoy party (comprising Major Aleksandr Smyslov, Captain Nikolay Dyatlenko and a trumpeter) carried generous surrender terms to Paulus: if he surrendered within 24 hours, he would receive a guarantee of safety for all prisoners, medical care for the sick and wounded, prisoners being allowed to keep their personal belongings, "normal" food rations, and repatriation to any country they wished after the war. Rokossovsky's letter also stressed that Paulus' men were in an untenable situation. Paulus requested permission to surrender, but Hitler rejected Paulus' request out of hand. Accordingly, Paulus did not respond. [139] [140] The German High Command informed Paulus, "Every day that the army holds out longer helps the whole front and draws away the Russian divisions from it." [141]

The Germans inside the pocket retreated from the suburbs of Stalingrad to the city itself. The loss of the two airfields, at Pitomnik on 16 January 1943 and Gumrak on the night of 21/22 January, [142] meant an end to air supplies and to the evacuation of the wounded. [31] : 98 The third and last serviceable runway was at the Stalingradskaya flight school, which reportedly had the last landings and takeoffs on 23 January. [51] After 23 January, there were no more reported landings, just intermittent air drops of ammunition and food until the end. [143]

The Germans were now not only starving but running out of ammunition. Nevertheless, they continued to resist, in part because they believed the Soviets would execute any who surrendered. In particular, the so-called HiWis, Soviet citizens fighting for the Germans, had no illusions about their fate if captured. The Soviets were initially surprised by the number of Germans they had trapped and had to reinforce their encircling troops. Bloody urban warfare began again in Stalingrad, but this time it was the Germans who were pushed back to the banks of the Volga. The Germans adopted a simple defence of fixing wire nets over all windows to protect themselves from grenades. The Soviets responded by fixing fish hooks to the grenades so they stuck to the nets when thrown. The Germans had no usable tanks in the city, and those that still functioned could, at best, be used as makeshift pillboxes. The Soviets did not bother employing tanks in areas where urban destruction restricted their mobility.

On 22 January, Rokossovsky once again offered Paulus a chance to surrender. Paulus requested that he be granted permission to accept the terms. He told Hitler that he was no longer able to command his men, who were without ammunition or food. [144] Hitler rejected it on a point of honour. He telegraphed the 6th Army later that day, claiming that it had made a historic contribution to the greatest struggle in German history and that it should stand fast "to the last soldier and the last bullet." Hitler told Goebbels that the plight of the 6th Army was a "heroic drama of German history." [145] On 24 January, in his radio report to Hitler, Paulus reported: "18,000 wounded without the slightest aid of bandages and medicines." [146]

On 26 January 1943, the German forces inside Stalingrad were split into two pockets north and south of Mamayev-Kurgan. The northern pocket consisting of the VIIIth Corps, under General Walter Heitz, and the XIth Corps, was now cut off from telephone communication with Paulus in the southern pocket. Now "each part of the cauldron came personally under Hitler." [147] On 28 January, the cauldron was split into three parts. The northern cauldron consisted of the XIth Corps, the central with the VIIIth and LIst Corps, and the southern with the XIVth Panzer Corps and IVth Corps "without units". The sick and wounded reached 40,000 to 50,000. [148]

On 30 January 1943, the 10th anniversary of Hitler's coming to power, Goebbels read out a proclamation that included the sentence: "The heroic struggle of our soldiers on the Volga should be a warning for everybody to do the utmost for the struggle for Germany's freedom and the future of our people, and thus in a wider sense for the maintenance of our entire continent." [149] Paulus notified Hitler that his men would likely collapse before the day was out. In response, Hitler issued a tranche of field promotions to the Sixth Army's officers. Most notably, he promoted Paulus to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall. In deciding to promote Paulus, Hitler noted that there was no record of a German or Prussian field marshal having ever surrendered. The implication was clear: if Paulus surrendered, he would shame himself and would become the highest-ranking German officer ever to be captured. Hitler believed that Paulus would either fight to the last man or commit suicide. [150]

On the next day, the southern pocket in Stalingrad collapsed. Soviet forces reached the entrance to the German headquarters in the ruined GUM department store. [151] When interrogated by the Soviets, Paulus claimed that he had not surrendered. He said that he had been taken by surprise. He denied that he was the commander of the remaining northern pocket in Stalingrad and refused to issue an order in his name for them to surrender. [152] [153]

