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After the failure of Operation Barbarossa to win a decisive victory, Adolf Hitler decided to launch a new offensive in July 1942. General Friedrich Paulus, the commander of the 6th Army, was ordered to capture Stalingrad, a city that controlled the rail and waterway communications of southern Russia.
In the summer of 1942 Paulus advanced toward Stalingrad with 250,000 men, 500 tanks, 7,000 guns and mortars, and 25,000 horses. Progress was slow because fuel was rationed and Army Group A were given priority. At the end of July 1942, a lack of fuel brought Paulus to a halt at Kalach. It was not until 7th August that he had received the supplies needed to continue with his advance. Over the next few weeks his troops killed or captured 50,000 Soviet troops but on 18th August, Paulus, now only thirty-five miles from Stalingrad, ran out of fuel again.
When fresh supplies reached him, Paulus decided to preserve fuel by move forward with only his XIV Panzer corps. The Red Army now attacked the advance party and they were brought to a halt just short of Stalingrad. The rest of his forces were brought up and Paulus now circled the city. As his northern flank came under attack Paulus decided to delay the attack on the city until 7th September. While he was waiting the Luftwaffe bombed the city killing thousands of civilians.
Stalingrad was Stalin's city. It had been named after him as a result of his defence of the city during the Russian Civil War. Stalin insisted that it should be held at all costs. One historian has claimed that he saw Stalingrad "as the symbol of his own authority." Stalin also knew that if Stalingrad was taken, the way would be open for Moscow to be attacked from the east. If Moscow was cut off in this way, the defeat of the Soviet Union was virtually inevitable.
A million Soviet soldiers were drafted into the Stalingrad area. They were supported from an increasing flow of tanks, aircraft and rocket batteries from the factories built east of the Urals, during the Five Year Plans. Stalin's claim that rapid industrialization would save the Soviet Union from defeat by western invaders was beginning to come true.
General Georgi Zhukov, the military leader who had yet to be defeated in a battle, was put in charge of the defence of Stalingrad. As the German Army advanced into the city the Soviets fought for every building. The deeper the troops got into the city, the more difficult the street fighting became and casualties increased dramatically. The German tanks were less effective in a fortified urban area as it involved house-to-house fighting with rifles, pistols, machine-guns and hand grenades. The Germans had particularly problems with cleverly camouflaged artillery positions and machine-gun nests. The Soviets also made good use of sniper detachments deployed in the bombed out buildings in the city. On the 26th September the 6th Army was able to raise the swastika flag over the government buildings in Red Square but the street fighting continued.
Adolf Hitler now ordered General Friedrich Paulus to take Stalingrad whatever the cost to German forces. General Kurt Zeitzler, Chief of General Staff, was totally opposed to the idea urging Hitler to permit the Sixth Army to withdraw from Stalingrad to the Don bend, where the broken front could be restored. Hitler refused and on the radio Hitler told the German people: "You may rest assured that nobody will ever drive us out of Stalingrad."
When General Gustav von Wietersheim, commander of the XIV Panzer Corps, complained about the high casualty rates, Paulus replaced him with General Hans Hube. However, Paulus, who had lost 40,000 soldiers since entering the city, was running out of fighting men and on 4th October he made a desperate plea to Hitler for reinforcements.
A few days later five engineer battalions and a panzer division arrived in Stalingrad. Fighting a war of attrition, Joseph Stalin responded by ordering three more armies to the city. Soviet losses were much higher than those of the Germans, but Stalin had more men at his disposal than Paulus.
The heavy rains of October turned the roads into seas of mud and the 6th Army's supply conveys began to get bogged down. On 19th October the rain turned to snow. Paulus continued to make progress and by the beginning of November he controlled 90 per cent of the city. However, his men were now running short of ammunition and food. Despite these problems Paulus decided to order another major offensive on 10th November. The German Army took heavy casualties for the next two days and then the Red Army launched a counterattack Paulus was forced to retreat southward but when he reached Gumrak Airfield, Adolf Hitler ordered him to stop and stand fast despite the danger of encirclement. Hitler told him that Hermann Goering had promised that the Luftwaffe would provide the necessary supplies by air.
Senior officers under Paulus argued that they doubted if the scale of the airlift required could be achieved during a Russian winter. All of the corps commanders argued for a breakout before the Red Army were able to consolidate its positions. General Hans Hube told Paulus: "A breakout is our only chance." Paulus responded by saying that he had to obey Hitler's orders.
Throughout December the Luftwaffe dropped an average of 70 tons of supplies a day. The encircled German Army needed a minimum of 300 tons a day. The soldiers were put on one-third rations and began to kill and eat their horses. By 7th December the 6th Army were living on one loaf of bread for every five men.
Now aware that the 6th Army was in danger of being starved into surrender, Adolf Hitler ordered Field Marshal Erich von Manstein and the 4th Panzer Army to launch a rescue attempt. Manstein managed to get within thirty miles of Stalingrad but was then brought to a halt by the Red Army. On 27th December, 1942, Manstein decided to withdraw as he was also in danger of being encircled by Soviet troops.
In Stalingrad over 28,000 German soldiers had died in just over a month. With little food left General Friedrich Paulus gave the order that the 12,000 wounded men could no longer be fed. Only those who could fight would be given their rations. Erich von Manstein now gave the order for Paulus to make a mass breakout. Paulus rejected the order arguing that his men were too weak to make such a move.
On 30th January, 1943, Adolf Hitler promoted to Paulus to field marshal and sent him a message reminding him that no German field marshal had ever been captured. Hitler was clearly suggesting to Paulus to commit suicide but he declined and the following day surrendered to the Red Army. The last of the Germans surrendered on 2nd February.
The battle for Stalingrad was over. Over 91,000 men were captured and a further 150,000 had died during the siege. The German prisoners were forced marched to Siberia. About 45,000 died during the march to the prisoner of war camps and only about 7,000 survived the war.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stalingrad - History
STALINGRAD IN THE HISTORY OF GREAT BRITAIN 1942-1945
Non-governmental, independent, non-profit organization International charitable foundation "Battle of Stalingrad" (Stalingrad Foundation) (www.stalingrad-fund.ru ) from Volgograd (Russia) invites you to participate in the international project
The project aims to remind citizens of the United Kingdom and Russia
The project is the result of a historians and members of the Fund team.
The project aims to remind citizens of the UK and Russia
• on the common history of the joint struggle against Nazism during the Second World War
• on the role and significance of the Battle of Stalingrad for the people of Great Britain
• on an enthusiastic assessment of the results of the Battle of Stalingrad by British society
• on the "Stalingrad" humanitarian initiatives of British politicians and public figures
• on the public diplomacy of British civil society and large-scale campaigns to collect humanitarian
aid to Stalingrad by residents of hundreds of UK settlements
• on the decision of Coventry
citizens to become a twin city with Stalingrad.
The project considers the history of
relations between Stalingrad and British society in 1942-1945 as a history of solidarity, friendship and fruitful cooperation between our peoples.The project aims to strengthen and expand friendly contacts in the field of public diplomacy between the civil societies of Russia and the United Kingdom.
INTERNATIONAL CHARITABLE FUND "THE BATTLE OF STALINGRAD "
Our Foundation was created to study, preserve and popularize the historical heritage of the Battle of Stalingrad, to assist veterans of the Great Patriotic War and patriotic education of youth.
We invite citizens and organizations to cooperate. We will be grateful for the support of our social projects, for the feasible participation in their implementation.
Stalingrad: the crushing of the Reich
From its foundation in the mid‑16th century, the old fortress town at the confluence of the Tsaritsa and Volga rivers has had three identities. Originally called Tsaritsyn and today labelled Volgograd, it was known for a mere 36 years (1925–61) by the name with which it will be eternally associated – Stalingrad.
The very name quickly became shorthand for the Nazi defeat in the east, and even at the time was considered a turning point of the Second World War, by all sides – Soviet and German included.
At the 70th anniversary of Stalingrad, the achievement of the Soviet people remains just as awe-inspiring. In 1941, Germany had nearly conquered European Russia, being checked and rolled back only at the gates of Moscow. In November 1941, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock had visited an artillery command post, from where he could see the winter sun glinting off the Soviet capital’s buildings through his field glasses, while two weeks later his men reached Kuntsevo, a western suburb of Moscow, before being repulsed.
Starting on 6 December and through the winter of 1941/42 the Soviets struck back in a series of counteroffensives, removing the German threat to Moscow, and making it clear that the eastern front was likely to become a long, attritional campaign.
