Battle of Stalingrad

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Battle of Stalingrad
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
German pows stalingrad 1943.jpg
German soldiers being lead to Soviet POW camps pass a bombed out building in Stalingrad, February 1943
Date August 21, 1942 – February 2, 1943
Location Stalingrad, USSR
Result Decisive Soviet victory
Flag of Germany 1933.svg Germany
Rumania.gif Romania
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Italy
Flag of Hungary 1940.svg Hungary
Flag of Croatia Ustasa.svg Croatia
Flag of the Soviet Union 1923.svg Soviet Union
Flag of Germany 1933.svg Adolf Hitler
25px Friedrich Paulus #
25px Erich von Manstein
25px Hermann Hoth
Rumania.gif Petre Dumitrescu
25pxConstantin Constantinescu
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Italo Garibaldi
Flag of Hungary 1940.svg Gusztav Jany
Flag of the Soviet Union 1923.svg Vasiliy Chuikov
25px Aleksandr Vasilyevskiy
25px Georgiy Zhukov
25px Semyon Timoshenko
25px Konstantin Rokossovskiy
25px Rodion Malinovskiy
25px Andrei Yeremenko
Army Group B:
German Sixth Army #
German Fourth Panzer Army
Romanian Third Army
Romanian Fourth Army
Italian Eighth Army
Hungarian Second Army

Total: 850,000?
Stalingrad Front
Southwestern Front
Don Front

Total: 1,700,000?
740,000 killed or wounded,?

110,000 captured?

750,000 killed, wounded or captured?,
40,000+ civilian dead?

The Battle of Stalingrad was a battle between Germany and its Allies and the Soviet Union for the Soviet city of Stalingrad (today known as Volgograd) that took place between August 21, 1942 and February 2, 1943, as part of World War II. It was the turning point of World War II in the European Theater and was arguably the bloodiest battle in human history, with combined casualties estimated above 1.5 million. The battle was marked by brutality and disregard for military and civilian casualties on both sides. The battle is taken to include the German siege of Stalingrad, the battle inside the city, and the Soviet counter-offensive which eventually trapped and destroyed the German Sixth Army and other Axis forces around the city. The Soviet victory at Stalingrad saw the Germans pushed back towards the West, allowing the Soviet advance on Berlin from the East. Indirectly, it resulted in Soviet domination of East Europe and the creation of proxy socialist republics from the end of the Second World War until the end of the Cold War.

Eastern Front
Barbarossa – Baltic Sea – Finland – Leningrad and Baltics – Crimea and Caucasus – Moscow – 1st Rzhev-Vyazma – 2nd Kharkov – BlueStalingrad – Velikiye Luki – 2nd Rzhev-Sychevka – Kursk2nd Smolensk – Dnieper – 2nd Kiev – Korsun – Hube's Pocket – Baltic – Bagration – Lvov-Sandomierz – Lublin-Brest – Balkans (Iassy-Kishinev) – Balkans (Budapest) – Vistula-Oder – East Prussia – East Pomerania – Silesia – Berlin – Prague – Vienna
Operation Blue to 3rd Kharkov
Blue – Voronezh – Edelweiss – Stalingrad – Uranus – Winter Storm – Saturn – Tatsinskaya Raid – 3rd Kharkov


On June 22, 1941, Germany and the Axis powers invaded the Soviet Union, quickly advancing deep into Soviet territory. Having suffered multiple defeats during the summer and autumn of 1941, Soviet forces counter-attacked in the Battle of Moscow in December. The exhausted German forces, ill equipped for winter warfare and with overstretched supply lines, were stopped in their drive towards the capital.

The Germans stabilized their front by spring 1942. The Wehrmacht was confident it could master the Red Army when the winter weather no longer impeded its mobility. There was some substance to this. Army Group Centre had suffered heavy punishment, however sixty-five percent of the infantry had not been engaged in the winter fighting, and had spent it resting and refitting[1]. Part of the German military philosophy was to attack where least expected, so that rapid gains could be made. An attack on Moscow was seen as too predictable by some, most notably Hitler. Along with this, the German High Command knew that time was running out for them. The United States had entered the war following Germany's declaration of war, in support of its Japanese Ally. Hitler wanted to end the fighting on the Eastern Front or at least minimize it before the U.S. had a chance to get deeply involved in the war in Europe.