There was no cameraman to film the capture of Paulus, but one of them (Roman Karmen) was able to record his first interrogation this same day, at Shumilov's 64th Army's HQ, and a few hours later at Rokossovsky's Don Front HQ. [154]

The central pocket, under the command of Heitz, surrendered the same day, while the northern pocket, under the command of General Karl Strecker, held out for two more days. [155] Four Soviet armies were deployed against the northern pocket. At four in the morning on 2 February, Strecker was informed that one of his own officers had gone to the Soviets to negotiate surrender terms. Seeing no point in continuing, he sent a radio message saying that his command had done its duty and fought to the last man. When Strecker finally surrendered, he and his chief of staff, Helmuth Groscurth, drafted the final signal sent from Stalingrad, purposely omitting the customary exclamation to Hitler, replacing it with "Long live Germany!" [156]

Around 91,000 exhausted, ill, wounded, and starving prisoners were taken, including 3,000 Romanians (the survivors of the 20th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division and "Col. Voicu" Detachment). [157] [ self-published source? ] The prisoners included 22 generals. Hitler was furious and confided that Paulus "could have freed himself from all sorrow and ascended into eternity and national immortality, but he prefers to go to Moscow." [158]

The calculation of casualties depends on what scope is given to the Battle of Stalingrad. The scope can vary from the fighting in the city and suburbs to the inclusion of almost all fighting on the southern wing of the Soviet-German front from the spring of 1942 to the end of the fighting in the city in the winter of 1943. Scholars have produced different estimates depending on their definition of the scope of the battle. The difference is comparing the city against the region. The Axis suffered 647,300 – 968,374 total casualties (killed, wounded or captured) among all branches of the German armed forces and its allies:

  • 282,606 in the 6th Army from 21 August to the end of the battle 17,293 in the 4th Panzer Army from 21 August to 31 January 55,260 in the Army Group Don from 1 December 1942 to the end of the battle (12,727 killed, 37,627 wounded and 4,906 missing) [106][159] Walsh estimates the losses to 6th Army and 4th Panzer division were over 300,000 including other German army groups between late June 1942 and February 1943, total German casualties were over 600,000. [160]Louis A. DiMarco estimated the German suffered 400,000 total casualties (killed, wounded or captured) during this battle. [12]
  • According to Frieser, et al.: 109,000 Romanians casualties (from November 1942 to December 1942), included 70,000 captured or missing. 114,000 Italians and 105,000 Hungarians were killed, wounded or captured (from December 1942 to February 1943). [13]
  • According to Stephen Walsh: Romanian casualties were 158,854 114,520 Italians (84,830 killed, missing and 29,690 wounded) and 143,000 Hungarian (80,000 killed, missing and 63,000 wounded). [161] Losses among Soviet POW turncoats Hiwis, or Hilfswillige range between 19,300 and 52,000. [14]

235,000 German and allied troops in total, from all units, including Manstein's ill-fated relief force, were captured during the battle. [162]

The Germans lost 900 aircraft (including 274 transports and 165 bombers used as transports), 500 tanks and 6,000 artillery pieces. [163] According to a contemporary Soviet report, 5,762 guns, 1,312 mortars, 12,701 heavy machine guns, 156,987 rifles, 80,438 sub-machine guns, 10,722 trucks, 744 aircraft 1,666 tanks, 261 other armoured vehicles, 571 half-tracks and 10,679 motorcycles were captured by the Soviets. [164] In addition, an unknown amount of Hungarian, Italian, and Romanian materiel was lost.

The situation of the Romanian tanks is known, however. Before Operation Uranus, the 1st Romanian Armoured Division consisted of 121 R-2 light tanks and 19 German-produced tanks (Panzer III and IV). All of the 19 German tanks were lost, as well as 81 of the R-2 light tanks. Only 27 of the latter were lost in combat, however, the remaining 54 being abandoned after breaking down or running out of fuel. Ultimately, however, Romanian armoured warfare proved to be a tactical success, as the Romanians destroyed 127 Soviet tanks for the cost of their 100 lost units. Romanian forces destroyed 62 Soviet tanks on 20 November for the cost of 25 tanks of their own, followed by 65 more Soviet tanks on 22 November, for the cost of 10 tanks of their own. [165] More Soviet tanks were destroyed as they overran the Romanian airfields. This was accomplished by Romanian Vickers/Reșița 75 mm anti-aircraft guns, which proved effective against Soviet armour. The battle for the German-Romanian airfield at Karpova lasted two days, with Romanian gunners destroying numerous Soviet tanks. Later, when the Tatsinskaya Airfield was also captured, the Romanian 75 mm guns destroyed five more Soviet tanks. [166]