Although the German army no longer had the strength and resources for a renewed offensive in 1942 on the scale of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler was adamant that remaining on the defensive and consolidating his gains was not an option.
While Hitler’s forces had captured vast tracts of land, cities and important industrial resources, the Soviet Union remained unbowed. The führer’s Army General Staff (Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH) therefore searched for an offensive solution that would employ fewer men, enable Germany to destroy most of the remaining Soviet armies, capture the Caucasus oil vital to the war effort of both sides, and so knock the Soviet Union out of the war.
Stalin was convinced there would be a renewed thrust towards Moscow, but achieving complete operational surprise, on 28 June 1942 von Bock instead unleashed Fall Blau (Case Blue), the continuation of Operation Barbarossa. His objective was not the Soviet capital, but the south.
Field Marshal von Bock’s command was divided into Army Groups (Heeresgruppen) A and B. The former, under Wilhelm List, was ordered to swing south, cross the Caucasus mountains and reach the strategic resource of the Baku oil fields.
Maximilian von Weichs’ Army Group B was to protect its northern flanks by securing Voronezh (with Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army) the regional capital, Stalingrad, (using Paulus’s 6th Army) and the Don and Volga rivers.
To the south, Ewald von Kleist’s 1st Panzer Army surged towards the oil fields, reaching the more westerly wells around Maikop in six weeks, though these were sabotaged as the Wehrmacht arrived.
As in 1941, the Soviet forces, with inferior training and equipment, were outmanoeuvred with a repeat of the Blitzkrieg tactics of the previous year. The German integration of air and ground forces, targeting of Soviet command posts and, above all, their speed, proved decisive.
This was arguably the USSR’s weakest hour, for her generals appeared to have learned little from 1941, and her newly raised legions were barely trained and woefully short of air support, artillery and modern armour.
Hitler’s direction of the new eastern campaign would prove disastrous, however, for he was torn continually between the overriding necessity of capturing the strategic oil resources in the Caucasus and seizing the city that bore the name of his personal adversary. Before succumbing to the lure of Stalingrad, then a city of 400,000, Hitler was on record as declaring: “If I do not get the oil of Maikop and Grozny, then I must end this war.”
Within two months, on 23 August, Paulus’s 6th Army of 22 divisions (two of which were Romanian) had reached the outskirts of Stalingrad. His 200,000 men outnumbered the 54,000 defenders by nearly four to one. Since April, the city – an interwar showcase of communist achievement with many modern factories, apartment blocks, contemporary public buildings and wide boulevards – had been suffering air raids from the Luftwaffe’s Luftflotte (Air Fleet) 4, reducing much of the area into twisted rubble.
The battle of Stalingrad underlines the great contrasts between the German and Soviet war machines. The two opposing commanders, 51-year-old Friedrich Paulus of the German 6th Army and Vasily Chuikov, aged 42, commander of the Soviet 62nd Army, could not have been more different.
Paulus was a superbly talented staff officer, an outsider who lacked aristocratic or Prussian blood, came from relatively modest origins, and yet had risen to become General der Panzertruppen and chief staff officer of the 6th Army by the end of 1941.
Paulus was the very antithesis of his superior, the coarse and unkempt Field Marshal von Reichenau, who loathed routine paperwork, preferring to be at the front. Yet when Reichenau died of a heart attack in January 1942, Paulus was considered his natural successor.
Preferring to command from well behind the line, he possessed an unusual fixation for a soldier: he despised dirt – and bathed, and changed uniforms, every day. With an eye for minute detail, and known by his nickname ‘the ditherer’, Paulus had spent most of his professional life on the staff. While a nimble administrator and logistician, he had rarely been called upon to lead.
If Paulus was a ditherer, his opponent was the very opposite. Possessed of a volatile temper, and known to have used his walking stick to strike subordinates who had displeased him, the weather-beaten face of Chuikov proclaimed a born fighter of even humbler background.
The 8th of 12 children, Chuikov had risen to become a regimental commander in the Russian Civil War, aged 19, through sheer ability. Surviving Stalin’s purges of the army because of his youth, he had commanded the 4th Army in the Soviet invasion of Poland. He was the military attaché in China when Operation Barbarossa began and was thus untainted by the setbacks of 1941.
Recalled in early 1942, he commanded the 64th Army, delaying the German approach to Stalingrad, before assuming command of the defenders on 12 September, under the watchful eye of the local commissar, Nikita Khrushchev.
Though the original Fall Blau did not require the physical capture of Stalingrad – just domination of the area, which acted as a gateway to the Urals and controlled river traffic along the Volga – Paulus was now ordered to seize the city. Gradually, Kleist’s armoured thrusts towards the more important oil wells lost their momentum, as Hitler diverted some of his panzers back to Stalingrad.
The 6th Army commander reasoned that Stalingrad was too large to encircle, and on 14 September, he launched several ferocious assaults to reduce the city to smaller blocks he could defeat piece-meal. Chuikov had insufficient manpower to counterattack, but determined to defend doggedly, destroying as much of Paulus’s war machine as he could, while his defenders were overwhelmed.
Military history taught that attackers should outnumber their opponents by at least three to one. The same logic demonstrated that determined defenders will inflict a large number of casualties on their enemies and so it proved.
Shells and snipers
As Paulus tried to capture the industrial areas in the north, ferry crossing points over the Volga, and the high ground of Hill 103 (to the Soviets, Mamayev Kurgan), German unit strengths plummeted. On the first day, six battalion commanders died, and over the ensuing days many irreplaceable young infantry officers were caught by shells or succumbed to snipers.
This was the real tragedy of Stalingrad for Germany: a generation of trained leaders perished in a few months. In October, a panzer officer had already recorded: “Stalingrad is no longer a town… Animals flee this hell the hardest stones cannot bear it for long only men endure.”
By early November, Paulus controlled nearly 90 per cent of the city and had destroyed almost three quarters of Chuikov’s army, yet those left alive clung to the west bank of the Volga and refused to submit.
Unlike Paulus, Chuikov’s dogged personality certainly inspired his troops: all ranks knew they were to hold their positions or die in the attempt. He had anticipated house-to-house fighting, built strongpoints along the major streets the Germans would have to use and prepositioned his artillery to strike at the Wehrmacht’s likely concentration areas.
While the NKVD were instructed to shoot anyone attempting to withdraw, Chuikov reinforced this ‘last-man-last-bullet’ mentality with his own proclamation: “There is no land past the Volga.”
Yet before Paulus had even arrived, the STAVKA (Soviet High Command) had determined to use Chuikov and his 62nd Army as a ‘tethered goat’, attracting the Germans to their prey, then surrounding them with even larger forces. Unaware of this, and fed by Paulus’s optimism (he was commanding from far outside the city), Hitler announced on 8 November: “I want to take it, and you know, we are being modest, for we have got it!”
However, the führer had lost sight of his strategic objective – oil – in favour of a personal struggle with Stalin through the town that bore the latter’s name. The place had no strategic value in itself, and, in drawing such exaggerated attention to the battle, Hitler was setting himself up for a fall of catastrophic proportions from which his Reich would never recover.
The Soviet counteroffensive, Operation Uranus, began on 19 November, when six armies attacked from the north, targeting the weaker Romanian 3rd Army, securing Paulus’s northern flank. Within hours, Paulus’s front was in tatters as the attack sliced far behind the German lines.
A day later, three more Soviet armies assaulted, this time from the south again the stiletto of attacking forces drove deep into the German rear. On 23 November, the two Soviet thrusts met at Kalach, west of Stalingrad. In doing so, they sealed Paulus’s 6th Army into a kessel (cauldron-shaped pocket), measuring at its greatest extent 80 miles wide.
At this stage, Paulus should have lifted the siege and made attempts to escape, returning to fight another day. Three personalities then intervened to condemn the 6th Army to a slow, agonising death, and forever shatter the aura of invincibility that had accompanied the Wehrmacht.
First, Paulus dithered on a grand scale: he neither requested to break out, nor sought to impose his own will on the battle, becoming a prisoner of events. Second, from the safety of Berlin, Hermann Göring intervened and promised that his Luftwaffe would supply the besieged army with all the food, fuel and ammunition it required.
However, Göring’s slow Junkers-52s were to provide less than half the minimum of 300 tonnes per day necessary for Paulus’s men. They also took heavy losses themselves, and once Pitomnik and Gumrak airfields had fallen, could do nothing. Göring’s unreal assurances inspired the third individual, Hitler, to insist that the 6th Army stand and fight where it was, rather than impugn his reputation.
