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 in 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 policy of Blitzkrieg (“lightning war”), Hitler committed his armies to one of attrition.

The deci­sion proved to be disas­trous for Gen. Fried­rich Paulus’ Sixth Army and for Ger­many itself, in part because the Ger­man armed forces, for the second time in two years, were poorly pre­pared for a win­ter cam­paign. 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; 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 the stra­tegic advantage on the Eastern Front shifted to the Soviets, never to change.

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Battle for Stalingrad, September 14, 1942, to February 2, 1943

Stalingrad burns in aftermath of Luftwaffe attack, August 1942German 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.

Right: Carrying a Soviet submachine gun, a Ger­man sol­dier seeks cover among the ruins of an industrial area in Stalingrad.

Soviet soldiers defend themselves amid Stalingrad ruinsSoviet 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.

Right: Soviet soldiers crawl in the rubble of the Red October Steel Factory.

Captured German soldierGerman POWs, Stalingrad, 1943

Left: A Red Army soldier marches a 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 sur­render 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 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