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Falg raising over Stalingrad

Raising the flag over Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad was a major and decisive battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and Its allies fought the Soviet Union of control of the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between August 23, 1942 to February 2, 1943 and was marked by brutality and disregard for military and civilian casualties. It is among the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, with the higher estimates of combined casualties amounting to nearly two million. The heavy losses inflicted on the German Arny made it a significant turning point in the whole war. After the Battle of Stalingrad, German forces never recovered their earlier strength, and attained no further strategic victories in the East.

The German offensive to capture Stalingrad commenced in late summer 1942 and was supported by intensive Luftwaffe bombing that reduced much of the city to rubble. The German offensive eventually stalled out into building-to-building fighting, and despite controlling nearly all of the city at times, the Wehrmacht were unable to dislodge the last Soviet defenders clinging tenaciously to the west bank of the Volga River.

On November 19, 1942, the Red Army launched Operation Uranus, a two pronged attack targeting the weak Romanian and Hungarian forces protecting the 6th Army's flanks. After heavy fighting, the weakly held Axis flanks collapsed and the 6th Army was cut off and surrounded inside Stalingrad. As the Russian winter set in, the 6th Army weakened rapidly from cold, starvation, and ongoing Soviet attacks. Command ambiguity coupled with Adolf Hitler's resolute belief in their will to fight furhter excerbated the German predicament. Eventually, the failure of outside German forces to break the encirclement, coupled with the failure of resupply by air, led to the final collapse. By the beginning of February 1943, Axis resistance in Stalingrad had ceased and the remaining elements of 6th Army had either surrendered or been destroyed.


BackgroundEdit

By the spring of 1942, despite the failure of Operation Barbarossa to decisively defeat the Soviet Union in a single campaign,, the war had been progressing well for the Germans: the U-boat offensive in the Atlantic had been very successful and Rommel had just captured Tobruk. In the east, they had stabilized their front in a line running from Leningrad in the north to Rostov in the south and while there were a number of assailents in the line where Soviet offensives had pushed the Germans back, these were not particularly threatening. Hitler was confident that he could master the Red Army after the winter of 1941, based on the fact that although Army Group Center had suffered heavy punishment west of Moscow the previous winter, 65% of its infantry had not been engaged and had been rested and re-equipped. Army Groups North and South had also not been particularly hard pressed over the winter. Stalin, in turn, had issued his "not a step back" order after the Red Army had suffered losses of 259% of their initial strength in 1941 and was expecthing the main thrust of the German summer attacks to again be directed agains Moscow.

The German summer offensive in the south of the Eastern Front was driven by two main objectives - time and material resources. Hitler was adamant to complete the offensive before the might of the United States joining the war came into play and secondly, he was determined to secure the oil resources in the Caucasus, which would deny them to the Soviet Union while securing an alternative petroleum resource for Germany.

The Soviet realized that they were under trememdous constraints of time and resources and ordered that anyone strong enough to hold a rifle be sent to fight. At this stage of the war, the Red Army was less capable of hightly mobile operations than the German Army. However, combat in large urban areas tends to be dominated by small arms weaponry rather than armoured and mechanized units, much to the detriment of the German forces who were principally trained and experienced in fast moving panzer led operations.

PreludeEdit

Case BlueEdit

Army Group South was selected for a sprint forward the the southern Russian steppes into the Caucasus to capture the vital Soviet oil field s there. The planned summer offensive was code-named Fall Blau (Case Blue). it was to include the German 6th, 17th, 4th Panzer and 1st Panzer Armies. Army Group South, poised in Easter Ukraine, was to spearhead the offensive.

Hitler intervened, however, ordering the Army Group to split in two. Army Group South (A), under the command of Wilhelm List, was to continue advancing south towards the Caucasus as planned with the 17th Army and First Panzer Army. Army Group South (B), including Friedrich Paulus' 6th Army and Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, was to move east towards the Volga and Stalingrad. Army Group B was commanded initially by Field Marshal Fedor von Cock and later by General Maximilian von Weichs.

The start of Case Blue 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 all 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 envelopment of a large Soviet force on May 22.

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. Several attempts to re-establish a defensive line failed when German units outflanked them. Two major pockets were formed and destroyed: the first, northeast of Kharkov, on July 2, and a second, around Millerovo, Rostov Oblast, a week later. Meanwhile, the Hungarian 2nd Army and the German 4th Panzer Army had launched an assault on Vorohezh, caputuring the city on July 5.