Importance of Stalingrad

The capture of Stalingrad was important to Hitler for several reasons. It was a major industrial city on the banks of the Volga River (a vital transport route between the Caspian Sea and northern Russia) and its capture would secure the left flank of the German armies as they advanced into the Caucasus with large oil deposits, hard shortages of which were experienced by the German army. Finally, the fact that the city bore the name of Hitler’s nemesis, Joseph Stalin, would make the city’s capture an ideological and propaganda coup. Stalin realized this and ordered anyone that was strong enough to hold a rifle be sent out to war.[2] It is believed that Stalin also had an ideological and propaganda interest in defending the city which bore his name, but the fact remains that Stalin was under tremendous constraints of time and resources. During the Russian Civil War he played a prominent role in the Soviet defense of Tsaritsyn (as Stalingrad was then known), from White forces. Also, the Red Army, at this stage of the war, was less capable of highly mobile operations than the German Army. The prospect of combat inside a large urban area, which would be dominated by short-range small arms fire and artillery rather than armored and mechanized tactics, minimized the Red Army’s disadvantages against the Germans.

Operation Blau / Blue

Army Group South was selected for a sprint forward through the southern Russian steppes into the Caucasus to capture the vital Soviet oil fields. These oil fields were a key goal for Hitler and instead of focusing his attention on the key capital of Moscow as his generals advised, he continued to send his forces and supplies to the southern Russian front. The summer offensive was code-named Fall Blau (trans.: “Case Blue”). It was to include the German Sixth Army and Seventeenth Army and the Fourth Panzer Army and First Panzer Army. In 1941, Army Group South had conquered the Ukrainian SSR, and was positioned at the area of the planned offensive.

Hitler intervened, however, ordering the Army Group to be split in two. Army Group South (A), under the command of Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist, was to continue advancing south towards the Caucasus as planned with the Seventeenth Army and First Panzer Army. Army Group South (B), including Friedrich Paulus’s Sixth Army and Hermann Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army, was to move east towards the Volga and the city of Stalingrad. Army Group B was commanded by General Maximilian von Weichs.

The start of Operation Blau had been planned for late May 1942. However, a number of German and Romanian units that were involved in Blau were then in the process of besieging Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. Delays in ending the siege pushed back the start date for Blau several times, and the city did not fall until the end of June. A smaller action was taken in the meantime, pinching off a Soviet salient in the Second Battle of Kharkov, which resulted in the pocketing of a large Soviet force on 22 May.

Blau finally opened as Army Group South began its attack into southern Russia on June 28, 1942. The German offensive started well. Soviet forces offered little resistance in the vast empty steppes, and started streaming eastward in disarray. Several attempts to form defensive lines failed when other German units outflanked Soviet defensive lines. Two major pockets were formed and destroyed, the first north-east of Kharkov on July 2, a second around Millerovo, Rostov Oblast a week later.

Meanwhile the Hungarian Second Army and the German 4th Panzer Division had launched an assault on Voronezh, capturing the city on the 5th of July.

Operation Blau: German advances from 7 May 1942 to 18 November 1942 ██ to 7 July 1942 ██ to 22 July 1942 ██ to 1 August 1942 ██ to 18 November 1942

The initial advance of the Sixth Army was so successful that Hitler intervened, and ordered the 4th Panzer Division to join Army Group South (A) to the south. A massive traffic jam resulted when the Fourth Army and the Sixth both required the few roads in the area. Both armies were stopped dead while they attempted to clear the resulting mess of thousands of vehicles. The delay was long, and it is thought that it cost the advance at least one week. With the advance now slowed, Hitler changed his mind and re-assigned the Fourth Panzer Army back to the attack on Stalingrad.

By the end of July the Germans had pushed the Soviets across the Don River. At this point the Germans established defensive lines using the armies of their Italian, Hungarian and Romanian allies. The German Sixth Army was only a few dozen kilometers from Stalingrad, and Fourth Panzer Army, now to their south, turned northwards to help take the city. To the south, Army Group A was pushing far into the Caucasus, but their advance slowed. Army Group A’s forces were deployed far to the south and provided no support to Army Group B in the north.

