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What factors discouraged the Nazis from focusing all their forces on the Caucasus region during Operation Barbarossa?

What factors discouraged the Nazis from focusing all their forces on the Caucasus region during Operation Barbarossa?

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Instead of splitting his invasion force into three groups, it appears it would have been more sensible to focus on taking over the Caucasus region first.

At the time, Baku, a Caucasus oil metropolis, accounted for 80% of all Soviet production. Considering that the Soviets most likely would have suffered serious shortages without Baku oil, it appears it would have been sensible to capture the Caucasus and then wait for chronic oil shortages to affect the Soviets before advancing.

Furthermore, diversification of sources of oil appears important considering that Hitler was very concerned about the possibility of the Soviets devastating his Rumanian oil fields (which contributed 94% of Germany's oil in 1940).

I understand that many argue that Hitler's hubris was a factor, but are there any other reasons?

There were TWO major plans subsumed under Operation Barbarossa. The plan for 1942 was called Fall Blau (Case Blue) and called for an emphasis on attacking the Caucasus, per the question. The basic reason it was abandoned was that it was the "backup" plan. The original (1941) objectives of Barbarossa was the so-called A-A or Archangelsk-Astrakan line. Elements of the earlier A-A plan eventually got mixed up in the 1942 Fall Blau.

After the initial failure to capture Moscow in 1941 (and the unsuccessful Soviet counterattacks around Kharkov in May, 1942), Hitler decided to shift the emphasis of the offensive south, toward the Caucasus. But once the Germans began enjoying successes, he diluted the Fall Blau plan by reinstating elements of the A-A plan.

Early In July, Sevastopol on the Black Sea finally surrendered to General von Manstein's 11th Army after a 9 month siege punctuated by unsuccessful Soviet counterattacks from the Kerch Strait. Hitler decided to move both Manstein and the 11th Army north to try to take Leningrad, thereby a allowing a resumption of the northern prong of the attack toward Archangel. The earlier planning for Fall Blau had the 11th Army joining the attack on the Caucasus.

The original plan for Fall Blau had German detachments going up to, but not into, the cities of Voronezh on the Don, and Stalingrad on the Volga. The plan was to remain on the defensive outside these cities with (eastern) flank guards. and have a south facing thrust to the Caucasus.

The unexpected capture of Voronezh and 6th Army's rapid progress along the Don lulled Hitler into thinking that Stalingrad (the namesake city of the Soviet dictator) could also be captured. So instead of keeping Paulus' 6th Army on the defensive, it was posted on the offensive, with Herman Hoth's 4th Panzer Army (originally slated for the Caucasus) in support of the attack on Stalingrad. The diversion of this and the 11th Army cut the strength of the Caucasus attack force (two armies) by about half.

One lure of Stalingrad was that it was on the Volga River, the intended eastern boundary of the A-A line. If the city had been captured in September, the Germans could have proceeded down-river to capture Astrakhan, establishing the southern portion of the A-A line. Then the plan for 1943 might be to advance up the Volga behind Moscow (from the south), while capturing Leningrad and Archangelsk the same year, followed by a gigantic pincers encirclement of Moscow in 1944.

But rationally, Hitler should have gone for the (almost) "sure thing" in the Caucasus, instead of gambling on knockout blows at Stalingrad and Leningrad that failed. But that's another story.

Barbarossa was planned while von Brauchitsch was the Commander of Heer (Army), so Hitler did not have as much input in the planning as is often perceived. The main idea of the operation was destruction of the Red Army at the border blitzkrieg and a swift occupation of the European Russia until the AA-line (Archangelsk-Astrakhan). Therefore the 3-pronged offensive:

  1. Leningrad - to secure the Baltic sea and thus the Swedish iron ore supplies (also, Leningrad housed 14% of the soviet military industry),
  2. Moscow - the main political, population, industrial, and transportation hub, and
  3. Ukraine - the bread basket (in addition to its industrial production)

Soviet Union was expected to collapse soon politically, so economic warfare (depriving it of the oil &c) was not deemed as important as taking the population and transportation centers.

When Barbarossa's failure became obvious on December 5, 1941, Hitler took over the command of Heer and the war strategy turned towards economic objectives rather than purely military ones, so 1942 offensive went towards Caucasus and oil.

PS. Hitler's "Grand Strategy" of 1942 included List (North Caucasus) meeting Rommel (North Africa) in Palestine and sending mobile troops to India to finally knock out Britain.

Though there were many factors involved overall, there was a primary reason Germany didn't focus all their forces on the Caucasus region during Operation Barbarosa. That reason was the German leadership's unflinching confidence that the Russians would be defeated by Nazi forces in a single summer campaign.

That is, by the end of summer the plan called for a Soviet surrender, and going into fall 90 divisions of the German military would be left operational as an occupational force in the Soviet Union. All other German Military forces were to be re-deployed or drawn down.

Not only was this the Nazi plan, the following source gives one an idea what other military powers thought of the German invasion as they became aware:


(From Chapter 1, page 3, "The World Will hold Its Breath") As of June 23, 1942 -- In Washington, the War Department War Plans Division expected a Soviet defeat in one to three months. Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins (New York: Harper, 1950, p. 303). Sir Stafford Cripps, the British ambassador in Moscow, predicted a German victory in three to four weeks, while the British Joint Intelligence Committee gave the Russians "a few months at the outside." (J. M. A. Gwyer, Grand Strategy London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1964, vol. III, pt. I, p. 90.) Indeed, BARBAROSSA appeared to be, as Hitler claimed, the greatest military operation of all time, capable of defeating the Soviet Union in a single summer's campaign.

In short, both Hitler and his most powerful enemies--outside of Moscow--were certain that not only would the Nazis defeat the Soviet Union but that they would do so with relative ease.

This being the case, Hitler and The German High Command expected to win the oil fields of the Caucasus and their production facilities still intact, as they would have been in use right up until the surrender. In addition, he expected to rid Germany of this enemy for good.

If Hitler and the others had been correct, Germany would have won the war and basically, made money while doing it.

The Limits of Genius: Erich von Manstein

War, the poet Virgil once wrote, is a tale of “arms and the man.” The outcome of battle hinges on numbers, technology, training, and other impersonal factors, not to mention weather and terrain (“arms”). No matter how dire the odds, however, the genius of an individual commander (“the man”) can still triumph.

If ever the German army needed a genius, it was during the winter of 1942–43. The German invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, had begun in June 1941 as a staggering success, with one Soviet army after another encircled and destroyed. But by December a number of factors— heavy German losses, weather, and stiff Soviet resistance—conspired to halt the German drive outside Moscow. A vast counterattack, spearheaded by winter-hardened troops of the Siberian Reserve, soon had the remnants of Hitler’s armies in full flight from the Soviet capital.

The Germans tried again in June 1942 with Operation Blue, another great offensive on the southern front, heading toward Stalingrad and the oil fields in the Caucasus Mountains. This, too, came to grief. The Soviets made a gritty stand in the ruins of Stalingrad, then counterattacked north and south of that city, encircling the German 6th Army. By the end of 1942 the entire German front in the south was on the verge of collapse, and Adolf Hitler and his chief of staff, General Kurt Zeitzler, were flailing. At the start of Operation Blue, Hitler had reassured his jittery staff that “the Russian is finished,” but those words now sounded hollow. Far from finished, “the Russian” was on a rampage. A call went out from the Führer’s headquarters to the man fellow officers regarded as the most gifted commander in the entire Wehrmacht. In the east, it was do or die time. It was time for Manstein.

FIELD MARSHAL ERICH VON MANSTEIN was a genius, and happily said so himself. It is not bragging if one can back it up, however, and Manstein could. Born as Erich von Lewinski in 1887, he was adopted as a boy by a childless aunt and uncle. Both his biological and adoptive fathers were Prussian generals, making Manstein the scion of two aristocratic families. During World War I, he served in a variety of staff and field positions, and was wounded. Despite an acerbic manner—the prerogative of many brilliant and ambitious young men—he gained a reputation as one of the army’s sharpest young officers in the years after the war. The opening of World War II expanded that reputation, bringing him fame at home and abroad. Manstein was the brains behind the unorthodox operational plan that destroyed the French army in 1940. He led the lightning drive on Leningrad in 1941. He fought a brilliant campaign in the Crimea in 1942, encircling three Soviet armies at Kerch in May and in June smashing Soviet defenses in front of the great fortress of Sevastopol.

Manstein understood modern mobile operations— particularly the employment of tanks—as well as anyone in the business. He could out-think and outmaneuver opponents with the focus of a chess player, and indeed chess was one of his obsessions. Fellow officers recognized him as a master operator. General Alfred Heusinger of the Operations Section thought that Manstein “could accomplish in a single night what other military leaders would take weeks to do.”

In late 1942, as Hitler and Zeitzler pondered the looming disaster, Manstein seemed their only hope. On November 20, they summoned the general from the Leningrad front and put him in charge of a new formation, Army Group Don. The campaign Manstein would fight would be a lesson in how a genius can impose his will on a battlefield. In the course of this most difficult conflict, Manstein’s improvisation would overcome seemingly impossible obstacles and prove that in war one man really can make a difference. But he would also find himself a prisoner of his strategic situation, reminded that even a brilliant commander has limits.