The initial advance of 6th Army was so successful that Hitler intervened and ordered the 4th Panzer Army to join Army Group South (A) to the south. A massive traffic jam resulted when the 4th Panzer and the 6th both required the few raods 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 4th 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 Don and Volga Rivers were only 40 mi (64 km) apart, and the Germans left their main supply depots west of the Don, which had important implications later in the course of the battle. The Germans began using the armies of their Italian, Hungarian and Romanian allies to guard their left (northern) flank. The Italians won several accolades in official German communiques. Sometimes the were held in little regard by the Germans, ans were even accused of some cowardice and low morale: in reality, their relative ineffectiveness in combat was due to their very scarce equipment, obsolete weaponry, and primitive tactics of Italian officers.

The German 6th Army was only a few dozen kilometers from Stalingrad, and 4th 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 as supply lines grew overextended. The two German army groups were not positioned to support one another due to the great distances involved.

After German intentions became clear in July 1942, Stalin appointed Marshal Andrey Yeryomenko as commander of the Southeastern Front on Aug. 1, 1942. Yeryomenko and Commissar Nikita Kruschev were tasked with planning the defense of Stalingrad. The eastern border of Stalingrad was the wide River Volga, and over the river, additional Soviet units were deployed. These units became the newly formed 62nd Rifle Army, which Yeryomenko placed under the command of Lt. Gen. Vasily Chuikov on Sept. 11, 1942. The situation was extremely dire. The 62nd's mission was to defend Stalingrad at all costs. Chuikov's generalship during the battle earned him one of his two Hero of the Soviet Union awards.

Attack on StalingradEdit

The Soviets had enough warning of the German's advance to ship virtually all the city's grain, cattle, and railroad rolling stock across the Volga and out of harms way. This "harvest victory" left the city short of food even before the German attack began. Production continued on some factories, particularly the one producing T-34 tanks.

The battle began with the heavy bombing of the city by Generaloberst Wolfram von Richthofen's Luftlotte 4. Some 1000 tons of bombs were dropped, quickly reducing the city to rubble, although some factories continued production while workers joined in the fighting. The 369th (Croatian) Reinforced Infantry Regiment was the only non-German unit selected by the Wehrmacht to enter Stalingrad city during assault operations. It fought as part of the 100th Jager Division.

Stalin rushed all available troops to the east bank of the Volga, some from as far away as Siberia. All the regular ferries were quickly destroyed by the Luftwaffe, which then targeted troop barges towd slowly across the river by tugs. Civilians, including women and childeren, were put to work building trenchworks and protective fortifications. Between Aug. 23 and 26, Soviet reports indicate 955 people were killed and another 1,181 wounded as a result of the bombing.

The Soviet Air Force was swept aside by the Luftwaffe. The Soviets continued to pour aerial reinforcements into the Stalingrad area, but continued to suffer appalling losses; the Luftwaffe had complete control of the skies.

The burden of initial defense of the city fell on the 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, a unit made up of mainly young female volunteers who had no training for engaging ground targets. Despite this, and with no support available from other units, the AA gunners stayed at their posts and took on the advancing panzers. The German 16th Panzer Div. reportedly had to fight the 1077th's gunners "shot for shot" until all 37 anti-aircraft batteries were destroyed or overrrun. The 16th Panzer Division was shocked to find that, due to Soviet manpower shortages, it had been fighting female soldiers. 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 too the river south of the city followed. By Sept. 1, the Soviets could only reinforce and supply their forces in Stalingrad by perilous crossings of the Volga under constant bombardment by artillery and aircraft.

On Sept. 5, the Soviet 24th and 66th Armies organized a massive attack against XIV Panzer Corps. The Luftwaffe helped repulse the offensive by heavily attacking Soviet artillery positions and defensive lines. The Soviets were forced to withdraw at midday after only a few hours. Of the 120 tanks the Soviets had comitted, 30 were lost due to air attack.