Now German intentions became clear to the Soviet commanders: in July Soviet plans were developed for the defense in Stalingrad. Soviet troops still moving eastwards before the Germans offensive were ordered into Stalingrad. The eastern border of Stalingrad was the wide Volga River, and over the river additional Soviet units were deployed. This combination of units became the newly formed 62nd Army under the command of Vasiliy Chuikov. Its mission was to defend Stalingrad at all costs.

Beginning of the battle

The battle began with the heavy bombing of the city by the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. The sprawling metropolis became a graveyard. Many died once the battle began, and the city became a shell of its former self. Still, many buildings survived and factory workers joined in the fighting.

Stalin prevented civilians from leaving the city on the premise that their presence would encourage greater resistance from the city's defenders. Civilians, including women and children, were put to work building trenchworks and protective fortifications. A massive German air bombardment on August 23 caused a firestorm, killing thousands and turning Stalingrad into a vast landscape of rubble and burnt ruins.[3] Eighty percent of the living space in the city was destroyed.

The burden of the initial defense of the city fell on the 1077th Anti-Aircraft (AA) Regiment, a unit made up mainly of young women volunteers who had no training on engaging ground targets. Despite this, and with no support available from other Soviet units, the AA gunners stayed at their posts and took on the advancing Panzers. The German 16th Panzer Division reportedly had to fight the 1077th’s gunners "shot for shot" until all 37 AA batteries were destroyed or overrun.[4] In the beginning, the Soviets relied extensively on "Workers militias" composed of workers not directly involved in war production. For a short time, tanks continued to be produced and then manned by volunteer crews of factory workers. They were driven directly from the factory floor to the front line, often without paint or even gunsights.

By the end of August, Army Group South (B) had finally reached the Volga, north of Stalingrad. Another advance to the river south of the city followed. By September 1, the Soviets could only reinforce and supply their forces in Stalingrad by perilous crossings of the Volga, under constant bombardment by German artillery and planes.

Amid the debris of the wrecked city, the Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies, which included the Soviet 13th Guards Rifle Division anchored their defense lines with strongpoints in houses and factories. Fighting was fierce and desperate. The life expectancy of a newly arrived Soviet private in the city dropped to less than 24 hours and the life expectancy of a soviet officer was about three days. Stalin's Order No. 227 of July 27 1942, decreed that all commanders who order unauthorized retreat should be subjects of a military tribunal. “Not a step back!” was the slogan. The Germans pushing forward into Stalingrad suffered heavy casualties.

Street fighting in Stalingrad.

German military doctrine was based on the principle of combined-arms teams and close cooperation by tanks, infantry, engineers, artillery, and ground-attack aircraft. To counter this, Soviet commanders adopted the simple expedient of always keeping the front lines as close together as physically possible. Chuikov called this tactic "hugging" the Germans. This forced the German infantry to either fight on their own or risk taking casualties from their own supporting fire; it neutralized close German air support and weakened artillery support. Bitter fighting raged for every street, every factory, every house, basement and staircase. The Germans, calling this unseen urban warfare Rattenkrieg ("rat war"), bitterly joked about capturing the kitchen but still fighting for the living-room.

Fighting on Mamayev Kurgan, a prominent, blood-soaked hill above the city, was particularly merciless. The position changed hands many times.[5] During one Soviet counter-attack, the Russians lost an entire division of 10,000 men in one day. At the Grain Elevator, a huge grain-processing complex dominated by a single enormous silo, combat was so close that Soviet and German soldiers could hear each other breathe. Combat raged there for weeks. When German soldiers finally took the position, only 40 Soviet soldier's bodies could be found, though the Germans had thought there to be many more Soviet soldiers present, due to the ferocity of Soviet resistance. In another part of the city, a Soviet platoon under the command of Yakov Pavlov turned an apartment building into an impenetrable fortress. The building, later called “Pavlov's House,” oversaw a square in the city center. The soldiers surrounded it with minefields, set up machine-gun positions at the windows, and breached the walls in the basement for better communications.

With no end in sight, the Germans started transferring heavy artillery to the city, including the gigantic 800 mm railroad gun nicknamed Dora. The Germans made no effort to send a force across the Volga, allowing the Soviets to build up a large number of artillery batteries there. Soviet artillery on the eastern bank continued to bombard the German positions. The Soviet defenders used the resulting ruins as defensive positions. German tanks became useless amid heaps of rubble up to 8 meters high. When they were able to move forward, they came under Soviet antitank fire from wrecked buildings.