When ground relief attempts from Field Marshal von Manstein’s Army Group Don, operating from north of the Crimea, were themselves threatened with another great Soviet encirclement, the Germans belatedly realised that the 6th Army was beyond rescue. Both sides fought their rattenkrieg (rat-war) in Stalingrad’s stinking, germ-ridden cellars dreadfully emaciated survivors spoke of cannibalism and desperate fighting between comrades for scraps of food.
Paulus, though, remained well-fed and clean-uniformed, and initially failed to respond to Soviet offers of surrender terms. When he eventually requested permission to yield from Berlin on 22 January 1943, Hitler refused. Instead, on 30 January, he encouraged Paulus to continue fighting with the bribe of promotion to Generalfeldmarschall.
But Paulus had had enough and surrendered the next day, singularly failing to alleviate the plight of his own men in any way throughout the struggle. In sub-zero temperatures, nearly 100,000 men marched into captivity, of whom fewer than 5,000 would emerge from the Gulags a decade later.
The military legacy
Stalingrad set the agenda in terms of terminology and tactics for urban warfare, and the drawn-out battles for Monte Cassino, Caen and Berlin were seen and reported in similar terms to their Soviet predecessor.
Allied (and later NATO) doctrine would emphasise the careful preparation and battle drill required of attackers and defenders, the complex equipment they would need, the high casualties they were likely to sustain and how overwhelming artillery support was highly desirable to crush strongpoints and minimise casualties. Certainly, Bernard Montgomery learned to concentrate hundreds of his guns into AGRAs (Army Groups, Royal Artillery).
As a result of Stalingrad, the Soviets came to rely on hundreds of truck-mounted Katyusha multiple rocket launchers as well as traditional cannon in their great offensives, and called artillery the ‘Red God of War’.
The battle also haunted NATO military planners during the Cold War, when it was assumed that a Warsaw Pact steamroller would head westwards and trigger urban warfare in European cities on a Stalingrad scale.
The lessons of 1942–43 were constantly studied and revised, and much energy devoted to replicating fighting in built-up areas (FIBUA) or military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) in Cold War exercises. Yet both sides feared the impact of mass battle casualties from this kind of encounter, for Stalingrad had cost the Germans over 750,000 men and the Soviets over a million killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
The legend of Stalingrad
The battle for Stalingrad has been interpreted in many different ways by writers and film-makers in the 70 years since silence settled over the shattered town. The wartime media made much of the city’s heroic defence and Churchill decided to present Stalin with a specially commissioned, jewelled sword commemorating the battle at the 1943 Tehran conference. The battle made good newspaper copy and was seen, in tandem with El Alamein, as the stemming and turning back of the Nazi tide.
The early writers of Stalingrad were mostly Soviet commanders or sympathisers, who lauded Stalin’s personal leadership and his brilliance in selecting talented subordinates and his direction of the STAVKA. Once Khrushchev (the commissar at Stalingrad) had denounced Stalin’s achievements in 1956, Soviets switched their interpretation to one of triumph of the Soviet people.
Commanders like Chuikov and Zhukov (who planned the counteroffensive) began to receive praise, as did civilians and workers who had contributed to the remarkable victory. Notably, Soviet commentators ignored the supply of war materials to the USSR from Britain and the USA.
As for the Wehrmacht, it was portrayed as inept, corrupt and undistinguished German soldiers were not interviewed, for the Soviets’ aim was solely to praise the USSR in its Great Patriotic War. Few Germans dared write of the Ostfront in the first decade afterwards, tainted as it was with sickening war crimes against the Soviet people.
Gradually, accounts (such as Guderian’s Panzer Leader of 1952 and Manstein’s Lost Victories of 1955) trickled out, emphasising bitterness at the suffering, or the opportunities that Hitler squandered. Inevitably, East Germans wrote of the corruption of the Nazi regime (see Theodor Plievier’s dark novel, Stalingrad).
On the Soviet side, Vasily Grossman’s fictional Life and Fate, set around events at Stalingrad, was considered so shocking that it was suppressed in 1959 and published only in the 1980s after being smuggled to the west. It was recently serialised on BBC Radio 4.
Following the era of glasnost (openness) associated with Mikhail Gorbachev, objective historians such as Antony Beevor (Stalingrad, 1998) and Christopher Bellamy (Absolute War, 2007) were able to study Soviet archives that had been sealed since 1945, and are again harder to access under the Putin regime.
In recent decades, the estimated figure of 20 million Soviet war dead has been revised upwards, with some historians arguing for a total as high as 27 million. We will never know for sure.
Before Glasnost, the west had known remarkably little of the eastern front, and the Soviet Union’s suffering. One of the few historians active in researching the subject was John Erickson, whose Road to Stalingrad (1975) and Road to Berlin (1983) sold extremely well.
It was Beevor and Bellamy who brought the scale of Barbarossa and Stalingrad to a wider audience, through their mix of private accounts and official papers. Perhaps the west’s ignorance also lay in a Cold War reluctance to accept what Erickson, Beevor and Bellamy have since argued: that the war in Europe was won in the east, and that, though Stalin was in many ways as ruthless and bloodthirsty as Hitler, his nation triumphed.
However, for political reasons, we in the west have never wanted to acknowledge the sacrifices the Soviets made.
Peter Caddick-Adams is a lecturer at UK Defence Academy in Shrivenham and author of Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell(Preface, 2012).
The Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad is considered by many historians to have been the turning point in World War Two in Europe. The battle at Stalingrad bled the German army dry in Russia and after this defeat, the Germany Army was in full retreat. One of the ironies of the war, is that the German Sixth Army need not have got entangled in Stanlingrad. Army Groups A and B were well on their way to the Caucasus in south-west Russia, when Hitler ordered an attack on Stalingrad. From a strategic point of view it would have been unwise to have left a major city unconquered in your rear as you advanced. However, some historians believe that Hitler ordered the taking of Stalingrad simply because of the name of the city and Hitler’s hatred of Joseph Stalin. For the same reason Stalin ordered that the city had to be saved.
The Battle for Stalingrad was fought during the winter of 1942 to 1943. In September 1942, the German commander of the Sixth Army, General Paulus, assisted by the Fourth Panzer Army, advanced on the city of Stalingrad. His primary task was to secure the oil fields in the Caucasus and to do this, Paulus was ordered by Hitler to take Stalingrad. The Germans final target was to have been Baku.
Stalingrad was also an important target as it was Russia’s centre of communications in the south as well as being a centre for manufacturing.
In early September 1942, the German Army advanced to the city. The Russians, already devastated by the power of Blitzkrieg during Operation Barbarossa, had to make a stand especially as the city was named after the Russian leader, Joseph Stalin. For simple reasons of morale, the Russians could not let this city fall. Likewise, the Russians could not let the Germans get hold of the oil fields in the Caucasus. Stalin’s order was “Not a step backwards”.
The strength of both armies for the battle was as follows:
|German Army||Russian Army|
|Led by Paulus||Led by Zhukov|
|1,011,500 men||1,000,500 men|
|10, 290 artillery guns||13,541 artillery guns|
|675 tanks||894 tanks|
|1,216 planes||1,115 planes|
The battle for the city descended into one of the most brutal in World War Two. Individual streets were fought over using hand-to-hand combat. The Germans took a great deal of the city but they failed to fully assert their authority. Areas captured by the Germans during the day, were re-taken by the Russians at night.
On November 19th, the Russians were in a position whereby they could launch a counter-offensive.
Marshal Zhukov used six armies of one million men to surround the city. The 5th tank regiment led by Romanenko attacked from the north as did the 21st Army (led by Chistyakov), the 65th Army (led by Chuikov) and the 24th Army (led by Galinin). The 64th, 57th and 521st armies attacked from the south. The attacking armies met up on November 23rd at Kalach with Stalingrad to the east.
The bulk of the Sixth Army – some 250,000 to 300,000 men – was in the city and Zhukov, having used his resources to go around the city, north and south, had trapped the Germans in Stalingrad.
Paulus could have broken out of this trap in the first stages of Zhukov’s attack but was forbidden from doing so by Hitler.
Hitler’s communication with von Paulus.