Soviet operations were constantly hampered by the Luftwaffe. On Sept. 18, the Soviet 1st Guards and 24th Army launched an offensive against VIII Army Corpsat Kotluban. Vii Fliegerkorps dispatched wave aofter wave of Stuka Dive-bombers to prevent a breakthrough. The offensive was repulsed. The Stukas claimed 41 of the 106 Soviet tanks knocked out that morning, while escorting Bf 109s destroyed 77 Soviet aircraft. 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 within the ruined city was fierce and desperate. Lieutenant General Alexander Rodimtsev was in charge of the 13th Guards Rifle Division, and received one of two Heroes of the Soviet Union awarded during the battle for his actions. Stalin's Order No. 227 of July 27, 1942 decreed that all commanders who ordered an unauthorized retreat would be subject to military tribunal. "Not a step back!" and "There is no land behind the Volga!" were the slogans. The Germans pushing forward into Stalingrad suffered heavy casualties.

Hugging tacticsEdit

German military doctrine was based on the principle of combined-arms teams and close cooperation between tanks, infantry, engineers, artillery and ground attack aircraft. To counter this, Soviet commanders adopted the tactic of always keeping the fromt lines as close to the Germans as physically possible. Chuikov called this "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 German close-air support and weakened artillery support.

The Soviets understood that, in Stalingrad, the best defense would depend on anchoring their defense lines in numerous buildings overseeing strategically importanto streets and squares. Such a strategy would hold for as long as possible all the ground the Soviets could take in the city. Thus, they converted multi-floored apartment blocks, factories, warehouses, street corner residences and office buildings into strongholds bristling with machine guns, anti-tank rifles, mortars, mines, barbed wire, snipers, and 5-10 man units of submachine gunners and grenadiers prepared for house-to-house combat.

Bitter fighting raged for every ruin, street, factory, house, basement, and staircase. The serers were the sites of labyrinthine firefights. The Germans, calling this urban warfare Rattenkrieg ("Rat War"), bitterly joked about capturing the kitchen but still fighting for the living room and the bedroom. In such desperate chaos, all battle lines vanished, and the major, armor-supported mobility to which the German soldiers were accustomed degenerated into vicious, fast-paced skirmishes ranging through bombed-out debris of residential neighborhoods, office blocks, basements and apartment high-rises. Some of the taller buildings, blasted into roofless shells by earlier German aerial bombardment, saw floor-by-floor, close-quarters combat, with the Germans and Soviets on alternate levels, firing at each other through holes in the floors.

Fighting on Mamayev Kurgan, a prominent hill above the city, was particularly merciless, and the position changed hands many times. By Sept. 12, the Soviet 62nd Rifle Army had been reduced to 90 tanks, 700 mortars, and just 20,000 men.

The 13th Guards Rifle Division, assigned to retake Mamayev Kurgan and Railway Station No. 1 on Sept 13 suffered particulary heavy losses. Over 30 percent of its soldiers were killed in the first 24 hours, and just 320 out of the original 10,000 survived the entire battle. Both objectives were retaken, but only temporarily. The railway station changed hands 14 times in 6 hours. By the following evening, the 13th Guards had ceased to exist, but its men had killed approximately an equal number of Germans. Combat raged there for weeks near the giant grain silo. When German soldiers finally took the position, only forty dead Soviet fighters were found, though the Germans thought there were many more due to fierce resistance. The Soviets burned heaps of grain during their retreat.

In another part of the city, a Soviet platoon under the command of Yakov Pavlov turned an apartment building that oversaw a square in the city center into an impregnable fortress, later called Pavlov's House. The soldiers surrounded it with minefields, set up machine-gun positions at the windows and breached the walls in the basement for better communications. The soldiers found about ten Soviet citizens hiding in the basement. They were not relieved, and not significantly reinforced, for two months. Well after the battle, Chuikov liked to joke that more Germans died trying to capture Pavlov's House than died capturing Paris. Throughout the second month, after each wave of German assault against the building, the Soviets had to run out and kick down the piles of German corpses so the machine and anti-tank gunners in the building could have clear firing lines across the square.

With no end in sight, the Germans started transferring heavy artillery to the city, including the gigantic 800mm railroad gun nicknamed Dora, but made no attempt to send a force across the Volga, allowing the Soviets to build up a large number of artillery batteries on the east side. This artillery continued to bombard the German positions. German tanks became useless amid heaps of rubble up to eight meters high.

Snipers used the ruins to inflict heavy casualties. The most famous Soviet sniper in Stalingrad was Vasily Zaytsev with 225 confirmed kills during the battle. Zaytsev was one of a whole corps of snipers and had over thirty students, who were credited with killing over three thousand German soldiers during the war.