Soviet snipers also successfully used the ruins to inflict heavy casualties on the Germans. The most successful sniper was Ivan Mikhailovich Sidorenko of the Soviet 1122nd Rifle Regiment, who had made approximately 500 kills by the end of the war. Soviet sources state that 1,000 of the snipers were Soviet women. [6] [7]. Vasiliy Grigor´yevich Zaytsev was credited with 242 kills during the battle. He also is thought to have killed an infamous German sniper by the name of Heinz Thorvald (a story dramatized in the David L. Robbins book, War Of The Rats and in the film Enemy at the Gates), but most historians believe this tale to be apocryphal.

For both Stalin and Hitler, the battle of Stalingrad became a prestige issue, on top of the actual strategic significance of the battle. The Soviet command moved the Red Army's strategic reserves from the Moscow area to the lower Volga, and transferred aircraft from the entire country to the Stalingrad region. The strain on both military commanders was immense: Paulus developed an uncontrollable tic in his eye, while Chuikov experienced an outbreak of eczema that required him to bandage his hands completely. The troops on both sides faced the constant strain of close-range combat.

In November, after three months of carnage and slow and costly advance, the Germans finally reached the river banks, capturing 90 percent of the ruined city and splitting the remaining Soviet forces into two narrow pockets. In addition, ice-floes on the Volga now prevented boats and tugs from supplying the Soviet defenders across the river. Nevertheless the fighting, especially on the slopes of Mamayev Kurgan and inside the factory area in the northern part of the city, continued as fiercely as ever. The battles for the Red October Steel Factory, the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory and the Barrikady gun factory became world famous. While Soviet soldiers defended their positions and took the Germans under fire, factory workers repaired damaged Soviet tanks and other weapons close to the battlefield, sometimes on the battlefield itself.

Soviet counteroffensive

During the siege, the German, Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian armies protecting Army Group South (B)'s flanks had pressed their headquarters for support. The Hungarian Second Army consisting of mainly ill-equipped and ill-trained units was given the task of defending a 200 km section of the front north of Stalingrad. This resulted in a very thin line of defense with some parts where 1–2 km stretches were being guarded by a single platoon. Soviet forces held several points on the south bank of the river and presented a potentially serious threat to Army Group South (B). However, Hitler was so focused on the city itself that requests from the flanks for support were refused. The chief of the Army General Staff, Franz Halder, expressed concerns about Hitler's preoccupation with the city, pointing at the Germans' weak flanks. Hitler replaced Halder in mid-October with General Kurt Zeitzler.

Operation Uranus

The Soviet counter-attack at Stalingrad
German front, 19 November
German front, 12 December
German front, 24 December
██ Russian advance, 19-28 November

In autumn the Soviet generals Aleksandr Vasilyevskiy and Georgy Zhukov, responsible for strategic planning in the Stalingrad area, concentrated massive Soviet forces in the steppes to the north and south of the city. The German northern flank was particularly vulnerable, since it was defended by Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian units that suffered from inferior training, equipment, and morale when compared with their German counterparts. This weakness was known and exploited by the Soviets, who preferred to make their breakthroughs against non-German troops whenever that was possible, just as the British preferred attacking Italian troops, instead of German ones, whenever possible, in North Africa. The plan was to keep pinning the Germans down in the city, then punch through the overstretched and weakly defended German flanks and surround the Germans inside Stalingrad. During the preparations for the attack, Marshal Zhukov personally visited the front, which was rare for such a high-ranking general.[8] The operation was code-named “Uranus” and launched in conjunction with Operation Mars, which was directed at Army Group Center. The plan was similar to Zhukov's victory at Khalkin Gol three years before, where he had sprung a double envelopment and destroyed the 23rd Division of the Japanese army.[9]

On November 19, the Red Army unleashed Uranus. The attacking Soviet units under the command of Gen. Nikolay Vatutin consisted of three complete armies, the 1st Guards Army, 5th Tank Army, and 21st Army, including a total of 18 infantry divisions, eight tank brigades, two motorized brigades, six cavalry divisions and one anti-tank brigade. The preparations for the attack could be heard by the Romanians, who continued to push for reinforcements, only to be refused again. Thinly spread, outnumbered and poorly equipped, the Romanian Third Army, which held the northern flank of German Sixth Army, was shattered. On November 20, a second Soviet offensive (two armies) was launched to the south of Stalingrad, against points held by the Romanian IV Corps. The Romanian forces, made up primarily of infantry, collapsed almost immediately. Soviet forces raced west in a pincer movement, and met two days later near the town of Kalach, sealing the ring around Stalingrad. The Russians filmed this linkup for later use as propaganda, and the piece of footage is famous today, though it is not of the actual linkup. Instead, the Russians had to stage and film it later because they had no cameras available the first time.