Unable to break out, the Germans also had to face the winter. Temperatures dropped to well below zero and food, ammunition and heat were in short supply.
|“My hands are done for, and have been ever since the beginning of December. The little finger of my left hand is missing and – what’s even worse – the three middle fingers of my right one are frozen. I can only hold my mug with my thumb and little finger. I’m pretty helpless only when a man has lost any fingers does he see how much he needs then for the smallest jobs. The best thing I can do with the little finger is to shoot with it. My hands are finished.” Anonymous German soldier|
Hitler ordered that Paulus should fight to the last bullet, and to encourage Paulus, he promoted him to field marshal. However, by the end of January 1943, the Germans could do nothing else but surrender. Paulus surrendered the army in the southern sector on January 31st while General Schreck surrendered the northern group on February 2nd, 1943.
|“I was horrified when I saw the map. We’re quite alone, without any help from outside. Hitler has left us in the lurch. Whether this letter gets away depends on whether we still hold the airfield. We are lying in the north of the city. The men in my unit already suspect the truth, but they aren’t so exactly informed as I am. No, we are not going to be captured. When Stalingrad falls you will hear and read about it. Then you will know that I shall not return.” Anonymous German soldier|
Why was this battle so important?
The failure of the German Army was nothing short of a disaster. A complete army group was lost at Stalingrad and 91,000 Germans were taken prisoner. With such a massive loss of manpower and equipment, the Germans simply did not have enough manpower to cope with the Russian advance to Germany when it came.
Despite resistance in parts – such as a Kursk – they were in retreat on the Eastern Front from February 1943 on. In his fury, Hitler ordered a day’s national mourning in Germany, not for the men lost at the battle, but for the shame von Paulus had brought on the Wehrmacht and Germany. Paulus was also stripped of his rank to emphasise Hitler’s anger with him. Hitler commented:
Stalingrad: The city that changed the course of history
Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad in early February.
Mikhail Mordasov / Focus Pictures
The 70 th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad sounds like a leitmotif for the city of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). The exhibitions, events and activities dedicated to the anniversary will continue for the rest of the year.
One of Volgograd's emblematic symbols is the Battle of Stalingrad Panorama Museum. As well as the enormous canvas of the battle panorama itself, the museum holds the largest collection of documents and artifacts related to the Battle of Stalingrad. In the Triumphal Hall are hung the original banners and battle-standards from different units and divisions that took part in the battle.
There is also an attractive collection of gifts that were given to the city in token of the resolute bravery of its defenders &mdash sent by people from all over the world. Among these gifts are bronze copies of famous Rodin sculptures (&ldquoThe Kiss&rdquo and &ldquoLoyalty&rdquo) donated in 1945 by Lady Westmacott. There is also the sword of British monarch King George VI, presented to the citizens of the city in 1943, in recognition of the victory at the Battle of Stalingrad.
The Battle Of Stalingrad (July 17, 1942 &ndash February 2, 1943) was the largest-scale battle of World War II. Along with the Battle of Kursk, it became the turning point in the war, following which the German military lost the strategic initiative. Approximate estimates suggest that close to two million people from both sides lost their lives in the Battle of Stalingrad.
A special museum display entitled &ldquoOne for All. &rdquo was created at the Battle of Stalingrad Panorama Museum in honor of the 70 th anniversary of the battle. The display focuses more on human emotion than grandeur and is of great interest for this reason. All of the items in the exhibition are authentic &mdash uniforms, weaponry, trophies, domestic items, documents and letters of the city's defenders, who had various ranks, professions and nationalities.
Alongside the Panorama Museum is Pavlov's House (Sovetskaya ul., bldg. 39). This legendary building became famous due to the fact that, during the battle, it was defended by just a handful of soldiers for 58 days. There were 25 defenders, but only 15 men were at the garrison at any one time. The four-story building was a vantage-point, and both the Russian and German forces sought to hold it.
Source: Mikhail Mordasov / Focus Pictures
Yet, in the heat of the intense fighting, a baby was born in the building &mdash Zina. Zinaida Selezniova is of the same age as the Battle of Stalingrad and still lives in Volgograd today. Pavlov's House, too, has been reincorporated into the architectural plan of the city&rsquos Lenin Square. Decorated with relief carvings, the house is once again a normal residential building where ordinary local citizens live.
Where to stay
Volgograd has no 4- or 5-star hotels, nor does it have any international chain hotels. Even so, visitors can find somewhere to stay. The Volgograd Hotel on Alleya Geroev is in a historic building that was restored after the war. The Hotel Intourist, directly opposite, is a newly built hotel. In the courtyard of the Hotel Intourist, in the basement of the Central Department Store, is a museum called Memory &mdash the location where Field Marshal Paulus was captured.
To feel the elation, the bitterness, the pain and the pride embedded in its stones, you need to climb the Mamayev Kurgan (located at 47 ul. im marshalla Chuikova) on foot. It is a most rewarding memorial site to visit visitors can leaf through it, as they would a book. Each turn is unique &mdash the Poplar Avenue and the Square of the Last Stand, the Ruined Walls and the Lake of Tears, the Pantheon of Glory and the Bereaved Mother.
The culmination of the memorial experience leads to &ldquoThe Motherland Calls&rdquo statue. From the foot of the gigantic sculpture (standing tall at 279 feet) there can be seen a magnificent panoramic view of the city and the Volga River.
Bear in mind that the Mamayev Kurgan is also a burial site, where the bodies of approximately 36,000 Soviet warriors lay buried in the Greater (on the hill right under the Motherland statue) and Lesser Mass Graves. After the city was liberated, bodies found all over the city were brought to these mass graves. Several of them were identified only recently.
English-speaking guides, in adequate supply. The Socio-Pedagogic University held special courses leading up to the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, to provide foreign visitors with guides speaking English, German, French and Spanish. Travel services can be booked on the website portal http://www.turizm-volgograd.ru/, where the Volgograd Regional Agency for Tourism offers assistance with travel agencies, hotels, museums, excursions, holiday camps, and a tourist discount card.
On Feb. 2, at the War Cemetery at the Mamayev Kurgan, a commemorative obelisk bearing the names of 17,000 of Stalingrad&rsquos defenders was unveiled. Their names were confirmed as the result of painstaking work undertaken by many researchers over the decades.
The Mamayev Kurgan is the last resting place of thousands of fallen soldiers, and, in the 21 st century, another monument appeared here &mdash a Russian Orthodox Church of All Saints. Everyone who comes here to honor the memory of those who fell in battle can pray in the Orthodox tradition and light a candle for the peace of the souls of the departed.
The abovementioned sites are the main shrines of Volgograd. Yet the whole of the rebuilt city center serves as a memorial to those who died defending the city and those who rebuilt it. It is worth taking a walk through the streets of Volgograd, where even a single tree or lamp post could be a monument.
Actually, there is such a post &mdash a survivor of the Battle of Stalingrad, scarred by bombs and shrapnel, standing on the square in front of the station, alongside the Memorial Museum (located at 10 ul. Gogolya). There is a memorial tree as well &mdash a poplar on the Avenue of Heroes, growing straight out of the asphalt paving, almost warping the level ground.
Regardless of whether the tree is causing a disturbance, no one dares to have it removed: it is the only tree that survived Stalingrad. No other greenery survived the burned and blasted soil.
There is an astonishing variety in the city, and visitors can find European (including Italian, Czech, and German), Japanese, and Caucasian cuisine. Shashlik kebabs are available almost everywhere. The most popular fast-food is Chicken Kiev, leaving Big Macs far behind &mdash although Volgograd has a McDonald's too.
This might be why the citizens of Volgograd are so fond of greenery. The entire river embankment and Avenue of Heroes were made over as a park zone. Lenin Avenue &mdash Volgograd's main thoroughfare &mdash is more of a leafy boulevard than an avenue, with a broad pedestrian stretch down the middle, dividing the two streams of traffic.
In the spring, the city is lined with flowers. First come the apricot blossoms that bloom along the streets and courtyards, known as &ldquoVolgograd Sakura.&rdquo Next come lilac and acacia blossoms, Catalpa and horse-chestnuts &mdash a wonderful time for a walk along Peace Avenue. This was the first city avenue to be rebuilt after the war, because its name recommended it ahead of others.
The planetarium is at the end of Peace Avenue. As well as astronomy, the avenue is interesting for its architectural value, with a dome topped by a sculpture made by the famous Soviet master, Vera Mukhkina. The observatory also has an unusual place in history: the equipment is fitted with Zeiss optical lenses, a gift from East German workers for Stalin's 70 th birthday.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Stalingrad: 16-20
16. Zaytsev even opened a sniper training school during the battle and trained 28 people who together with Vasily killed nearly 3000 Germans including many high-ranking officers. He eventually died in 1991 at the age of 76, just 10 days prior to dissolution of Soviet Union.