MANSTEIN AND HIS NEW ARMY group faced a daunting situation. As 1942 was ending, German forces were scattered across the southern front. One major unit, Army Group B, was strung out on a flat plain along the Don, one of the Soviet Union’s many large rivers. Army Group A stood in the Caucasus mountain region between the Black and Caspian Seas, 500 miles to the south. In the immense steppe between the two armies stood…not much. The German 6th Army had been deployed there, but as the new year dawned, the 6th was trapped inside Stalingrad. Furthermore, contact between Army Groups B and A was nil, and a mass of Soviet armies was now pouring into this vacuum. Manstein’s mission was simple to describe, but less simple to accomplish. He needed to break the Soviet ring around Stalingrad and rescue 6th Army. Then he had to plug the gap between Army Groups B and A, and re-knit the defensive front.

On the map, Army Group Don seemed to fill the hole, but reality fell far short of that. The units in Manstein’s force were wretched, mostly ad hoc Gruppen—groups of varied size, hastily tossed together and named for whichever officer happened to be available to take command. Rather than divisions and corps, Manstein’s order of battle included Group Stahel, Group Stumpffeld, and Group Spang among many others. Their ranks consisted of rear-area supply troops, stragglers, remnants of destroyed formations, and a new breed: Luftwaffe field divisions made up of air force personnel pulled from bases at the rear, given rudimentary infantry training, and hustled to the front to fight on foot. While some of these units bravely defended their positions, too many melted away at their first contact with Soviet tanks.

Given these difficulties, Manstein’s attempt to relieve Stalingrad—Operation Winter Storm—was a long shot from the start. The army was so threadbare that Manstein could assemble only a single corps, the 57th Panzer, for the relief offensive. The corps had two divisions: the 6th Panzer, just transferred from France, and the battered 23rd Panzer, which had seen a great deal of hard fighting and badly needed a refit. Together these two groups, which probably added up to a division and a half, were to launch a 90-mile drive to Stalingrad in the teeth of strong Soviet opposition.

The offensive opened on December 12. Assembling southwest of Stalingrad at the railway town of Kotelnikovo, the two divisions drove straight up the rail line, with 6th Panzer to the left of the tracks and 23rd to the right. Although the assault lacked real surprise and any attempt to maneuver, it penetrated the Soviet defenses on day one. Under the command of one of the army’s most aggressive tankers, General Eberhard Raus, 6th Panzer led the attack and made its presence felt. Its partner, 23rd Panzer, had only 30 tanks to its name and barely kept pace.

The German tempo slowed. By day two, Soviet reinforcements were hammering the attackers’ flanks. The adversaries were locked in tough fighting for individual ridges and villages, with heavy losses all around—the very type of engagement the brittle German force had to avoid. The weather went from good to terrible, German tanks ran out of fuel, and the Soviets resisted fiercely. General Raus and his panzers ground forward, but never came close to penetration and slowed to a halt 35 miles from Stalingrad. On December 23, Manstein canceled Winter Storm and left 6th Army to its fate.

Manstein had failed at Stalingrad. Or had he? Even a genius has needs—men, supplies, and vehicles—and Manstein came up short. He made no obvious mistake in Winter Storm, but in that context an error-free effort hardly mattered. His task was to reopen a supply line, perhaps in concert with a breakout by 6th Army from inside the city, and that did not happen.

Manstein rationalized his failure in a postwar memoir, Lost Victories. The pertinent chapter, “Tragedy of Stalingrad,” likens 6th Army to the legendary 300 Spartans who sacrificed themselves at Thermopylae to give Greece time to organize defenses against the Persians. He justified the sacrifice of 6th Army as a necessary diversion to draw Soviet strength from Army Group Don, buying time while he scrambled to rebuild the shattered front. “The officers and soldiers of this army have built a monument to valor and duty for the German soldier,” Manstein wrote. “It is not made of earth or rock, but it will live for the ages.”

Neither argument—the operational or the poetic— made sense. In the language of Manstein’s beloved chess, 6th Army was not a pawn to be thrown away to gain position. As one German staff officer put it, “An army of 300,000 men is not a machine gun nest or a bunker whose defenders may, under certain circumstances, be sacrificed for the whole.” The loss of 6th Army was a catastrophe, pure and simple. These passages reveal an inglorious side of Manstein, as do his repeated attempts in Lost Victories to cast blame on others—whether Hitler or 6th Army’s commander, General Friedrich Paulus. Convinced of his own genius, however, perhaps Manstein could not have done otherwise.

With Winter Storm’s failure, the campaign entered its second stage. For the moment, the Red Army was ascendant, launching a series of huge offensives west of Stalingrad: In December, Operation Little Saturn smashed the Italian 8th Army. January’s Ostrogozhsk-Rossosh Offensive (named for the towns that were the initial objectives) targeted the Hungarian 2nd Army. Operation Gallop saw Soviet armies hurtling full bore across the Donets River to the south and southwest. And Operation Star, in early February, came close to destroying the German 2nd Army. This collective strategic offensive sought nothing less than to smash all of Germany’s armies on the southern front.

Manstein had minimal ability to resist the Russian onslaught. Essentially managing chaos, he shifted units hither and yon as emergencies arose, and inserted meager reinforcements as they arrived. In his few spare moments, he tried to talk sense into the high command—i.e. Hitler—urging the evacuation of the Caucasus and consolidation of Germany’s weak forces. He met only frustration, as did most officers who tried to get the Führer to approve a retreat. Only after a month of browbeating by the persuasive General Zeitzler did Hitler agree to withdraw Army Group A from the Caucasus.

The late January evacuation of the Caucasus led this sprawling campaign into its third stage. The Soviet offensives were reaching what the great philosopher of war Karl von Clausewitz called a “culmination point,” at which energy flags, friction rises, and the machine stops. Soviet supplies—especially fuel—were running low, Russian tank corps were losing their cutting edge, and men were near exhaustion. It had been an amazing ride for the Red Army: starting at Stalingrad, it had crossed two major rivers and driven 500 miles into the vast open spaces of the southern Soviet Union. In all, it was one of the most successful military campaigns ever. But the ravages were starting to show, and Soviet fighting strength was half what it had been at the offensive’s start.

WHILE THE SOVIETS WERE wearing down, Manstein’s forces were strengthening. His small groups were coalescing into provisional armies—multi-corps formations commanded, as before, by whoever was available. Provisional Army Hollidt now stood in place of 6th Army, Provisional Army Fretter-Pico occupied the ground where the Italian 8th Army had been, and Provisional Army Lanz was forming a mobile command around Kharkov, the fourth-largest Soviet city. These formations were still short on administrative personnel, artillery, and transport, but months of working together had bred confidence among the ranks. Adding to the German renewal was the arrival of reinforcements from the home front: the II SS Panzer Corps, comprised of three new divisions bursting with fresh manpower, equipment, and self-confidence.

Soviet overstretch, German revival: it was Manstein’s moment, the instant when “arms” yield to “the man.” Sitting on the defensive had eaten at Manstein. (“For me,” he said with considerable understatement,“it went right against the grain.”) He knew the Soviets were not supermen and that his time would come. He welcomed the arrival of II SS Panzer Corps to his army group, but even so, Soviet numbers dwarfed his own.

Manstein had a solution, however. Although German armies had withdrawn from the Caucasus, they were on a line that stretched east toward the city of Rostov. Manstein called that position a balcony because it jutted at right angles from the main defensive position. He drew up a plan to pull back from this forward location and shorten the line—the only way to free troops for a decisive counterattack.

But what sort of counterattack? Ever the chess player, Manstein envisioned a Rochade—the castling move in which a king and a rook exchange places. A player typically uses the maneuver to improve his overall defensive position and protect his king, but also to free his rook, one of the most powerful pieces on the board and one of the few able to carry out deep, mobile strikes. Manstein wanted to transfer the armies from the portion of the balcony on his extreme right—the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies—to his left, wielding them like a massive armored rook. Once redeployed, the two armies would launch a counter blow against Soviet forces driving to the west. It was a typically bold stroke, one Manstein called a backhand blow—a well-timed strike against a committed enemy far from its base and low on supplies.

After Manstein sold Hitler on the idea during a face-to-face meeting on February 6, the pullback from the eastern balcony began, followed by the change in position. In the next few days, 1st Panzer, under General Eberhard von Mackensen, came up into the line on Manstein’s left wing. A week later, 4th Panzer, under General Hermann Hoth, fell in on 1st Panzer’s left. The entire German array, consolidated under Manstein and renamed Army Group South, now faced north—at the Soviet armies hurtling west for the Dnepr river crossings. The stakes were enormous. If the Soviets were the first to reach the Dnepr bridges, they could trap Manstein’s entire force east of the great river. The Germans had lost an army at Stalingrad. Now they were threatened with a super-Stalingrad of the entire German southern wing, and perhaps the end of the war.

The campaign had boiled down into a race. The Soviets were driving west and the Germans were desperately trying to keep pace. For weeks in late February, the situation hung in the balance. Manstein had an advantage, since his forces were falling back onto their supply bases while the Soviets were leaving theirs behind. The Soviets had their own advantage, however. They were far enough north that the ground was still frozen hard. The Germans, over a hundred miles to the south, were motoring on terrain that had started to thaw, and the muddy roads seriously hindered their movement.

The Soviets hit their high-water mark on February 19, when a column of T-34 tanks seized the town of Sinelnikovo, only 30 miles from German headquarters on the Dnepr. Making matters worse for the Germans, Hitler himself had just flown in to consult with Manstein. The news that enemy tanks were an hour away, “without a single formation between us and the enemy,” as Manstein put it, led to a scramble. By noon, Manstein’s staff officers had trundled the Führer onto a plane back to Germany.

The Soviets had no idea how close they had come to Hitler, but their intelligence was reporting massive German troops movements to the west that were choking roads with men, vehicles, and guns, as well as the abandonment of heavy equipment and forward air bases. Soviet commanders, reading these signs to mean that the Germans were making a wild run for the Dnepr crossings, urged their men on with redoubled urgency. The Wehrmacht was in flight, and this was no time to ease up.