The pocket

Because of the Soviet pincer attack, about 250,000 German and Romanian soldiers, as well as some Croatian units and volunteer subsidiary troops found themselves trapped inside the resulting pocket. Inside the pocket (German: kessel) there also were the surviving Soviet civilians—around 10,000,[10] and several thousand Soviet soldiers the Germans had taken captive during the battle. Not all German soldiers from Sixth Army were trapped; 50,000 were brushed aside outside the pocket. The encircling Red Army units immediately formed two defensive fronts: a circumvallation facing 'inward', to defend against breakout attempt, and a contravallation facing 'outward' to defend against any relief attempt.

Adolf Hitler had declared in a public speech on September 30 that the German army would never leave the city. At a meeting shortly after the Soviet encirclement, German army chiefs pushed for an immediate breakout to a new line on the west of the Don. But Hitler was at his Bavarian retreat of Obersalzberg in Berchtesgaden with the head of the Luftwaffe, Jeschonnek. When asked by Hitler, Jeschonnek replied, without much thought, that the Luftwaffe could supply the Sixth Army with an "air bridge." This would allow the Germans in the city to fight on while a relief force was assembled.

A similar plan had been used successfully a year earlier at the Demyansk Pocket, albeit on a much smaller scale: it had been only an army corps at Demyansk as opposed to an entire army. Also, Soviet fighter forces had improved considerably in both quality and quantity in the intervening year. But the mention of the successful Demyansk air supply operation reinforced Hitler's own views, and was endorsed by Hermann Göring several days later.

The head of the Fourth Air Fleet (Luftflotte 4), Wolfram von Richthofen, tried in vain to overturn this decision without success. The Sixth Army would be supplied by air. The Sixth Army was the largest unit of this type in the world, almost twice as large as a regular German army. Also trapped in the pocket was a corps of the Fourth Panzer Army. It should have been clear that supplying the pocket by air was impossible: the Luftwaffe’s carrying capacity after the Battle of Crete had not been reinforced, and the maximum 300 metric tons they could deliver a day would be less than the 500 needed by the pocket. To supplement the limited number of Junkers Ju 52 transports, bomber units equipped with aircraft wholly inadequate for the role (such as the Heinkel He-111 and He-177) were pressed into service. But Hitler backed Göring's plan and reiterated his order of "no surrender" to his trapped armies.

The air supply mission failed almost immediately. Heavy Soviet anti-aircraft fire and fighter interceptions led to the loss of over 490 German transport aircraft. The winter weather also reduced the flying efficiency of the German Air Force. In general, only ten percent of the needed supplies could be delivered. Even then, it was often inadequate or unnecessary; one aircraft arrived with 20 metric tons of Vodka and summer uniforms, completely useless in their current situation.[11] The transport planes that did land safely were used to evacuate technical specialists and sick or wounded men from the besieged enclave (some 42,000 were evacuated in all). The Sixth Army slowly starved. Pilots were shocked to find the troops assigned to offloading the planes too exhausted and hungry to unload food. General Zeitzler, moved by the troops' plight at Stalingrad, began to limit himself to their slim rations at meal times. After a few weeks of such a diet he'd grown so emaciated that Hitler, annoyed, personally ordered him to start eating regular meals again.

Operation Saturn

Soviet forces consolidated their positions around Stalingrad, and fierce fighting to shrink the pocket began. An attack by a German battlegroup formed to relieve the trapped armies from the South, Operation Wintergewitter (“Winter Storm”) was successfully fended off by the Soviets in December. The full impact of the harsh Russian winter set in. The Volga froze solid, allowing the Soviets to supply their forces in the city more easily. The trapped Germans rapidly ran out of heating fuel and medical supplies, and thousands started dying of frostbite, malnutrition and disease.

