Did the Germans use a “Verdun”-like strategy at Stalingrad?

Did the Germans use a “Verdun”-like strategy at Stalingrad?

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In February 1916, the Germans might have captured the fortress of Verdun (France), quickly through an all-out assault. Instead, the German General Falkenhayn initially elected to make an artillery attack on it, without using a lot of infantry. His rationale was allegedly stated in his Christmas (1915) memo to the Kaiser (some historians dispute this), which was interpreted to mean that he wanted to attack a city of sentimental value to France, "suck in" as many French troops as he could, kill as many as possible with artillery fire, and bleed the French army to death. Capturing the fortress would be of secondary importance. The end result was that the Germans failed to capture the fortress, and inflicted French casualties at rate of only slightly more than 1- to 1 (versus a 5 to 4 overall Allied advantage), meaning a tactical defeat for Germany.

In 1942, the German summer offensive (Fall Blau) started spectacularly with the capture of Voronezh on the Don by the left flank of the southern front by armored divisions. If this armor had been sent southeast to Stalingrad, supported by an eastward advance of infantry, the Germans might have captured it by late July.

Instead, the Germans sent the armor from Voronezh due south for the Caucasus oil fields. This not only prevented them from using the armor to capture Stalingrad, but blocked the infantry advance of Paulus' Sixth Army. The assault on Stalingrad didn't begin until late August, giving the Soviets more time to reinforce the city.

Why were the Germans so dilatory on their attack on Stalingrad? Were they trying to "suck in" Soviet reinforcements to "Stalin's city," destroy them en masse, and thereby weaken Soviet forces to the north (around Moscow) and south (the Caucasus)?

Your description of the progress of Blau is a bit off base. In short, the main reason the assault on Stalingrad was late was that it was never a primary objective at the time. Those months were spent with the armor trying and failing to make a pocket in the Don Bend. Also, it takes time for infantry to walk all the way to Stalingrad, even without opposition. And there was some opposition.

However, there was a "Verdun-Like" strategy at play at Stalingrad, but it was the Soviets who were doing it. After the initial strike at the city faltered, the Soviets fed in just enough troops over the river to continue the meat-grinder and exhaust 6th Army. Troops fed in were replaced by Axis Allied, and the Soviets had no trouble building up forces on the flanks that would succeed in crushing the flanking forces and pocketing 6th Army.

I suppose you could draw that comparison. However, I don't believe the respective folks responsible were looking at things that way.

Falkenhayn's strategy at Verdun was, as you say, attrition. Since frontal attacks and breakthroughs on that front were just not succeeding, the idea was instead to weaken the enemy army by bleeding away as much of it as possible. In order to do that, he had to attack at a point the French would feel forced to defend, despite any losses. Hence the salient at Verdun. The objective was never to actually take it, but to whittle away at the enemy army.

The German diversion to the Caucus oil fields by most accounts was due to Hitler's prioritizing of that objective over major Russian population centers. So it wasn't a purposeful strategy for Stalingrad, but a reflection of the fact that Stalingrad wasn't considered the top objective for them.

Put simply, the war leadership of Nazi Germany had a tendency to value strategic resources over what many would consider traditional political objectives.

Another good example of this came in April of 1940. Despite their imminent need to begin action in France before the allies could further mobilize, the Germans invaded Norway. The only real value of Norway to Germany was that it supplied them a lot of their iron. France was not invaded for another month.


  1. Verdun was not a great German victory. Why would they want to replicate its nonsuccess on the bank of the Volga?

  2. If you look at the early part of the Russian campaign in 1941, the German Army was able to encircle and force the surrender of hundreds of thousands of Russian troops again and again. That was a far more efficient way to remove enemy troops from the field than to Verdun them.

  3. We will likely never know for sure if bleeding the French at Verdun was even Erich von Falkenhayn's original intent, or just something he invented after the fact to explain his lack of success.

  4. There was no real evidence that tanks was the answer at Stalingrad. That the 6th Army reached Stalingrad late, or that it was unable to trap and destroy the bulk of the soviet forces outside of stalingrad, was largely due to Paulus' slow and methodical nature. He had at 2 opportunities to destroy the soviets before they fell back into Stalingrad. He simply lacked the decisiveness to make the necessary call.

Another reason for attacking Stalingrad was that Japanese considered attacking Russia (opening the second front) if Germany could cross river Volga (or take Moscow).

Sorry I don't remember the source.

BTW German strategy in WWII was not verdun-like, just the opposite: blitzkrieg (highly mobile attack, avoiding and bypassing enemy's defensive strongpoints and encircling them instead). Cities like Stalingrad are especially bad match for blitzkrieg strategy, which was not lost to commanding general Chuikov.

Well, to answer to the part of the question: "did the Germans use a Verdun like strategy?", I will make a request to another battle: Kursk.

About Verdun in 1916, historians have long debated of wether the Germans were searching for a bloody attrition battle, or a breakthrough in the Allied front. But the conclusion to be accepted seems to be: the Germans were searching to make the French Army tear blood, until France would give up and Germany be able to break the French front.

About Kursk in 1943, the debate was sometimes the same, but it is clearer that the Germans were searching for a victory on the Red Army rather than a territorial gain.

So the strategies in the two battles were quite similar. The events of both battles are also comparable, as in both battles a heavy resistance from respectively French and Soviet forces made up to a powerful German attack, and managed at great losses for both sides to stabilize the front.

Top 10 Facts About the Battle of Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad has been something has long fascinated me, the Soviets at the close of WW2 went on to become the antagonist in the Cold War, thus the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany is often overlooked here in the West, however without the sacrifices made by mostly untrained and poorly armed men, women and in some cases children, it is almost certain we would be living in a very different world today. The battle began on August 23rd 1942 and ended with Germans surrendering on February 2nd 1943. What would eventually bring about the downfall of Hitler began here, carnage, brutality and loss of life unlike any the world had ever seen would mark the bloodiest battle of the most destructive war in history. I&rsquove tried provide a mixture of well known and slightly more obscure facts to make this list interesting for both those who haven&rsquot heard much about the topic and those who know a bit more about it. Now I present to you the Top 10 Facts About The Battle of Stalingrad.

This regiment like many other anti-aircraft regiments in the Soviet Union at the time was made up entirely of young women, some of them not long out of high school. The 1077th is known for their fierce interception of the German 16th Panzer Division. On August 23rd 1942, the German 16th were tasked with destroying the Stalingrad Tractor Factory, which had been refitted to manufacture tanks. The attack came from the northern quarter of the city and as the Soviets were not expecting an attack from this quarter, the 1077th were completely unprotected by infantry. Armed with only thirty seven M1939 Air Defense Guns and facing an onslaught of German tanks, the young women of the 1077th did the only thing they could, improvise and fight. They dropped their anti-aircraft guns to the lowest elevation and fired out across German tanks and submachine-gunners, for two days they fought before finally being overwhelmed by the sheer number of Germans. The Germans, arriving at the positions they had been receiving such intense fire from were shocked to find the bodies of young women. The 1077th were no more but not before destroying 83 tanks, 15 infantry vehicles, killing 3 battalions of infantry and shooting down 14 aircraft. The German&rsquos had yet to know it but the resistance put up by the 1077th would be a sign of things to come.

As mentioned above the Stalingrad Tractor Factory had been refitted to produce tanks, primarily the T-34. Being short on trained tank crews, most of the T-34&rsquos were driven straight off the production line and into battle by volunteer factory workers. A lot of the time in the rush to drive back the Germans the T-34s went off the floor lacking paint and gun sights, crewed by the very people who a short time ago were putting them together. As quickly as the Panzer Divisions would destroy them, the tractor factory would push wave after wave of new tanks out the door and into battle. This makeshift battlefield production line proved invaluable in holding off the Nazi invasion until reinforcements and a counter-attack could be planned. The Stalingrad Tractor Factory was rebuilt after the war during Soviet restoration and stands today under the name Dzerzhinsky Tractor Works, up until it was declared bankrupt in 2005, it manufactured both tractors and military equipment.

Very few spots on earth could lay claim to the shear loss of life experienced on it than Mamayev Kurgan, originally a 100 metro Tartar burial mound it became the focal point for the German Sixth Army&rsquos attack on Stalingrad city centre. Originally captured briskly by the Germans on September 13th 1942, the very next day it was the site of a huge Soviet counterattack from 13th Guards Rifle Division which by September 16th had recaptured the hill. The cost was almost all of the 10,000 men that had went in two days previously. Over the next few weeks, the hill changed hands time and time again. So fierce was the fighting atop Mamayev Kurgen that at the battles end there would be around a thousand pieces of shrapnel and bone per square metro, the hill itself so scorched by shelling and gunfire that grass hadn&rsquot even begun to grow almost a year later. In fact what was once a hill had become almost completely flattened during the numerous attempts to capture and hold it. In a poignant example of the horrors of war, in an excavation of the area in 1944 at the beginning of Soviet restoration, two soldiers from either side were found who having impaled the other with a bayonet to the chest, were then buried by an exploding shell, preserved amidst a battle that ended over a year previously.

Junior Sergeant Yakov Pavlov was only twenty four years old when he was ordered to lead an assault on an apartment building adjacent to the River Volga, little did he know during what turned out to be a disastrous assault that the very building he was sent to seize would soon be named in his honor. At the assaults end Pavlov&rsquos thirty strong platoon numbered only four men, with no reinforcements in sight, Pavlov and his remaining men proceeded to fortify the apartment building. It would be a week before reinforcements would arrive but the Junior Sergeant and four weary soldiers held tight, repelling wave after wave of German attackers from mounted machine guns and destroying enemy tanks with an anti-tank rifle placement on the roof. The reinforcements brought their number to twenty five, together they dug a communications and supply trench although adequate supplies were a rarity and they ended up having to resort to using insulating wool from the roof as bedding. Twenty five poorly supplied soldiers of the Red Army would successfully hold what came to be known as Pavlov&rsquos House for three months against numerous attacks from the German Sixth Army. At times the fighting was so intense they would have take it in turns to run outside and kick down the stacks of corpses mounting at the front of the building to stop the attacking Germans from using them as cover.

By November 22nd a successful pincer movement by the Red Army had almost the entire German 6th Army trapped inside Stalingrad. Around 230,000 troops in total now found themselves at the mercy of their top command. Sealing their fate Hitler would now make his second major mistake in Stalingrad (the first one being attacking it). Firstly and inexplicably he insisted that they not try and break out of the Soviet ring encircling them, he refused to acknowledge that retreat was an option and instead announced that the German 6th Army would now receive their supplies by air. From the outset this was destined to be a disaster, the huge numbers of troops by far outweighed the amount that could feasibly be airdropped. It was estimated the besieged 6th Army would require at least 800 tons daily to ensure operational functionality, measuring this against the maximum amount that could be delivered of 117 tons and becomes obvious just how dire the situation was to become for the trapped German Army. In reality, the numbers didn&rsquot even begin to factor in other variables, including weather conditions and aircraft being shot down, the Luftwaffe only managed to deliver around 94 tons of supplies daily. To compound this further, most of the deliveries were hopelessly unsuitable for the situation on the ground, one delivery in particular dropping 20 tons of Vodka and summer uniforms in the middle of a bitter Russian winter.

Beyond the obvious suffering of the troops on the ground level, Stalingrad also took a heavy toll on the generals in charge of leading them. Besieged on either side by two leaders of varying insanity and stubbornness, being a general during the Battle of Stalingrad was far from a walk in the park. General Vasily Chuikov, a lieutenant general in the Red Army and one of the key figures in the battle of Stalingrad developed stress induced eczema of such a severity that he was forced to completely bandage his hands (pictured 2nd from left). General Paulus, in charge of the German 6th Army developed a tic in his right eye that would eventually take hold of entire right side his face. The German Chief of the Army General Staff, Kurt Zeitzler, so appalled by the conditions the troops were facing since the airdrop strategy began, reduced his rations to those of the ground force in Stalingrad, after losing 26 pounds in two weeks, an irritated Hitler forced him to begin eating regular meals again.

Aside from Simo Hayha, Zaytsev is the most well known sniper in history and the Battle of Stalingrad was where he cut his teeth. Like most of histories greatest snipers, a simple farm boy, he was born in the Ural Mountains and honed his skills hunting deer and wolf with his grandfather. Originally serving in the Soviet Navy as a clerk, which seems like a gross misappropriation of his skills, he volunteered to be sent to the front line at the outset of the German invasion. Zaytsev was much more than just a sharpshooter though, his improvisation of the equipment at hand was ingenious. Predating modern anti-material rifles by decades he attached a Mosin-Nagant scope to an anti tank gun so that he could take out enemies who were taking cover behind walls, the 20mm round proving proving brutally effective for this task. He established a sniper school in a factory in the middle of Stalingrad, bear in mind this was during the battle itself, his 28 students going on to kill and estimated 1000-3000 soldiers during the course of the war. Almost blinded during a mortar attack, his sight was restored by a Professor Filatov, a pioneering eye surgeon and he went straight back out to the front line, finishing the war in Seelow Heights, around 60 miles from Berlin. He died in 1991, aged 76, ten days before the dissolution of the Soviet Union which he&rsquod fought to protect. His final request was to be buried at Stalingrad alongside his fallen comrades, after initially being buried in Kiev he was reburied in 2006 in Volgograd (present day Stalingrad) with full military honors.

