OILFIELDS, STALINGRAD IN NAZI’S 1942 CROSSHAIRS

Along the Eastern Front · June 28, 1942

On this date in 1942 on the Eastern Front, Adolf Hitler launched Ger­many’s second sum­mer cam­paign against the Soviet Union in two years. (The first had been Opera­tion Bar­ba­rossa begun the previous June, which had been in­tended to knock the Soviet Union out of the war.) Ignoring the Soviet capi­tal Mos­cow, whose fierce defense com­bined with a brutal win­ter had pre­vented its cap­ture earlier in the year, Fall Blau (“Operation Blue”) was in­stead directed south toward the stra­tegic Cau­casus oil and mineral fields and important centers of Soviet war industry.

The Ger­man armored ad­vance resembled a knife slicing through a stick of butter—a re­run it seemed of the sum­mer of 1941, when the Red Army fell apart on the first armored im­pact. Making steady pro­gress across the empty Ukrai­nian steppes, Army Group South (A) took the key rail­way junc­tion and river port Rostov-on-Don on July 23, and then drove south to the oil­fields in the Cau­casus. On August 23 Gen. Fried­rich Paulus’ Sixth Army, part of Army Group South (B), entered the out­skirts of Stalin­grad (today’s Volgo­grad), a vital manu­fac­turing and trans­port cen­ter up­stream from Rostov. That same day a mas­sive Ger­man air raid on Stalin­grad caused a fire­storm that killed thou­sands of civil­ians and turned the city of 900,000 res­i­dents into a landscape of rubble and burned ruins.

Neither Ger­many nor the Soviet Union could have fore­seen the horror that would face each other at Stalin­grad. Paulus’ Sixth Army was inex­o­rably drawn into a Soviet quag­mire from which it was nearly im­pos­sible to escape. The 199‑day battle for con­trol of Stalin­grad pro­duced a monu­mental two mil­lion ca­su­al­ties on both sides. Stalin­grad was the worst defeat the Soviets in­flicted on Axis forces up to that time. Some 105,000 pri­soners were led away, most to their deaths. Only 6,000 POWs lived through their ordeal to return to their homeland after the war.

Stalin­grad proved to be a major turning point in the Euro­pean war, and for the first time the West­ern Allies began to hope the Soviets might tri­umph in their tita­nic con­fron­ta­tion with the Nazi in­vaders. Smelling blood, Presi­dent Franklin D. Roos­evelt announced at the con­clu­sion of the Casa­blanca Con­fer­ence in Morocco between him­self, British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill, and their joint chiefs of staff (January 14–23, 1943) that the Allies would require nothing less than Germany’s “unconditional surrender.”





Stalingrad 1942: Total War

Stalingrad firestorm, late August 1942 Soviet snipers, Stalingrad, October 1942

Left: Beginning on August 23, 1942, the Luft­waffe bombed Stalin­grad block-by-block for five straight days. Fire­storms killed anywhere from 25,000 to 40,000 people. After August 25, the Soviets stopped recording civil­ian and mili­tary casu­al­ties as a result of air raids. The Luft­waffe also rendered the River Volga, vital for ferrying supplies into the besieged city, unusable to Soviet shipping. Photo from late August 1942.

Right: Stalingrad’s desperate defenders realized that their best defense con­sisted of an­choring their defense lines in numer­ous buildings. Thus they con­verted multi­story apart­ment houses, fac­tories, ware­houses, corner res­i­dences, and high-rise office buildings into strong­holds bristling with ma­chine guns, anti­tank rifles, mor­tars, mines, barbed wire, sni­pers, and small 5–10 man units of sub­machine gun­ners and gre­na­diers prepared for house-to-house, hand-to-hand combat.

Stalingrad train station under attack, late August 1942 Bombed factory, Stalingrad, November 1942

Left: A reconnaissance photo of a rail­way station burning in Stalin­grad, late August 1942. One rail­way station changed hands 14 times in six hours. The Ger­mans killed 2,500 Soviet soldiers each day, day after day, three times their losses.

Right: German bombers flatten Stalin­grad’s indus­trial center, November 16, 1942. The Luft­waffe retained air supe­ri­ority into early Novem­ber, but after flying 20,000 in­di­vidual sorties, its ori­ginal strength of 1,600 service­able air­craft had shrunk to 950. It shrank further following Allied landings in North Africa (Opera­tion Torch) in Novem­ber 1942, when Ger­mans were forced to with­draw air­craft from the East­ern Front in an ulti­mately failed attempt to save Axis fortunes in the Mediterranean.

Devastated factory-scape, September 1942 Stalingrad aftermath, date unknown

Left: German infantry try to find cover in the wilder­ness of rubble that Stalin­grad had become. Photo from Septem­ber 23, 1942. Bitter fighting raged for every fac­tory, rubble-strewn street, house, base­ment, stair­well, and sewer. The Ger­mans called this ever-present, often un­seen urban war­fare Ratten­krieg (“Rat War”). They bitterly joked about cap­turing the kitchen but still having to fight for the living room and the bedroom.

Right: A scene of the destroyed city center, Stalin­grad, date un­known but likely autumn 1942. The Battle of Stalin­grad bled the Ger­man army dry and turned the war in the East deci­sively against Nazi Ger­many. For the hero­ism of its defenders, Stalingrad was one of four cities awarded the title “Hero City” in 1945.

Battle of Stalingrad, August 23, 1942, to February 2, 1943




WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on Amazon.com. Con­taining a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site, the ebook brings the story of this tumul­tu­ous era to life in a com­pelling, author­i­ta­tive, and suc­cinct man­ner. Fea­turing inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to dif­fer­ent dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.