The USSR, according to archival figures, suffered 1,129,619 total casualties 478,741 personnel killed or missing, and 650,878 wounded or sick. The USSR lost 4,341 tanks destroyed or damaged, 15,728 artillery pieces and 2,769 combat aircraft. [15] [167] 955 Soviet civilians died in Stalingrad and its suburbs from aerial bombing by Luftflotte 4 as the German 4th Panzer and 6th Armies approached the city. [53]

Luftwaffe losses

Luftwaffe losses for Stalingrad (24 November 1942 to 31 January 1943)
Losses Aircraft type
269 Junkers Ju 52
169 Heinkel He 111
42 Junkers Ju 86
9 Focke-Wulf Fw 200
5 Heinkel He 177
1 Junkers Ju 290
Total: 495 About 20 squadrons
or more than an
air corps

The losses of transport planes were especially serious, as they destroyed the capacity for supply of the trapped 6th Army. The destruction of 72 aircraft when the airfield at Tatsinskaya was overrun meant the loss of about 10 percent of the Luftwaffe transport fleet. [168]

These losses amounted to about 50 percent of the aircraft committed and the Luftwaffe training program was stopped and sorties in other theatres of war were significantly reduced to save fuel for use at Stalingrad.

The German public was not officially told of the impending disaster until the end of January 1943, though positive media reports had stopped in the weeks before the announcement. [169] Stalingrad marked the first time that the Nazi government publicly acknowledged a failure in its war effort. On 31 January, regular programmes on German state radio were replaced by a broadcast of the sombre Adagio movement from Anton Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, followed by the announcement of the defeat at Stalingrad. [169] On 18 February, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels gave the famous Sportpalast speech in Berlin, encouraging the Germans to accept a total war that would claim all resources and efforts from the entire population.

Based on Soviet records, over 11,000 German soldiers continued to resist in isolated groups within the city for the next month. [ citation needed ] Some have presumed that they were motivated by a belief that fighting on was better than a slow death in Soviet captivity. Brown University historian Omer Bartov claims they were motivated by National Socialism. He studied 11,237 letters sent by soldiers inside of Stalingrad between 20 December 1942 and 16 January 1943 to their families in Germany. Almost every letter expressed belief in Germany's ultimate victory and their willingness to fight and die at Stalingrad to achieve that victory. [170] Bartov reported that a great many of the soldiers were well aware that they would not be able to escape from Stalingrad but in their letters to their families boasted that they were proud to "sacrifice themselves for the Führer". [171]

The remaining forces continued to resist, hiding in cellars and sewers but by early March 1943, the last small and isolated pockets of resistance had surrendered. According to Soviet intelligence documents shown in the documentary, a remarkable NKVD report from March 1943 is available showing the tenacity of some of these German groups:

The mopping-up of counter-revolutionary elements in the city of Stalingrad proceeded. The German soldiers – who had hidden themselves in huts and trenches – offered armed resistance after combat actions had already ended. This armed resistance continued until 15 February and in a few areas until 20 February. Most of the armed groups were liquidated by March . During this period of armed conflict with the Germans, the brigade's units killed 2,418 soldiers and officers and captured 8,646 soldiers and officers, escorting them to POW camps and handing them over.