Living conditions on the ground in Stalingrad were unimaginably terrible, at the beginning of the battle, a regular Red Army conscript had a life expectancy of just 24 hours, this increased marginally if you were a Soviet officer to around 3 days. The Soviets initially after being caught on the back foot, had to endure hardships that today we would find hard to comprehend, cannibalism was a common occurrence amongst the starving and besieged populace. Rats became a staple of most peoples protein intake, soldiers and citizens alike would go around picking dead horses clean of meat. Initially a poor supply chain meant that the Soviets had to strip their dead comrades of their uniform to outfit the continual stream of new draftees. This however was turned on its head when the battle turned in the Soviets favor, the now trapped German 6th Army began referring to the pocket they inhabited within Stalingrad as &ldquoThe Cauldron&rdquo. Fighting had ground to a bitter floor by floor affair, the average engagement would involve the Soviets holding a living room adjacent the to Germans in the kitchen. Slowly starving to death, they resorted to slaughtering the 10,000 horses they had brought to the battle as a source of food. The Germans also had another problem to contend with, the cold, ill equipped for winter warfare as Hitler had arrogantly thought the battle would be over by the winter, the Germans now had to face temperatures of minus 30 degrees celsius (for comparison the temperature in your freezer is about minus 18 to 19 degrees celsius). Too weak to attempt the breakout that Hitler ordered too late, those who hadn&rsquot been killed or starved, simply froze to death.

Despite having been promoted to Field Marshall by Hitler (an encouragement to commit suicide as no German Field Marshall had ever been taken alive), General Paulus surrendered on January 31st, followed shortly by the remainder of the Axis forces on February 2nd. This being the Soviet Union during the reign of Stalin, POW&rsquos weren&rsquot going to be afforded any small mercy (Stalin wasn&rsquot known for looking after his own people too well). The German prisoners were immediately sent on a series of death marches to gulags or put to work rebuilding Stalingrad, weakened by starvation, disease and wounds, 75,000 German prisoners of war died within three months of their surrender. In an attempt to reduce the death rate, the Soviets abandoned the death marches and put the remainder on transports, however this did little to help and the amount of survivors again plummeted from 35,000 to around 17,000. In total, of the 110,000 captured just 5,000 returned home to a divided Germany in 1955, a full 13 years after the battle had ended.

Only at the end did it become apparent the scale of destruction and death that had occurred at Stalingrad, estimates vary but the death toll is generally accepted to be somewhere between one and two million, though not universal it is generally accepted to be the single largest death toll in any battle in mankind&rsquos history. By the end of what turned into a decisive Soviet victory the city of Stalingrad was comparable structurally to Hiroshima or Nagasaki, what had started as an attempt to seize a city had descended into madness amongst nothing but rubble. It has been noted that the city was important to both Hitler and Stalin for propaganda purposes, to capture or lose a city named after the Soviet leader would&rsquove proven a major coup or a disaster in morale to each prospective side. In the end it became irrelevant, Nikita Krushchev, one of the generals who fought in Stalingrad and later the Soviet Premier changed the city&rsquos name to Volgograd in 1961. Around this time a huge statue was erected in memory of the battle, named &ldquoThe Motherland Calls&rdquo it is comparable in height to the Statue of Liberty and stands on what remained of Mamayev Kurgen. Volgograd today has a population of around one million and is an important industrial hub within modern Russia.

In honor of the defenders of Stalingrad, King George VI of the United Kingdom commissioned a ceremonial longsword to be presented to the Soviet Union. Thirty six inches long, with a hand grip bound in 18 carat carat gold wire and a pommel of rock crystal, the blade was inscribed in Russian and English with the words:


Believe it or not the sword was created by Wilkinson Sword, yes, the same company who make the razors (Our American readers might know them by the name Schick). The sword was presented by Winston Churchill to Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943 and resides today at the Stalingrad Museum in Volgograd.

Interesting Facts About Battle of Stalingrad: 1-5

1. The Battle of Stalingrad was a result of Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union without any declaration of war. The German offensive operation was known as Operation Barbarossa.

2. The battle started months later after Operation Barbarossa was started on 22 nd June, 1941. The Battle of Stalingrad started on 23 rd August, 1942.

3. The battle is well-known for several reasons and one of them being, the street-level fights. The close quarter combats took place on streets and buildings.

4. The 4 th Panzer Army and the 6 th Army of the German forces were given the task of capturing Stalingrad with air support from Luftwaffe. The constant bombings by Luftwaffe reduced the city into rubble.

5. The initial German offensive and invasion of Stalingrad started with 270,000 German military personnel, 500 tanks, 3,000 artillery pieces and 600 aircrafts. The number of aircrafts gradually rose to 1,600 by mid-September. The Soviet defense included 187,000 military personnel, 400 tanks, 2,200 artillery pieces and 300 aircraft.

Primary Sources

(1) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959)

A change in General Staff chiefs did not change the situation of the German Army, whose twin drives on Stalingrad and the Caucasus had now been halted by stiffening Soviet resistance itself. All through October bitter street fighting continued in Stalingrad itself. The Germans made some progress, from building to building, but with staggering losses, for the rubble of a great city, as everyone who has experienced modern warfare knows, gives many opportunities for stubborn and prolonged defence and the Russians, disputing desperately every foot of the debris, made the most of them. Though Halder and then his successor warned Hitler that the troops in Stalingrad were becoming exhausted, the Supreme Commander insisted that they push on. Fresh divisions were thrown in and were soon ground to pieces in the inferno.

Instead of a means to an end - the end had already been achieved when German formations reached the western banks of the Volga north and south of the city and cut off the river's traffic - Stalingrad had become an end in itself. To Hitler its capture was now a question of personal prestige. When even Zeitzler got up enough nerve to suggest to the Fuehrer that in view of the danger to the long northern flank along the Don the Sixth Army should be withdrawn from Stalingrad to the elbow of the Don, Hitler flew into a fury. "Where the German soldier sets foot, there he remains!" he stormed.

(2) Walter Warlimont was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart about the invasion of the Soviet Union in his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948)

Hitler's operational plan for 1943 still showed traces of his original idea, namely to push forward on both wings and to keep back the central part of the front. In contrast to (the previous year he now shifted the centre of gravity to the southern wing. Plans of advancing on the northern front were shelved until the necessary forces became available.

The underlying idea was certainly fostered by the prospect of economic gains in the South, especially of wheat, manganese and oil. But to Hitler's mind it was still more important to cut off the Russians from these goods, allegedly indispensable for their continuation in the war, including coal from the Donetz area.

Thus he believed he could bring the Russian machine of war to a stand-still. No resistance against Hitler's plans ever came to my ears, though I firmly believe that the general trend of opinion was opposed to resuming the offensive, at least on such a large scale as foreseen by Hitler.

(3) In the winter of 1942 General Guenther Blumentritt was asked to visit the Eastern Front. His report suggesting a stepback from Stalingrad was rejected by Adolf Hitler.

I spent ten days in that sector and after returning made a written report to the effect that it would not be safe to hold such a long defensive flank during the winter. The railheads were as much as 200 kilometres behind the front, and the bare nature of the country meant that there was little timber available for constructing defences. Such German divisions as were available were holding frontages of 50 to 60 kilometres. There were no proper trenches or fixed positions.

General Halder endorsed this report and urged that our offensive should be halted, in view of the increasing resistance that it was meeting, and the increasing signs of danger to the long-stretched flank. But Hitler would not listen. During September the tension between the Fuhrer and Halder increased, and their arguments became sharper. To see the Fuhrer discussing plans with Halder was an illuminating experience. The Fuhrer used to move his hands in big sweeps over the map - 'Push here, push there'. It was all vague and regardless of practical difficulties. There was no doubt he would have liked to remove the whole General Staff, if he could, by a similar sweep. He felt that they were half-hearted about his ideas

Finally, General Halder made it clear that he refused to take the responsibility of continuing the advance with winter approaching. He was dismissed, at the end of September, and replaced by General Zeitzler - who was then Chief of Staff to Field-Marshal von Rundstedt in the West. I was sent to the West to take Zeitzler's place.

(4) After the war Albert Speer reported what Adolf Hitler said when he was told of the Red Army offensive at Stalingrad in November 1942.

Our generals are making their old mistakes again. They always over-estimate the strength of the Russians. According to all the front-line reports, the enemy's human material is no longer sufficient. They are weakened they have lost far too much blood. But of course nobody wants to accept such reports. Besides, how badly Russian officers are trained! No offensive can be organized with such officers. We know what it takes! In the short or long run the Russians will simply come to a halt. They'll run down. Meanwhile we shall throw in a few fresh divisions that will put things right.

(5) George Orwell, BBC radio broadcast (3rd October 1942)

The battle for Stalingrad continues. Since last week the Germans have made a little progress in their direct attacks on the city and savage house-to-house fighting is still going on. Meanwhile the Russians have launched a counter-attack to the north-west of Stalingrad which has made progress and must have the effect of drawing off some of the German reserves.

It is still uncertain whether or not Stalingrad can hold out. In a recent speech the notorious Ribbentrop, onetime ambassador to Britain and signatory to the Russo-German pact, was allowed to state that Stalingrad would soon be in German hands. Hitler made the same boast in his speech which was broadcast on September 10th.

Elsewhere, however, there has been a marked note of pessimism in German pronouncements and a constant emphasis on the need for the German people to prepare themselves for a hard winter and for an indefinite continuation of the war.

Hitler's latest speech was broadcast on September 30th. Although it mostly consisted of wild boasting and threats, it made a surprising contrast with the speeches of a year ago. Gone were the promises of an early victory, and gone also the claims, made more than a year ago, to have annihilated the Russian armies. Instead all the emphasis was on Germany's ability to withstand a long war. Here for example are some of Hitler's earlier broadcast statements: On the 3rd September 1941: "Russia is already broken and will never rise again." On the 3rd October 1941: "The Russians have lost at least 8 to 10 million men. No army can recover from such losses." He also boasted at the same time of the imminent fall of Moscow. That was a year ago. And now, on 30th September, the final boast upon which Hitler ended his speech was: "Germany will never capitulate." It seems strange to look back and remember how short a while ago the Germans were declaring, not that they would never capitulate, but that they would make everyone else capitulate. Hitler also uttered threats against saboteurs, a tacit admission that the German home front is no longer entirely reliable.

(6) Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (1970)

Hitler now commanded units to be detached from all other sectors of the front and from the occupied territories and dispatched in all haste to the southern sector. No operational reserve was available, although General Zeitzler had pointed out long before the emergency that each of the divisions in southern Russia had to defend a frontal sector of unusual length and would not be able to cope with a vigorous assault by Soviet troops.

Stalingrad was encircled. Zeitzler, his face flushed and haggard from lack of sleep, insisted that the Sixth Army must break out to the west. He deluged Hitler with data on all that the army lacked, both as regards to rations and fuel, so that it had become impossible to provide warm meals for the soldiers exposed to fierce cold in the snow-swept fields or the scanty shelter of rums. Hitler remained calm, unmoved and deliberate, as if bent on showing that Zeitzler's agitation was a psychotic reaction in the face of danger. 'The counterattack from the south that I have ordered will soon relieve Stalingrad. That will recoup the situation. We have been in such positions often before, you know. In the end we always had the problem in hand again." He gave orders for supply trains to be dispatched right behind the troops deploying for the counteroffensive, so that as soon as Stalingrad was relieved something could at once be done about alleviating the plight of the soldiers. Zeitzler disagreed, and Hitler let him talk without interrupting. The forces provided for the counterattack were too weak, Zeitzler said. But if they could unite successfully with a Sixth Army that had broken out to the west, they would then be able to establish new positions farther to the south. Hitler offered counter arguments, but Zeitzler held to his view. Finally, after the discussion had gone on for more than half an hour. Hitler's patience snapped: "Stalingrad simply must be held. It must be it is a key position. By breaking traffic on the Volga at that spot, we cause the Russians the greatest difficulties."

(7) Wilhelm Hoffmann, 267th Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division, diary entry in Stalingrad on 26th December 1942.

The horses have already been eaten. I would eat a cat they say its meat is tasty. The soldiers look like corpses or lunatics. They no longer take cover from Russian shells they haven't the strength to walk, run away and hide.

(8) William Joyce, Germany Calling (16th January, 1943)

The extent of the enemy's sacrifices has been colossal and cannot be maintained. In the Stalingrad Sector, above all, the Soviets have been employing heavy forces and their losses have been proportionately high. Day after day, more Soviet tank losses have been reported and at the same time, the ratio between the German and Soviet air losses is incomparably in favour of the Luftwaffe. For example, it was reported yesterday that sixty-seven Soviet aircraft had been shot down as against four German losses on Tuesday, the ratio was fifty-two to one in our favour. As might be expected, the Luftwaffe's superiority has dealt a hard blow at the enemy and it is now reported that the Soviets are being compelled to use untrained personnel in their larger bombers.

(9) Friedrich Paulus, radio message to Adolf Hitler (24th January 1943)

Troops without ammunition or food. Effective command no longer possible. 18,000 wounded without any supplies or dressings or drugs. Further defence senseless. Collapse inevitable. Army requests immediate permission to surrender in order to save lives of remaining troops.

(10) Adolf Hitler, radio message to Friedrich Paulus (24th January 1943)

Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their positions to the last man and the last round and by their heroic endurance will make an unforgettable contribution toward the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western world.