Two days later, the Soviets realized how wrong they had been. On February 21, Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army erupted in a counterattack. Two convergent thrusts— one from the south, with 57th Panzer Corps on the left and 47th on the right, and one from the northwest by II SS Panzer Corps—caught the Soviets by surprise from all directions and vaporized them. German casualties in these opening days were minimal. The Soviets, however, lost nearly all their tanks, and many men. And no wonder: at the very moment of the German counterattack, unit after Soviet unit was running out of fuel.

Manstein knew he had drawn blood. After the tensions of the last month, it was his moment of liberation. With two German armies driving north and the Soviets melting away, the time had come to drive the blade in deeper. It must have seemed like 1941, or even 1940. The campaign climaxed when the II SS Panzer Corps slammed into Kharkov and, after three days of gritty street fighting from March 12–14, cleared the city. From Kharkov, German forces hopped less than 50 miles north to Belgorod, taking that city on March 23. By then the entire front had thawed, the muddy season had arrived with a vengeance, and no one was going anywhere.

MANSTEIN WAS JUSTIFIABLY ECSTATIC over what he had achieved. “No cold, no snow, no ice, no mud could break your will to win,” he told his troops. Hitler echoed the sentiment, calling Kharkov “a turning point in the fortunes of battle,” and granted extra leave to formations that had fought there.

But there were two sides to the Kharkov campaign. Manstein proved he was a master of war, but at many moments war had clearly mastered him. In the first phase, the attempt to relieve Stalingrad, he had been helpless. He had a single panzer division, a 90-mile drive, and a front that was leaking everywhere. Likewise, in the middle phase—the Soviet lunge west from Stalingrad—Manstein’s makeshift battle groups and hapless Luftwaffe divisions had minimal impact. He had to be patient, biding his time and plugging whatever hole the Soviets had blown in the dike.

As with most campaigns, the time came when an individual could make a difference, and Manstein picked his with skill. He devised a simple but elegant plan, timed his blow perfectly, and executed it ruthlessly. In the end, he achieved the seemingly impossible: he re-established the German front in the south where it had been torn open by the debacle at Stalingrad. Even more remarkable, he restored that front to nearly where it had stood at the start of the 1942 campaign, before Stalingrad. The achievement was almost surreal compared to the disastrous situation that had existed only a few weeks earlier.

It was Manstein’s greatest victory—but it was tragically incomplete. In driving to Kharkov, Manstein rode his armies hard, propelling them to a long, meandering line along the Donets River—approximately midpoint between the Don, where the Soviet offensive had begun, and the Dnepr, where it had ended. This left the Germans at a forward position of great breadth that they would not be able to hold in the coming year. Manstein recognized this so did Hitler and the staff. The end of the winter campaign found them all deep in thought, mulling ways to keep the initiative for the rest of 1943.

So Manstein’s great victory ended nothing. A mere four months later, in July 1943, the Wehrmacht would launch an outnumbered and ill-advised offensive, Operation Citadel, aimed at a large bulge in the Soviet line around the city of Kursk. For all of Manstein’s genius, he had only delayed disaster, and the victory at Kharkov led inexorably to defeat at Kursk.

The German dominance at Kharkov was a display of personal genius—a virtuoso performance. For a few weeks “the man” made an entire front dance to his tune. But as the war showed repeatedly, even the greatest general must bow to strategic limitations, and the realities of the battlefield always reassert themselves.

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.


By the spring of 1942, despite the failure of Operation Barbarossa to decisively defeat the Soviet Union in a single campaign, the Wehrmacht had captured vast expanses of territory, including Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic republics. Elsewhere, the war had been progressing well: the U-boat offensive in the Atlantic had been very successful and Erwin Rommel had just captured Tobruk. [24] : 522 In the east, the Germans had stabilised a front running from Leningrad south to Rostov, with a number of minor salients. Hitler was confident that he could break the Red Army despite the heavy German losses west of Moscow in winter 1941–42, because Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) had been unable to engage 65% of its infantry, which had meanwhile been rested and re-equipped. Neither Army Group North nor Army Group South had been particularly hard-pressed over the winter. [25] Stalin was expecting the main thrust of the German summer attacks to be directed against Moscow again. [21] : 498

With the initial operations being very successful, the Germans decided that their summer campaign in 1942 would be directed at the southern parts of the Soviet Union. The initial objectives in the region around Stalingrad were to destroy the industrial capacity of the city and to block the Volga River traffic connecting the Caucasus and Caspian Sea to central Russia. The Germans cut the pipeline from the oilfields when they captured Rostov on 23 July. The capture of Stalingrad would make the delivery of Lend Lease supplies via the Persian Corridor much more difficult. [26] [27] [28]

On 23 July 1942, Hitler personally rewrote the operational objectives for the 1942 campaign, greatly expanding them to include the occupation of the city of Stalingrad. Both sides began to attach propaganda value to the city, which bore the name of the Soviet leader. Hitler proclaimed that after Stalingrad's capture, its male citizens were to be killed and all women and children were to be deported because its population was "thoroughly communistic" and "especially dangerous". [29] It was assumed that the fall of the city would also firmly secure the northern and western flanks of the German armies as they advanced on Baku, with the aim of securing its strategic petroleum resources for Germany. [24] : 528 The expansion of objectives was a significant factor in Germany's failure at Stalingrad, caused by German overconfidence and an underestimation of Soviet reserves. [30]

The Soviets realised their critical situation, ordering everyone who could hold a rifle into the fight. [31] : 94

If I do not get the oil of Maikop and Grozny then I must finish [liquidieren "kill off", "liquidate"] this war.

Army Group South was selected for a sprint forward through the southern Russian steppes into the Caucasus to capture the vital Soviet oil fields there. The planned summer offensive, code-named Fall Blau (Case Blue), was to include the German 6th, 17th, 4th Panzer and 1st Panzer Armies. Army Group South had overrun the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1941. Poised in Eastern Ukraine, it was to spearhead the offensive. [32]

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's 6th Army and Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, was to move east towards the Volga and Stalingrad. Army Group B was commanded by General Maximilian von Weichs. [33]

The start of Case Blue had been planned for late May 1942. However, a number of German and Romanian units that were to take part in Blau were 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 early July.

Operation Fridericus I by the Germans against the "Isium bulge", pinched off the Soviet salient in the Second Battle of Kharkov, and resulted in the envelopment of a large Soviet force between 17 May and 29 May. Similarly, Operation Wilhelm attacked Voltshansk on 13 June, and Operation Fridericus attacked Kupiansk on 22 June. [34]

Blau finally opened as Army Group South began its attack into southern Russia on 28 June 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 2 July, 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 Voronezh, capturing the city on 5 July.

The initial advance of the 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 1st Panzer choked the roads, stopping both dead while they cleared the mess of thousands of vehicles. The delay is thought to have delayed the advance at least one week. With the advance now slowed, Hitler changed his mind and reassigned 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 are only 65 km (40 mi) 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. Occasionally Italian actions were mentioned in official German communiques. [35] [36] [37] [38] Italian forces were generally held in little regard by the Germans, and were accused of low morale: in reality, the Italian divisions fought comparatively well, with the 3rd Mountain Infantry Division Ravenna and 5th Infantry Division Cosseria showing spirit, according to a German liaison officer. [39] The Italians were forced to retreat only after a massive armoured attack in which German reinforcements failed to arrive in time, according to German historian Rolf-Dieter Müller. [40]

On 25 July the Germans faced stiff resistance with a Soviet bridgehead west of Kalach. "We had had to pay a high cost in men and material . left on the Kalach battlefield were numerous burnt-out or shot-up German tanks." [41]

The Germans formed bridgeheads across the Don on 20 August, with the 295th and 76th Infantry Divisions enabling the XIVth Panzer Corps "to thrust to the Volga north of Stalingrad." The German 6th Army was only a few dozen kilometres from Stalingrad. The 4th Panzer Army, ordered south on 13 July to block the Soviet retreat "weakened by the 17th Army and the 1st Panzer Army", had turned northwards to help take the city from the south. [42]

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 too far apart to support one another.

After German intentions became clear in July 1942, Stalin appointed General Andrey Yeryomenko commander of the Southeastern Front on 1 August 1942. Yeryomenko and Commissar Nikita Khrushchev were tasked with planning the defence of Stalingrad. [43] Beyond the Volga River on the eastern boundary of Stalingrad, additional Soviet units were formed into the 62nd Army under Lieutenant General Vasiliy Chuikov on 11 September 1942. Tasked with holding the city at all costs, [44] Chuikov proclaimed, "We will defend the city or die in the attempt." [45] The battle earned him one of his two Hero of the Soviet Union awards.

Red Army

During the defence of Stalingrad, the Red Army deployed five armies in and around the city (28th, 51st, 57th, 62nd and 64th Armies) and an additional nine armies in the encirclement counteroffensive [46] (24th, 65th, 66th Armies and 16th Air Army from the north as part of the Don Front offensive, and 1st Guards Army, 5th Tank, 21st Army, 2nd Air Army and 17th Air Army from the south as part of the Southwestern Front).

Initial attack

David Glantz indicated [47] that four hard-fought battles – collectively known as the Kotluban Operations – north of Stalingrad, where the Soviets made their greatest stand, decided Germany's fate before the Nazis ever set foot in the city itself, and were a turning point in the war. Beginning in late August, continuing in September and into October, the Soviets committed between two and four armies in hastily coordinated and poorly controlled attacks against the Germans' northern flank. The actions resulted in more than 200,000 Soviet Army casualties but did slow the German assault.