The operative report of the Don Front's staff issued on 5 February 1943, 22:00 said,

The 64th Army was putting itself in order, being in previously occupied regions. Location of army's units is as it was previously. In the region of location of the 38th Motorised Rifle Brigade in a basement eighteen armed SS-men (sic) were found, who refused to surrender, the Germans found were destroyed. [172]

The condition of the troops that surrendered was pitiful. British war correspondent Alexander Werth described the following scene in his Russia at War book, based on a first-hand account of his visit to Stalingrad on 3–5 February 1943,

We [. ] went into the yard of the large burnt out building of the Red Army House and here one realised particularly clearly what the last days of Stalingrad had been to so many of the Germans. In the porch lay the skeleton of a horse, with only a few scraps of meat still clinging to its ribs. Then we came into the yard. Here lay more more [sic?] horses' skeletons, and to the right, there was an enormous horrible cesspool – fortunately, frozen solid. And then, suddenly, at the far end of the yard I caught sight of a human figure. He had been crouching over another cesspool, and now, noticing us, he was hastily pulling up his pants, and then he slunk away into the door of the basement. But as he passed, I caught a glimpse of the wretch's face – with its mixture of suffering and idiot-like incomprehension. For a moment, I wished that the whole of Germany were there to see it. The man was probably already dying. In that basement [. ] there were still two hundred Germans—dying of hunger and frostbite. "We haven't had time to deal with them yet," one of the Russians said. "They'll be taken away tomorrow, I suppose." And, at the far end of the yard, besides the other cesspool, behind a low stone wall, the yellow corpses of skinny Germans were piled up – men who had died in that basement—about a dozen wax-like dummies. We did not go into the basement itself – what was the use? There was nothing we could do for them. [173]

Out of the nearly 91,000 German prisoners captured in Stalingrad, only about 5,000 returned. [174] Weakened by disease, starvation and lack of medical care during the encirclement, they were sent on foot marches to prisoner camps and later to labour camps all over the Soviet Union. Some 35,000 were eventually sent on transports, of which 17,000 did not survive. Most died of wounds, disease (particularly typhus), cold, overwork, mistreatment and malnutrition. Some were kept in the city to help rebuild it.

A handful of senior officers were taken to Moscow and used for propaganda purposes, and some of them joined the National Committee for a Free Germany. Some, including Paulus, signed anti-Hitler statements that were broadcast to German troops. Paulus testified for the prosecution during the Nuremberg Trials and assured families in Germany that those soldiers taken prisoner at Stalingrad were safe. [175] He remained in the Soviet Union until 1952, then moved to Dresden in East Germany, where he spent the remainder of his days defending his actions at Stalingrad and was quoted as saying that Communism was the best hope for postwar Europe. [176] General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach offered to raise an anti-Hitler army from the Stalingrad survivors, but the Soviets did not accept. It was not until 1955 that the last of the 5,000–6,000 survivors were repatriated (to West Germany) after a plea to the Politburo by Konrad Adenauer.

Stalingrad has been described as the biggest defeat in the history of the German Army. [177] It is often identified as the turning point on the Eastern Front, in the war against Germany overall, and in the entire Second World War. [178] [179] [180] The Red Army had the initiative, and the Wehrmacht was in retreat. A year of German gains during Case Blue had been wiped out. Germany's Sixth Army had ceased to exist, and the forces of Germany's European allies, except Finland, had been shattered. [181] In a speech on 9 November 1944, Hitler himself blamed Stalingrad for Germany's impending doom. [182]

The destruction of an entire army (the largest killed, captured, wounded figures for Axis soldiers, nearly 1 million, during the war) and the frustration of Germany's grand strategy made the battle a watershed moment. [183] At the time, the global significance of the battle was not in doubt. Writing in his diary on 1 January 1943, British General Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, reflected on the change in the position from a year before:

I felt Russia could never hold, Caucasus was bound to be penetrated, and Abadan (our Achilles heel) would be captured with the consequent collapse of Middle East, India, etc. After Russia's defeat how were we to handle the German land and air forces liberated? England would be again bombarded, threat of invasion revived. And now! We start 1943 under conditions I would never have dared to hope. Russia has held, Egypt for the present is safe. There is a hope of clearing North Africa of Germans in the near future. Russia is scoring wonderful successes in Southern Russia. [183]

At this point, the British had won the Battle of El Alamein in November 1942. However, there were only about 50,000 German soldiers at El Alamein in Egypt, while at Stalingrad 300,000 to 400,000 Germans had been lost. [183]

Regardless of the strategic implications, there is little doubt about Stalingrad's symbolism. Germany's defeat shattered its reputation for invincibility and dealt a devastating blow to German morale. On 30 January 1943, the tenth anniversary of his coming to power, Hitler chose not to speak. Joseph Goebbels read the text of his speech for him on the radio. The speech contained an oblique reference to the battle, which suggested that Germany was now in a defensive war. The public mood was sullen, depressed, fearful, and war-weary. Germany was looking in the face of defeat. [184]