(11) Hermann Goering, radio broadcast on Stalingrad (24th January 1943)

A thousand years hence Germans will speak of this battle with reverence and awe, and will remember that in spite of everything Germany's ultimate victory was decided there. In years to come it will be said of the heroic battle on the Volga. When you come to Germany, say that you have seen us lying at Stalingrad, as our honour and our leaders ordained that we should, for the greater glory of Germany.

(12) Friedrich Paulus, radio message to Adolf Hitler (31st January 1943)

The Sixth Army, true to their oath and conscious of the lofty importance of their mission, have held their position to the last man and the last round for Führer and Fatherland unto the end.

(13) German stenographic record of what Adolf Hitler said at a meeting with his generals on 1st February 1943.

He'll be brought to Moscow - and imagine that rat-trap there. There he will sign anything. He'll make confessions, make proclamations - you'll see. They will now walk down the slope of spiritual bankruptcy to its lowest depths. You'll see - it won't be a week before Seydlitz and Schmidt and even Paulus are talking over the radio.

They are going to be put into the Liublanka, and there the rats will eat them. How can they be so cowardly? I don't understand it. What is life? Life is the Nation. The individual must die anyway. Beyond the life of the individual is the Nation. But how can anyone be afraid of this moment of death, with which he can free himself from this misery, if his duty doesn't chain him to this Vale of Tears.

So many people have to die, and then a man like that besmirches the heroism of so many others at the last minute. He could have freed himself from all sorrow and ascended into eternity and national immortality, but he prefers to go to Moscow!

What hurts me most, personally, is that I still promoted him to field-marshal. I wanted to give him this final satisfaction. That's the last field-marshal I shall appoint in this war.

(14) Official German radio broadcast on 3rd February 1943.

The battle of Stalingrad has ended. True to their oath to fight to the last breath, the Sixth Army under the exemplary leadership of Field-Marshal Paulus has been overcome by the superiority of the enemy and by the unfavourable circumstances confronting our forces.

(15) William Joyce, Germany Calling (3rd February, 1943)

It would be a profound, a cardinal error to suppose that the German nation does not know how to take one defeat after so many victories. Nor, if the truth must be told, am I convinced that Stalingrad was, in the worst sense of the word, in the most essential, in the psychological sense, a defeat. Let us look at the facts. I think it was Napoleon who said, 'In warfare the moral is to the physical as three to one'. So far as divisions, brigades and battalions are concerned, Stalingrad was a German defeat. But when a Great Power like the National Socialist Reich is waging a total war, divisions and battalions can be replaced. If we review the position in sober and cold calculations, all sentiment apart, we must realise that the fall of Stalingrad cannot impair the German defensive system as a whole. Whatever individuals have lost, whatever they may have sacrificed, there is nothing in the position as a whole to controvert the view that the main objectives of the enemy offensives have been frustrated. Stalingrad was a part of the price which had to be paid for the salvation of Europe from the, Bolshevik hordes.

(16) Studs Terkel interviewed Robert Rasnus about his experiences in the US Army in Germany for his book, The Good War (1985)

We were aware that the Russians had taken enormous losses on the eastern front, that they really had broken the back of the German army. We would have been in for infinitely worse casualties and misery had it not been for them. We were well disposed toward them. I remember saying if we happen to link up with 'em, I wouldn't hesitate to kiss 'em.

I didn't hear any anti-Russian talk. I think we were realistic enough to know that if we were going to fight them, we would come out second best. We hadn't even heard of the atomic bomb yet. We'd just have to assume that it would be masses of armies, and their willingness to sacrifice millions of troops. We were aware that our leaders were sparing our lives. Even though somebody would have to do the dirty work in the infantry, our leaders would try to pummel the enemy with artillery and tanks and overpower them before sending the infantry in. If that was possible.

In the final campaign down through Bavaria, we were in Patton's army. Patton said we ought to keep going. To me, that was an unthinkable idea. The Russians would have slaughtered us, because of their willingness to give up so many lives. I don't think the rank of the GIs had any stomach for fighting the Russians. We were informed enough through press and newsreels to know about Stalingrad. I saw the actual evidence in those black-bordered pictures in every German household I visited. Black border, eastern front, nine out of ten.

Battle of Stalingrad (Nazi Victory)

- The Battle of Stalingrad is considered by many historians to have been the turning point of World War II in the European theater.

- Joseph Stalin loses power

| strength1 = Initial:
270,000 personnel
3,000 artillery pieces
500 tanks
600 aircraft, 1,600 by mid-September (Luftflotte 4) [Note 3] Ώ]
At the time of the Soviet counter-offensive:

1,040,000 men (400,000+ Germans, 143,296 Romanians, 220,000 Italians, 200,000 Hungarian, 40,000 Hiwi) ΐ] Α]
10,250 artillery pieces
500 tanks
732 (402 operational) aircraft Β] : p.225 Γ] : 87

| strength2 =Initial:
187,000 personnel
2,200 artillery pieces
400 tanks
300 aircraft Ώ] : p.72
At the time of the Soviet counter-offensive:
1,143,000 Δ]
13,451 artillery pieces
894 tanks Δ]
1,115 Β] : p.224 aircraft

The Battle Of Stalingrad (23, August 1942 - 2, February 1943) was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany fought against the Soviet Union for control over the city of Stalingrad (Now Reichsland) in the south-western Soviet Union. Marked by constant close quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians by air raids, it is the single largest and bloodiest battle in the history of warfare. The heavy losses inflicted on the Wehrmacht make it arguably the most strategically decisive battle of the whole war. It was a turning point in the European theatre of World War II–the battle was a tremendous loss for the Soviet Military since the Luftwaffe released the Horton Ho 229 that year. By 1943 the Soviet Military was forced back towards Moscow (Which fell later that year).

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Did the Germans use a &ldquoVerdun&rdquo-like strategy at Stalingrad? - History

By John Walker

After Adolf Hitler’s audacious invasion of Russia finally ground to a halt in December 1941 on the forested outskirts of Moscow, the exhausted German Army stabilized its winter front in a line running roughly from Leningrad in the north to Rostov in the south. The strain of the harsh winter campaign upon the ill-prepared Wehrmacht, as well as the severe strain placed on the Luftwaffe in its prolonged efforts to air-supply the army’s string of city-bastions along the front, was tremendous. But despite the horrendous losses they had suffered in the heavy fighting of 1941—a staggering 850,000 casualties—the Germans remained confident that they would master the Red Army once winter conditions no longer hindered their mobility.

Hitler’s decision to resume offensive operations on the Eastern Front crystallized in the early months of 1942 after his economic advisers convinced him that Germany could not continue the war unless it captured vital oil supplies, wheat, and ore from Russia’s Caucasus region. Conceding that another all-out offensive was out of the question, Hitler limited the scope of the renewed offensive to just one flank, an idea that ran contrary to traditional German strategy. The Nazi armies in the center and left would hold their ground while the main thrust took place on the southern front near the Black Sea, a drive down the corridor between the Donetz and Don Rivers. After reaching the Don, German armies would turn south toward the Caucasus oil fields and advance east toward the great industrial city of Stalingrad, on the west bank of the Volga.

The capture of Stalingrad, a vital communications center that commanded the land bridge between the Volga and the Don and was a critical transport route between the Caspian Sea and northern Russia, was not part of Hitler’s original plan. The advance to the Volga by General Friedrich von Paulus’s Sixth Army was meant to provide strategic flank cover for the all-important advance into the Caucasus, where a successful offensive would complete the takeover of the Ukraine, interdict grain supplies from much of the Soviet bread basket, and cut off fuel to Joseph Stalin’s war machine.

Crushing the Soviet’s Southern Flank

The drive into southern Russia could only be carried out if the Germans drew heavily upon their allies—the Romanian Third and Fourth Armies, the Italian Eighth Army, the Hungarian Second Army, and the 369th Croatian Legion—to furnish most of the rearward cover for the flanks of the advance. The problem was that the foreign units were clearly inferior to their German counterparts. The potential for the offensive’s success improved considerably when a Russian Army numbering 640,000 men launched an overly ambitious offensive of its own on May 12, 1942, in the direction of Kharkov. The assault, which struck Paulus’s Sixth Army, absorbed great numbers of Russians reserves. Two complete Soviet armies, plus parts of two others, were cut to pieces, and by the end of May some 241,000 Red Army soldiers had been captured. The failure of the Soviet offensive meant that few reserves were available when the Germans launched their own sledgehammer blow, code-named Operation Blue, on June 28.

The German southern flank ran obliquely from the coast near Taganrog in the south, along the Donetz River north toward Kharkov and Kursk. It was a battlefront in echelon—the parts farthest back, on the left, were to move first, while the advance units on the right would wait for the left wing to come up before moving forward. On the German far right was the Seventeenth Army next in line to its left and farther back, was the First Panzer Army. These two armies composed Field Marshal Wilhelm List’s Army Group A, destined to invade the Caucasus. On its left was Field Marshal Fedor von Bock’s Army Group B, which included Paulus’s Sixth Army and the Second Army, the latter consisting of the German Fourth Panzer Army and the Hungarian, Italian, and Romanian satellite armies. The two panzer armies were to deliver the decisive thrusts against the Russians’ most advanced positions, after which the infantry armies would follow.

A siege assault was launched against Sevastopol on June 7 as a preliminary to the main offensive. Despite fierce Soviet resistance, the fortress fell on July 4 and with it the whole of the Crimea, thus depriving the Russians of their chief naval base on the Black Sea. Meanwhile, the Germans forced the passage of the Donetz River, established a bridgehead on the north bank, and delivered a powerful armored stroke northward 40 miles to the city of Kupiansk, gaining invaluable flanking leverage to assist the easterly thrust of the main offensive, where heavy fighting raged for several days before the Fourth Panzer Army broke through between Kursk and Belgorod. After that the armored advance swept rapidly across a 100-mile stretch of plain to the Don River, near Voronezh. At Voronezh, three Soviet armies resisted fiercely against the onslaught of the combined forces of the Fourth and Seventeenth Panzer Armies and Paulus’s Sixth Army, believing the attack was a prelude to a German advance upon Moscow. To avoid encirclement, the three Soviet armies withdrew eastward in the direction of Stalingrad.

Hitler’s Eye on Stalingrad

Now Hitler split Army Group South into Groups A and B. After the Hungarian Second Army came up and relieved the Fourth Panzer Army, the Fourth then wheeled southeastward down the corridor between the Don and the Donetz, followed by Paulus’s army. The Sixth Army, the Fourth Panzer Army, and the Axis satellite armies then began their push east toward Stalingrad. As Army Group A pushed far into the Caucasus, its advance slowed as its supply lines grew overextended, and the two German army groups were not positioned to support one another due to the great distances involved. The Führer, obsessed and impatient to capture the Caucasus, had divided Operation Blue from a coherent, two-stage whole into two separate parts, changing the organization, timing, and sequence of the offensive, much to the chagrin of his top generals. Consistently underestimating the resilience of his Russian enemy, Hitler decided that the city of Stalingrad would have to be taken.

Marshal Andrei Yeremenko, commander of the Soviet southern front, searched for a strategy to keep the 700,000 soldiers in the Axis armies currently pushing toward Stalingrad from overwhelming South Russia’s last natural line of defense, the Volga. As the Germans neared the city in August 1942, the primary defense of the city fell to the Soviet Sixty-second Army. Yeremenko, needing a commander with the spirit and tenacity to rally the Russians and hold the Volga at all costs, chose Lt. Gen. Vasily Chuikov. Yeremenko immediately issued a terse directive to his army commanders—“Not a step back”—and instructed the Soviet secret police force, the dreaded NKVD, to shoot anyone who failed to comply. (Soviet authorities eventually executed 13,500 soldiers during the Stalingrad fighting, the equivalent of a full division.) Chuikov, convinced that he could not match the Wehrmacht’s firepower on the open steppes, laid plans for a street battle, picking out future strongpoints the enemy would be forced to pass en route to the Volga. He positioned his artillery in sectors where the Germans would be concentrated in the greatest numbers. The Soviet Sixty-fourth Army would defend Stalingrad’s southern sectors.

At the time, Stalingrad was the Soviet Union’s third-largest city, sprawling along a narrow band 20 miles long and five miles deep on the Volga riverfront. Although Soviet officials had considered evacuating children and nonessential citizens, some 600,000 of the city’s population of 850,000 still remained. A massive, sustained Luftwaffe carpet-bomb attack on August 23 set downtown Stalingrad aflame, reducing much of it to rubble and killing thousands of noncombatants. The reason so many citizens and refugees still remained on the west bank of the Volga was typical of the Soviet regime: the NKVD had commandeered almost all river craft for its own use while allotting low priority to the civil population.

Joseph Stalin, deciding that no panic would be allowed, refused to permit further evacuation of citizens across the Volga. This, he believed, would force his troops, especially locally raised militia, to defend the city even more desperately. Throughout the region, the civilian population was mobilized all available men and women between 16 and 55 years of age—nearly 200,000—were formed into workers’ columns organized by their district Communist Party committees. As in Moscow the year before, women and older children were marched out and given long-handled shovels and baskets for digging antitank trenches over six feet deep in the sandy earth. While the women dug, Army sappers laid heavy antitank mines on the western side. Younger schoolchildren were put to work building earth walls around petroleum-storage tanks on the river. Those workers not directly involved in producing weapons were mobilized into special militia brigades. Some ammunition and rifles were distributed, but many men were able to arm themselves only after a comrade was killed.