For both Stalin and Hitler, Stalingrad became a matter of prestige beyond its strategic significance. 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, which eventually afflicted the left side of his face, while Chuikov experienced an outbreak of eczema that required him to have his hands completely bandaged. Troops on both sides faced the constant strain of close-range combat.

Germany reaches the VolgaEdit

After three months of slow advance, the Germans finally reached the river banks, capturing 90% of the ruined city and splitting the remaining Soviet forces into two pockets. Ice floes on the Volga now prevented boats and tugs from supplying the Soviet defenders. 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.

Soviet counter-offensivesEdit

Recognizing that the German troops were ill prepared for offensive operations during the winter of 1942, and that most of them were redeployed elsewhere on the southern sector of the Eastern Front, the Stavka decided to conduct a number of offensive operations between Nov. 19, 1942 and Feb. 2, 1943. These operations opened the Winter Campaign of 1942-1943, which involved some 15 Armies operating on several fronts.

German exhaustion prior to Operation UranusEdit

The German offensive to take Stalingrad had been halted by a combination of stubborn Red Army resistance inside the city and weather conditions. The Soviet counter-offensive planning used deceptive measures that eventually trapped and destroyed the 6th Army and other Axis forces around the city, becoming the second large scale defeat of the German Army during World War II.

During the siege, the German and allied Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian armies protecting Army Group B's flanks had pressed their headquarters for support. The Hungarian 2nd 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 between the Italian Army and Voroezh. This resulted in a very thin line, with some sectors where 1–2 km stretches were being defended by a single platoon. Soviet forces held several bridgeheads on the western bank of the river and presented a potentially serious threat ot Army Group B.

Similarly, on the southern flank of the Stalingrad sector the front southwest of Kotelnikovo was held only by the Romanian 7th Army Corps, and beyond it, a single German division, the 16th Motorized Infantry.

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 out that if the situation on the weak German flanks was not rectified, "there would be a disaster." Hitler told Halder that Stalingrad would be captured and the weakened flanks would be held with "...national socialist ardour, clearly I cannot expect this of you (Halder)," and replaced him with General Kurt Zeitzler in mid-October.

Operation Uranus: the Soviet offensiveEdit

In autumn, the Soviet generals Georgy Zhukov and Aleksandr Vasilevsky, responsible for strategic planning in the Stalingrad area, concentrated massive forces in the steppes north and south of the city. The German northern flank was particularly vulnerable, since it was defended by Hungarian and Romainan units that suffered from inferior equipment, morale, and leadership when compared with their German counterparts. This weakness was known and exploited by the Soviets, who preferred to face off against non-German troops whenever possible. the plan was to keep pinning the Germans down inside the city, then punch throught the overstretched and weakly defended German flanks and surround the Germans inside Stalingrad. The flanks were to be attacked far enough away from Stalingrad so that the bulk of the 6th Army in Stalingrad could not redeploy to defend against the attack. During the preparations for the attack, Marshal Zhukov personally visited the front and noticing the poor organization, insisted on a one week delay in the start date of the planned attack. 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 the one Zhukov had used to achieve victory at Khalkhin Gol 3 years before.

On Nov. 19, 1942, the Red Army unleashed Operation 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 3rd Army, which held the northern flank of the German 6th Army, was shattered. On Nov. 20, a second Soviet offensive (two armies) was launched to the south of Stalingrad, against points held by the Romanian 4th Army 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.

Destruction of Sixth ArmyEdit

About 245,000 German and Romanian soldiers, the 369th (Croatian) Reinforced Infantry Regiment and other volunteer subsidiary troops including some 35,000 Soviet volunteers fighting for the Germans were surrounded. German strength in the pocket was about 195,000 according to strenght breakdowns of the 21 field divisions and 100 battalion sized units on the 19th of Nov., 1942. Inside the pocket, there were also around 10,000 Soviet civilians and several thousand Soviet soldiers the Germans had taken captive during the battle. Not all of the 6th Army was trapped; 50,000 soldiers were brushed aside outside the pocket. The Red Army units immediately formed two defensive fronts: a circumvallation facing inward and a contravallation facing outward. Field Marshal Erich von Manstein advised Hitler not to order 6th Army to break out, stating that he could successfully break through the Soviet lines and relieve the besieged 6th Army. After 1945, Manstein falsified the record and claimed that he told Hitler that the 6th Army must break out. Manstein was tasked to conduct a relief operation, named Operation Winter Storm (Unternehmen Wintergewitter) against Stalingrad, which he thought was feasible if the 6th Army was adequately supplied through the air.