17. Not just the ground level troops but even some of leading generals of both Red Army and the Axis Power took heavy casualties during the Battle of Stalingrad. Red Army’s General Vasily Chuikov developed a weird eczema induced by stress to such an extent that he had both his hands completely bandaged. General Paulus from the 6 th Army of the German forces developed a tic in his eye that eventually took hold of entire left side of his face.
18. After Operation Uranus was launched by the Red Army on 19 th November 1942, the Red Army managed to make a very precise pincer move and trapped 230,000 German forces inside Stalingrad. Hitler insisted on ‘No Retreat’ and decided to provide supplies to his army through air. That was a disaster because the trapped army needed 800 tons of daily supply to stay functional but the maximum that the Luftwaffe could drop was 117 pounds considering that none of the planes were shot down by the Soviet. Reality was even bitter because many of the aircrafts were actually shot down and the daily maximum ration that could be supplied was 94 tons. The supplies were unsuitable because whatever was dropped included 20 tons Vodka and summer clothes. These clothes were no match for the chilled and bitter Russian winters.
19. If one could think of a word that defines something worse than ‘terrible’, it would have perfectly painted the living conditions in Stalingrad during the battle. Any new soldier who was sent to Stalingrad had a life-expectancy of 1 day and generals or other high-ranking officials had a life-expectancy of 3 days.
20. Cannibalism became common and widespread. Their protein intake came from rats. Civilians and soldiers picked dead horses and scraped off the meat as their food.
Soviets launch counterattack at Stalingrad
The Soviet Red Army under General Georgy Zhukov launches Operation Uranus, the great Soviet counteroffensive that turned the tide in the Battle of Stalingrad.
On June 22, 1941, despite the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, Nazi Germany launched a massive invasion against the USSR. Aided by its greatly superior air force, the German army raced across the Russian plains, inflicting terrible casualties on the Red Army and the Soviet population. With the assistance of troops from their Axis allies, the Germans conquered vast territory, and by mid October the great Russian cities of Leningrad and Moscow were under siege. However, the Soviets held on, and the coming of winter forced the German offensive to pause.
For the 1942 summer offensive, Adolf Hitler ordered the Sixth Army, under General Friedrich von Paulus, to take Stalingrad in the south, an industrial center and obstacle to Nazi control of the precious Caucasus oil wells. In August, the German Sixth Army made advances across the Volga River while the German Fourth Air Fleet reduced Stalingrad to burning rubble, killing more than 40,000 civilians. In early September, General Paulus ordered the first offensives into Stalingrad, estimating that it would take his army about 10 days to capture the city. Thus began one of the most horrific battles of World War II and arguably the most important because it was the turning point in the war between Germany and the USSR.
In their attempt to take Stalingrad, the German Sixth Army faced General Vasily Zhukov leading a bitter Red Army employing the ruined city to their advantage, transforming destroyed buildings and rubble into natural defensive fortifications. In a method of fighting the Germans began to call the Rattenkrieg, or “Rat’s War,” the opposing forces broke into squads eight or 10 strong and fought each other for every house and yard of territory. The battle saw rapid advances in street-fighting technology, such as a German machine gun that shot around corners and a light Russian plane that glided silently over German positions at night, dropping bombs without warning. However, both sides lacked necessary food, water, or medical supplies, and tens of thousands perished every week.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was determined to liberate the city named after him, and in November he ordered massive reinforcements to the area. On November 19, General Zhukov launched a great Soviet counteroffensive out of the rubble of Stalingrad. German command underestimated the scale of the counterattack, and the Sixth Army was quickly overwhelmed by the offensive, which involved 500,000 Soviet troops, 900 tanks, and 1,400 aircraft. Within three days, the entire German force of more than 200,000 men was encircled.
Italian and Romanian troops at Stalingrad surrendered, but the Germans hung on, receiving limited supplies by air and waiting for reinforcements. Hitler ordered Von Paulus to remain in place and promoted him to field marshal, as no Nazi field marshal had ever surrendered. Starvation and the bitter Russian winter took as many lives as the merciless Soviet troops, and on January 21, 1943, the last of the airports held by the Germans fell to the Soviets, completely cutting off the Germans from supplies. On January 31, Von Paulus surrendered German forces in the southern sector, and on February 2 the remaining German troops surrendered. Only 90,000 German soldiers were still alive, and of these only 5,000 troops would survive the Soviet prisoner-of-war camps and make it back to Germany.
The Battle of Stalingrad turned the tide in the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. General Zhukov, who had played such an important role in the victory, later led the Soviet drive on Berlin. On May 1, 1945, he personally accepted the German surrender of Berlin. Von Paulus, meanwhile, agitated against Adolf Hitler among the German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union and in 1946 provided testimony at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. After his release by the Soviets in 1953, he settled in East Germany.
Stopped Cold at Stalingrad
Adolf Hitler was vacationing at his retreat near Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps, when a phone call on the afternoon of November 19, 1942, abruptly shattered his reverie. General Kurt Zeitzler, chief of the Army General Staff, was in a panic because hundreds of Soviet tanks had just smashed through the Romanian Third Army’s lines northeast of Stalingrad, threatening communication and supply lines to the German Sixth Army. The next day brought even worse news: A second Soviet juggernaut had burst open the positions held by the Romanian VI Corps and the 18th Infantry Division southwest of Stalingrad. The trap was set. General Friedrich Paulus and the quarter-million men in the Sixth Army would soon be surrounded.
At a hastily summoned meeting at Berchtesgaden on the 20th, Hitler described the situation to Colonel General Hans Jeschonnek, the Luftwaffe’s chief of staff. He explained that a just-created army group led by General Erich von Manstein would launch a counteroffensive intended to break the encirclement and asked Jeschonnek if he was confident the Luftwaffe could keep the Sixth Army supplied in the interim. With little information and little time to prepare, Jeschonnek told Hitler that the Luftwaffe could perform the necessary flights, provided that adequate airfields existed and that every available transport plane was drafted into use. Jeschonnek’s endorsement of the airlift idea reassured Hitler because it confirmed a decision he had already made: to order the Sixth Army to hold in place until help arrived.
Although the meeting was seemingly routine, it set into motion a series of events that doomed the Sixth Army and, ultimately, led to the downfall of the Third Reich. Virtually every Luftwaffe officer in the field believed that the Sixth Army’s only possible option was for it to break through its encirclement and retreat. Supplying an entire army by airlift was not only folly, they reasoned, but out-and-out impossible. In the days to come, however, no one in Hitler’s inner circle challenged the airlift plan, and he became increasingly resolute in his decision. Meanwhile, chaos reigned at Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia, as well as in the field, and an avalanche of wrong-headed decisions followed.
Historians have traditionally fingered Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, the Luftwaffe’s commander in chief, as chief villain in what would become the greatest German fiasco of the war. But by the time Göring arrived in Berchtesgaden on November 22, Hitler had already put the plan in motion. As Göring later recalled, Hitler said: “‘Listen here, Göring: If the Luftwaffe cannot carry this through, then Sixth Army is lost!’ He had me firmly by the sword knot. I could do nothing but agree, otherwise the air force and I would be left with the blame for the loss of the army. So I had to reply: ‘Mein Führer, we’ll do the job!’” Having comforted his master, the Luftwaffe chief then set out by train for Paris, where he planned on enjoying a shopping spree.
After his initial meeting sent a telegram to General Paulus, reassuring him that help was on the way and that, “despite the danger of temporary encirclement,” he was to hold his positions with Jeschonnek, Hitler at all cost. Details of the aerial supply effort would follow.
The air fleet tasked with keeping the Sixth Army alive was told that it would need to supply the trapped army with a minimum of 300 tons of food, fuel and munitions per day. Prior to its encirclement, the Sixth Army had consumed at least 750 tons per day. But meeting even the minimum needs of the Sixth Army would stretch an already overburdened air transport fleet to the breaking point.
The Junkers Ju-52/3m, the workhorse of Germany’s air transport fleet, could carry 2.5 tons of supplies per mission. It would take some 120 sorties per day, requiring at least 300 operational planes, to meet the minimum requirements. It was fantasy to assume that enough aircraft could even be organized to attempt such a feat. At the time the Luftwaffe received the first news of the mission, the daily in-commission rate for the transport fleet in the Stalingrad area was a mere 33 to 40 percent of available aircraft. And there were only 500 transport aircraft on the whole Russian Front.