The German Sixth Army Advances

The German Sixth Army, combined with two corps from the Fourth Panzer Army, was the largest formation in the Wehrmacht, with nearly a third of a million men. It pushed down the north side of the corridor between the Don and the Donetz rivers toward Stalingrad, supported by an armored drive farther south. At first Paulus made good progress. As the advance continued, however, its strength dwindled as more and more German divisions had to be detached to cover the ever-extending northern, or left, flank, which extended along the Don all the way back to Voronezh. Long, rapid marches in severe heat, as well as battle losses caused by stiffening Russian resistance, added to the German wastage.

A Russian Guards infantry team lobs grenades toward the German lines. The immovable, well-supplied Russians gave the enemy no relief.

On August 23, the Germans began the final stage of their advance upon Stalingrad. It took the form of a pincer attack by the Sixth Army from the northwest and the Fourth Panzer Army from the southwest. That night German mobile units reached the banks of the Volga, 30 miles above the city, and neared the bend of the Volga, 15 miles south. While Russian resistance kept the pincers from closing, German pressure on Stalingrad was intense. Attacks fell in endless succession, and the city became a hypnotic symbol for the Germans, and especially for Hitler who lost all sight of strategy and regard for the future. It was an obsession for which Germany would pay dearly.

A Battle of Supplies

Despite immense losses, the Soviets’ reserves of manpower remained far greater than the Germans’. As the end of summer neared, an increasing flow of equipment came from Soviet factories to the east as well as from American and British suppliers, and the volume of new divisions arriving from Asia also increased. The Germans, being the attackers, suffered proportionately higher losses, which they could ill afford. Back in Berlin, General Franz Halder, chief of the Army General Staff, attempted unsuccessfully to warn Hitler of the potential dangers his armies now faced. As winter approached, the German concentration at Stalingrad drained reserves from the flank-cover, itself already strained to the breaking point. The general’s warning to Hitler that it would be impossible to hold the line during the winter fell on deaf ears all defensive considerations were subordinated to the aim of capturing Stalingrad.

By September 1, the Soviet Sixty-second Army was fully engaged throughout the city. With the panzers unable to maneuver quickly through the debris-choked streets, the traditional German war of rapid movement ended. Germans gains began being measured in feet and yards, as the determined Russians fought viciously for every house and building that remained standing. When Stuka dive-bombers hammered Russian strongpoints, inflicting huge losses, surviving defenders merely found new places to hide in the rubble. Although they were suffering horrendous losses themselves, the Germans systematically leveled the city, block by block, and pressed relentlessly toward the Volga. While it was still capable of production, the Krasny Oktybar plant continued to produce its formidable Soviet T-34 tanks, driving them directly from the production line into battle crewed by the very workers who had built them.

Chuikov struggled to maintain contact with his beleaguered forces as they were driven back through the city. Many Russians continued fighting for weeks without orders, reinforcements, or supplies, inflicting heavy losses on their attackers before running out of food and ammunition and being wiped out themselves. As reinforcements and supplies finally began flowing toward Stalingrad from every region of the Soviet Union, the struggle for the city became a test of wills between Stalin and Hitler. Ample matériel was available to the Soviets on the east side of the Volga, but with the Germans in control of the river to the north and south, everything had to be funneled through a single ferry landing into central Stalingrad. The east bank of the Volga became a vast marshaling yard for men and materials as well as the location of a huge field hospital and a launching point for batteries of newly developed Katyusha rockets. Dubbed “Stalin’s organs,” the truck-launched, 130mm rockets fired 16 at a time. Nearly five feet in length, the missiles were deadly accurate, and the horrific screech they emitted from launch to impact became a considerable psychological weapon as they rained down day and night on German-held sectors of the city.

The Soviet Air Force had finally been supplied with modern aircraft such as the Yak 1 and began to contest the Luftwaffe for air superiority over the city. For the first time in the war, German ground forces began receiving the same punishment from the air that the Luftwaffe had been inflicting upon their enemies. With bombs, rockets, and shells pouring into Stalingrad around the clock, the city cast a macabre glow that could be seen from 30 miles away at night. The gruesome pall of smoke and dust that churned up from the embattled city panicked many Russian reinforcements being ferried into the city from the Volga’s east bank. Hoping to escape the fighting, hundreds jumped from the shuttle boats into the Volga’s frigid waters, only to be shot by NKVD officers.

Few airlifted supplies could reach German lines at Stalingrad. Luftwaffe General Wolfram von Richthofen called the Führer’s relief orders “stark, raving madness.”

Both Paulus and Chuikov had ample forces at their disposal, but the Germans’ narrow approaches to the city and the Russians’ bottleneck at the river crossing forced both commanders to feed their units into battle piecemeal. The Germans slowly gained ground, at an enormous cost in blood, while Chuikov’s delaying tactics worked well, but at a tremendous cost of Russian casualties. Chuikov worked to funnel and fragment German massed attacks with “breakwaters,” fortified buildings manned by infantrymen armed with machine guns and antitank weapons to deflect attackers into channels where camouflaged T-34 tanks and antitank guns waited, half buried in the rubble.

90 Percent of the City in German Hands

The battle was being closely monitored in Berlin, where Halder repeatedly expressed grave concerns to Hitler about the exposed German left flank. With no end in sight, Hitler in mid-October dismissed Halder, replacing him with General Kurt Zeitzler, a timid yes-man, and announced prematurely to the German people that victory in the East was almost at hand. In Stalingrad, however, although the Soviet Sixty-second Army was being forced back into several small sectors of ground near the west bank of the Volga, the battle itself was far from over.

With German infantry and panzers in control of 90 percent of the city, Chuikov’s troops struggled to hold onto their precarious footholds. Prolonged street fighting had reduced the city almost entirely to rubble, and the smell of charred buildings and the sickly stench of decaying corpses was overpowering. Chuikov instructed his troops to close with the enemy and seek hand-to-hand combat at every opportunity, and the Wehrmacht was unable to call in artillery or air strikes for fear of hitting their own men. The battle became a vicious war of attrition involving hundreds of brutal, small-unit actions. If Paulus could bleed the Russian Army to death before the Volga froze over, he could take the city before the onset of winter. But Soviet artillery, snipers, and booby traps had already sent German casualty lists soaring far beyond what they had anticipated. If the German losses were heavy, Russian casualties were staggering: as many as 80,000 Soviet soldiers had been killed in action by the middle of October 1942. The combined toll on Russian civilians, Red Army soldiers, and Axis forces had already reached a quarter of a million people.

Pavlov’s House

German infantry units now controlled the summit of Mamaev Kurgan, also called the Tartar Mound, a towering hill in central Stalingrad, as well as the southern suburbs, and had broken through to the Volga north of the city. With his command split, Chuikov held downtown Stalingrad, the all-important ferry landing, the Barrikady Metal Works, and much of the Krasny Oktybar plant, all of which were reduced to rubble. At one point, German ground forces pushed to within 200 yards of Chuikov’s command bunker and were seemingly on the verge of victory, but isolated Russian strongholds thwarted the final conquest of the city. A platoon of the 42nd Guards took possession of a three-story downtown building that commanded all approaches to the Volga, turning it into an almost-impenetrable fortress bristling with machine-gun nests and snipers. With all its officers killed or incapacitated, Sergeant Yakov Pavlov assumed command of the platoon and held the building for 59 days before being relieved. He had discovered early on that an antitank rifle mounted on the rooftop could destroy German panzers with impunity, since a tank approaching the building could not elevate its barrel sufficiently to reach the rooftop.

By early September, the Sixth Army found itself trapped at the edge of a huge salient, with few reserves, fighting an intense battle of attrition and dependent upon a single railway line that crossed the Don at Kalach, 60 miles from the Soviet lines. Paulus had no illusions about the prospects of maintaining his army through the winter in a devastated city still contested by a stubborn enemy. By this time, he had already committed eight divisions to the fighting and 11 more manned nearly 130 miles of front stretching across various river bends and over the sprawling Russian steppes.

To bring an end to the exhausting battle, Paulus called in several battalions of elite pioneer combat engineers, experts in demolition and street fighting, and used them to spearhead a last major attempt to capture Stalingrad. In a furious assault on the burrowing Russians, the German engineers poured gasoline into sewers and ignited them, ripped up floorboards, and threw satchel charges into cellars to root out defenders. Paulus followed on November 11 with an attack by five divisions into the factory district. The ensuing breach in the Russian lines was expanded, and Chuikov’s command was split in two. Still the Russians held on, despite appalling losses. Spent and exhausted, the Germans regrouped while Paulus pondered his next move.

Ice had begun forming on the Volga, and by November 14 all boat traffic ceased—the river was impassable. Efforts were made to air-drop supplies to the Sixty-second Army, but with the Soviet foothold reduced to such a narrow margin, most of the matériel fell into German hands. While Chuikov fought to hold the city until relief arrived, German reconnaissance planes and intelligence reports began detecting signs of a huge Soviet buildup northwest of Stalingrad. The exposed left flank that had worried Halder was showing unmistakable signs of becoming a ripe target for a massive Russian counterattack.

German infantrymen follow their armored vehicles on the advance into Stalingrad. Few if any of the Nazi soldiers would survive the meat-grinder battle.

Operation Uranus: Death Blow to the Sixth Army

Back in Berlin, Hitler was made aware of the Soviet buildup, and his response was typical: remain on the offensive. On November 17 he sent a dispatch to Paulus urging him to quickly complete the conquest of the city. Paulus circulated the Führer’s exhortation to his unit commanders, but they never had a chance to act on it. On the morning of November 19, the rumble of heavy artillery to the northwest could be heard rolling across the steppes. The deafening explosions were the opening salvos of a well-prepared, overwhelming Soviet counterattack, one that would seal the fate of Paulus and his men.

While Chuikov had been fighting for time, Stalin, General Georgi Zhukov, and Soviet Supreme General Staff chief General Alexander Vasilevsky had assembled the forces necessary to close an impenetrable iron ring around Stalingrad. Massive Soviet forces had been clandestinely deployed in the steppes north and south of the city. To the north was the Southwest Front under General Nikolai Vatutin. Next was the Don Front under General Konstantin Rokossovsky, and to the south of the city was the Southeast Front under Andrei Yeremenko. While just enough men and supplies were funneled to Chuikov to enable him to hold the city, over a million fresh troops, 1,500 tanks, 2,500 big guns, and three air armies deployed along a front almost 150 miles wide. The Soviets intended to attack the German flanks at their two weakest points—100 miles west of Stalingrad and 100 miles south of it—in sectors held by the Romanian Third and Fourth Armies.

On November 19, the Red Army unleashed Operation Uranus in a blinding snowstorm. The attacking Soviet units on Vatutin’s front—three complete armies—swept southeast from the Serafimovich bridgehead, shattering the Romanian Third Army along a 40-mile-wide stretch of the Don on Paulus’s northern flank. The next morning, a second Soviet offensive—two complete armies of Yeremenko’s Southeast Front—got under way from the south of the city, advancing northwestward against positions held by the Romanian Fourth Army.

Under the sudden pressure of the massive Russian artillery and advancing tank columns, the Romanian forces collapsed almost immediately. The two Soviet fronts raced west in a huge pincer movement and met four days later near the town of Kalach, sealing the ring around Stalingrad. Meanwhile, troops of Rokossovsky’s Don Front had spread over the country west of the Don in a multipronged drive southward into the Don-Donetz corridor, linking up on the Chui River with the left pincer thrusting in from Kalach. The movement dropped an iron curtain across the most direct routes that any relieving German forces might use to come to the aid of Paulus and his army.

As Paulus flew to a new command post to escape the onrushing Soviet tide, he saw for himself the extent of the rout and knew that it would be a matter of only days before the Sixth Army was completely surrounded and cut off. He radioed headquarters, urgently requesting permission to withdraw his forces 100 miles to the west before the Russian ring around his troops became unbreakable. Hitler dismissed the request and ordered Paulus to assume a “hedgehog” defense. The Sixth Army slowly ran out of time while Hitler moved his own headquarters to East Prussia to get a better look. In the meantime, he named Field Marshal Erich von Manstein head of the newly formed Army Group Don, which left Paulus under Manstein’s operational control but did not materially affect the situation.

“A Prussian General Does Not Mutiny”

Hitler’s decision to hold Paulus in place left no alternative but to attempt to sustain the Sixth Army from the air. Paulus, his army trapped within a tightening ring of Soviet armor, informed Hitler that he had only six days’ worth of food remaining for his men. Morale, said Paulus, remained high, since the men believed they would be saved by other German armies. The Germans dubbed their position der Kessel—the kettle. General Wolfram von Richthofen, commanding Luftflotte 4, tried to fulfill Hitler’s promise to sustain Paulus by air, but from the outset he realized the task was hopeless. Paulus needed a minimum of 500 tons of supplies daily just to sustain his army in a defensive posture and prolong the Soviet effort to liquidate the pocket.