Adolf Hitler had declared in a public speech on Sept. 30 1942 that the German army would never leave the city. At a meeting shortly before 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 with the head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goring. When asked by Hitler, Goring replied, after being convinced by Hans Jeschonnek, that the Luftwaffe could supply the 6th 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 a year earlier at the Demyansk Pocket, albeit on a much smaller scale: a corps at Demyansk rather than an entire army. Also, Soviet fighter forces had improved considerable 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 also endorsed by Goring several days later.

The head of Luftlotte 4, Wolfram von Richtofen, tried to get this decision overturned. The 6th Army was the largest unit of this type in the world and almost twice as large as a regular German army unit, plus there was also a corps of the 4th Panzer Army trapped in the pocket. It should have been clear that supplying them by air was impossible; the maximum 117.5 short tons they could deliver a day-based on the number of avaliable aircraft and with only the airfield ar Pitomnik to land at-was far less than the minimum 800 short tons needed. To supplement the limited number of Junkers Ju 52 transports, the Germans used aircraft wholly inadequate for the role, such as the Heinkel 177 bomber. General Richtofen informed Manstein on Nov. 27 of the small transport capacity of the Luftwaffe and the impossibility of supplying 300 tons a day. Manstein now saw the enormous technical difficulties of a supply by air of these dimensions. The next day he made a six page situation report to the general staff. Based on the information of the expert Richtofen, he declared that contrary to the example of the pockedt of Demjansk, the permanent supply by air would be impossible. If only a narrow link could be established to Sixth Army, he proposed that this should be used to pull it out from the encirclement. He ackknowledged the heavy moral sacrifice the giving up of Stalingrad meant, but this made it easier to bear by the conservationof combat power of 6th Army and the regaining of the initiative. But Hitler backed Goring's plan and reiterated his order of "no surrender" to his trapped armies.

The air supply mission failed. Appaling weather conditions, technical failures, heavy Soviet anti-aircraft fire and fighter interceptors led to the loss of 488 German aircraft. The Luftwaffe failed to achieve even the daily supply of 117 short toms that it had aircraft for. An average of 94 short tons of supplies per day was delivered. The most successful day, Dec. 19, delivered only 289 short tons of supplies in 154 flights. The supplies that did get through were often useless: one aircraft arrived with 20t of vodka and summer uniforms, another with supplies of black pepper and marjoram. Hitler's indecision on the purpose of Operation Winter Storm (either to allow a breakout or open a corridor) meant that large quantities of fuel that would have helped with a breakout were shipped when food and ammunition would have been more useful. The transport aircraft that did land safely evacuated technical specialists and sick or wounded men from the besieged enclave.

Initially, supply flights came in form the field at Tatsinskaya, called 'Tazi' by the German pilots. On Dec. 23, the Soviet 24th Tank Corps, commanded by Major General Vasily Makaylovich Badanov, reached nearby Skassirskava and in the early morning of Dec. 24, the tanks reached Tatsinskaya. Without any soldiers to defend the airfield, it was abandoned under heavy fire; in a little under an hour, 108 Ju 52s and 16 Ju 86s took off for Novocherkassk-leaving 72 Ju 52s and many other aircraft burning on the ground. A new base was established some 200 mi from Stalingrad at Salsk, the additional distance another obstacle to the resupply efforts. Salsk was abandoned in turn by mid-January for a rough facility at Zverovo, near Shakhty. The field at Zverevo was attacked repeatedly on Jan 18 and a further 50 Ju 52s were destroyed.

The 6th Army slowly starved. Pilots were shocked to find the troops too exhausted and hungry to unload. Germans fought over the slightest scraps of bread. General Zeitzler, moved by their plight, began to limit himself to their slim rations at meal times. After a few weeks on such a diet, he had lost 26 lbs and had become so emaciated that Hitler, annoyed, personally ordered him to start eating regular meals again.

The toll on the Transportgruppen was heavy. Some 266 Junkers Ju 52s were destroyed, one-third of the fleet's strength on the Eastern Front. The He 111 gruppen lost 165 aircraft in transport operations. Other losses included 42 Ju 86s, nine Fw 200 Condors, five He 177 bombers, and a Ju 290. The Luftwaffe also lost close to 1,000 highly experienced bomber crew personnel. So heavy were the Luftwaffe's losses that four of Luftlotte 4's transport units were "formally dissolved".