The reverse was the case on the Soviet side. There was an overwhelming surge in confidence and belief in victory. A common saying was: "You cannot stop an army which has done Stalingrad." Stalin was feted as the hero of the hour and made a Marshal of the Soviet Union. [185]

The news of the battle echoed round the world, with many people now believing that Hitler's defeat was inevitable. [181] The Turkish Consul in Moscow predicted that "the lands which the Germans have destined for their living space will become their dying space". [186] Britain's conservative The Daily Telegraph proclaimed that the victory had saved European civilisation. [186] The country celebrated "Red Army Day" on 23 February 1943. A ceremonial Sword of Stalingrad was forged by King George VI. After being put on public display in Britain, this was presented to Stalin by Winston Churchill at the Tehran Conference later in 1943. [185] Soviet propaganda spared no effort and wasted no time in capitalising on the triumph, impressing a global audience. The prestige of Stalin, the Soviet Union, and the worldwide Communist movement was immense, and their political position greatly enhanced. [187]


In recognition of the determination of its defenders, Stalingrad was awarded the title Hero City in 1945. A colossal monument called The Motherland Calls was erected in 1967 on Mamayev Kurgan, the hill overlooking the city where bones and rusty metal splinters can still be found. [188] The statue forms part of a war memorial complex which includes the ruins of the Grain Silo and Pavlov's House. On 2 February 2013 Volgograd hosted a military parade and other events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the final victory. [189] [190] Since then, military parades have always commemorated the victory in the city.

Every year, hundreds of bodies of killed soldiers are still recovered in the area around Stalingrad and reburied in the cemeteries at Mamayev Kurgan or Rossoshka. [191]

The events of the Battle for Stalingrad have been covered in numerous media works of British, American, German, and Russian origin, [192] for its significance as a turning point in the Second World War and for the loss of life associated with the battle. The term Stalingrad has become almost synonymous with large-scale urban battles with high casualties on both sides. [193] [194] [195]

4 Answers 4

Consider the supply condition of the Germans in Stalingrad. They'd been on a logistical shoestring for a long time, and that had been feeding basic supplies and munitions primarily, since the Germans were in what was essentially a siege. The Germans did try to interfere with the encirclement, but could only get relatively few vehicles a short distance from the city.

I don't know what the horse situation was, but horses are high-maintenance transport, and less useful in a siege, so I'd expect the Germans to be low on healthy horses.

If Paulus had been ordered to break out, his forces would have been forced to leave their heavier equipment behind, and retreat, not well organized, underarmed, in good tank country. No ready-to-fight formations would have broken out.

This probably would mean the loss of the Axis forces in the Caucasus, since without the Stalingrad garrison to contain, the Red Army would have been freer to attacks south. The original Soviet plan turned out to be overambitious, but the sudden collapse of the German pocket might have made it work.

So, I don't see that stopping the southern pincer would have been useful, if the northern one had continued.

Here are the FACTS that we know.

1) The capture of Kalach was highly disruptive to German supply. through that city ran the main east-west road, and east-west railroad to Stalingrad. As it was, they could barely keep the 6th Army supplied with this city in their hands. If the Soviets had it but there had been a gap in the south, the Germans could have gotten SOME supplies through, but at a fraction of the normal rate, leaving the 6th Army on "short rations."

2) The German high command, beginning with Hitler, was committed to keeping the 6th Army in the "kettle" in and around Stalingrad. Even if there were a gap to the south, the Germans would not have used it for escape, preferring instead to open a route for resupply. Thus, the 6th Army would have remained "trapped" in and around Stalingrad.

3) The Germans never intended to use the 29th Motorized to keep open an escape route to the south (even though it temporarily served this purpose), preferring, instead, to use it (unsuccessfully) to stop the northern pincer. Once the Soviets reached Kalach from the north, this became moot.

4) Therefore, it would ultimately resolved itself into a battle between the resupplying German forces, and the progressively larger Soviet surrounding forces. This, in fact, was the case with the Manstein relief expedition in December.

On these facts, we could infer a few things:

1) The likelihood is that the Soviets would have closed the gap over time. At the very least, the Germans would have been engaged in a (probably losing) war of attrition to keep it open.