When the Russians captured the Kalach Bridge on November 23, Paulus’s army and a corps of the Fourth Panzer Army were sealed inside a pocket some 30 by 40 miles wide, the nearest German reinforcements more than 40 miles away. After expanding the corridor separating the Sixth Army and the rest of the German forces to a width of over 100 miles, the Russians moved 60 divisions and 1,000 tanks into position to attack Paulus’s army. Fierce fighting began to shrink the pocket. Although convinced that Hitler’s orders would lead to the total destruction of his army, Paulus remained intent upon obeying the Führer, saying simply, “A Prussian general does not mutiny.”

Despite Richthofen’s efforts, the airlift never had a chance for success. The shortage of aircraft, horrible flying weather, and the sheer distances involved doomed it from the outset. Pilot fatigue, improperly trained air crews, icy buildup, and Soviet fighters left a trail of downed Luftwaffe aircraft strewn across the steppes on the approaches to Stalingrad. As the airlift sputtered out, Paulus cut his troops’ rations in an effort to conserve food. Ammunition stockpiles were steadily depleted, and the Sixth Army’s capacity to resist began to dwindle accordingly. Orders went out to return fire only when essential and then to take only “sure shots.”

A Russian soldier with the much-feared PPSh41 sub-machine gun crouches in the rubble of a ruined building in Stalingrad. Fighting was house to house and street to street.

The Sixth Army’s Christmas Dinner

Although Hitler added to the confusion by issuing orders that were ever more absurd and self-contradictory, German morale received a boost when word spread that the Führer had ordered Manstein to mount a relief operation and open a supply corridor to Paulus by punching a hole in the encirclement. Operation Winter Storm, launched on December 16, proved as hopeless as the airlift. Manstein’s division-size force of panzers was inadequate to pierce the ring of Soviet artillery and armor. Meanwhile, the Sixth Army’s fuel and ammunition situation had deteriorated to the point that most heavy equipment, trucks, and armor would have to be abandoned if a breakout was attempted. Hitler steadfastly refused to consider the withdrawal of Sixth Army from Stalingrad, saying that without their heavy guns and armor such a retreat would have a “Napoleonic ending.” In this, at least, he would prove correct.

As Christmas 1942 approached, the Sixth Army’s situation became increasingly desperate. The relief column had retreated, supplies arriving by air were diminishing, and starvation had begun to thin the ranks. As the full impact of the harsh Russian winter set in, the trapped German Army rapidly ran out of heating fuel and medical supplies, and thousands of the Army’s remaining effectives began suffering the effects of frostbite, malnutrition, and disease. With no fodder for their horses, the Germans began slaughtering the animals for food, and on Christmas Eve Paulus ordered the last of the horses killed to provide a makeshift Christmas dinner for his men. The following day, he ordered yet another cut in the men’s rations the food allotment for each man was now a bowl of thin soup and 100 grams of bread per day. German doctors, coping with an increasing number of wounded men and diminishing stocks of medicine with which to treat them, were forced to give first priority to wounded soldiers who stood the best chance of recovering and being returned to battle. It was a triage of the damned.

Closing Off the Stalingrad Pocket

Rokossovsky and Yeremenko, meanwhile, tightened the noose around the Germans daily, shrinking the perimeter Paulus had to defend. Additional Soviet advances swept the Axis flank defenders—Romanians, Italians, and Hungarians—almost entirely out of the Don-Donetz corridor, threatening the rear of the German forces on the lower Don and in the Caucasus. Hitler at last realized the inevitability of a disaster even greater than that of the Stalingrad encirclement. The decision was made to withdraw from the Caucasus just in time for Army Group B to escape being cut off itself. That withdrawal made it clear to the world that the German tide of conquest was on the ebb.

On January 10, 1943, Rokossovsky issued a call for Paulus to surrender, promising food and medical treatment for all the defenders and allowing German officers to retain their badges of rank and decorations. Paulus radioed Hitler, asking permission to surrender and thus save the lives of his remaining men, but again the Führer refused, ordering Paulus to stand and fight where he was—to the last man and the last bullet, if need be. Hitler dispatched Luftwaffe Field Marshal Erhard Milch to the front to revive the flagging airlift effort, but not even Milch could figure out a way to stanch the bleeding caused by worsening winter weather and the dominance of Soviet fighters controlling the skies around Stalingrad.

As the attempt at resupply by air faded away, the proud army that Paulus had led to the edge of the Volga disintegrated. The elite soldiers of the German Sixth Army were now a tattered collection of emaciated, walking skeletons. With starvation, disease, and despair stalking the Army, desertions, unauthorized surrenders, and an occasional local mutiny diminished the Sixth Army’s capacity for organized resistance. In the meantime, the Red Army relentlessly closed the ring around the city.

“The Troops are Out of Ammunition and Food”

His demand for surrender rebuffed, Rokossovsky ramped up the pressure on the Stalingrad pocket. On January 10, the Soviets attacked the city with 47 divisions, and by mid-January the remnant of Paulus’s command held an area just 10 miles square. Staff officers at Army headquarters in Berlin, tacitly admitting to themselves that Sixth Army was lost, tried to salvage what they could of its technicians and specialists while abandoning the rank and file to their fates. They stepped up evacuation of officers with rare skills and ability, giving them priority on flights out of the pocket ahead of the wounded. General Hans Hube, commander of the 16th Panzer Division, was one such officer. After being ordered to abandon his command and fly out of Stalingrad, Hube refused, only to be evacuated forcibly by a squad of Gestapo agents sent to the city. By the end of January, the starved, frozen, and exhausted survivors of the Sixth Army were on the verge of collapse.

Paulus dispatched an aide to speak directly to the Führer, hoping that a firsthand account of the dire situation might change Hitler’s mind. Hitler was unmoved, replying that the Sixth Army’s ordeal was tying down Soviet forces that might otherwise prevent the planned evacuation of the German Army Group then in the Caucasus. German airlift operations struggled on until January 24. Immediately after two Ju-52s managed to lumber off the runway at Pitomnik airfield, a Soviet T-34 tank broke through the outer defense ring of the airfield and began shooting up the control tower and makeshift airport facilities. More tanks and Soviet infantry followed, and the airfield fell into Soviet hands, bringing the German airlift to an abrupt and final halt.

With all hope of relief or rescue now gone, Paulus radioed a message to Hitler: “The troops are out of ammunition and food, effective command is no longer possible. There are 18,000 wounded without any supplies, dressings or drugs. Further defense senseless. Collapse inevitable. Army requests permission to surrender in order to save the lives of the remaining troops.” Hitler gave the same response he had made to all similar requests: “Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their positions to the last man and last round and by their heroic resistance make an unforgettable contribution towards the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western world.”

In an unprecedented, if cynical, show of generosity, Hitler gave promotions to dozens of senior officers of the Sixth Army, most notably a field marshal’s baton for Paulus. In the entire history of the German Army, Hitler noted, no field marshal had ever surrendered or been taken alive. The implication was clear, but Paulus had no intention of throwing himself onto his own funeral pyre. A few days later, Soviet forces closed in on his command post, a cellar in the bombed-out ruins of a store in downtown Stalingrad. On the verge of collapse, dirty and unshaven, Paulus surrendered, and on February 2 the last German resistance in Stalingrad ceased. Of the nearly 350,000 soldiers who had followed Paulus to Stalingrad, barely 91,000 survived to surrender to the Soviets.

Three-Days of Mourning for the Sixth Army

After Stalin announced to the world the news of Paulus’s surrender and the Soviet victory at Stalingrad, a sense of foreboding fell over the Third Reich. The German people were finally informed of the loss of the German Sixth Army, and a three-day mourning period went into effect. While Paulus relaxed in a warm suburb of Moscow, the soldiers of the Sixth Army who had been promised food and shelter were not so fortunate. The Russians put 20,000 of them to work rebuilding the destroyed city, and the rest were dispatched to POW camps scattered from Siberia to central Asia. Many died shortly after the surrender from a typhus epidemic brought on by lice and the unsanitary conditions experienced during the battle. Many more would perish from malnutrition, disease, and neglect in the various Soviet prison camps. Of the 91,000 men who surrendered with Paulus, only 5,000 survived to eventually return to Germany in 1955.

For their role in the great Soviet victory, Chuikov and his Sixty-second Army received the highest honors the Red Army could bestow upon its soldiers. It was renamed the 8th Guards Army for the heroic defense of the city, and Chuikov led his men on a march across Europe that ultimately reached Berlin. His troops had the honor of capturing the Reichstag and planting the hammer and sickle atop the building in the fallen capital of the Third Reich.

The Psychological Turning Point of World War II

From the Soviet perspective, the struggle for Stalingrad carried implications far beyond its borders. It defined the major, psychological turning point of World War II in Europe. By halting the advance of one of Germany’s elite armies and ultimately defeating it, the Russians proved that the Nazis were not invincible, and in doing so they gained the confidence and skills they would need to ultimately defeat Germany. Conversely, the disaster at Stalingrad shattered the myth of Hitler’s infallibility among the Germans themselves. Indeed, the path to the Soviet Union’s rise to the status of a true superpower began on the banks of the Volga River.

The monumental scale of the battle lived on in the ruins of the shattered city. Although a panel of the Supreme Soviet determined that it would be easier to abandon the city and build a new one elsewhere, Stalin’s ego and determination brought about the ultimate reconstruction of the city. But buried among the ruins was the horrendous price the Russians had paid for their victory. It will never be known how many people died at Stalingrad. Some postwar estimates claim that Chuikov lost over a million soldiers in his effort to hold the city, but that figure is almost certainly exaggerated. Still, the loss of life was appalling.

The casualty figures for the German Sixth Army, the Fourth Panzer Army, and their Axis auxiliaries that supported the march to the Volga were staggering. The Germans lost about 400,000 men the Italians, Hungarians, and Romanians about 120,000 each. According to archival figures, the Red Army suffered a total of 1,129,619 total casualties—478,741 killed and missing and 650,878 wounded—in the greater Stalingrad area. In the city itself, 750,000 Russians were killed, wounded, or captured. The most horrendous toll fell on the city’s civilian inhabitants. Of Stalingrad’s estimated 850,000 residents in 1940, only 1,500 citizens remained in the pile of rubble that once was Stalingrad.


Please acknowledge Chief of Staff Nikolai I Krylov for his role in the battle. He had a vital role and is not recognized as he should be.

The Opening Moves

Stalin believed that the Germans would launch another attack towards Moscow, but Field Marshal Fedor von Bock attacked the south, and not on the Soviet Capital. This caught Stalin by complete surprise, and field Marshal von Bock’s Army Groups were divided into A and B Army. A was ordered to head south and gain strategic advantage from the Caucasus Mountains while Army B was ordered to protect the flanks from the north by capturing Stalingrad, the regional capital.

The inferior equipment and training of the Soviet forces were telling, as they were defeated with the same Blitzkrieg tactics that they had experienced the year before. The Germans targeted Soviet command posts and attacked with speed and precision, which gave them a massive advantage. The Soviet Union was on the verge of defeat and was short on modern armor, artillery, and air support.

It seemed inevitable that the Germans would prevail in the war, but this was where Hitler made a massive mistake in taking his eye off the ball, which was the strategic oil resources. He wanted to destroy Stalingrad, the city named after his personal adversary Stalin, and it allowed the Soviet Union to go on the defensive and play the waiting game.


Following the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939, Romania lost almost one third of its territory without a single shot being fired, as Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina were annexed [4] [5] by the Soviet Union on June 28, 1940, after Romania yielded to a Soviet ultimatum. [6] [7] [8] [9] As a result, King Carol II was forced to abdicate in September 1940, and General Ion Antonescu rose to power.

In October, Romania joined the Axis and expressed its availability for a military campaign against the Soviet Union, in order to recapture the provinces ceded in June. After a highly successful summer campaign in 1941 as part of Army Group South, the Romanian Armed Forces regained the territory between the Prut and Dniestr rivers. General Antonescu decided to continue to advance alongside the Wehrmacht, disregarding the Romanian High Command's doubts over the possibility of sustaining a mobile warfare campaign deep inside Soviet territory. In October 1941, the Romanian Fourth Army occupied Odessa after a protracted siege which caused more than 80,000 casualties on the Romanian side, severe destruction and many casualties among the civilian population (the Odessa massacre). The spring and summer of 1942 saw the Third and Fourth Romanian Armies in action in the Battle of Crimea and the Battle of the Caucasus. By the fall of 1942, the two armies were poised to join the attack on Stalingrad.

In September 1942, the Romanian Third and Fourth Armies took up their positions around Stalingrad together with the first elements of the Romanian Air Corps: on September 16, the 7th Fighter Group, on September 25, the 5th Bomber Group and, on October 4, the 1st Bomber, 8th Fighter, 6 Fighter-Bomber and 3rd Bomber Group arrived with the mission of providing air support for the Third Romanian and 6th German Armies.

