STRUGGLE FOR STALINGRAD INTENSIFIES

Stalingrad, Soviet Union November 1, 1942

By one German count, over five million Red Army sol­diers had been taken pri­soner since Adolf Hitler unleashed Opera­tion Bar­ba­rossa, the inva­sion of the Soviet Union begun 16 months ear­lier. As for the num­ber of Soviet ser­vice per­son­nel killed and dis­abled, there was only a rough esti­mate, but clearly the Red Army had suf­fered near incom­pre­hen­sible losses. Still, from the point of view of the German High Com­mand, the Soviets were not defeated and were some­how con­tinuing to resist. Indeed, on this date, Novem­ber 1, 1942, five Soviet armies stood fixed in deep win­ter snow and ice between Stalin­grad (present-day Volgo­grad), an indus­trial city that stretched 16 miles along the west bank of the Volga River, and two German armies, the Sixth and Fourth Panzer.

The Wehrmacht (German armed forces) had over­come the pre­vious winter’s crisis when it failed to take Mos­cow, the Soviet capi­tal, and now its forces on land and in the skies seemed ready again to defeat and anni­hi­late dozens of Soviet divi­sions. After their first armored groups had reached Stalin­grad’s sub­urbs at the end of June, the Germans appeared on the brink of cap­turing their first major Soviet city, which Soviet dicta­tor Joseph Stalin had vowed to defend to the last man. Hitler appeared to be mes­meri­zed by the city that bore the name of his rival. Departing from the highly success­ful policy of Blitz­krieg (“lightning war”) employed in the first months of his war in the East, Hitler now com­mitted his armies to one of attri­tion similar to the German mili­tary block­ade of Lenin­grad (St. Petersburg) in the Soviet north begun in September 1941. (The Leningrad was only lifted on January 27, 1944.)

Hitler’s decision proved to be disastrous for Gen. Fried­rich Paulus’ Sixth Army and his Axis allies, who together numbered around 265,000 fighting men. Disas­trous in large part because the Wehr­macht, for the second time in two years, was poorly pre­pared for a winter cam­paign in Russia. On Novem­ber 19, 1942, the Red Army launched Oper­a­tion Uranus, part of the on­going Battle of Stalin­grad (Septem­ber 14, 1942, to Febru­ary 2, 1943). The next day a second Soviet offen­sive kicked off south of Stalin­grad, and by Novem­ber 23 Soviet armies closed the ring around the city. German strength inside the ring was about 210,000. In the 11 weeks following this double envelop­ment, 105,000 sur­ren­dered; 35,000 escaped by air until that ave­nue was cut off; 60,000 died, com­mitted sui­cide, or were unable to sur­ren­der when the end came; and roughly 10,000 men remained to fight on until exter­mi­nated (end of February). After Stalin­grad, arguably one of the largest and bloodiest battles in history, the stra­tegic advantage on the Eastern Front shifted to the Soviets, never to change.





Historic Turning Point: The Battle for Stalingrad, September 14, 1942, to February 2, 1943

Stalingrad burns in aftermath of Luftwaffe attack, August 1942 German soldier with captured Soviet submachine gun

Left: A massive German strategic bombing raid on August 23, 1942, caused a fire­storm, killing thou­sands of Stalin­grad resi­dents and turning the city into a vast landscape of rubble and burned-out ruins. An estimated 1.7 to 2 mil­lion people on both sides were wounded, killed, or captured in the five-month Battle of Stalingrad.

Right: Carrying a Soviet submachine gun, a German soldier seeks cover among the ruins of an indus­trial area in Stalin­grad. The Germans were assisted by Roma­nian, Italian, Hun­garian, and Croa­tian sol­diers, plus some 40,000 Soviet volun­teers (Hiwis, short for Hilfs­williger), some of whom had been extracted from German POW camps.

Soviet soldiers defend themselves amid Stalingrad ruins Soviet soldiers in rubble of the Red October Steel Factory

Left: A group of Soviets prepares to ward off a German assault in Stalin­grad’s suburbs. Fighting had degen­erated into house-to-house, room-to-room, hand-to-hand com­bat. German soldiers bitterly com­plained that even though they had taken the kitchen, that still left the living room and bedroom to take.

Right: Soviet soldiers maneuver through the rubble of the Red October Steel Factory. Some soldiers found it easier to maneu­ver through under­ground sewers. Germans com­plained about this type of urban warfare, too, calling it Rattenkrieg.

Captured German soldier German POWs, Stalingrad, 1943

Left: Bundled against the cold, machine gun in hand, a Red Army soldier marches an exhausted German sol­dier into capti­vity. A hand­ful of cap­tured senior German offi­cers was taken to Mos­cow and used for propa­ganda pur­poses, and some of them joined the National Com­mit­tee for a Free Germany (NKFD), a German anti-Nazi organi­za­tion that operated in the Soviet Union during the war. Some higher-ups, among them Paulus, whom Hitler had made Field Marshal hours before the German capit­u­la­tion at Stalin­grad, joined the NKFD and signed anti-Hitler state­ments that were broad­cast to German troops. Paulus testi­fied for the prose­cu­tion during the post­war Nurem­berg Trials. He remained in the Soviet Union until 1952, then moved to Dres­den in Com­mu­nist East Ger­many, where he died in 1957, exactly 14 years after surrendering the German Sixth Army.

Right: German troops as prisoners of war, 1943. In the back­ground is the heavily fought-over Stalin­grad grain ele­va­tor. Out of the nearly 110,000 battle-weary German pri­soners cap­tured in Stalin­grad, only about 6,000 ever returned home. Already weak­ened by dis­ease, star­va­tion, and lack of medi­cal care during their en­circle­ment, they were sent on death marches (75,000 died within 3 months of cap­ture) to POW camps and later to labor camps all over the Soviet Union. Some 35,000 were even­tu­ally sent on trans­ports, of which 17,000 did not sur­vive. Most POWs died of wounds, dis­ease (par­tic­u­larly typhus), cold, overwork, mistreatment, and malnutrition.

Stalingrad: Death of a City


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.


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.