AftermathEdit

Operation Little SaturnEdit

Soviet forces consolidated their positions around Stalingrad, and fierce fighting to shrink the pocket began. Operation Winter Storm (Operation Wintergewitter), a German attempt led by Manstein to relieve the trapped army group from the south, was successfully fended off by the Soviets in Dec. The full impact of the harsh Russian winter set in. The Volga froze solid, allowing the Soviets to supply their forces more easily. The trapped Germans rapidly ran out of heating fuel and medical supplies, and thousands started to die of frostbite, malnutrition, and disease.

On Dec 16, the Soviets launched a second offensive, Operation Little Saturn, which attempted to punch through the Axis army (mainly Italians) on the Don and take Rostov. If successful, this offensive ould have trapped the remainder of Army Group South, 1/3 of the entire German Army in Russia, in the Caucasus. The Germans set up a "mobile defense" of small units that were to hold towns until supporting armor arrived. From the Soviet bridgehead at Mamon, 15 divisions-supported by at least 100 tanks-attacked the Italian Cosseria And Ravenna divisions, and although outnumbered 9 to 1, the Italians resisted until Dec. 19, when ARMIR headquarters finally ordered the battered divisions to partially withdraw. The Soviets never got close to Rostov because of the fierce Italian opposition, but the fighting forced von Manstein to extract Army Group A from the Caucasus and re-establish the frontline some 250 km away from the city. The Tatsinskaya Raid also caused significant losses to the Luftwaffe's transport fleet.

The 6th 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, while a motorized breakout might have been possible in the first few weeks, the 6th Army now had insufficient fuel and the German soldiers would have faced great difficulty breaking through the Soviet lines on foot in harsh winter condition.

Soviet victoryEdit

The Germans inside the pocket retreated from the suburbs of Stalingrad to the city itself. ? The loss of the two airfields, at Pitomnik on 16 Jan 1943 and Gumrak on either 25 Jan or the night of 21/22 Jan, meant an end to air supplies and to evacuation of the wounded. ? The third and last serviceable runway was at the Stalingradskaja flight school, which reportedly had the last landings and takeoffs on the night of 22-23 Jan. ? After daybreak on 23 Jan, there were no more reported landings except for intermittent air drops of ammunition and food until the end.

The Germans were now not only starving, but running out of ammunition. ? Nevertheless, they continued to resist, in part because they believed the Soviets would execute any who surrendered. ? In particular, the so-called? HiiWis, Soviet citizens fighting for the Germans, had no illusions about their fate if captured. ? The Soviets were initially surprised by the number of Germans they had trapped, and had to reinforce the encircling troops. ? Bloody urban warfare began again in Stalingrad, but this time it was the Germans who were pushed back to the banks of the Volga. ? The Germans adopted a simple defense of fixing wire nets over all windows to protect themselves from grenades. ? The Soviets responded by fixing fish hooks to the grenades so they stuck to the nets when thrown.

The Germans had no useable tanks in the city, and those that still functioned could, at best, be used as makeshift pillboxes. ? The Soviets did not bother employing tanks in areas where the urban destruction restriced their mobility. ? A low-level Soviet envoy-party (comprising Major Aleksandr Smyslov, Captain Nikolay Dyatlenko and a trumpeter) carried an offer to Paulus: if he surrendered within 24 hours, he would receive a guarantee of safety for all prisoners, medical care for the sick and wounded, prisoneres allowed to keep their personal belongings, "normal" food rations, and repatriation to any country they wished after the war; but Paulus-ordered not to surrender by Hitler-did not respond.

On 22 January Paulus requested that he be granted permission to surrender. ? Hitler rejected it on a point of honor. He telegraphed the 6th Army later that day, claiming that it had made a historic contribution to the greatest struggle in German history and that it should stand fast "to the last soldier and the last bullet". ? Hitler told Goebbels that the plight of the 6th Army was a "heroic drama of German history".

220px-Bundesarchiv Bild 183-E0406-0022-011, Russland, deutscher Kriegsgefangener

A Red Army soldier marches a German soldier into captivity.