2) Leaving a gap open would not have been worst strategy for the Soviets. One German division took some 50% casualties in the north retreating WITHIN the Stalingrad pocket. The German high command rejected the alternative of a 50%-70% loss in retreat versus the 100% casualties actually suffered. As Sun Tzu wrote: "If you surround the enemy, leave an outlet do not press an enemy that is cornered. These are the principles of warfare."

Yes, the Soviets needed both prongs to succeed at the Battle of Stalingrad. Their goal was to encircle the German Sixth Army which occupied approximately 90% of the city.

The Battle for Stalingrad had raged since 17 July, 1942 and both sides were completely committed to winning control of the city that bore Stalin's name.

The Germans in and around the city were at the end of a supply line which was several hundred miles long. By attacking from both North and South, the Russians could use the Volga River which bordered the Eastern side of the city and served as the front line of the battle ground, to completely encircle the attacking German army.

Once the Germans were surrounded, the troops could no longer be supplied over land. Estimates vary but it is safe to say the daily supply requirements of food, fuel ammunition, etc. for an army of about 265,000 is somewhere between 600 and 700 tons. That's daily!

I guess it could be argued that even if one end of the Russian pincer attacks failed, the other could complete the encirclement--in twice the time. In the case of Stalingrad, that may have worked given Hitler's insisting that the army hold the position even when they could have made a breakout.

In the end the loss of Sixth Army, it's equipment, manpower and the fighting capabilities of such a force could never be justified by any short term gains made by occupying Russian troops in the battle. What a waste! On the Russian side, things worked exactly as planned.

To Oldcat replying to your comment of 3/26:

Please bear with me for another day as my intent is to get set up to correspond directly here within the next couple of days. I'm having a computer issue now that I must get repaired but I did want to forward you some info to read and consider regarding your comment.

The following information from the Army Historical Series is still used as part of the study material for officer training in our armed forces. It was compiled by historians, using records from both the German and Soviet armed forces.

The material contained was signed off on to be included in the publication by an advisory councel of armed forces representatives that included representatives of U.S. Army Training and Doctorine Command, U.S. Military Academy, The Citadel, U.S. Army Commandand General Staff College, The National Archives and Records Administration, The Adjutant General Center, U.S. Army War College, the Deputy Surgeon General and the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

In case the link didn't come through properly, the publication is part of the Army Historical Series titled Hyperwar: Moscow to Stalingrad. The portion I ask you to review is chapter 23, pages 478 through 485.

The information about the Soviet forces, movements and strengths in this publication became available around the time of the fall of the Iron Curtain.

This read will allow you to see precisely the fighting status of Sixth Army, the Soviet forces and the original German relief effort for Stalingrad. It also gives a clear understanding of Hitler's reasoning on why to leave Sixth Army in Stalingrad versus allowing them to break out.

Based on my understanding of this, I respectfully disagree that the Germans did not have strength to break Sixth Army out. Nor would they have left most of their transport and heavy equipment behind. There was a plan in place for fuel and supplies for the army both before and after they were to link up with the relief forces.

If Hitler had allowed Manstein and Paulus to follow the breakout plan as it was originally written and approved, there is little doubt they could have linked up to the West of Stalingrad. Russian strength there was still relatively low just after the encirclement was completed. Even so, Hitler's waffling and tinkering with the plan and forces to be used changed times and the overall strength of the relief effort. So, we will never really know one way or the other.

I agree, it would have taken more than just Sixth Army to make the breakout. But that force, along with the relief forces originally planned and available, would likely have been sufficient to help create and hold an ally allowing for the withdrawl.

7 Answers 7

A number of things went wrong in the German advance on Stalingrad. One of them is that after Paulus made it to the Volga in late August, 1942, he was supposed to chase the Russians into Stalingrad where the Luftwaffe would supposedly bomb them to death. But the Luftwaffe bombed Stalingrad before the Russians retreated, which is to say that most of them survived, and then fortified the ruins, which made excellent cover, instead of killing them.

Then there was the issue that the Sixth Army consisted of only 18 divisions, less than the Germans had used in previous sieges. To "encircle and besiege" Stalingrad, they needed more units, which Hoth's Fourth Army could have supplied-- if it had not been shuttled back and forth between Stalingrad and the Caucasus.