The Romanian Third Army, commanded by General Petre Dumitrescu, was transferred from the Caucasus and replaced five Italian and two German divisions between Blizh Perekopka and Bokovkaya, with the task of defending a front 138 km long, far beyond its capabilities. To make things worse, the Soviets had two bridgeheads over the Don River, at Serafimovich and Kletskaya, which the German High Command ignored, despite repeated requests by General Dumitrescu for permission to eliminate them. At the start of the Soviet offensive in November 1942, the Third Army had a nominal strength of 152,492 Romanian troops and 11,211 German troops, being made up from 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Army Corps in a single echelon (1st Cavalry, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th and 14th Infantry Divisions) from West to East, with 7th Cavalry and 15th Infantry Divisions in reserve. The Long Range Recon (DO-17M) and the 112th Liaison Squadrons (Fleet 10G) were also at its disposal. In November came the German XLVIII Panzer Corps, composed of the 22nd Panzer Division and the 1st Armoured Division (Romania), which also was put in reserve. It also had the 2nd, 4th, 5th and 8th Motorized Heavy Artillery Regiments and the 41st Independent Motorized Heavy Artillery Battalion. Opposite the 3rd Army was the Southwestern Front (Soviet 1st Guards Army, 5th Tank Army and 21st Army), with a staggering force of 5,888 artillery pieces, 728 tanks and 790 planes.

The Romanian Fourth Army, commanded by General Constantin Constantinescu-Claps, with 75,580 men, occupied a line south of the city, between Staraya Otrada and Sarpa. [10] It comprised the 6th and 7th Army Corps (1st, 2nd, 4th, 18th, 20th Infantry Divisions and the 5th and 8th Cavalry Divisions). The Romanian Air Corps put at its disposal the 15th, 16th, 17th Observation (IAR 39) and the 114th Liaison Squadrons (Fleet 10G) covering a front of 270 km long. Thus the 18th Cavalry covered a line of 100 km. The reserve consisted of the 6th Roșiori Regiment, the 27th, 57th Pioneer Battalions and the 57th Recon Group. Also, the Fourth Panzer Army had in the area the 29th Motorized Infantry Division. This army was supposed to check the advance of the Stalingrad Front (Soviet 51st, 62nd, 63rd and 57th Armies), which possessed 4,931 artillery pieces and 455 tanks.

Most of these formations were in deplorable shape, with at best 73% of necessary manpower, with the 1st Infantry Division going as low as 25% and an almost nonexistent arsenal of heavy antitank guns. [11] Between these two armies was the Sixth German Army, under General der Panzertruppe Friedrich Paulus.

In the north Edit

On 19 November at 0530, in the sector of the Third Romanian Army, artillery barrages battered the entire front line, while blizzards, snow fall, and -20 degrees Celsius made close air support impossible. The Soviets assaulted the positions of the 14th Infantry Division with the 5th Tank Army and the junction between the 13th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division with the 21st Army, with a total of 338,631 men against three weak divisions. The 37mm and 47mm AT guns were useless against Soviet tanks, so the Romanian troops had to use grenades, anti-tank mines and Molotov cocktails. In the first hours, they managed to delay the advance and destroy some armor, but later they had to retreat or be encircled. The Soviets also attacked west of Tsaritsa Valley and at Raspopinskaya, but were repulsed. In response to the situation that developed south of Kletskaya, the 48th Armored Corps was ordered to move towards the Soviet main thrust and shortly afterwards, the 22nd Panzer Division was redirected to the northwest towards Bolsoy and, reaching Petshany, it engaged Soviet armor. By evening, the 1st Romanian Armored Division reached Sirkovsky, making preparations to attack Bolsoy the next day. In the first day of the offensive, the Soviet forces succeeded in making two breaches in the defences of the Third Romanian Army: one in the center, 16–18 km wide and 15 km deep and one in the right wing, between the Third Romanian Army and the 6th German Army, 10–12 km wide and 35–40 km deep.

On 20 November, the Soviet armored and motorized forces advanced towards Kalach, with the intention of encircling the 6th German Army fighting at Stalingrad. The 22nd Panzer Division, overwhelmed at Petshany by the large number of Soviet tanks, withdrew north to Bol. Donschynka. The 1st Romanian Armored Division, without any available radio contact, tried to advance to Petshany in order to make the junction with the 22nd Panzer Division, but was forced to stop a few kilometers west of Korotovsky by stiff Soviet resistance and numerous counterattacks by Soviet tanks, flowing between the German 22nd and the Romanian 1st, occupying the Varlamovsky and Peralasovsky villages and making the junction with forces coming from Gromsky, thus encircling the 5th Corps. In the 4th Corps' sector, 40 Soviet tanks attacked the 15th Infantry Division but were repulsed by evening with heavy losses. Meanwhile, the 7th Cavalry Division unsuccessfully tried to block the enemy's advance the right wing of the division, which had fully received the blow, retreated south while the left wing was reassigned to the 9th Infantry Division. Also, the 1st Cavalry Division had to retreat towards Stalingrad and was subordinated to the 6th Army. At the end of the day, the defence position of the Third Romanian Army had a 70 km wide gap in the centre. In this pocket were encircled the 1st Armored Division, three infantry divisions (5th, 6th and 15th) and remains of other two infantry divisions (13th and 14th). The former commander of the 6th Infantry Division, Major General Mihail Lascăr, took command of the troops from the infantry divisions and formed the "General Lascăr" Group (40,000 men). At this point, the command point of the Third Army began moving to Morozovskaya.

On 21 November, the 22nd Panzer Division tried to advance towards Perelasovsky in order to make the junction with the 1st Armored Division and to relieve the "General Lascār" Group, but failed and was stopped the next day between Bol. Donschynka and Perelasovsky. The 1st Romanian Armored Division advanced towards Bol. Donschynka, where it was hoping to find the German division, but the village was under Soviet control and then headed south and, after grim fighting, crossed the Chir river on the 25 November.

On 22 November, the encircled "General Lascār" Group, which had been ordered to resist at any cost, was attacked and transmitted its last message. They had run out of food and each gun had only 40 rounds left. After refusing the Soviet proposal to surrender they were entirely destroyed. Only the 1st Battalion of the 15 Infantry Regiment (6th Infantry Division), commanded by Major Gheorghe Rasconescu, succeeded in getting to the river Chir with all its soldiers and equipment. His battalion had managed to prevent the Soviet 8th Cavalry Division from capturing the vital German airfield at Oblivskaya from 26 November to 3 December.

On 23 November, the Soviet troops of the South-Western Front and of the Stalingrad Front met at Kalach-na-Donu, completing the encirclement of the German 6th Army, parts of the Fourth Army and six other Romanian infantry divisions and one cavalry division.

In the south Edit

On 20 November, the Romanian Fourth Army was attacked by the Soviet 57th and 51st Armies, with the main blow in the sector of the 20th, 2nd, 18th and 1st Infantry Divisions. [12] The 57th Army attacked towards Sovetsky in the northeast and the 51st Army towards Kotelnikovo in the south. The front was broken at the junction of the 2nd and 20th Infantry Divisions and at the junction of the 1st and 18th Infantry Divisions. The Soviets advanced fast into the breaches created by the first wave, pushing the 13th Tank Corps towards Saty, the Soviet 4th Mechanized Corps towards Plodovitoye and, later, the 4th Cavalry Corps towards Abganerovo. By evening, the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions were virtually destroyed and the 18th Infantry Division was in danger of encirclement. Also, the link with the 20th Infantry Division was broken. Despite the stubborn resistance put up by the 91st Infantry Regiment and the 20th Pioneer Battalion, the Soviets broke through Tundutovo and Ivanovka, getting behind the division and, within an hour, most of the Romanian soldiers were either dead or captured.

On 21 November, the 57th Army advanced towards Sovetsky (17 km southeast of Kalach) to meet the forces of the South Western Front and encircle the German forces at Stalingrad, while the 51st Army advanced towards Kotelnikovo, along the Kotelnikovo-Stalingrad railroad. The 6th Corps tried to resist, while the "Korne" Detachment (3rd, 4th Cavalry Regiments, 2nd Artillery Battalion and the 7th Heavy Artillery Regiment), led by General Radu Korne and backed by German armored units, launched a counterattack towards Abganerovo, with the 29th German Motorized Infantry Division attacking from the northwest. The action failed due to lack of effective anti-tank weapons.

On 22 November, the Soviets took hold of Mal. Derbety and Tundutovo and the "Korne" Detachment was attacked in the Krasnay-Geroy area, suffering heavy losses. The proposal by the Romanian command to fall back to better positions on the Aksay River clashed with the German decision to hold firm. [ clarification needed ]

On 23 November, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Fourth Army demanded and received from the Romanian General Headquarters the authorization to make decisions independently from the 4th Panzer Army. Subsequently, the 6th Corps fell back to the Aksay River, but to no avail, as the Soviets were already in control of the communication center of Aksay. The "Korne" Detachment fell back, leaving the flank of the 7th Corps uncovered. At the same time, the 5th Cavalry and the 4th Infantry Divisions were attacked from the east. In order to prevent the Soviet advance between the railroad and the river Don, a new defence line, with its center at Kotelnikovo, was established. In the afternoon, the Soviet troops of the Stalingrad Front met the South-Western Front troops in Sovetsky area, encircling the German forces at Stalingrad. Receiving information about the arrival of a German detachment, the Fourth Romanian Army's commander decided to hold its position. The 6th Corps was on the southern bank of the Aksay River, the 4th Infantry Division from Umansevo to Kotsubayev and the 5th Cavalry Division further to Perednaya Elista with the link between the two corps being provided by the "Korne" Detachment.

Tank battles Edit

The 1st Romanian Armored Division consisted of 121 R-2 light tanks and 19 German-produced tanks (Panzer III and IV). On 20 November, near Serafimovich, the Romanian 1st Armored Division fought against the 19th Tank Brigade of the Soviet 26th Tank Corps. By the end of the day, the Romanians destroyed 62 Soviet tanks for the cost of 25 tanks of their own. Further fighting took place on 22 November, with the Romanians destroying 65 more Soviet tanks while losing 10 tanks. By 1 January 1943, the 1st Romanian Armored Division was depleted of all its 19 German-made tanks and a further 27 R-2 light tanks were also lost in combat. Added to these were 54 R-2 tanks which were abandoned after breaking down or running out of fuel. Only 40 R-2 light tanks remained in the inventory of the Division when it withdrew from the combat zone at the start of 1943. [13]

On 24 November, Soviet activity abated, but the next day, the Soviet troops attacked towards Kotelnikovo between the Don and the railroad, pushing the 4th Infantry Division southwards from the left flank of the 7th Corps.

On 26 November, the "Korne" and "Pannwitz" Detachments managed to push back the Soviet troops which had infiltrated between the two Romanian corps. On the 27th, the Soviets approaching Kotelnikovo were also repelled by counterattack of the "Pannwitz" Detachment and units of the 6th Panzer Division, which had recently arrived in preparation for the counter strike to relieve the Axis forces in Stalingrad. The Soviets managed to break through the line of the 6th Corps at the 18th Infantry Division, thus forcing it to retreat 25–30 km south of the river. The losses of the Fourth Romanian Army in this operation were catastrophic: up to 80% in personnel at the 1st, 2nd and 18th Infantry divisions.

On 16 December, the Soviet Third Guards Army started Operation Little Saturn and attacked Army Group Hollidt to which was subordinated the Third Romanian Army, along the river Chir. On 18 December, the Soviet Sixth Army broke through the defence of the Italian 8th Army and the 18th, 24th and 25th Tank Corps penetrated deep behind Axis lines, threatening the rear of the front on the Chir.

On 22 December, the banks of the river Chir were abandoned by the left wing of Army Group Hollidt as they retreated towards Morozovskaya. On 27 December, the 7th Cavalry Division started to retreat towards Bisry after 40 days of continuous fighting, but the following day, General Karl-Adolf Hollidt assigned the 11th Roșiori and 11th Călărași Regiments and the 61st Recon Group the task of defending the German depots at Chernigof. The Romanian cavalrymen held the town against Soviet attacks until 2 January 1943, when they eventually retreated. They were the last Axis troops to leave the Chir line.

To the south, the remains of the Fourth Army and the Romanian Air Corps were engaged in Operation Wintergewitter, which aimed to create a link with the Axis troops in Stalingrad. The main blow was to be delivered by the German 57th Panzer Corps on its left flank was the Romanian 6th Corps with the Romanian 7th Corps and the Cavalry Group General Popescu forming the right flank. They were stopped 50 km from Stalingrad and, on 18 December, the front held by the 8th Italian Army was broken, with seven Italian divisions and the Italian Alpine Corps being encircled.

On 24 December, the Red Army counterattacked, with 149,000 men and 635 tanks, the German 57th Panzer Corps and the Romanian Fourth Army and on 29 December, the 57th Panzer had to abandon Kotelnikovo, which sealed the fate of the Axis troops in Stalingrad.

On 15 January 1943, came another devastating blow: The Hungarian 2nd Army was encircled and eventually destroyed, with 147,971 casualties.

On 2 February 1943, the resistance of Axis troops in Stalingrad ceased. Out of the 91,000 prisoners taken by the Soviets, 3,000 were Romanian. These were the survivors of the 20th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division and "Colonel Voicu" Detachment. The Romanian Army lost 158,854 men (dead, wounded and missing) between 19 November 1942 and 7 January 1943. This represented 16 of the 18 divisions engaged at Stalingrad and half of the active troops (31 divisions). The Romanian Air Corps lost 73 airplanes (26 in battle and the rest on the ground). The Romanian armed forces were not capable of recovering after such catastrophic losses, and from this point onward, they would only fight desperate defensive battles on their way back to Romania.