On 30 Jan 1943, the 10th anniversary of his coming to power, Hitler got Goebbels to read out a proclamation that included the sentence: "The heroic struggle of our soldiers on the Volga should be a warning to everybody to do the utmost for the struggle of Germany's freedom and the future of our people, and thus in a wider sense for the maintenance of our entire continent." ? Also on that day Hitler promoted Paulus to? Generalfeldmarschall. ? Since no German Field Marshal had ever been taken prisoner, Hitler assumbed that Paulus would fight on or take his own life. ? However, when Soviet forces closed in on his headquarters in the ruined GUM department store the next day, Paulus surrendered. ? The remnants of the Axis forces in Stalingrad surrendered on 2 February; 91,000 tired, ill, wounded, starving, and demoralized prisoners were taken, including 3,000 Romanians (the survivors of the 20th Infantry Division). ? To the delight of the Soviet forces and the dismay of the Third Reich, the prisoners included 22 generals. ? Hitler was furious and confided that Paulus "could have freed himself from all sorrow and ascended into eternity and national immortality, but he prefers to go to Moscow."

The German public was not officially told of the disaster until the end of January 1943, though positive media reports had stopped in the weeks before the announcement. ? Stalingrad marked the first time that the Nazi government publicly acknowledged a failure in its war effort; it was not the first major setback of the German military, but a crushing defeat where German losses were almost equal to hose of the Soviets was unprecedented. ? Prior losses of the Soviet Union were generally three times as high as the German ones. ? On 31 Jan, regular programming on German state radio was replaced by a broadcast of the somber Adagio movement from Anton Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, followed by the announcement of the defeat at Stalingrad

On 18 Feb, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels gave a famous Sportpalast speech in Berlin, encouraging the Germans to accept a total war that woud claim all resources and efforts from the entire population.

According to the German documentary film? Stalingrad over 11,000 soldiers refused to lay down their arms at the official surrender, presumably believing that fighting to the death was better than a slow end in Soviet camps, and because of their belief in National Socialism.

The remaining forces continued to resist, hiding in cellars and sewers, but by early March 1943, the remaining small and isolated pockets of resistance had surrendered. ? According to Soviet intelligence documents, a remarkable NKVD report from March 1943 is available showing the tenacity of some of these German groups.

Other informationEdit

Orders of battleEdit

Red ArmyEdit

During the defense of Stalingrad, the Red Army deployed six armies in and around the city and an additional nine armies in the encirclement counter-offensive.

CasualtiesEdit

Various scholars have estimated the Axis suffered from 500,000 to 850,000 casualties (killed, wounded, captured) among all branches of the German armed forces and its allies, many of them POWs who died in Soviet captivity between 1943 and 1955. ? Of the 91,000 German POWs taken at Stalingrad, 27,000 died within weeks and only 5-6,000 returned to Germany by 1955. ? The remainder of the POWs died in Soviet captivity.

On 2 Feb 1943, the resistance of all Axis troops in Stalingrad ceased. ? Out of the 91,000 prisoners taken, 3,000 were Romanian. ? These were survivors of the 20th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions.

According to archival figures, the Red Army suffered a total of 1,129,619 total casualties; 478,741 men killed or missing and 650,878 wounded. ? These numbers are for the whoel Stalingrad area; in the city itself 750,000 were killed, captured, or wounded.

The Soviet authorities executed approximately 13,500 Soviet soldiers during the battle, equivalent to almost two rifle divisions. ? Also, anywhere from 25,000 to 40,000 Soviet citizens died in Stalingrad and its suburbs during a single week of aerial bombardment.

Scope of the battleEdit

220px-Stalingrad aftermath

The aftermath at the Battle of Stalingrad.

At different times, the Germans held up to 90% of the city, yet the Soviet forces fought on fiercely.  At the end of the battle, the Soviet armies had encircled and besieged the 6th Army.  Some elements of the German 4th Panzer Army also suffered casualties in operations around Stalingrad during the Soviet counter-offensive.

German mobility had been a significant factor in the Wehrmacht's earlier victories.  Before Stalingrad, the Soviets had been able to amass their forces in sufficient numbers to achieve victory only around Moscow.  Stalingrad, which had limited miltiary value and had already been stripped of its assets, could have been bypassed and invested by the 6th Army in its drive to the Caucasus with Army Group A.  Instead, Hitler chose to sacrifice many fo his most experienced troops in vicious street fighting among urban rubble, which favored the defenders and gave the Soviet Union time to amass and concentrate its forces for its pincer movement.  Some Germans felt Hitler had sacrificed one of his largest and finest armies for prestige.  The 6th Army was reconstituted in time for the Battle of Kursk, but was made up mostly of conscripts and was never again the force it had once been.