Third, the Russians actually concentrated most of their defensive strength OUTSIDE Stalingrad, on the flanks, which effectively prevented a German encirclement, and led to the later Russian encirclement of the Germans.

Basically, the "path of least resistance" for the Sixth Army was through Stalingrad itself, if the Luftwaffe had timed the bombing of the defenders properly. The Germans almost pushed through the survivors, and would probably have prevailed against a "lesser" number.

He was obsessed with the political damage the falling of a city named "Stalingrad" would have upon Stalin and the USSR, and wanted it more or less destroyed, so he explicitly ordered von Paulus not to encircle the city and wait for it to die(as the normal procedure would be), but to capture and raze it. Paulus was hesitant, but obedient, and he did as he was bid, which was a grave and fatal mistake, as we all know, and should have been apparent to anybody even back then.

Source: memories from a few books of Bevin Alexander, common knowledge, Wikipedia, tales

The problem was that Stalingrad is actually a huge city. It lies for miles on the west bank of the Volga. The Volga in many places is a mile wide or more and if defenders are in the city it would be easy to supply them by barge from the river. Establishing a force on the east bank would have been pointless because there was nothing to attack there and there would have been no way to supply those troops.

One of the big problems is that the Germans had little heavy weaponry and ammunition. Normally, if defenders are holing up in a city like that, you can easily defeat them just by blasting them to smithereens with heavy guns, but the Germans simply did not have the ammunition supply necessary to do that, so they were running around fighting with rifles street to street which was useless. The Red Army won the battle because they improved their artillery supply to a decisive degree.

Germany never attempted to cross the Volga at any point during the campaign. It was simply not part of the plan at any time, on any level. The Maykop oil fields was the main objective of Fall Blau, and Stalingrad was chosen as an optional objective only because it was a communications hub on the Volga that would make a convenient spot for the northern anchor to the Blau campaign.

Kleist later said after the war: The capture of Stalingrad was subsidiary to the main aim. It was only of importance as a convenient place, in the bottleneck between Don and the Volga, where we could block an attack on our flank by Russian forces coming from the east. At the start, Stalingrad was no more than a name on the map to us.

Hitler changed his mind a number of times about the objectives of Army group B (the norther arm of Blau). First Voronezh was optional. Then Voronezh became a target for an on the fly capture, which the Germans did manage. Then the 4th panzer army was diverted to support Army Group A. Then Hitler changed his mind again and redirected the 4th panzer army back to Army Group B to support the attack on Stalingrad (but not before giving 1/2 its forces to Army Group A)

Basically all this is to illustrate that the main goal was the oil fields in the south. And the German high command had very ambivalent/vague attitudes towards the goal of the Army Group B.

In truth, Army Group B had just one job. Protect the flank of Army group A.

Therefore, Voronezh was optional, and so was Stalingrad.

Hitler intended to fight in Stalingrad it was not a mistake. At one point, the German 6th Army was tying down 60 Russian divisions, this allowed the rest of Army Group South to reach the oil fields almost unchallenged however, the mountain terrain added weeks to the objective - weeks which the army group were supposed to have returned north to relieve 6th Army at Stalingrad.

Well, the problem with encircling Stalingrad is that it is located on the far bank of the "River Volga". So, it's nearly impossible to encircle a city that is located on the far side of a river. But, the germans could have just surrounded the area outside of Stalingrad, and that is possibly the closest they will get to "encircling Stalingrad". Moreover, if Hitler wanted to capture the oilfields of Baku, it would be extremely difficult because Germany's supply lines would have been stretched too far out. But, let's just say they capture the oil fields. Well, bringing the oil back is another issue. It is back the Baku is more than 1,000 km from Stalingrad and MORE THAN 3700 KM FROM BERLIN! So, that means they will have to get past Partisan Movements, through Soviet counterattacks, through ariel raids, and through the harsh environment. I don't know about you guys, but if I was Adolph Hitler, I would have listened to my generals to not be obsessed over Stalingrad, and go for the main target the Caucasus. Also, if I could not capture the Caucasus, I would just bomb it. I know this will sound crazy too many of you. But, it is strategically correct. The Soviet got approximately 75% of their oil from the Baku. So, if there is no oil in Baku, then there is no way the Soviet can continue the war. I don't know about you guys. But, if the Soviets are low on oil, and oil from the Baku is vital for them. I would just snatch it away. It definitely will not be the best thing to do. But, as long as the Russians aren't getting any oil, I am okay with that

How did the Stalingrad Halt the German Invasion of Russia?