On December 16, the Soviets launched a second offensive, Operation Saturn, which attempted to punch through the Axis army on the Don and take Rostov. If successful, this offensive would have trapped the remainder of Army Group South, one third of the entire German Army in Russia, in the Caucasus. The Germans set up a "mobile defense" in which small units would hold towns until supporting armor could arrive. The Soviets never got close to Rostov, but the fighting forced von Manstein to extract Army Group A from the Caucasus and restabilize the frontline some 250 km away from the city. The Tatsinskaya Raid also caused significant losses to Luftwaffe’s transport fleet. The Sixth Army now was beyond all hope of German reinforcement. The German troops in Stalingrad were not told this, however, and continued to believe that reinforcements were on their way. Some German officers requested that Paulus defy Hitler’s orders to stand fast and instead attempt to break out of the Stalingrad pocket. Paulus refused, as he abhorred the thought of disobeying orders. Also, whereas a breakout may have been possible in the first few weeks, at this late stage, Sixth Army was short of the fuel required for such a breakout. The German soldiers would have faced great difficulty breaking through the Soviet lines on foot in harsh winter conditions.[12]

Soviet victory

The Germans inside the pocket retreated from the suburbs of Stalingrad to the city itself. The loss of the two airfields at Pitomnik and Gumrak by January 25 meant an end to air supplies and to the evacuation of the wounded.[13] The Germans were now not only starving, but running out of ammunition. Nevertheless they continued to resist stubbornly, partly because they believed the Soviets would execute those who surrendered. In particular, the so-called "HiWis," Soviet citizens fighting for the Germans, had no illusions about their fate if captured. The Soviets, in turn, were initially surprised by the large number of German forces they had trapped, and had to reinforce their encircling forces. Bloody urban warfare began again in Stalingrad, but this time it was the Germans who were pushed back to the banks of the Volga. A Soviet envoy made Paulus a generous surrender offer—to include a guarantee of safety to all prisoners, medical care for the German sick and wounded, a promise that prisoners would be allowed to keep their personal belongings, "normal" food rations, and repatriation to whatever country they wished to go to after the war—but Paulus, torn by his sense of duty and the suffering of his men, chose the former and turned down the offer, ensuring the destruction of the 6th Army.

Hitler promoted Friedrich Paulus to Generalfeldmarschall on January 30, 1943, (the 10th anniversary of Hitler coming to power). Since no German Field Marshal had ever been taken prisoner, Hitler assumed that Paulus would fight on or take his own life. Nevertheless, when Soviet forces closed in on Paulus' headquarters in the ruined GUM department store the next day, Paulus surrendered. The remnants of the German forces in Stalingrad surrendered on February 2; 91,000 tired, ill, and starving Germans were taken captive. To the delight of the Soviet forces and the dismay of the Third Reich, the prisoners included 22 generals. Hitler was furious at the Field Marshal’s surrender and confided that "Paulus stood at the doorstep of eternal glory but made an about-face."

German Waffen-SS soldiers celebrating a success near Stalingrad, 1942

According to the German documentary film Stalingrad, over 11,000 German and Axis soldiers refused to lay down their arms at the official surrender, seemingly believing that fighting to the death was better than what seemed like a slow end in Soviet prisoner of war camp. These forces continued to resist until early March 1943, hiding in cellars and sewers of the city with their numbers being diminished at the same time by Soviet forces clearing the city of remaining enemy resistance. By March, what remained of these forces were small and isolated pockets of resistance that surrendered. According to Soviet intelligence documents shown in the documentary, 2,418 of the men were killed, and 8,646 were captured.[14]

Only 6,000 of the 91,000 German prisoners of war survived their captivity and returned home. Already weakened by disease, starvation and lack of medical care during the encirclement, they were sent to labour camps all over the Soviet Union, where most of them died of overwork and malnutrition. A handful of senior officers were taken to Moscow and used for propaganda purposes. Some, including Paulus, signed anti-Hitler statements which were broadcast to German troops. General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach offered to raise an anti-Hitler army from the Stalingrad survivors, but the Soviets did not accept this offer. It was not until 1955 that the last of the handful of survivors were repatriated.

The German public was not officially told of the disaster until the end of January 1943, though positive reports in the German propaganda media about the battle had stopped in the weeks before the announcement. It was not the first major setback of the German military, but the crushing defeat at Stalingrad was unmatched in scale. On February 18, the minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, gave his famous Sportpalast speech in Berlin, encouraging the Germans to accept a total war which would claim all resources and efforts from the entire population.