Even if the necessary aircraft could be found, Luftwaffe personnel were still at the mercy of one of Josef Stalin’s most formidable assets, the weather. Wind, snow and bitter cold closed available airfields one out of three days. Of the six airfields within the 15-mile perimeter of Der Kessel—“the Cauldron”—containing the trapped army, only two were equipped with the radio beacons that would allow for a nonvisual approach and only one of these—Pitomnik—could be used at night and had facilities for large-scale maintenance and loading operations. Those planes lucky enough to land had to deal with snow and ice. Additionally, all aircraft surfaces and runways had to be cleared manually or with crudely improvised equipment. The average temperature at the time was 18 degrees Fahrenheit. But on many days temperatures would drop 10 or 20 degrees and wind would increase to 50 knots. Special heating ovens that blew hot air often had to be used to start aircraft engines and thaw fuel and hydraulic lines and switches.
Maintenance was a constant struggle, and even the simplest repairs were a test of skill and endurance. Much of the work had to be done outside, or in large metal hangars that cut the wind, but did little to provide warmth. Personnel working on the aircraft had to be careful not to touch metal pieces with bare skin lest they risk having it freeze to the plane. Transport aircraft had to be loaded and unloaded by hand because of the small doors on the Ju-52’s fuselage. Flights in and out took, on average, an hour each. In periods of bad weather or congestion the turnaround time was even longer.
None of this took into account the growing strength of the Soviet air force. Jeschonnek was initially confident that the airlift would work because of the success of an operation a year earlier in which the Luftwaffe’s transports had supplied 100,000 men trapped at Demyansk, south of Leningrad, for several months. At the time, Soviet aircraft had offered virtually no threat to the Luftwaffe. Now, the situation had changed. New, more up-to-date Russian fighters were making much more frequent appearances over the battlefield and contesting the Luftwaffe’s previously unquestioned air superiority over the battlefields of the Eastern Front.
The Luftwaffe officers who would be most responsible for carrying out the mission were well aware of the magnitude of the task they had been given—and they were terrified by it. After receiving word of the airlift, Lt. Gen. Martin Fiebig, the commander of the VIII Fliegerkorps in the Stalingrad sector, contacted Maj. Gen. Arthur Schmidt, Sixth Army’s chief of staff, to discuss the operation. Paulus listened in.
Schmidt told Fiebig that pursuant to the Führer’s orders, the Sixth Army planned to form an all-around defensive perimeter and hold out until supplies arrived by air. Fiebig was stunned. “Supplying an army by air was impossible, particularly when our transport aircraft were already heavily committed in North Africa,” he later recollected. (Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa on November 8, had opened up a second front and was already having an impact on the number of military assets available to stabilize the situation around Stalingrad.) “I warned him against exaggerated expectations….I stressed to him again that, based on my experience and knowledge of the means available, supplying Sixth Army by air was simply not feasible.”
Fiebig was not alone in his opposition to the scheme. As soon as he was made aware of the plan, General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, the commander of all Luftwaffe forces in southern Russia and an officer with impeccable National Socialist credentials, judged the idea “sheer madness”—and told this to Göring, Zeitzler, Jeschonnek and almost anybody else who would listen.
When Schmidt briefed Maj. Gen. Wolfgang Pickert, the senior Luftwaffe officer in the Stalingrad pocket, about the Sixth Army’s aerial lifeline, Pickert was flabbergasted: “Supply an entire army by the air? Absolutely impossible!” he declared. “It simply cannot be done, especially in this weather.”
Incredibly, none of this seemed to concern those Wehrmacht commanders whose very survival depended on the Luftwaffe’s ability to keep them supplied. On November 22, Pickert attended a meeting of senior officers within Der Kessel to discuss the situation and available options. With each passing day, the Russians were tightening their grip on the city as well as pushing German troops outside the perimeter farther and farther away from the Volga River. When Pickert urged that the Sixth Army attempt a breakout while it still had the strength to do so and before Soviet lines solidified even further, Schmidt replied that Hitler had ordered the army to stand fast. It was a decision with which he concurred. Moreover, he believed the troops in the pocket already lacked sufficient strength to attempt a breakout. “It [the airlift] simply has to be done,” was all the Sixth Army’s chief of staff could say.
Having been rebuffed by those officers who had it within their means to launch an immediate breakout attempt, Luftwaffe officers searched elsewhere for someone who would listen to their concerns. Thorough professionals, Zeitzler and General Maximilian von Weichs, the commander of Army Group B, were easily convinced. On the afternoon of November 22, following a conversation with Richthofen, Weichs telegraphed the army high command with the warning that “the supply by air of the twenty divisions that constitute this army is not possible. With the air transport available, and in favorable weather conditions, it is possible to carry in only one-tenth of their essential daily requirements.”
None of this, however, could shake Paulus and his chief of staff out of their lethargy. Flying in the face of reason, the two men continued to believe that an airlift was the only option this when every senior Luftwaffe commander and increasing numbers of Wehrmacht officers outside the pocket were saying otherwise. Torn between the reality facing his army and his desire to please the Führer, Paulus vacillated.
Late on the evening of the 22nd, Paulus asked Hitler for “freedom of action.” Lest he be accused of a lack of fortitude, he qualified the request by adding that as long as he could “receive ample airborne supplies,” he would continue to hold “Fortress Stalingrad.” But he must have had a sleepless night, because early the next morning he recanted and asked Hitler for permission to attempt a breakout. It was too late. Like a giant boa constrictor, Soviet forces had completely encircled the city and could now begin the strangulation of the Sixth Army.
Almost entirely out of the picture for days, Hitler finally arrived back at his Wolf’s Lair head- quarters in East Prussia on the morning of the 24th. Briefed on the growing opposition to the airlift among two crucial top Luftwaffe officers and, by now, a handful of senior Wehrmacht generals as well, Hitler nonetheless forbade Paulus from breaking out, saying instead that “air supply by a hundred or more Junkers is getting underway.”
This decision was no irrational boast on the Führer’s part, but one based on what he had been told in Berchtesgaden two days earlier. Since then, Hitler had been relatively isolated from events during the train ride from Bavaria to East Prussia. Interestingly none of the senior Luftwaffe commanders, including Richthofen, Pickert or Fiebig, spoke to Hitler as he rode the rails. His chief counselors on the trip had been Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl, both of whom advocated that Sixth Army hold out until spring if necessary, with Keitel asserting, “the Volga must be held…Sixth Army must hold out!”
And even though Manstein, the general charged with leading the counteroffensive into Stalingrad, would later pillory Göring and the Luftwaffe for the airlift’s failure, he sang a different tune prior to its commencement. As late as the 24th—the day the operation was to finally begin—Manstein telegraphed the high command and stressed that he believed it would be possible for the Sixth Army to hold out so long as things got moving by early December. Ironically, it was only Jeschonnek who, upon further review of the details of the operation and the changing nature of the tactical situation, revised his endorsement and suggested caution. To a man like Hitler, however, such a change of opinion was merely a demonstration of a lack of will and served only to diminish his faith in Jeschonnek and what he had to say.
Hitler and his cronies, however, were far removed from the reality of events at the front. On the 24th, transport planes began heading for Der Kessel. Twenty-four hours later, the day’s results provided an ominous portent of the future. Only 22 of 47 Ju-52s made it into the pocket. The next day was little better, with 30 making the trip. At the end of the first five days of the airlift, only 60 tons had been delivered to Stalingrad, a small fraction of the 1,750 tons that should have made it up to that point. Even so, the Sixth Army continued to sit tight within Stalingrad.
His shopping spree now over, Göring reluctantly left the City of Light and headed to Wolf’s Lair to see how his Luftwaffe was doing. He arrived on the 27th and almost immediately found himself clashing with Zeitzler. The disagreement between the two men quickly devolved into a shouting match, with the Wehrmacht general berating the Luftwaffe chief for ever claiming that his pilots could keep Sixth Army alive.
The verbal joust was going back and forth and the volume and tempers were rising when Hitler walked in. Zeitzler then turned to Hitler and bluntly stated that the Luftwaffe could not keep Sixth Army supplied. “You are not in a position to give an opinion on that,” Göring shot back. Unwilling to back down, Zeitzler asked, “You know what tonnage has to be flown in every day?” All the usually bombastic Luftwaffe chief could manage was a feeble, “I don’t know, but my staff officers do.”