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In February 1943, Von Paulus surrendered the remaining starving and ragged German forces in Stalingrad. Finally, he had defied Hitler’s orders to fight to the last man and bullet. The German defeat had been devastating. They had lost half a million, either killed or captured. After the Soviet victory, the Germans lost a significant amount of territory in the south of Russia. [21] Stalingrad halted Germany's invasion into Russia. Instead of advancing, the German army engaged in a long slow retreat.

However, the German army was far from defeated, and in early 1943, Von Manstein inflicted a devastating defeat on the Red Army at Kharkov. [22] However, the German army had lost its aura of invincibility, and the Soviets believed that they could defeat. Furthermore, after Stalingrad, many more Germans became critical of Hitler and his policies. This was particularly the case in the German military. After the debacle, there have even been suggestions that the German generals conspired to start a mutiny in the army and depose Hitler. [23] However, these plots did not succeed.

The Soviets were very close to losing

Even in these unfavorable conditions, the training and discipline of the Germans caused 90% of Stalingrad’s territory to fall into their hands, reaching the Volga. Here, however, the tactical superiority of the Soviets intervened. In the north and south of the city, the Russians secretly rebuilt their forces, a secret that, surprisingly, the German intelligence service did not detect. Soviet troops under General Zhukov attacked the flank of the Sixth Army as it continued to destroy the last regions of Soviet resistance.

The Russians deliberately attacked Germany’s allies, namely Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians, because they predicted that they would not have the strength of the Germans. The attack took place on November 23, 1942, encircling the Sixth Army. About 250,000 Romanian soldiers, poorly equipped and fed, grouped in two armies (3rd and 4th), flanked the German 6th Army to the north and south.

At the end of the battle that turned the tide of the war, 158,854 casualties were recorded by Romania (dead, wounded, missing), representing two-thirds of the troops. It was the greatest disaster in the history of the Romanians, and the Germans blamed the Romanian Army for the failure at Stalingrad.

Hitler, who believed himself to be a military genius and trusted the motivation of German troops, ordered the Sixth Army not to withdraw, even if it was to be completely surrounded. This boldness of Hitler (from the comfort of his own office, far from the front and his reality) made the generals unable to take action depending on the context on the front.

A context that was increasingly gloomy for the Axis’s ordinary soldier who found himself without supplies, without winter equipment (the end of November already meant winter), surrounded and harassed by the Russians. General Paulus, who commanded the Sixth Army, could withdraw in the weeks of the Soviet counteroffensive in November.

Moreover, the Luftwaffe was unable to supply the besieged army, which meant another blow to the morale of the soldiers.

A small victory for the Germans was on December 19, despite the fact that it was mid-winter, German General Eric von Manstein managed to reach Stalingrad. His forces approached 30 kilometers from the besieged 6th Army, but Paul refused to attack to make the junction because of Hitler’s orders. If the latter offered more flexibility to the generals, Paul could have saved the soldiers’ lives.

Eventually, Von Paulus (promoted to the rank of field marshal the day before he surrendered) violated Hitler’s orders to fight to the last man, and on February 2, 1943, he surrendered with the rest of the Axis soldiers. Half a million German, Romanian, Hungarian, Italian soldiers, etc. died, either because of the Russians or because of the cold.

Germany lost not only an entire army, which was devastating in itself but also its aura of invincibility. The Germans became more critical of Hitler’s policies, even leading to assassination attempts.

There are many reasons for Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad, such as the climate, the numerical superiority of the Soviets, the partisans who sabotaged the supply routes, etc., but the main reason is the intervention of Hitler who was unable to understand the reality on the ground.

In fact, without Hitler’s intervention, there was no Battle of Stalingrad. It is true that the city was industrialized and could produce military equipment, but this potential could be reduced or even neutralized by the Luftwaffe, as has happened in other situations when Germany took advantage of air superiority on the Eastern Front.

Watch the video: Schlacht von Stalingrad. Zweiter Weltkrieg. Geschichte (July 2022).


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