The scope of the battle

The aftermath of the Battle of Stalingrad

The battle of Stalingrad was the largest single battle in human history. It raged for 199 days. Numbers of casualties are difficult to compile due to the vast scope of the battle and the fact that the Soviet government did not allow estimates to be made, for fear the cost would be shown to be too high. In its initial phases, the Germans inflicted heavy casualties on Soviet formations; but the Soviet encirclement by punching through the German flank, mainly held by Romanian troops, effectively besieged the remainder of German Sixth Army, which had taken heavy casualties in street fighting prior to this. At different times the Germans had held up to 90% of the city, yet the Soviet soldiers and officers fought on fiercely. Some elements of the German Fourth Panzer Army also suffered casualties in operations around Stalingrad during the Soviet counter offensive.

Various scholars have estimated the Axis suffered 850,000 casualties of all types (wounded, killed, captured...etc) among all branches of the German armed forces and its allies, many of which were POWs who died in Soviet captivity between 1943 and 1955: 400,000 Germans, 200,000 Romanians, 130,000 Italians, and 120,000 Hungarians were killed, wounded or captured[15]. Of all of the German POWs taken at Stalingrad, only 5,000 returned to Germany in 1955. All of the rest of the POWs died in Soviet captivity[16]. The Germans were also harsh on Russian POWs. In addition, as many as 50,000 ex-Soviets HiWis were killed or captured by the Red Army. According to archival figures, the Red Army suffered a total of 1,129,619 total casualties; 478,741 men killed and captured and 650,878 wounded. These numbers, however, include a wide scope of operations. Also, more than 40,000 Soviet civilians died in Stalingrad and its suburbs during a single week of aerial bombing as the German Fourth Panzer and Sixth armies approached the city; the total number of civilians killed in the regions outside the city is unknown. In all, the battle resulted in an estimated total of 1.7 million to 2 million Axis and Soviet casualties.

Besides being a turning point in the war, Stalingrad was also revealing in terms of the discipline and determination of both the German Wehrmacht and the Soviet Red Army, though this was often maintained by brutal enforcement of commands. The Soviets first defended Stalingrad against a fierce German onslaught. So great were Soviet losses that at times, the life expectancy of a newly arrived soldier was less than a day,[17] and life expectancy of Soviet officer was three days. Their sacrifice is immortalized by a soldier of General Rodimtsev, about to die, who scratched on the wall of the main railway station (which changed hands 15 times during the battle) “Rodimtsev’s Guardsmen fought and died here for their Motherland.”

For the heroism of the Soviet defenders of Stalingrad, the city was awarded the title Hero City in 1945. After the war, in the 1960s, a colossal monument of “Mother Motherland” was erected on Mamayev Kurgan, the hill overlooking the city. The statue forms part of a memorial complex which includes ruined walls deliberately left the way they were after the battle. The Grain Elevator, as well as Pavlov's House, the apartment building whose defenders eventually held out for two months until they were relieved, can still be visited. Even today, one may find bones and rusty metal splinters on Mamayev Kurgan, symbols of both the human suffering during the battle and the successful yet costly resistance against the German invasion.

On the other side, the German Army showed remarkable discipline after being surrounded. It was the first time that it had operated under adverse conditions on such a scale. Short of food and clothing, during the latter part of the siege, many German soldiers starved or froze to death.[18] Yet, discipline and obedience to authority prevailed, until the very end, when resistance no longer served any useful purpose, Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Paulus obeyed Hitler's orders, against many of Hitler's top generals' counsel and advice, such as Von Manstein, to not attempt to break out of the city before German ammunition, supplies, and food became totally exhausted. Hitler ordered Paulus to stay, and then promoted him to Field Marshal. Hitler, acting on Göring's advice, believed the German 6th Army could be supplied by air; the Luftwaffe had successfully accomplished an aerial resupply in January 1942, when a German garrison was surrounded in Demyansk for four months by the Red Army. However, Göring and Hitler failed to see the obvious differences, in terms of the difficulty of supplying a garrison as opposed to supplying the remnants of an embattled and encircled army. By the time Hitler made him a Field Marshal, even Paulus knew Stalingrad was lost and the air lift had failed. Hitler thought that Paulus would commit suicide, the traditional German General's method of surrender; promoting him was a consolatory gesture, and further impetus for Paulus to avoid being taken by the Soviets alive. Paulus would have been the highest ranking German commander to be captured, and that was not acceptable to Hitler. However, Paulus disobeyed Hitler, shortly after being promoted to Field Marshal, saying that as a Christian he could not, in good faith, kill himself. Hitler did not find this reasonable, and openly lambasted Paulus for being the only Field Marshal in German history to surrender alive.