On 23 August the 6th Army reached the outskirts of Stalingrad in pursuit of the 62nd and 64th Armies, which had fallen back into the city. Kleist later said after the war:

The capture of Stalingrad was subsidiary to the main aim. It was only of importance as a convenient place, in the bottleneck between Don and the Volga, where we could block an attack on our flank by Russian forces coming from the east. At the start, Stalingrad was no more than a name on the map to us. [48]

The Soviets had enough warning of the German advance to ship grain, cattle, and railway cars across the Volga out of harm's way, but Stalin refused to evacuate the 400,000 civilian residents trapped in Stalingrad. This "harvest victory" left the city short of food even before the German attack began. Before the Heer reached the city itself, the Luftwaffe had cut off shipping on the Volga, vital for bringing supplies into the city. Between 25 and 31 July, 32 Soviet ships were sunk, with another nine crippled. [49]

The battle began with the heavy bombing of the city by Generaloberst Wolfram von Richthofen's Luftflotte 4, which in the summer and autumn of 1942 was the single most powerful air formation in the world. Some 1,000 tons of bombs were dropped in 48 hours, more than in London at the height of the Blitz. [50] The exact number of civilians killed is unknown but was most likely very high. Around 40,000 civilians were taken to Germany as slave workers, some fled during battle and a small number were evacuated by the Soviets, but by February 1943 only 10,000 to 60,000 civilians were still alive. Much of the city was smashed to rubble, although some factories continued production while workers joined in the fighting. The Stalingrad Tractor Factory continued to turn out T-34 tanks up until German troops burst into the plant. The 369th (Croatian) Reinforced Infantry Regiment was the only non-German unit [51] selected by the Wehrmacht to enter Stalingrad city during assault operations. It fought as part of the 100th Jäger Division.

Stalin rushed all available troops to the east bank of the Volga, some from as far away as Siberia. Regular river ferries were quickly destroyed by the Luftwaffe, which then targeted troop barges being towed slowly across by tugs. [43] It has been said that Stalin prevented civilians from leaving the city in the belief that their presence would encourage greater resistance from the city's defenders. [52] Civilians, including women and children, were put to work building trenchworks and protective fortifications. A massive German air raid on 23 August caused a firestorm, killing hundreds and turning Stalingrad into a vast landscape of rubble and burnt ruins. Ninety percent of the living space in the Voroshilovskiy area was destroyed. Between 23 and 26 August, Soviet reports indicate 955 people were killed and another 1,181 wounded as a result of the bombing. [53] Casualties of 40,000 were greatly exaggerated, [54] and after 25 August the Soviets did not record any civilian and military casualties as a result of air raids. [Note 3]

Lloyd Clark, Kursk: The greatest battle: Eastern Front 1943. 2011 [55]

The Soviet Air Force, the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (VVS), was swept aside by the Luftwaffe. The VVS bases in the immediate area lost 201 aircraft between 23 and 31 August, and despite meagre reinforcements of some 100 aircraft in August, it was left with just 192 serviceable aircraft, 57 of which were fighters. [56] The Soviets continued to pour aerial reinforcements into the Stalingrad area in late September, but continued to suffer appalling losses the Luftwaffe had complete control of the skies.

The burden of the initial defence of the city fell on the 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, [52] a unit made up mainly of 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 Division reportedly had to fight the 1077th's gunners "shot for shot" until all 37 anti-aircraft guns were destroyed or overrun. The 16th Panzer was shocked to find that, due to Soviet manpower shortages, it had been fighting female soldiers. [57] [58] In the early stages of the battle, the NKVD organised poorly armed "Workers' militias" similar to those that had defended the city twenty-four years earlier, composed of civilians not directly involved in war production for immediate use in the battle. The civilians were often sent into battle without rifles. [59] Staff and students from the local technical university formed a "tank destroyer" unit. They assembled tanks from leftover parts at the tractor factory. These tanks, unpainted and lacking gun-sights, were driven directly from the factory floor to the front line. They could only be aimed at point-blank range through the bore of their gun barrels. [60]

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, while the Soviets abandoned their Rossoshka position for the inner defensive ring west of Stalingrad. The wings of the 6th Army and the 4th Panzer Army met near Jablotchni along the Zaritza on 2 Sept. [61] By 1 September, the Soviets could only reinforce and supply their forces in Stalingrad by perilous crossings of the Volga under constant bombardment by artillery and aircraft.

September city battles

On 5 September, the Soviet 24th and 66th Armies organized a massive attack against XIV Panzer Corps. The Luftwaffe helped repel 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 committed, 30 were lost to air attack. [62]

Soviet operations were constantly hampered by the Luftwaffe. On 18 September, the Soviet 1st Guards and 24th Army launched an offensive against VIII Army Corps at Kotluban. VIII. Fliegerkorps dispatched wave after wave of Stuka dive-bombers to prevent a breakthrough. The offensive was repelled. The Stukas claimed 41 of the 106 Soviet tanks knocked out that morning, while escorting Bf 109s destroyed 77 Soviet aircraft. [63] Amid the debris of the wrecked city, the Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies, which included the Soviet 13th Guards Rifle Division, anchored their defence lines with strong-points 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 27 July 1942 decreed that all commanders who ordered unauthorised retreats would be subject to a military tribunal. [64] Deserters and presumed malingerers were captured or executed after fighting. [65] During the battle the 62nd Army had the most arrests and executions: 203 in all, of which 49 were executed, while 139 were sent to penal companies and battalions. [66] [67] [68] [69] The Germans pushing forward into Stalingrad suffered heavy casualties.

By 12 September, at the time of their retreat into the city, the Soviet 62nd Army had been reduced to 90 tanks, 700 mortars and just 20,000 personnel. [70] The remaining tanks were used as immobile strong-points within the city. The initial German attack on 14 September attempted to take the city in a rush. The 51st Army Corps' 295th Infantry Division went after the Mamayev Kurgan hill, the 71st attacked the central rail station and toward the central landing stage on the Volga, while 48th Panzer Corps attacked south of the Tsaritsa River. Rodimtsev's 13th Guards Rifle Division had been hurried up to cross the river and join the defenders inside the city. [71] Assigned to counterattack at the Mamayev Kurgan and at Railway Station No. 1, it suffered particularly heavy losses.

Though initially successful, the German attacks stalled in the face of Soviet reinforcements brought in from across the Volga. The Soviet 13th Guards Rifle Division, assigned to counterattack at the Mamayev Kurgan and at Railway Station No. 1, suffered particularly 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 six hours. By the following evening, the 13th Guards Rifle Division had ceased to exist.

Combat raged for three days at the giant grain elevator in the south of the city. About fifty Red Army defenders, cut off from resupply, held the position for five days and fought off ten different assaults before running out of ammunition and water. Only forty dead Soviet fighters were found, though the Germans had thought there were many more due to the intensity of resistance. The Soviets burned large amounts of grain during their retreat in order to deny the enemy food. Paulus chose the grain elevator and silos as the symbol of Stalingrad for a patch he was having designed to commemorate the battle after a German victory.

In another part of the city, a Soviet platoon under the command of Sergeant Yakov Pavlov fortified a four-story building that oversaw a square 300 meters from the river bank, 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. [70] The soldiers found about ten Soviet civilians hiding in the basement. They were not relieved, and not significantly reinforced, for two months. The building was labelled Festung ("Fortress") on German maps. Sgt. Pavlov was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union for his actions.

The Germans made slow but steady progress through the city. Positions were taken individually, but the Germans were never able to capture the key crossing points along the river bank. By 27 Sept. the Germans occupied the southern portion of the city, but the Soviets held the centre and northern part. Most importantly, the Soviets controlled the ferries to their supplies on the east bank of the Volga. [72]

Strategy and tactics

German military doctrine was based on the principle of combined-arms teams and close cooperation between tanks, infantry, engineers, artillery and ground-attack aircraft. Some Soviet commanders adopted the tactic of always keeping their front-line positions as close to the Germans as physically possible Chuikov called this "hugging" the Germans. This slowed the German advance and reduced the effectiveness of the German advantage in supporting fire. [ citation needed ]

The Red Army gradually adopted a strategy to hold for as long as possible all the ground in the city. Thus, they converted multi-floored apartment blocks, factories, warehouses, street corner residences and office buildings into a series of well-defended strong-points with small 5–10-man units. Manpower in the city was constantly refreshed by bringing additional troops over the Volga. When a position was lost, an immediate attempt was usually made to re-take it with fresh forces. [ citation needed ]

Bitter fighting raged for every ruin, street, factory, house, basement, and staircase. Even the sewers were the sites of firefights. The Germans called this unseen urban warfare Rattenkrieg ("Rat War"), [73] and bitterly joked about capturing the kitchen but still fighting for the living room and the bedroom. Buildings had to be cleared room by room through the bombed-out debris of residential areas, 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. [ citation needed ] Fighting on and around Mamayev Kurgan, a prominent hill above the city, was particularly merciless indeed, the position changed hands many times. [74] [75]

The Germans used aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery to clear the city with varying degrees of success. Toward the end of the battle, the gigantic railroad gun nicknamed Dora was brought into the area. The Soviets built up a large number of artillery batteries on the east bank of the Volga. This artillery was able to bombard the German positions or at least provide counter-battery fire.

Snipers on both sides used the ruins to inflict casualties. The most famous Soviet sniper in Stalingrad was Vasily Zaytsev, [76] with 225 confirmed kills during the battle. Targets were often soldiers bringing up food or water to forward positions. Artillery spotters were an especially prized target for snipers.