The general, however, was not finished. “Allowing for all the stocks at present with Sixth Army,” he told Hitler, “allowing for absolute minimum needs and the taking of all possible emergency measures, the Sixth Army will require delivery of three hundred tons per day. But since not every day is suitable for flying…this means that about 500 tons will have to be carried to Sixth Army on each and every flying day if the irreducible minimum average is to be maintained.”
Unwilling to lose face, Göring said he could do that, at which an incredulous Zeitzler shouted back: “Mein Führer! That is a lie.” Hitler was now in a trap of his own invention. Having already backed the idea of a resupply mission and wired news of its start to Paulus, Hitler could hardly back down to do so would have been a public admission of fallibility. It would also undermine Göring, who was second only to Hitler in the Reich’s hierarchy. Unwilling to allow either to happen, Hitler said: “The Reichsmarschall has made his report to me, which I have no choice but to believe. I therefore abide by my original decision.”
Meanwhile, the situation within Stalingrad continued to deteriorate. From December 1 to 9, the daily average total was 117 tons. Paulus’ men were now on half rations, and the first cases of death by starvation were being reported. Painfully aware that it was now committed to a losing proposition with little or no hope of success, the Luftwaffe scoured the Reich for obsolete bombers, civilian airliners and just about anything else that could fly in an effort to alleviate the increasing shortfall of supplies within Der Kessel.
Many of the aircraft were flown to Tatsinskaya and Morozovskaya airfields. Tatsinskaya was the primary base for the Ju-52s, Morozovskaya for the Heinkel He-111 bombers that had been pressed into service as transports. Although these additional aircraft helped, bad weather frequently grounded flights and there were days when nothing at all reached Stalingrad.
As the conditions of the soldiers within the perimeter worsened, their ability to fight the Russians and the weather diminished as well. Pilots arriving within the pocket were shocked to discover that it was taking longer and longer to unload aircraft because ground crews were becoming increasingly weak from malnutrition.
The situation had been dire for weeks, but because of poor planning, late movements and the unforeseen necessity to divert badly needed resources to counter Allied moves in North Africa, it was not until December 12 that Manstein’s offensive in support of the Sixth Army was launched. Worse, the attack was far weaker than had been promised. Only two of the 11 expected panzer divisions were available to begin the offensive. Predictably, the relief effort quickly came to a stop well short of its goal. The arrival of a third panzer division helped push the Germans to within 30 miles of Stalingrad by December 19, but that was as far as they would get.
Believing that an attack from two directions, however weak, offered some prospect of success, Manstein urged Paulus to launch an attack of his own from within the perimeter. The Sixth Army commander, however, refused to begin such an action until he received express orders from Hitler.
All the while, the Luftwaffe airmen continued to try to supply their trapped comrades. In purely logistical terms, what they accomplished was a miracle. Despite the shortage of aircraft and facilities, dismal weather and enemy opposition, by mid-December the transport pilots and their crews were bringing upward of 250 tons of supplies a day into the perimeter. As impressive an achievement as that was, however, it was not enough.
Weakened by fatigue and hunger, Paulus’ men found it more and more difficult to maintain their positions. Some airfields had been lost to the Soviets, and worsening weather frequently closed those still in German hands.
Hoping to bring the siege to an end, the Red Army launched a renewed offensive, further deteriorating the situation within Stalingrad and threatening the survival of Manstein’s relief column. Having no desire to share the likely fate of the Sixth Army, and with Hitler breathing down his neck, Manstein bluntly told Paulus that his final chances for a breakout were rapidly disappearing, and that the time had come for critical action.
The Sixth Army’s vacillating commander, however, again refused to undertake such an attempt without Hitler’s permission and continued to enumerate several impractical or impossible preconditions before he could do so. The fate of the Reich hung in the balance—but Hitler could not admit to himself, or others, that he should reconsider the airlift. Instead, he remained silent.
By December 23, Manstein had been stalled for four days and, with his own army group under threat, began to pull out some of his forces. On Christmas Eve, Soviet tanks overran the main airfield at Tatsinskaya, destroying 56 irreplaceable aircraft.
A week later, the Soviet offensive pushed Manstein farther back, and the Luftwaffe’s airfields outside the perimeter were now at least 100 miles away from the city. Rations inside Der Kessel had been reduced to one-third, and deaths due to starvation were commonplace.
Ten days into the new year, the Soviets had gotten close enough to the runway at Pitomnik to shell it. Russian antiaircraft batteries were now set up directly beneath the air corridors into the city, and Red Army soldiers pushed to take the airfield. By January 15, they succeeded.
Desperate, Paulus’ starving men worked to upgrade the facilities at the airfield at Gumrak. By improvising a lighting system from tank and vehicle lights and installing a radio beacon, they made the airfield available for night landings, but by this point aircrews would more often than not airdrop supplies so as to avoid the risk of attempting to land amid a hail of enemy antiaircraft fire. On January 22, Gumrak was lost—and with it, any way of getting in, or out, of the city. Four days later, the Red Army split what remained of the Sixth Army in two and German doctors were told to stop providing rations to the 25,000 wounded soldiers. On the 30th, 10 years after the Nazi seizure of power, Paulus and his staff surrendered.
Stalingrad ranks as the bloodiest single battle in military history. Although estimates vary, it is generally accepted that the Axis armies suffered 740,000 killed or wounded. Of the 110,000 taken into captivity, only 6,000 would ever see home again. The Red Army lost 750,000 killed, wounded or captured, and at least 40,000 civilians were killed.
As bad as the defeat was in purely military terms, the blow to the ordinary German people was worse. As historian Gordon Craig has pointed out, the defeat was “a mind-paralyzing calamity to a nation that believed it was the master race.” Never again would Hitler be able to launch a military offensive of any serious consequence. Dreams of Lebensraum in the East were lost forever along the Volga.
What had gone wrong? How had the once unstoppable Wehrmacht been so decisively beaten? Clearly, Jeschonnek must share some of the blame for first asserting that the Luftwaffe could supply the Sixth Army. Paulus and Schmidt, both highly trained and experienced professional soldiers, must be taken to task for their willingness to bury their heads in the sand about the true situation and passively await a decision from the Führer. Göring, of course, must share some responsibility, if not the lion’s share historians have tended to assign him. Not only was he unprepared to give Hitler an accurate assessment of the situation, but he was also one of the few who might have been able to change Hitler’s mind when the facts became clear. Typically left out of the rogues’ gallery are senior-level Wehrmacht generals such as Manstein, Jodl and Keitel who thought aerial resupply was a terrific idea…until it failed.
Ultimately, however, responsibility for the failure of the airlift and the Sixth Army’s eventual demise rests firmly on Hitler’s shoulders. At almost any point after the encirclement he could have ordered his troops within Der Kessel to attempt a breakout while they were still able. Had it succeeded, a reinforced Sixth Army could have renewed its offensive in the spring, crossing the Volga at other places and bypassing Stalingrad in favor of open country more suitable to its mechanized columns.
Convinced of his own infallibility, Hitler instead created a state in which the rational decision-making process required in the high stakes game of world war was completely lacking. Nazi Germany was never the monolithic totalitarian state of legend, but a hodgepodge of special interests and competing personalities. For it to be otherwise would have required Hitler not to be Hitler.
Bill Barry is a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and Vietnam veteran. A career Air Force officer, Barry is working on a memoir of his Vietnam service and a history of tactical airlift from World War II to the present. For further reading, see Stalingrad, by Antony Beevor.
Originally published in the February 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here.
‘Enemy at the Gates’ - How accurately was the Battle of Stalingrad portrayed in the film?
"Enemy at the Gates gets the look and feel of war right," commented Critics Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, the film critics&rsquo website. However, the love story &ldquoseems to be out of place&rdquo in this historic World War II blockbuster released in 2001. One can argue that this is a gross understatement because more than just the love story is out of place, according to many Russians who saw the movie .
For example, veterans living in the city of Volgograd (Stalingrad&rsquos name since 1961) were shocked by the film, and demanded that it be banned. They complained that the Red Army&rsquos image was distorted: commanders were portrayed as merciless despots, while rank and file soldiers were&ldquovoiceless cannon fodder.&rdquo The authorities, however, did not react to their appeal.
Even though time has passed, the movie remains one of the most popular western films about the Battle of Stalingrad. Millions of people form their understanding of this battle when watching it. So, who is right here from the point of view of historical accuracy - Critic Consensus, or the insulted veterans? Let&rsquos address this question starting with the obvious: We are dealing here with a product of art and creative imagination (although director Jean-Jacques Annaud emphasized in an interview to Russian media that he diligently studied the circumstances of the battle).