Stalingrad in the media

The extreme conditions of the battle, including the paralyzing Russian winter that precipitated massive German fatalities due to starvation and freezing, have been immortalized in several films of German, Russian, and American origin. The struggle is also remembered and reflected upon in countless books, for its significance in thwarting the German invasion, as well as its significance as a landmark of military barbarism and human suffering in which the loss of life was unprecedented.

See also

  • Romanian Armies in the Battle of Stalingrad
  • Italian war in Soviet Union, 1941-1943
  • Hungary during World War II
  • Hungarian Second Army


  1. S. L. Mayer and A. J. P Taylor, History of World War Two (Londson: Octopus Books, 1974), 144.
  2. John MacDonald. Great Battles of World War II. (London: Michael Joseph, 1986), 94.
  3. Anthony Beevor. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942–1943. (New York: Viking, 1998)
  4. Beevor
  5. William Craig. Enemy at the Gates: the Battle for Stalingrad (New York: Penguin Books, 1973).
  6. WW 2 Snipers [1]
  7. Sniper log book[2].Sniper Central. Retrieved March 9, 2008.
  8. Beevor
  9. Edward J. Drea. Nomohan: Japenese-Soviet Combat, 1939, no. 2, Leavenworth Papers, (Lawrence: U.S. Army Comand and General Staff College, 1981), Nomohan: Japenese-Soviet Combat, 1939 - Leavenworth Papers. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  10. Beevor
  11. Craig
  12. Beevor
  13. MacDonald, 98.
  14. Google Video, Stalingrad - OSA III - Stalingradin taistelu päättyy, Stalingrad - OSA III - Stalingradin taistelu päättyy. Retrieved July 16, 2007.
  15. Craig
  16. Beevor, 430.
  17. Beevor
  18. Beevor

References and Further reading

  • Beevor, Antony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942–1943. New York: Viking, 1998. ISBN 0670870951
  • Clark, Alan. Barbarossa. New York: Harper Perennial, 1985.
  • Craig, William. Enemy at the Gates: the Battle for Stalingrad. New York: Penguin Books, 1973.
  • Dibold, Hans. Doctor at Stalingrad. Littleton: Aberdeen, 2001. ISBN 0971385211
  • von Einsiedel, Heinrich Graf and Joachim Wieder. Stalingrad: Memories and Reassessments. New York: Sterling Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1854094602
  • Erickson, John. The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin's War with Germany, Vol. 1. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. ISBN 0300078129
  • Hayward, Joel S.A. Stopped at Stalingrad: The Luftwaffe and Hitler's Defeat in the East, 1942–1943 (Modern War Studies). Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998. ISBN 0700611460
  • Holl, Adelbert. An Infantryman In Stalingrad: From 24 September 1942 to 2 February 1943. Australia: Leaping Horseman Books, 2005. ISBN 0975107615
  • Hoyt, Edwin Palmer. 199 Days: The Battle for Stalingrad. New York: A Forge Book, 1999. ISBN 0312868537
  • Lanning, Michael Lee. The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History's Most Influential Battles. Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2003. ISBN 1570717990
  • MacDonald, John. Great Battles of World War II. London: Michael Joseph, 1986.
  • Mayer, S. L., and A.J.P. Taylor. History of World War II. London: Octopus Books, 1974.
  • Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941–1945, Translated by Steven H. Newton. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 0306814099
  • Snyder, David R. Review of Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945, by S. L. Mayer and A. J. P. Taylor. The Journal of Military History 69(1) (2005): 265-266.
  • Roberts, Geoffrey. Victory at Stalingrad: The Battle that Changed History. New York: Longman, 2002. ISBN 0582771854
  • Roberts, Geoffrey. "Victory on the Volga." The Guardian, February 28, 2003. Victory on the Volga. Retrieved August 19, 2019.

External links

All links retrieved September 26, 2023.


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