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 October 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). [77] On the other hand, Beevor noted the often extraordinary bravery of the Soviet soldiers in a battle that was only comparable to Verdun, and argued that terror alone cannot explain such self-sacrifice. [78] Richard Overy addresses the question of just how important the Red Army's coercive methods were to the Soviet war effort compared with other motivational factors such as hatred for the enemy. He argues that, though it is "easy to argue that from the summer of 1942 the Soviet army fought because it was forced to fight," to concentrate solely on coercion is nonetheless to "distort our view of the Soviet war effort." [79] After conducting hundreds of interviews with Soviet veterans on the subject of terror on the Eastern Front – and specifically about Order No. 227 ("Not a step back!") at Stalingrad – Catherine Merridale notes that, seemingly paradoxically, "their response was frequently relief." [80] Infantryman Lev Lvovich's explanation, for example, is typical for these interviews as he recalls, "[i]t was a necessary and important step. We all knew where we stood after we had heard it. And we all – it's true – felt better. Yes, we felt better." [80]

Many women fought on the Soviet side or were under fire. As General Chuikov acknowledged, "Remembering the defence of Stalingrad, I can't overlook the very important question . about the role of women in war, in the rear, but also at the front. Equally with men they bore all the burdens of combat life and together with us men, they went all the way to Berlin." [81] 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. [82] Women staffed a great many of the anti-aircraft batteries that fought not only the Luftwaffe but German tanks. [83] Soviet nurses not only treated wounded personnel under fire but were involved in the highly dangerous work of bringing wounded soldiers back to the hospitals under enemy fire. [84] Many of the Soviet wireless and telephone operators were women who often suffered heavy casualties when their command posts came under fire. [85] Though women were not usually trained as infantry, many Soviet women fought as machine gunners, mortar operators, and scouts. [86] Women were also snipers at Stalingrad. [87] Three air regiments at Stalingrad were entirely female. [86] At least three women won the title Hero of the Soviet Union while driving tanks at Stalingrad. [88]

For both Stalin and Hitler, Stalingrad became a matter of prestige far beyond its strategic significance. [89] The Soviet command moved units from the Red Army strategic reserve in 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. [90]

Fighting in the industrial district

After 27 September, much of the fighting in the city shifted north to the industrial district. Having slowly advanced over 10 days against strong Soviet resistance, the 51st Army Corps was finally in front of the three giant factories of Stalingrad: the Red October Steel Factory, the Barrikady Arms Factory and Stalingrad Tractor Factory. It took a few more days for them to prepare for the most savage offensive of all, which was unleashed on 14 October with a concentration of gunfire never seen before. [91] Exceptionally intense shelling and bombing paved the way for the first German assault groups. The main attack (led by the 14th Panzer and 305th Infantry Divisions) attacked towards the tractor factory, while another assault led by the 24th Panzer Division hit to the south of the giant plant. [92]

The German onslaught crushed the 37th Guards Rifle Division of Major General Viktor Zholudev and in the afternoon the forward assault group reached the tractor factory before arriving at the Volga River, splitting the 62nd Army into two. [93] In response to the German breakthrough to the Volga, the front headquarters committed three battalions from the 300th Rifle Division and the 45th Rifle Division of Colonel Vasily Sokolov, a substantial force of over 2,000 men, to the fighting at the Red October Factory. [94]

Fighting raged inside the Barrikady Factory until the end of October. [95] The Soviet-controlled area shrank down to a few strips of land along the western bank of the Volga, and in November the fighting concentrated around what Soviet newspapers referred to as "Lyudnikov's Island", a small patch of ground behind the Barrikady Factory where the remnants of Colonel Ivan Lyudnikov's 138th Rifle Division resisted all ferocious assaults thrown by the Germans and became a symbol of the stout Soviet defence of Stalingrad. [96]

Air attacks

From 5 to 12 September, Luftflotte 4 conducted 7,507 sorties (938 per day). From 16 to 25 September, it carried out 9,746 missions (975 per day). [97] Determined to crush Soviet resistance, Luftflotte 4's Stukawaffe flew 900 individual sorties against Soviet positions at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory on 5 October. Several Soviet regiments were wiped out the entire staff of the Soviet 339th Infantry Regiment was killed the following morning during an air raid. [98]

The Luftwaffe retained air superiority into November, and Soviet daytime aerial resistance was nonexistent. However, the combination of constant air support operations on the German side and the Soviet surrender of the daytime skies began to affect the strategic balance in the air. From 28 June to 20 September, Luftflotte 4's original strength of 1,600 aircraft, of which 1,155 were operational, fell to 950, of which only 550 were operational. The fleet's total strength decreased by 40 percent. Daily sorties decreased from 1,343 per day to 975 per day. Soviet offensives in the central and northern portions of the Eastern Front tied down Luftwaffe reserves and newly built aircraft, reducing Luftflotte 4's percentage of Eastern Front aircraft from 60 percent on 28 June to 38 percent by 20 September. The Kampfwaffe (bomber force) was the hardest hit, having only 232 out of an original force of 480 left. [97] The VVS remained qualitatively inferior, but by the time of the Soviet counter-offensive, the VVS had reached numerical superiority.

In mid-October, after receiving reinforcements from the Caucasus theatre, the Luftwaffe intensified its efforts against the remaining Red Army positions holding the west bank. Luftflotte 4 flew 1,250 sorties on 14 October and its Stukas dropped 550 tonnes of bombs, while German infantry surrounded the three factories. [99] Stukageschwader 1, 2, and 77 had largely silenced Soviet artillery on the eastern bank of the Volga before turning their attention to the shipping that was once again trying to reinforce the narrowing Soviet pockets of resistance. The 62nd Army had been cut in two and, due to intensive air attack on its supply ferries, was receiving much less material support. With the Soviets forced into a 1-kilometre (1,000-yard) strip of land on the western bank of the Volga, over 1,208 Stuka missions were flown in an effort to eliminate them. [100]

The Soviet bomber force, the Aviatsiya Dal'nego Deystviya (Long Range Aviation ADD), having taken crippling losses over the past 18 months, was restricted to flying at night. The Soviets flew 11,317 night sorties over Stalingrad and the Don-bend sector between 17 July and 19 November. These raids caused little damage and were of nuisance value only. [101] [102] : 265

On 8 November, substantial units from Luftflotte 4 were withdrawn to combat the Allied landings in North Africa. The German air arm found itself spread thinly across Europe, struggling to maintain its strength in the other southern sectors of the Soviet-German front. [Note 4]

As historian Chris Bellamy notes, the Germans paid a high strategic price for the aircraft sent into Stalingrad: the Luftwaffe was forced to divert much of its air strength away from the oil-rich Caucasus, which had been Hitler's original grand-strategic objective. [103]

The Royal Romanian Air Force was also involved in the Axis air operations at Stalingrad. Starting 23 October 1942, Romanian pilots flew a total of 4,000 sorties, during which they destroyed 61 Soviet aircraft. The Romanian Air Force lost 79 aircraft, most of them captured on the ground along with their airfields. [104]

Germans reach the Volga

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 narrow pockets. Ice floes on the Volga now prevented boats and tugs from supplying the Soviet defenders. Nevertheless, the fighting continued, especially on the slopes of Mamayev Kurgan and inside the factory area in the northern part of the city. [105] From 21 August to 20 November, the German 6th Army lost 60,548 men, including 12,782 killed, 45,545 wounded and 2,221 missing. [106]

Recognising that 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 19 November 1942 and 2 February 1943. These operations opened the Winter Campaign of 1942–1943 (19 November 1942 – 3 March 1943), which involved some fifteen Armies operating on several fronts. According to Zhukov, "German operational blunders were aggravated by poor intelligence: they failed to spot preparations for the major counter-offensive near Stalingrad where there were 10 field, 1 tank and 4 air armies." [107]

Weakness on the German flanks

During the siege, the German and allied Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian armies protecting Army Group B's north and south flanks had pressed their headquarters for support. The Hungarian 2nd Army was given the task of defending a 200 km (120 mi) section of the front north of Stalingrad between the Italian Army and Voronezh. This resulted in a very thin line, with some sectors where 1–2 km (0.62–1.24 mi) stretches were being defended by a single platoon (platoons typically have around 20 to 50 men). These forces were also lacking in effective anti-tank weapons. Zhukov states, "Compared with the Germans, the troops of the satellites were not so well armed, less experienced and less efficient, even in defence." [108]

Because of the total focus on the city, the Axis forces had neglected for months to consolidate their positions along the natural defensive line of the Don River. The Soviet forces were allowed to retain bridgeheads on the right bank from which offensive operations could be quickly launched. These bridgeheads in retrospect presented a serious threat to Army Group B. [33]

Similarly, on the southern flank of the Stalingrad sector, the front southwest of Kotelnikovo was held only by the Romanian 4th Army. Beyond that army, a single German division, the 16th Motorised Infantry, covered 400 km. Paulus had requested permission to "withdraw the 6th Army behind the Don," but was rejected. According to Paulus' comments to Adam, "There is still the order whereby no commander of an army group or an army has the right to relinquish a village, even a trench, without Hitler's consent." [109]

Operation Uranus: the Soviet offensive

In autumn, the Soviet generals Georgy Zhukov and Aleksandr Vasilevsky, responsible for strategic planning in the Stalingrad area, concentrated forces in the steppes to the north and south of the city. The northern flank was defended by Hungarian and Romanian units, often in open positions on the steppes. The natural line of defence, the Don River, had never been properly established by the German side. The armies in the area were also poorly equipped in terms of anti-tank weapons. The plan was to punch through the overstretched and weakly defended German flanks and surround the German forces in the Stalingrad region.