The movie&rsquos focal point is a duel between Soviet sniper Vasiliy Zaitsev (Jude Law) and his German counterpart, Major Erwin König (Ed Harris), which really took place during the Stalingrad battle, history&rsquos bloodiest confrontation, drastically changing the course of World War II. The Red Army at first was desperately defending the city (summer-autumn of 1942), and then launched a counteroffensive, encircling hundreds of thousands of German troops (autumn 1942 &ndash winter 1943) .
Jude Law is playing Soviet sniper Vasiliy Zaitsev
Jean-Jacques Annaud/Paramount Pictures, 2001
A critical image of the Red Army is conveyed from the very beginning when the film shows new troops, among which is the main character, Zaitsev, arriving at the Stalingrad front. On their way they are screamed at, threatened and humiliated by commanders. They are transported in crowded boxcars like cattle and the cars are locked from the outside. This is done, as one might guess, to stop soldiers from deserting. However, according to military historian Boris Yulin, this could not have taken place because it was forbidden. Indeed, in the case of a German air raid or shelling the men locked inside would be dead men.
After reaching the opposite bank, the soldiers are given weapons, but there aren&rsquot enough rifles for everybody, so one soldier gets a rifle while another gets the ammunition for it. Soldiers are told to take the weapon from those killed in action. One doesn't have to be a historian or a specialist in warfare to understand that this makes no sense: none of the soldiers would be able to fight since one lacks a rifle and the other lacks ammunition. This means that Red Army commanders sent their soldiers to fight essentially without weapons .
The movie shows that Red Army commanders sent their soldiers to fight essentially without weapons
Jean-Jacques Annaud/Paramount Pictures, 2001
Was the situation with weapons truly so dire for the Soviets as portrayed in the movie? Historians point out that there were shortages of rifles, but that was in the early period of war, when due to heavy losses authorities had to form militia regiments that often were poorly armed. However, by autumn 1942 the situation had changed. &ldquoThere were no unarmed soldiers sent to the attack&hellip What is shown in Enemy at the Gates is pure nonsense,&rdquo confirmed historian Alexey Isaev, author of several books about the Battle of Stalingrad.
One of the film&rsquos most vivid scenes is an attack by the newly-arrived Soviet troops against well-fortified German positions. The attack, which started like a sports match with a whistle blow, quickly withers away, but when the troops start retreating they are machine-gunned by a punitive detachment. It makes one wonder: Who killed more Soviet soldiers - the Germans or Soviet brothers-in-arms.
Such punitive regiments did exist in the Red Army, and indeed they were charged with stopping panic in the ranks and to prevent unauthorized retreats with force.
The attack started like a sports match with a whistle blow
Jean-Jacques Annaud/Paramount Pictures, 2001
However, Stalin&rsquos infamous order No 227, "Not a step back!", which authorised the use of these regiments on a large scale, stipulated that there should be up to five such detachments (consisting of 200 soldiers each) per army formation (more than 50,000 people).
There is also plenty of data about what these regiments did. From Aug. 1 to Oct. 15, 1942, the detachments detained 140,775 people who left their positions (these were not only deserters but also soldiers fighting their way out of encirclement). The majority were sent back to the army (131,000) whilst 3,900 were arrested and 1,189 shot (less than 1%).
Alexey Isaev points out that in the conditions of urban warfare the punitive detachments could hardly be used effectively, and so &ldquotheir role was minimal&rdquo. &ldquoMost often they were used [in Stalingrad] as usual combat regiments.&rdquo However, it seems that such scenes are made to emphasize the main message &ndash &ldquomost Soviet soldiers needed a literal gun in the back in order to go into battle&rdquo to use the words of a blogger.
This, however, it&rsquos not the way Russians have been brought up to think about the Battle of Stalingrad, where there were many cases of true heroism and sacrifice. Due to the fact that such bravery was very common, it&rsquos highly unlikely that Soviet soldiers were motivated by fear.
If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.
3 reasons why the Red Army won the Battle of Stalingrad
The German onslaught in the summer of 1942 on Stalingrad was almost impossible to stop. Berlin aspired to take the city at any cost and cut supply routes via the Volga River and deprive Moscow of Caucasian oil. To counter the German offensive the Soviets accumulated all their resources. To boost the morale and discipline of the troops Joseph Stalin issued the famous Order 227. It blamed &ldquos ome stupid people at the front&rdquo who &ldquocalm themselves with talk that we can retreat further to the east&rdquo and stated that it was &ldquotime to finish retreating.&rdquo
&ldquoNot one step back! Such should now be our main slogan.&rdquo
In August the retreat stopped at Stalingrad. Another slogan of that time was &ldquoThere is no land for us behind the Volga River.&rdquo The city authorities urged its residents to turn &ldquoevery block of flats, every quarter, every street into an unwinnable fortress.&rdquo That is pretty much what happened and the resistance shown by the troops and city&rsquos residents was remarkable.
The German Luftwaffe bombs Stalingrad in September 1942
Berliner Verlag/Archive//Global Look Press
One German officer recalled what the battle of Stalingrad was like: &ldquoThe enemy holds some of the Red October plant&rsquos territory. The main source of resistance is the open hearth shop. Taking it means the fall of Stalingrad. It&rsquos been bombed by our planes for weeks&hellipThere&rsquos no untouched place left here&hellip In three hours we managed to move ahead by only 70 meters! At that very moment a red flare appeared, then a green one. It means the Russians have started a counterattack&hellipI do not understand where the Russians get their energy. It&rsquos the first time in this war I&rsquove encountered a task I cannot accomplish&hellipNow the open hearth shop is entirely under the control of the Russians.&rdquo (The link is in Russian)
2. Mass heroism
The strong Soviet resistance would not have been possible without the mass heroism of Stalingrad&rsquos defenders. The medal &ldquoFor the Defense of Stalingrad&rdquo was given to about 760,000 Soviet soldiers. Over 100 soldiers were decorated with the highest award, the Hero of the Soviet Union , that marked cases of exceptional courage and self-sacrifice.
Pavlov&rsquos House , an ordinary four-story apartment building, became a symbol of the resistance by the Red Army soldiers in Stalingra d. It was defended by only 24 people but the Germans could not take it during their three month assault on the city. One of the commanding generals of the Soviet forces in Stalingrad, Vasily Chuikov, pointed out that the Germans lost more men trying to take Pavlov's House than they did taking Paris.
Every building in Stalingrad was turned into a fortress
Georgy Lipskerov/Global Look Press
Mamayev Kurgan, a dominant height overlooking the city and another symbol of the heroic resistance, witnessed particularly fierce fighting. Control over the hill meant control over the city. The Soviet troops defended their positions on the slopes of the hill throughout the battle. Tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers died fighting for the height. After the battle it was discovered that the soil on the hill contained between 500 and 1,250 pieces of shrapnel per square meter.
3. German mistakes
The success of the Soviet counteroffensive that started in mid-November was partly determined by the mistakes of German commanders. The initial one concerned the fact that the Wehrmacht overestimated its potential and tried to deal two blows at a time: One to the Caucasus to take Azerbaijani oil and a second on Stalingrad. The Germans dispersed their forces. As Major general Hans Doerr later wrote: &ldquoStalingrad has to enter history as the greatest mistake ever committed by military commanders, as the greatest disdain to the live organism of the army ever demonstrated by the leadership of the country&rdquo (the article is in Russian).
The battle of Stalingrad was a turning point in WWII
By November another mistake had been committed. In trying to take Stalingrad, the German army stretched its flanks for hundreds of kilometers, certain that after their onslaught the Red Army had no resources to counter. What was worse for Berlin was that the stretched flanks consisted of a Allied troops: Italians, Hungarians, and Romanians - who were inferior to the Wehrmacht. The Chief of the Army General Staff in the Wehrmacht - Kurt Zeitzler - recalled later that he warned Hitler that around Stalingrad &ldquothere was a serious danger that should have been liquidated.&rdquo In response, Hitler called him a &ldquodesperate pessimist.&rdquo
Around 91 000 German prisoners were captured in the battle of Stalingrad
What was also important, Zeitzler noted, was that by autumn of 1942 combat effectiveness of the Soviet troops increased as well as the level of their commanders&rdquo (the article is in Russian). So, when the Soviets accumulated the necessary forces, the Red Army needed just four days to break the ranks of the Axis troops and encircle around 300,000 German soldiers.
If you want to know more about the battle of Stalingrad, read the recollections of those who experienced those traumatic events.
If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.