Germany’s Sixth Army in Stalingrad in World War II

The arrogance of Adolf Hitler and the German high command was heightened by the enemy’s stupendous losses in Operation Barbarossa. The great offensive of 1941 might not have destroyed the Soviet Union, but more than 3 million Russians were dead. Three million more were in German prison camps. Add to those grim statistics the tens of thousands murdered, or dead from deliberate starvation and mistreatment at the hands of the Wehrmacht and the SS. German flags flew over the Ukraine, Russia’s granary, and over the Donbas, industrial heartland of the Soviet Union. A third of the country’s rail network was in German hands its heavy industrial production was down by three-fourths. The Red Army had become a blunted instrument, its tanks and aircraft destroyed, its best divisions chewed up and spat out by the blitzkrieg, its winter 1941 counterattack met, then checked, by a German army at the very nadir of its own resources and fortunes.

German damage to the Soviets, however, had not been achieved without cost. More than 900,000 Germans were dead, wounded or missing — almost a third of the invasion force. As late as May 1942, some German infantry formations were at little more than a third of their authorized strength. More than 4,200 tanks had been destroyed or damaged, and an overburdened industrial system no longer had any hope of replacing all of them. Roughly 100,000 trucks and other motor vehicles were gone, as were more than 200,000 horses — the latter arguably more important than the lost machines.

Since June 1941, Nazi Germany had been at war with both the world’s largest land power, the Soviet Union, and its greatest mercantile empire, Great Britain. In December it added the biggest industrial power, the United States, to its list of enemies. Hitler understood that his Third Reich did not possess anything like the resources to match such a coalition. He did not intend to try. On December 10, 1941, he had assumed personal command of the Eastern Front. Many of the key figures of Operation Barbarossa, such as Heinz Guderian, Gerd von Rundstedt and Fedor von Bock, were relieved of command or transferred. In their places stood new men, with reputations and careers to make. Like Hitler, they viewed the winter setbacks as temporary. And in many ways he was right. A hundred thousand men, cut off in the Demyansk pocket south of Leningrad, had been supplied by air from January to the end of April 1942, and were then relieved. A month later, German and Romanian troops under Erich von Manstein completed the conquest of the Crimea, driving its last Soviet defenders literally into the sea in a series of frontal attacks. Even when they operated on a shoestring, nothing seemed beyond the German Landser — the infantry in worn field-gray uniforms, the men who crewed the tanks and manned the guns, and the junior officers and NCOs who led them.

The German army in the spring of 1942 remained a superbly tempered instrument, combining the best features of an ideologically motivated citizen army and a seasoned professionalized force. The months in Russia had pitilessly exposed weak human and materiel links. New tanks and weapons still existed mostly on drawing boards, but officers and men knew how to use what they had to best advantage. The 37mm anti-tank gun, so helpless against Russian armor that it was nicknamed the ‘army door-knocker,’ was giving way to a high-velocity 50mm piece. The Panzerkampfwagen (Pzkw.) Mk. III tank remained the mainstay of the armored divisions, but it too appeared in an upgunned version. Its longtime stablemate, the Pzkw. Mk. IV, was beginning to exchange its short-barreled 75mm gun for a high-velocity version that could match all but the heaviest Soviet armor. Nothing spectacular — but enough to enhance the conviction among the German soldiers that they had the measure of their enemies and were still able to defeat them. From highest to lowest, the German soldiers believed that their mobility, shock power, communications and above all disciplined initiative, resting on the base of comradeship and confidence fostered by the bitter fighting of 1941, would bring victory in 1942.

The losses suffered and the lessons learned during the previous year nevertheless structured planning for the next year’s campaign. Instead of three offensives moving in different directions, Hitler’s directive of April 5, 1942, projected only holding actions in the northern and central sectors. The focus for the spring campaign would be in the south, with a major drive toward the Caucasus. The objective would be the destruction of Soviet forces in the region and seizure of oil fields that were vital to the German war effort. A secondary objective was Stalingrad — not for its own sake, but in order to cut the Volga River and isolate the Russians south of the industrial city.

Despite its reduced scale, the proposed offensive was risky. It would be launched on a 500-mile front. If it gained the set objectives, it would create a salient of more than 1,300 miles. Hindering the drive was the fact that the road and rail networks would grow thinner the farther the Germans advanced. The main attack was scheduled to begin at the end of June — at best, four to five months before rain and snow would put an end to mobile operations. Even if the offensive succeeded, however, there was no guarantee that the Soviet Union would collapse. It had other major domestic sources of oil — not to mention the promise of support from its new ally, the United States, which was committed to keeping Russia in the fight at all costs.

Such wider issues were not raised among German officers, who were focusing their energy on preparations for the upcoming campaign, which was dubbed Operation Blue. German planning staffs focused on the war’s operational and tactical levels. The army’s rapid expansion since Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 had left it so short of qualified staff officers that everybody was too immersed in details to have any energy left for evaluating the big picture.

For their part, Soviet concerns in early 1942 primarily involved buying time — time for American assistance to arrive, time to re-establish an industrial base physically transplanted east of the Ural Mountains, and time to reorganize and re-equip an army shaken by disaster. Stavka, the Soviet high command, advocated a defensive strategy. Soviet Premier Josef Stalin wanted to mount local offensives, designed in part to wear down the Germans and keep them off balance, and in part to restore Soviet domestic morale, which was far too low for the dictator’s peace of mind.

It was increasingly clear that the security and propaganda apparatus that had intimidated and inspired the Soviet people through the privations and purges of the preceding decades was by itself insufficient to counter the pressures presented by the German invasion. Only the Germans’ bestial behavior in territory they had conquered and their reluctance to consider mobilizing opponents of the Soviet regime under their flag had kept disaffection with the Soviet regime from reaching explosive proportions. Stalin expected the revitalized Red Army to provide a safety valve by winning small-scale victories. Instead, the Germans checked and threw back its ill-prepared efforts. In May, a Soviet attack briefly recaptured the city of Kharkov but collapsed when a German counterstrike surrounded and destroyed four entire armies. Then, on June 28, Germany’s Army Group South tore the Russian front wide open.

Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, who had led Army Group Center almost to within artillery range of Moscow before being relieved of command in 1941, was getting a second chance. He had 68 divisions, nine of them panzer and five more motorized. He possessed 750 tanks. The Luftwaffe provided more than 1,200 aircraft, including the close-support specialists of the VIII Air Corps under General Wolfram von Richthofen, a cousin of World War I’s ‘Red Baron.’

Bock’s order of battle included 25 divisions from German allies and client states as well. Mostly Italian and Romanian, those formations were not as well equipped, trained, led or motivated as their German counterparts. Aware of that, Bock intended that they would simply play screening roles, serving as flank guards, and occupy less vulnerable sectors. Nevertheless, their direct participation in the offensive indicated the weakness of the German army in 1942 relative to its responsibilities — and implied a promise of trouble should things not go according to plan.

For the first few weeks, the German offensive was a repeat of the lightning advances of Operation Barbarossa. German mechanized spearheads rolled forward across the steppe under an air umbrella impenetrable to a Red air force still woefully short of skilled pilots. But the ground gained was not matched by Soviet losses. Frustrated, Hitler fired Bock and split Army Group South in two. Army Group A, under Field Marshal Wilhelm List, was to turn south, take Rostov and drive into the Caucasus. Army Group B, commanded by Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs, would thrust east and cut the Volga while screening the left wing of the offensive.

The new organization gained ground but produced no great tokens of victory. The Red Army’s abortive spring offensives had cost it more than a half-million casualties, which were suffered primarily among its best formations. Stavka’s officers argued that, temporarily at least, space must be exchanged for time. Stalin reluctantly concurred. Even after he authorized a strategic retreat on July 6, some Soviet formations were cut off by the successive German pincers. While some of the trapped Russians fought on, others surrendered with only token resistance. Enraged, Stalin issued Order Number 227 on July 28. Distributed to all fighting units, it called for an end to retreat and demanded that each yard of Soviet territory be defended. The penalty for failure to comply ranged from summary execution to service in a penal unit. During the course of the war, more than 400,000 Russians were sentenced to penal battalions and another 250,000 were sentenced to be shot for failure to obey 227.

Frustrated by a perceived lack of progress, Hitler became more deeply involved in the campaign’s operational aspects. On July 16, he diverted the Fourth Panzer Army, and with it the bulk of Army Group B’s mechanized forces, south to Rostov, hoping to encircle Soviet forces there. At the same time, he not only sustained Army Group B’s mission to drive toward the Volga but, on July 20, specifically ordered its Sixth Army to attack Stalingrad.

A week earlier, Stavka had established an independent Stalingrad Front, and on July 19 Stalin put the city on a war footing. At the time, both seemed little more than gestures. The Front’s three armies were an uneasy mixture of green troops and formations hammered in the earlier fighting. But Order 227 was more than a set of draconian threats. It was a reminder that there was nowhere else to go. The Russian people realized that not only the Soviet state was at stake. Despite the horrors of Stalin’s regime, the citizens responded, not merely by digging ditches and filling sandbags, but by reporting to work and finishing their shifts.

On August 9, German troops captured the oil producing center of Maikop but found it completely wrecked. As supplies ran low and the Red Army’s resistance stiffened, the German advance stalled on August 28 — well short of its objective, the Grozhny oil fields. Hitler dismissed the responsible commander at the end of August and began directing Army Group A himself.

Meanwhile, Army Group B found itself locked into increasingly bitter, close-quarters fighting as it clawed its way toward the Volga. Weichs initially intended to use the pincer movements that had served the Germans so well for a year. The Sixth Army from the north and the Fourth Panzer Army from the south were to break through the front and cut off the Soviet forces west of Stalingrad. Both met determined resistance in terrain that handicapped the small-unit tactical maneuvers that often gave the Germans an advantage over their numerically superior foes. When it was man to man and tank against tank, casualties were higher and advances shorter. Nevertheless, the little flags on the map tables of both sides kept moving in the same direction, toward the Volga and Stalingrad.

On August 21, the tide seemed suddenly to turn. German infantry crossed the Don River, the first waves in rubber boats. Pioneers built bridges under Luftwaffe air cover. The next day, a panzer corps moved through the breach, and on the 23rd the spearheads of the 16th Panzer Division reached the Volga. As they advanced, however, the Germans found themselves under counterattack by everything the Soviets could throw at them, including civilians with rifles and armbands, and tanks fresh off Stalingrad’s production lines. Most of them were T-34s, whose gunpower and mobility the Germans had learned to respect earlier in the summer. But the German crews were better trained and more experienced, and they picked off the green Russians by the dozens as the Luftwaffe set Stalingrad ablaze and German reinforcements pushed toward the river.

Still determined to complete his pincer movement, Weichs ordered both his armies forward, setting their junction point at the town of Pitomnik, 10 miles west of Stalingrad. Instead of staying in place to be destroyed, however, the Russians retreated into the city — whether on their own initiative or under German pressure depends on the nationality of the analyst. Convinced that this movement symbolized the end of significant resistance, Weichs ordered an advance into Stalingrad’s suburbs.

The German commander was less inhibited at the prospects of fighting in the streets of Stalingrad than his armor commanders, most of whom were dubious about committing to a fight that denied their panzers freedom of movement. Their opposition ended, however, when one panzer corps commander was relieved for recommending withdrawal in his sector. The man directly responsible for that relief had assumed command of the Sixth Army in January. General Friedrich Paulus had a good record as a staff officer and a corresponding image as a soft-shoe type rather than a muddy-boots commander. Nevertheless, he had taken the Sixth Army across the steppe, and by August 31 most of his divisions were closing on the Volga, clearing what seemed to be Red Army die-hards holding out in Stalingrad’s rubble.

At this stage Paulus and Stalin had a common perspective: Both believed Stalingrad was doomed. On August 26, the Soviet leader played his trump card. He appointed Georgi Zhukov his deputy supreme commander in chief. Zhukov typified a new breed of Soviet general: as fearless as they were pitiless, ready to do anything required to crush the Germans and not inhibited by threats, actual or implied. Arriving at Stalingrad on August 29, he insisted that further counterattacks with the available resources were futile. Stalingrad must and would be held — but in the context of a wider strategic plan.

Even as the situation around Stalingrad worsened and Zhukov busied himself with putting together a workable defensive plan, Stavka’s strategists insisted that the Red Army must not merely respond to enemy attacks, but concentrate its own strength and seize the initiative. In Zhukov’s absence, staff officers began developing plans for a winter campaign involving two major operations. Uranus involved committing large mobile forces north and south of Stalingrad, then encircling and destroying enemy forces in the resulting pocket. Uranus was to be followed by Saturn, which would cut off and annihilate whatever remained of Army Groups A and B. Mars was the other half of the plan. With all eyes focused on the south, this operation would go in against a seemingly vulnerable sector on the hitherto quiet front of German Army Group Center: a salient around the city of Rzhev. Described for years in Soviet literature as a diversion, Mars now appears to have been instead a complement to Uranus, intended like its counterpart to be followed by a second stage that would shatter Army Group Center and put the Red Army on the high road to Berlin. It was an ambitious strategy for an army still improvising its recovery from the twin shocks of Barbarossa and Blue. Its prospects depended entirely on the ability of Stalingrad’s defenders to hold out.