During the preparations for the attack, Marshal Zhukov personally visited the front and noticing the poor organisation, insisted on a one-week delay in the start date of the planned attack. [110] 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 three years before, where he had sprung a double envelopment and destroyed the 23rd Division of the Japanese army. [111]

On 19 November 1942, the Red Army launched 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 motorised 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, deployed in exposed positions, outnumbered and poorly equipped, the Romanian 3rd Army, which held the northern flank of the German 6th Army, was overrun.

Behind the front lines, no preparations had been made to defend key points in the rear such as Kalach. The response by the Wehrmacht was both chaotic and indecisive. Poor weather prevented effective air action against the Soviet offensive. Army Group B was in disarray and faced strong Soviet pressure across all its fronts. Hence it was ineffective in relieving the 6th Army.

On 20 November, 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, were overrun by large numbers of tanks. The Soviet forces raced west and met on 23 November at the town of Kalach, sealing the ring around Stalingrad. [112] The link-up of the Soviet forces, not filmed at the time, was later re-enacted for a propaganda film which was shown worldwide. [ citation needed ] .

The surrounded Axis personnel comprised 265,000 Germans, Romanians, Italians, [113] [ page needed ] and the Croatians. In addition, the German 6th Army included between 40,000 and 65,000 Hilfswillige (Hiwi), or "volunteer auxiliaries", [114] [115] a term used for personnel recruited amongst Soviet POWs and civilians from areas under occupation. Hiwi often proved to be reliable Axis personnel in rear areas and were used for supporting roles, but also served in some front-line units as their numbers had increased. [115] German personnel in the pocket numbered about 210,000, according to strength breakdowns of the 20 field divisions (average size 9,000) and 100 battalion-sized units of the Sixth Army on 19 November 1942. Inside the pocket (German: Kessel, literally "cauldron"), 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. These belonged mostly to the other two divisions of the 6th Army between the Italian and Romanian armies: the 62nd and 298th Infantry Divisions. Of the 210,000 Germans, 10,000 remained to fight on, 105,000 surrendered, 35,000 left by air and the remaining 60,000 died.

Even with the desperate situation of the 6th Army, Army Group A continued their invasion of the Caucasus further south from 19 November until 19 December. Only on December 28 was Army Group A ordered to withdraw from the Caucasus. [ citation needed ] Hence Army Group A was never used to help relieve the Sixth Army.

Army Group Don was formed under Field Marshal von Manstein. Under his command were the twenty German and two Romanian divisions encircled at Stalingrad, Adam's battle groups formed along the Chir River and on the Don bridgehead, plus the remains of the Romanian 3rd Army. [116]

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 the 6th Army to break out, stating that he could break through the Soviet lines and relieve the besieged 6th Army. [117] The American historians Williamson Murray and Alan Millet wrote that it was Manstein's message to Hitler on 24 November advising him that the 6th Army should not break out, along with Göring's statements that the Luftwaffe could supply Stalingrad that ". sealed the fate of the Sixth Army." [118] [119] After 1945, Manstein claimed that he told Hitler that the 6th Army must break out. [117] The American historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote that Manstein distorted his record on the matter. [120] 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 temporarily supplied through the air. [121] [122]

Adolf Hitler had declared in a public speech (in the Berlin Sportpalast) on 30 September 1942 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, Hermann Göring. When asked by Hitler, Göring replied, after being convinced by Hans Jeschonnek, [123] that the Luftwaffe could supply the 6th Army with an "air bridge." This would allow the Germans in the city to fight on temporarily while a relief force was assembled. [112] 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. [124]

The director of Luftflotte 4, Wolfram von Richthofen, tried to get this decision overturned. The forces under the 6th Army were 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. Due to a limited number of available aircraft and having only one available airfield, at Pitomnik, the Luftwaffe could only deliver 105 tonnes of supplies per day, only a fraction of the minimum 750 tonnes that both Paulus and Zeitzler estimated the 6th Army needed. [125] [Note 5] To supplement the limited number of Junkers Ju 52 transports, the Germans pressed other aircraft into the role, such as the Heinkel He 177 bomber (some bombers performed adequately – the Heinkel He 111 proved to be quite capable and was much faster than the Ju 52). General Richthofen informed Manstein on 27 November of the small transport capacity of the Luftwaffe and the impossibility of supplying 300 tons a day by air. 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 Richthofen, he declared that contrary to the example of the pocket of Demyansk 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, and said that the Luftwaffe should instead of supplies deliver only enough ammunition and fuel for a breakout attempt. He acknowledged the heavy moral sacrifice that giving up Stalingrad would mean, but this would be made easier to bear by conserving the combat power of the Sixth Army and regaining the initiative. [126] He ignored the limited mobility of the army and the difficulties of disengaging the Soviets. Hitler reiterated that the Sixth Army would stay at Stalingrad and that the air bridge would supply it until the encirclement was broken by a new German offensive.

Supplying the 270,000 men trapped in the "cauldron" required 700 tons of supplies a day. That would mean 350 Ju 52 flights a day into Pitomnik. At a minimum, 500 tons were required. However, according to Adam, "On not one single day have the minimal essential number of tons of supplies been flown in." [127] The Luftwaffe was able to deliver an average of 85 tonnes of supplies per day out of an air transport capacity of 106 tonnes per day. The most successful day, 19 December, the Luftwaffe delivered 262 tonnes of supplies in 154 flights. The outcome of the airlift was the Luftwaffe's failure to provide its transport units with the tools they needed to maintain an adequate count of operational aircraft – tools that included airfield facilities, supplies, manpower, and even aircraft suited to the prevailing conditions. These factors, taken together, prevented the Luftwaffe from effectively employing the full potential of its transport forces, ensuring that they were unable to deliver the quantity of supplies needed to sustain the 6th Army. [128]

In the early parts of the operation, fuel was shipped at a higher priority than food and ammunition because of a belief that there would be a breakout from the city. [129] Transport aircraft also evacuated technical specialists and sick or wounded personnel from the besieged enclave. Sources differ on the number flown out: at least 25,000 to at most 35,000.

Initially, supply flights came in from the field at Tatsinskaya, [130] called 'Tazi' by the German pilots. On 23 December, the Soviet 24th Tank Corps, commanded by Major-General Vasily Mikhaylovich Badanov, reached nearby Skassirskaya and in the early morning of 24 December, 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 300 km (190 mi) from Stalingrad at Salsk, the additional distance would become another obstacle to the resupply efforts. Salsk was abandoned in turn by mid-January for a rough facility at Zverevo, near Shakhty. The field at Zverevo was attacked repeatedly on 18 January and a further 50 Ju 52s were destroyed. Winter weather conditions, technical failures, heavy Soviet anti-aircraft fire and fighter interceptions eventually led to the loss of 488 German aircraft.

In spite of the failure of the German offensive to reach the 6th Army, the air supply operation continued under ever more difficult circumstances. The 6th Army slowly starved. 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 "visibly lost weight", according to Albert Speer, and Hitler "commanded Zeitzler to resume at once taking sufficient nourishment." [131]

The toll on the Transportgruppen was heavy. 160 aircraft were destroyed and 328 were heavily damaged (beyond repair). 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, 9 Fw 200 Condors, 5 He 177 bombers and 1 Ju 290. The Luftwaffe also lost close to 1,000 highly experienced bomber crew personnel. [132] So heavy were the Luftwaffe ' s losses that four of Luftflotte 4's transport units (KGrzbV 700, KGrzbV 900, I./KGrzbV 1 and II./KGzbV 1) were "formally dissolved." [50]

Operation Winter Storm

Manstein's plan to rescue the Sixth Army – Operation Winter Storm – was developed in full consultation with Führer headquarters. It aimed to break through to the Sixth Army and establish a corridor to keep it supplied and reinforced, so that, according to Hitler's order, it could maintain its "cornerstone" position on the Volga, "with regard to operations in 1943". Manstein, however, who knew that Sixth Army could not survive the winter there, instructed his headquarters to draw up a further plan in the event of Hitler's seeing sense. This would include the subsequent breakout of Sixth Army, in the event of a successful first phase, and its physical reincorporation in Army Group Don. This second plan was given the name Operation Thunderclap. Winter Storm, as Zhukov had predicted, was originally planned as a two-pronged attack. One thrust would come from the area of Kotelnikovo, well to the south, and around a hundred miles from the Sixth Army. The other would start from the Chir front west of the Don, which was little more than forty miles from the edge of the Kessel, but the continuing attacks of Romanenko's 5th Tank Army against the German detachments along the river Chir ruled out that start-line. This left only the LVII Panzer Corps around Kotelnikovo, supported by the rest of Hoth's very mixed Fourth Panzer Army, to relieve Paulus's trapped divisions. The LVII Panzer Corps, commanded by General Friedrich Kirchner, had been weak at first. It consisted of two Romanian cavalry divisions and the 23rd Panzer Division, which mustered no more than thirty serviceable tanks. The 6th Panzer Division, arriving from France, was a vastly more powerful formation, but its members hardly received an encouraging impression. The Austrian divisional commander, General Erhard Raus, was summoned to Manstein's royal carriage in Kharkov station on 24 November, where the field marshal briefed him. "He described the situation in very sombre terms", recorded Raus. Three days later, when the first trainload of Raus's division steamed into Kotelnikovo station to unload, his troops were greeted by "a hail of shells" from Soviet batteries. "As quick as lightning, the Panzergrenadiers jumped from their wagons. But already the enemy was attacking the station with their battle-cries of 'Urrah!'" By 18 December, the German Army had pushed to within 48 km (30 mi) of Sixth Army's positions. However, the predictable nature of the relief operation brought significant risk for all German forces in the area. The starving encircled forces at Stalingrad made no attempt to break out or link up with Manstein's advance. 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, concerned about the Red Army attacks on the flank of Army Group Don and Army Group B in their advance on Rostov-on-Don, "an early abandonment" of Stalingrad "would result in the destruction of Army Group A in the Caucasus", and the fact that his 6th Army tanks only had fuel for a 30 km advance towards Hoth's spearhead, a futile effort if they did not receive assurance of resupply by air. Of his questions to Army Group Don, Paulus was told, "Wait, implement Operation 'Thunderclap' only on explicit orders!" – Operation Thunderclap being the code word initiating the breakout. [133]