A significant factor in Germany's failure at Stalingrad was Hitler's pursuit of too many simultaneous objectives.  To the south of Stalingrad, Army Group A was committed to capturing the oilfields in the Caucasus and in particular at Baku in Azerbaijan.  These oil fields were the original objective of the 1942 summer offensive, and he could have used Army Group A to bolster Army Group B's flanks around Stalingrad and perhaps to aid in fighting within the city.  Clearly Hitler's ambitions were well beyond German means.

Besides being a turning point in the war, Stalingrad revealed the discipline and determination of both the German Wehrmacht and the Soviet Red Army.  The Soviets first defended Stalingrad against a fierce German onslaught.  So great were the Soviet losses that at times, the life expectancy of a newly arrived soldier was less than a day, and the life expectancy of a Soviet officer was three days.  Their sacrifice is immortalized by one of General Rodimtsev's soldiers who, about to die, scratched on the wall of the main railway station, "Rodimtsev's Guardsmen fought and died here for their Motherland."  The station changed hands 15 times during the battle.

A significant historical debate concerns the degree of terror in the Red Army.  The British historian Antony Beevor noted the "sinister" message from the Stalingrad Front's Political Department on 8 Oct. 1942 that: "The defeatist mood is almost eliminated and the number of treasonous incidents is getting lower" as an example of the sort of coercion Red Army soldiers experienced under the Special Detachments (later to be renamed SMERSH).  On the other hand, Beevor noted te often extraordinary bravery of the Soviet soldiers in a battle that was only comparable to Verdun, and argued that terror alone cannot explain such sacrifice.

220px-Stalingradska zemlja

Soil after the battle of Stalingrad in Vladmir Military Museum.

For the heroism of the Soviet defenders of Stalingrad, the city was awarded the title Hero City in 1945.  24 years after the battle, in October 1967, a colossal monument, The Motherland Calls, was erected on Mamayev Kurgan, the hill overlooking the city.  The statue forms part of a war memorial complex that includes ruined walls deliberately left the way they were after the battle.  The Grain Silo, as well as Pavlov's House, the apartment building whose defensders 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 human suffering during the battle and the successful yet costly resistance.

Many women fought on the Soviet side, or were under fire.  At the beginning of the battle there were 75,000 women and girls from the Stalingrad area who had finished military or medical training, and all of whom were to serve in the battle.  Women staffed a great many of the anti-aircraft batteries that fought not only the Luftwaffe but German tanks.  Soviet nurses not only treated wounded men under fire but were involved in the highly dangerous work of bringing wounded soldiers back to the hospitals under enemy fire.  Many of the Soviet wireless and telephone operators were women who often suffered heavy casualties when their command posts came under fire.  Though women were not usually trained as infantry, many Soviet women fought as machine gunners, mortar operators, and scouts.  Women were also snipers at Stalingrad.  Three air regiments at Stalingrad were entirely female.  At least three women won the title Hero of the Soviet Union while driving tanks at Stalingrad.

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.  During the latter part of the siege, short of food and clothing, many German soldiers starved or froze to death.  Yet, discipline was maintained until the very end, when resistance no longer served any useful purpose.  Friedreich Paulus obeyed Hitler's orders, against many of Hitler's top generals' cousel and advice, and did not attempt to break out of the city.  German ammunition, supplies, and food became all too scarce.  The Israeli historian Omer Bartov wrote that the willingness of starving, disease-ridded, freezing German soldiers to continue such a hopeless fight could only be explained by the deep commitment felt by many soldiers to National Socialism, a point further reinforced by letters sent by 6th Army soldiers to their families.

Paulus knew that the airlift had failed and that Stalingrad was lost.  He asked for permission to surrender to save the lives of his troops, but Hitler refused and instead promoted him to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall.  No German field marshal had ever surrendered, and the implication was clear: if Paulus surrendered, he would shame hinself and would become the highest ranking German officer ever to be captured.  Hitler believed that Paulus would either fight to the last man or commit suicide.  Paulus surrendered, commenting, "I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal."

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