That critical mission was, in turn, the responsibility of Lt. Gen. Vasili Chuikov. On September 12, he was appointed commander of the Sixty-second Army, the city’s principal operational formation. On one level his mission seemed obvious: hold or die, with the threat of army firing squads and the pistols of the secret police keeping his men on the line as long as any remained standing. Chuikov, however, was also a student of tactics. The Germans, he argued, had prevailed through complex combined-arms attacks. The broken terrain of an urban warfare environment like Stalingrad worked against that kind of sophistication. The Soviet commander used that to his advantage. Rather than simply sitting back and waiting for the Germans to batter him, Chuikov ordered his troops to ‘grab them by the belt’ and engage them as closely as possible, to fight not merely street by street and building by building, but floor by floor and room by room. Such tactics would neutralize the Germans’ firepower and would deny them even the limited maneuvering space they needed for tactical initiatives. It would also cost lives, but the Soviet Union had lives to spend.

On September 14, the final German drive for the Volga began. By that afternoon Chuikov’s command post had been silenced and the fight was decentralizing to rifle-company level as German spearheads flicked toward the landing areas along the Volga that were Stalingrad’s last hope. With the fate of the city in the balance, a desperate Chuikov secured a single division from Zhukov, Aleksandr Rodimstev’s 13th Guards. That night the division crossed the Volga, clawed out a bridgehead and held it for five days. It was long enough for further reinforcements to reach the city. It was also long enough to create doubts on the German side about the wisdom of clearing the massive factory and warehouse complexes along the river that were becoming the focal points for a defense whose ferocity surpassed anything they had ever experienced.

Stalingrad became a city of rubble, smoke and ash, where seeing and breathing became chores and movement invited anything from a sniper’s bullet to an artillery barrage. In one of modern history’s great examples of leadership, Chuikov kept his men fighting by the force of his character. He offered no rhetoric and made no promises. Instead, he projected a dour fatalism that linked the fate of the city and its garrison. German generals and colonels also led from the front, hoping that inspiration would make up for lost mobility. Compelled to substitute courage for skill and lives for maneuver, however, the German army in Stalingrad was ‘demodernizing,’ losing the capacity to fight anything but a close-quarters battle of attrition.

German Chief of Staff Franz Halder warned of the risks and was dismissed on September 24. The message was clear. To meet Paulus’ calls for reinforcements in the face of mounting casualties, Weichs began stripping less active sectors north and south of Stalingrad of German formations and replacing them with Romanians and Italians. The gamble might have been justified if the German-tipped spearhead had somehow been able to recapture the initiative. Instead, the most capable German formations were being chewed up in fruitless attacks in Stalingrad. A Luftwaffe never designed for sustained operations was suffering from increasing maintenance problems. Artillery pieces were wearing out. Tanks were breaking down. The Soviets by contrast had succeeded in systematizing their reinforcement and resupply system across the Volga. More and more heavy guns were supporting the infantry.

On September 30, Hitler had announced Stalingrad’s imminent capture. Instead, it was the Germans who were pinned in place, able to drive forward only locally and episodically, with losses far out of proportion to either military or propaganda gains. As the October rains heralded winter’s approach, the Fhrer hinted at great rewards for Paulus when the city was finally secured. The Sixth Army launched its final coordinated attack on October 14. It broke into and through Chuikov’s lines, once again driving spearheads to the Volga’s banks, halting the movement of reinforcements across the river. The German plan called for an urban encirclement, a battle of maneuver and annihilation following Stalingrad’s street network. It almost worked. Chuikov, as matter-of-fact a man as ever wore a uniform, talked about an inexplicable force driving the Germans forward. It was, however, merely a last brilliant flash of the fighting power, skill and spirit that had taken the Wehrmacht across Western Europe, North Africa and into the heart of Russia. Pressed against the riverbank, the Soviets rallied and held, fighting the Sixth Army to a standstill.

On October 31, Chuikov counterattacked. His force was only a division strong and gained less than 200 yards of polluted rubble, but it thrust at the heart of six weeks’ worth of denial on the part of the Germans. Twenty of the German army’s best divisions were packed at the tip of an immense salient hundreds of miles inside Russia. The salient’s flanks were held by troops for whom ‘dubious’ was a compliment. The main supply route was a railroad that at one point ran barely 60 miles from the front line, and winter was setting in. It was at this moment that Zhukov unleashed Operation Uranus.

For a month Stavka had held its hand, building up forces in the face of Stalin’s demands for action, waiting for the rains to end and the ground to freeze. Those forces now numbered a million men, 1,000 modern tanks, 1,400 aircraft and 14,000 guns — all of it undetected by a German intelligence blinded by Soviet deception measures, and by its own conviction that the Soviets were as locked into Stalingrad as were the Germans. On November 19, a new Southwest Front, commanded by one of Zhukov’s protgs, General Nikolai Vatutin, hit the Romanian Third Army. A day later, another tank-tipped sledgehammer struck the Romanian Fourth Army on the Stalingrad salient’s southern flank. Hopelessly outgunned, the Romanians in both sectors collapsed. On November 23 the Soviet spearheads met near the town of Kalach, 50 miles from Stalingrad, in a textbook encirclement.

It took a week to complete the encirclement of the 20-odd divisions and 330,000 men caught in what soon became known as the ‘Stalingrad pocket.’ Within days, internal friction among Soviet commanders slowed the advance and stiffened German resistance. Nevertheless, by November 30 a 100-mile gap existed between the Sixth Army and the rest of the Wehrmacht.

Professionals at the time and armchair generals since have argued that Paulus erred in not breaking out immediately, with or without orders. His best chance, the argument runs, was before the Soviets could consolidate the envelopment. Weichs ordered him to cease offensive operations the same day that Uranus began. But the Sixth Army was locked in close combat with an opponent determined not to let go. Breaking contact at the front was only the first step in what would have been an incredibly complex maneuver. Even had Paulus acted to break out, there was no guarantee that the army’s fuel and ammunition reserves would be sufficient for a fighting retreat across the steppe in midwinter.

The response to the unfolding disaster among the Sixth Army’s command structure was conditioned by the decline of the maneuver-war mentality after two months of static operations. Too many of the German sergeants, captains and colonels who knew how to fight in the open were dead, or had been promoted to replace other casualties. The new hands — so far as replacements had been forthcoming — were conditioned to moving a few yards at a time, and very cautiously. When Hitler proposed to relieve Stalingrad from outside, he reinforced an attitude held by many in the Sixth Army.

The Fuhrer’s plans called for Weichs to stabilize the front and to launch the new Army Group Don toward Stalingrad. The new army group’s commander was Erich von Manstein, who since the start of Barbarossa had established a record as the Eastern Front’s specialist in difficult missions. Manstein’s command, however, was scraped together from various bits and pieces. It was not until December 12 that he was able to concentrate a half-dozen divisions for Operation Winter Storm, the projected grand advance to relieve what Hitler now proclaimed Fortress Stalingrad. Meanwhile, the garrison was dependent on supply from the air.

There is strong evidence that on November 20, alluding to the earlier success at Demyansk, Luftwaffe Chief of Staff Hans Jeschonnek told Hitler that under the right conditions Stalingrad could be supplied from the air — not Reichsmarshall Hermann Gring, as has so often been asserted. Hitler used that information as a springboard for discussions with Gring, who assured the Fhrer of the Luftwaffe’s ability to successfully conduct the mission. By that time Jeschonnek had investigated further and concluded that the Sixth Army’s bare-minimum requirements of 500 tons of supplies a day could not be met by the available aircraft. Gring ordered him to keep his data to himself.

Doomed to failure from the start, hundreds of Luftwaffe pilots and aircrews soon set off on an operation to supply Paulus’ army. In the end nearly 500 aircraft were lost to weather and to a sophisticated Soviet defense system combining rings of guns and ground-controlled fighters. Only a steadily diminishing fraction of the required supplies arrived in a pocket under constantly growing pressure on the ground from increasingly superior Soviet forces. An increasing proportion of the reduced deliveries was necessarily ammunition. When Kurt Zeitzler, Halder’s successor as chief of staff, reduced his food intake to the level of Stalingrad rations as a gesture of solidarity with the besieged troops, he lost more than 25 pounds in two weeks.

The situation soon worsened even further. Operation Mars began on November 25, under Zhukov’s personal command. Its initial successes were countered by German armored reserves, and after losses appalling even by Soviet standards, Zhukov broke off the operation in mid-December. That ended Stavka’s original ambitious plan. As Manstein’s forces began assembling and advancing, Operation Saturn was in turn modified to Little Saturn, aimed at checkmating Manstein’s breakthrough by enveloping and crushing its left flank.

Little Saturn’s preliminary stages had already absorbed much of Manstein’s projected relief force by the time the main attack began on December 16. Soviet armor destroyed the Italian Eighth Army and temporarily overran the air base at Tatsinkaia, which was vital to the German airlift. Manstein drove forward with a single panzer corps on an ever-narrowing axis of advance in steadily worsening weather. Thirty-five miles from Stalingrad, the attack bogged down against Soviet armor. On December 19, Manstein informed Hitler that it was impossible to break through to Stalingrad and sustain a corridor. He recommended that the Sixth Army break out to meet him. Manstein flew his intelligence officer into the pocket to go over details of the plan and found the Sixth Army staff unwilling to risk such an attack until spring.

Whatever Winter Storm’s odds, it was the last chance to salvage the Sixth Army. In refusing to order the breakout, Manstein and Paulus showed an absence of the moral courage that is the principal requirement of high command. Instead they temporized, deferring to Hitler’s well-known and increasingly determined refusal to ‘abandon the Volga.’ For three days the debate among the German commanders continued as the Soviets drove into the German flank and rear. Then, on December 22, the question became moot. The newly arrived Second Guards Army opened an attack that drove Manstein’s slender spearhead back toward its start line. To an officer who subsequently flew into Stalingrad as Hitler’s emissary, Paulus said simply, ‘You are talking to dead men.’

With Soviet tanks and cavalry running wild in its virtually undefended rear areas, Army Group Don fell back and the Germans’ attention focused not on the fate of the Sixth Army but on the survival of their position in southern Russia. Hitler initially refused to make reinforcements available and shorten the front by withdrawing from the increasingly untenable Caucasus salient. Manstein made the best of what he had. In a series of brilliant tactical-level ripostes between January and March 1943, he enabled most of Army Group A to escape. In doing so he confirmed his reputation as a battle captain and blunted an operation already suffering from Stalin’s determination to pursue the offensive beyond the Red Army’s capacity to sustain it.

Stalingrad, hopelessly isolated, was now expected to tie down as many Soviet forces as possible — a mission the Soviets initially sought to deny by negotiating a surrender. When Paulus refused, the final offensive began. On January 10, more than 7,000 guns and mortars began firing on every corner of the pocket within range. Tanks and infantry advanced simultaneously in all sectors, against resistance whose initial determination amazed even veterans of the earlier fighting. Even before the few remaining airfields were overrun, the Germans were living on rations measured in ounces, supplemented occasionally by horsemeat and the occasional rat. Conditions in the hospitals were beyond medieval. By January 17, the pocket had been reduced to half its size. Once again Paulus was summoned to surrender once again he refused. German die-hards fell back into the city’s ruins, using tactics learned from the Russians to prolong the end as ammunition ran out and men sought terms at bayonet point. On January 31, Paulus’ headquarters was overrun. The field marshal, newly promoted by Hitler, was lying on his bed when a Russian lieutenant burst in and captured him.

Organized resistance continued until February 2. The Soviets took longer than that to sort out their 90,000 prisoners and start them on their long march into captivity. In Germany, radio stations played the funeral march from Richard Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods. In Russia, the propaganda machine tooled up to publicize the triumph of the Soviet motherland. Stalin and his generals began plans for a new campaign to crush the invaders once and for all. And from Alsace to Vladivostok, families waited for news of their missing men. In June 1942, Nazi Germany was looking forward to victory. Six months and a million casualties later, the Reich had barely averted catastrophe.

This article was written by Dennis Showalter and originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of World War II magazine. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today!

The Soviets Prevail

Operation Uranus was the Soviet counteroffensive, which was launched on 19 th November, and six armies attacked the Germans from the North, targeting the weaker flank of Paulus’s army. In just a few hours, Paulus’s army had been sliced up and was in tatters. Three more armies attacked a day later, this time from the south, and rammed home the advantage, by crippling the German army from the rear. On the 23 rd of November, two more Soviet armies attacked the Germans from the west and captured Paulus’s 6 th Army.

“Center of Stalingrad after liberation.” The center of the city of Stalingrad after liberation from the German occupation. By RIA Novosti – CC BY-SA 3.0

Paulus should have escaped at this stage, and returned to fight another day, but three personalities stopped that from happening. It led to the slow death of the 6 th Army and shattered the aura of invincibility of the Germans. The first personality was Paulus’s own, as he didn’t make a quick decision to retreat when his army was being attacked from all sides. The second personality was Herman Göring who promised to send support and supplies to the 6 th Army, which would include food, fuel, and ammunition. However, Göring was slow and couldn’t provide the resources on time. The 3 rd personality was Hitler himself, who insisted that the 6 th Army stand their ground and fight, instead of disgracing Hitler’s reputation.

The Germans realized that the 6 th Army couldn’t be rescued, and the long battle continued until the 30 th of January. Hitler was still encouraging Paulus to fight on, by bribing him with the promotion to General Field Marshall, but Paulus surrendered the next day in sub zero temperatures.

Watch the video: WW2 Episode 14: Battle of Stalingrad Part 2, OPERATION URANUS (September 2022).


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