Operation Little Saturn

On 16 December, the Soviets launched Operation Little Saturn, which attempted to punch through the Axis army (mainly Italians) on the Don and take Rostov-on-Don. The Germans set up a "mobile defence" of small units that were to hold towns until supporting armour 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 initially fought well, with the Germans praising the quality of the Italian defenders, [134] but on 19 December, with the Italian lines disintegrating, ARMIR headquarters ordered the battered divisions to withdraw to new lines. [135]

The fighting forced a total revaluation of the German situation. Sensing that this was the last chance for a breakout, Manstein pleaded with Hitler on 18 December, but Hitler refused. Paulus himself also doubted the feasibility of such a breakout. The attempt to break through to Stalingrad was abandoned and Army Group A was ordered to pull back from the Caucasus. The 6th Army now was beyond all hope of German relief. While a motorised 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 conditions. But in its defensive position on the Volga, the 6th Army continued to tie down a significant number of Soviet Armies. [136]

On 23 December, the attempt to relieve Stalingrad was abandoned and Manstein's forces switched over to the defensive to deal with new Soviet offensives. [137] As Zhukov states, "The military and political leadership of Nazi Germany sought not to relieve them, but to get them to fight on for as long possible so as to tie up the Soviet forces. The aim was to win as much time as possible to withdraw forces from the Caucasus (Army Group A) and to rush troops from other Fronts to form a new front that would be able in some measure to check our counter-offensive." [138]

Soviet victory

The Red Army High Command sent three envoys while simultaneously aircraft and loudspeakers announced terms of capitulation on 7 January 1943. The letter was signed by Colonel-General of Artillery Voronov and the commander-in-chief of the Don Front, Lieutenant-General Rokossovsky. A low-level Soviet envoy party (comprising Major Aleksandr Smyslov, Captain Nikolay Dyatlenko and a trumpeter) carried generous surrender terms 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, prisoners being allowed to keep their personal belongings, "normal" food rations, and repatriation to any country they wished after the war. Rokossovsky's letter also stressed that Paulus' men were in an untenable situation. Paulus requested permission to surrender, but Hitler rejected Paulus' request out of hand. Accordingly, Paulus did not respond. [139] [140] The German High Command informed Paulus, "Every day that the army holds out longer helps the whole front and draws away the Russian divisions from it." [141]

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 January 1943 and Gumrak on the night of 21/22 January, [142] meant an end to air supplies and to the evacuation of the wounded. [31] : 98 The third and last serviceable runway was at the Stalingradskaya flight school, which reportedly had the last landings and takeoffs on 23 January. [51] After 23 January, there were no more reported landings, just intermittent air drops of ammunition and food until the end. [143]

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 HiWis, 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 their 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 defence 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 usable 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 urban destruction restricted their mobility.

On 22 January, Rokossovsky once again offered Paulus a chance to surrender. Paulus requested that he be granted permission to accept the terms. He told Hitler that he was no longer able to command his men, who were without ammunition or food. [144] Hitler rejected it on a point of honour. 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." [145] On 24 January, in his radio report to Hitler, Paulus reported: "18,000 wounded without the slightest aid of bandages and medicines." [146]

On 26 January 1943, the German forces inside Stalingrad were split into two pockets north and south of Mamayev-Kurgan. The northern pocket consisting of the VIIIth Corps, under General Walter Heitz, and the XIth Corps, was now cut off from telephone communication with Paulus in the southern pocket. Now "each part of the cauldron came personally under Hitler." [147] On 28 January, the cauldron was split into three parts. The northern cauldron consisted of the XIth Corps, the central with the VIIIth and LIst Corps, and the southern with the XIVth Panzer Corps and IVth Corps "without units". The sick and wounded reached 40,000 to 50,000. [148]

On 30 January 1943, the 10th anniversary of Hitler's coming to power, Goebbels read out a proclamation that included the sentence: "The heroic struggle of our soldiers on the Volga should be a warning for everybody to do the utmost for the struggle for Germany's freedom and the future of our people, and thus in a wider sense for the maintenance of our entire continent." [149] Paulus notified Hitler that his men would likely collapse before the day was out. In response, Hitler issued a tranche of field promotions to the Sixth Army's officers. Most notably, he promoted Paulus to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall. In deciding to promote Paulus, Hitler noted that there was no record of a German or Prussian field marshal having ever surrendered. The implication was clear: if Paulus surrendered, he would shame himself 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. [150]

On the next day, the southern pocket in Stalingrad collapsed. Soviet forces reached the entrance to the German headquarters in the ruined GUM department store. [151] When interrogated by the Soviets, Paulus claimed that he had not surrendered. He said that he had been taken by surprise. He denied that he was the commander of the remaining northern pocket in Stalingrad and refused to issue an order in his name for them to surrender. [152] [153]

There was no cameraman to film the capture of Paulus, but one of them (Roman Karmen) was able to record his first interrogation this same day, at Shumilov's 64th Army's HQ, and a few hours later at Rokossovsky's Don Front HQ. [154]

The central pocket, under the command of Heitz, surrendered the same day, while the northern pocket, under the command of General Karl Strecker, held out for two more days. [155] Four Soviet armies were deployed against the northern pocket. At four in the morning on 2 February, Strecker was informed that one of his own officers had gone to the Soviets to negotiate surrender terms. Seeing no point in continuing, he sent a radio message saying that his command had done its duty and fought to the last man. When Strecker finally surrendered, he and his chief of staff, Helmuth Groscurth, drafted the final signal sent from Stalingrad, purposely omitting the customary exclamation to Hitler, replacing it with "Long live Germany!" [156]

Around 91,000 exhausted, ill, wounded, and starving prisoners were taken, including 3,000 Romanians (the survivors of the 20th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division and "Col. Voicu" Detachment). [157] [ self-published source? ] 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." [158]

The calculation of casualties depends on what scope is given to the Battle of Stalingrad. The scope can vary from the fighting in the city and suburbs to the inclusion of almost all fighting on the southern wing of the Soviet-German front from the spring of 1942 to the end of the fighting in the city in the winter of 1943. Scholars have produced different estimates depending on their definition of the scope of the battle. The difference is comparing the city against the region. The Axis suffered 647,300 – 968,374 total casualties (killed, wounded or captured) among all branches of the German armed forces and its allies:

  • 282,606 in the 6th Army from 21 August to the end of the battle 17,293 in the 4th Panzer Army from 21 August to 31 January 55,260 in the Army Group Don from 1 December 1942 to the end of the battle (12,727 killed, 37,627 wounded and 4,906 missing) [106][159] Walsh estimates the losses to 6th Army and 4th Panzer division were over 300,000 including other German army groups between late June 1942 and February 1943, total German casualties were over 600,000. [160]Louis A. DiMarco estimated the German suffered 400,000 total casualties (killed, wounded or captured) during this battle. [12]
  • According to Frieser, et al.: 109,000 Romanians casualties (from November 1942 to December 1942), included 70,000 captured or missing. 114,000 Italians and 105,000 Hungarians were killed, wounded or captured (from December 1942 to February 1943). [13]
  • According to Stephen Walsh: Romanian casualties were 158,854 114,520 Italians (84,830 killed, missing and 29,690 wounded) and 143,000 Hungarian (80,000 killed, missing and 63,000 wounded). [161] Losses among Soviet POW turncoats Hiwis, or Hilfswillige range between 19,300 and 52,000. [14]

235,000 German and allied troops in total, from all units, including Manstein's ill-fated relief force, were captured during the battle. [162]

The Germans lost 900 aircraft (including 274 transports and 165 bombers used as transports), 500 tanks and 6,000 artillery pieces. [163] According to a contemporary Soviet report, 5,762 guns, 1,312 mortars, 12,701 heavy machine guns, 156,987 rifles, 80,438 sub-machine guns, 10,722 trucks, 744 aircraft 1,666 tanks, 261 other armoured vehicles, 571 half-tracks and 10,679 motorcycles were captured by the Soviets. [164] In addition, an unknown amount of Hungarian, Italian, and Romanian materiel was lost.

The situation of the Romanian tanks is known, however. Before Operation Uranus, the 1st Romanian Armoured Division consisted of 121 R-2 light tanks and 19 German-produced tanks (Panzer III and IV). All of the 19 German tanks were lost, as well as 81 of the R-2 light tanks. Only 27 of the latter were lost in combat, however, the remaining 54 being abandoned after breaking down or running out of fuel. Ultimately, however, Romanian armoured warfare proved to be a tactical success, as the Romanians destroyed 127 Soviet tanks for the cost of their 100 lost units. Romanian forces destroyed 62 Soviet tanks on 20 November for the cost of 25 tanks of their own, followed by 65 more Soviet tanks on 22 November, for the cost of 10 tanks of their own. [165] More Soviet tanks were destroyed as they overran the Romanian airfields. This was accomplished by Romanian Vickers/Reșița 75 mm anti-aircraft guns, which proved effective against Soviet armour. The battle for the German-Romanian airfield at Karpova lasted two days, with Romanian gunners destroying numerous Soviet tanks. Later, when the Tatsinskaya Airfield was also captured, the Romanian 75 mm guns destroyed five more Soviet tanks. [166]

The USSR, according to archival figures, suffered 1,129,619 total casualties 478,741 personnel killed or missing, and 650,878 wounded or sick. The USSR lost 4,341 tanks destroyed or damaged, 15,728 artillery pieces and 2,769 combat aircraft. [15] [167] 955 Soviet civilians died in Stalingrad and its suburbs from aerial bombing by Luftflotte 4 as the German 4th Panzer and 6th Armies approached the city. [53]

Luftwaffe losses

Luftwaffe losses for Stalingrad (24 November 1942 to 31 January 1943)
Losses Aircraft type
269 Junkers Ju 52
169 Heinkel He 111
42 Junkers Ju 86
9 Focke-Wulf Fw 200
5 Heinkel He 177
1 Junkers Ju 290
Total: 495 About 20 squadrons
or more than an
air corps

The losses of transport planes were especially serious, as they destroyed the capacity for supply of the trapped 6th Army. The destruction of 72 aircraft when the airfield at Tatsinskaya was overrun meant the loss of about 10 percent of the Luftwaffe transport fleet. [168]

These losses amounted to about 50 percent of the aircraft committed and the Luftwaffe training program was stopped and sorties in other theatres of war were significantly reduced to save fuel for use at Stalingrad.

The German public was not officially told of the impending disaster until the end of January 1943, though positive media reports had stopped in the weeks before the announcement. [169] Stalingrad marked the first time that the Nazi government publicly acknowledged a failure in its war effort. On 31 January, regular programmes on German state radio were replaced by a broadcast of the sombre Adagio movement from Anton Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, followed by the announcement of the defeat at Stalingrad. [169] On 18 February, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels gave the famous Sportpalast speech in Berlin, encouraging the Germans to accept a total war that would claim all resources and efforts from the entire population.

Based on Soviet records, over 10,000 German soldiers continued to resist in isolated groups within the city for the next month. [ citation needed ] Some have presumed that they were motivated by a belief that fighting on was better than a slow death in Soviet captivity. Brown University historian Omer Bartov claims they were motivated by National Socialism. He studied 11,237 letters sent by soldiers inside of Stalingrad between 20 December 1942 and 16 January 1943 to their families in Germany. Almost every letter expressed belief in Germany's ultimate victory and their willingness to fight and die at Stalingrad to achieve that victory. [170] Bartov reported that a great many of the soldiers were well aware that they would not be able to escape from Stalingrad but in their letters to their families boasted that they were proud to "sacrifice themselves for the Führer". [171]

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

The mopping-up of counter-revolutionary elements in the city of Stalingrad proceeded. The German soldiers – who had hidden themselves in huts and trenches – offered armed resistance after combat actions had already ended. This armed resistance continued until 15 February and in a few areas until 20 February. Most of the armed groups were liquidated by March . During this period of armed conflict with the Germans, the brigade's units killed 2,418 soldiers and officers and captured 8,646 soldiers and officers, escorting them to POW camps and handing them over.

The operative report of the Don Front's staff issued on 5 February 1943, 22:00 said,

The 64th Army was putting itself in order, being in previously occupied regions. Location of army's units is as it was previously. In the region of location of the 38th Motorised Rifle Brigade in a basement eighteen armed SS-men (sic) were found, who refused to surrender, the Germans found were destroyed. [172]

The condition of the troops that surrendered was pitiful. British war correspondent Alexander Werth described the following scene in his Russia at War book, based on a first-hand account of his visit to Stalingrad on 3–5 February 1943,

We [. ] went into the yard of the large burnt out building of the Red Army House and here one realised particularly clearly what the last days of Stalingrad had been to so many of the Germans. In the porch lay the skeleton of a horse, with only a few scraps of meat still clinging to its ribs. Then we came into the yard. Here lay more more [sic?] horses' skeletons, and to the right, there was an enormous horrible cesspool – fortunately, frozen solid. And then, suddenly, at the far end of the yard I caught sight of a human figure. He had been crouching over another cesspool, and now, noticing us, he was hastily pulling up his pants, and then he slunk away into the door of the basement. But as he passed, I caught a glimpse of the wretch's face – with its mixture of suffering and idiot-like incomprehension. For a moment, I wished that the whole of Germany were there to see it. The man was probably already dying. In that basement [. ] there were still two hundred Germans—dying of hunger and frostbite. "We haven't had time to deal with them yet," one of the Russians said. "They'll be taken away tomorrow, I suppose." And, at the far end of the yard, besides the other cesspool, behind a low stone wall, the yellow corpses of skinny Germans were piled up – men who had died in that basement—about a dozen wax-like dummies. We did not go into the basement itself – what was the use? There was nothing we could do for them. [173]

Out of the nearly 91,000 German prisoners captured in Stalingrad, only about 5,000 returned. [174] Weakened by disease, starvation and lack of medical care during the encirclement, they were sent on foot marches to prisoner camps and later to labour camps all over the Soviet Union. Some 35,000 were eventually sent on transports, of which 17,000 did not survive. Most died of wounds, disease (particularly typhus), cold, overwork, mistreatment and malnutrition. Some were kept in the city to help rebuild it.

A handful of senior officers were taken to Moscow and used for propaganda purposes, and some of them joined the National Committee for a Free Germany. Some, including Paulus, signed anti-Hitler statements that were broadcast to German troops. Paulus testified for the prosecution during the Nuremberg Trials and assured families in Germany that those soldiers taken prisoner at Stalingrad were safe. [175] He remained in the Soviet Union until 1952, then moved to Dresden in East Germany, where he spent the remainder of his days defending his actions at Stalingrad and was quoted as saying that Communism was the best hope for postwar Europe. [176] General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach offered to raise an anti-Hitler army from the Stalingrad survivors, but the Soviets did not accept. It was not until 1955 that the last of the 5,000–6,000 survivors were repatriated (to West Germany) after a plea to the Politburo by Konrad Adenauer.

Stalingrad has been described as the biggest defeat in the history of the German Army. [177] It is often identified as the turning point on the Eastern Front, in the war against Germany overall, and in the entire Second World War. [178] [179] [180] The Red Army had the initiative, and the Wehrmacht was in retreat. A year of German gains during Case Blue had been wiped out. Germany's Sixth Army had ceased to exist, and the forces of Germany's European allies, except Finland, had been shattered. [181] In a speech on 9 November 1944, Hitler himself blamed Stalingrad for Germany's impending doom. [182]

The destruction of an entire army (the largest killed, captured, wounded figures for Axis soldiers, nearly 1 million, during the war) and the frustration of Germany's grand strategy made the battle a watershed moment. [183] At the time, the global significance of the battle was not in doubt. Writing in his diary on 1 January 1943, British General Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, reflected on the change in the position from a year before:

I felt Russia could never hold, Caucasus was bound to be penetrated, and Abadan (our Achilles heel) would be captured with the consequent collapse of Middle East, India, etc. After Russia's defeat how were we to handle the German land and air forces liberated? England would be again bombarded, threat of invasion revived. And now! We start 1943 under conditions I would never have dared to hope. Russia has held, Egypt for the present is safe. There is a hope of clearing North Africa of Germans in the near future. Russia is scoring wonderful successes in Southern Russia. [183]

At this point, the British had won the Battle of El Alamein in November 1942. However, there were only about 50,000 German soldiers at El Alamein in Egypt, while at Stalingrad 300,000 to 400,000 Germans had been lost. [183]

Regardless of the strategic implications, there is little doubt about Stalingrad's symbolism. Germany's defeat shattered its reputation for invincibility and dealt a devastating blow to German morale. On 30 January 1943, the tenth anniversary of his coming to power, Hitler chose not to speak. Joseph Goebbels read the text of his speech for him on the radio. The speech contained an oblique reference to the battle, which suggested that Germany was now in a defensive war. The public mood was sullen, depressed, fearful, and war-weary. Germany was looking in the face of defeat. [184]

The reverse was the case on the Soviet side. There was an overwhelming surge in confidence and belief in victory. A common saying was: "You cannot stop an army which has done Stalingrad." Stalin was feted as the hero of the hour and made a Marshal of the Soviet Union. [185]

The news of the battle echoed round the world, with many people now believing that Hitler's defeat was inevitable. [181] The Turkish Consul in Moscow predicted that "the lands which the Germans have destined for their living space will become their dying space". [186] Britain's conservative The Daily Telegraph proclaimed that the victory had saved European civilisation. [186] The country celebrated "Red Army Day" on 23 February 1943. A ceremonial Sword of Stalingrad was forged by King George VI. After being put on public display in Britain, this was presented to Stalin by Winston Churchill at the Tehran Conference later in 1943. [185] Soviet propaganda spared no effort and wasted no time in capitalising on the triumph, impressing a global audience. The prestige of Stalin, the Soviet Union, and the worldwide Communist movement was immense, and their political position greatly enhanced. [187]


In recognition of the determination of its defenders, Stalingrad was awarded the title Hero City in 1945. A colossal monument called The Motherland Calls was erected in 1967 on Mamayev Kurgan, the hill overlooking the city where bones and rusty metal splinters can still be found. [188] The statue forms part of a war memorial complex which includes the ruins of the Grain Silo and Pavlov's House. On 2 February 2013 Volgograd hosted a military parade and other events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the final victory. [189] [190] Since then, military parades have always commemorated the victory in the city.

Every year, hundreds of bodies of killed soldiers are still recovered in the area around Stalingrad and reburied in the cemeteries at Mamayev Kurgan or Rossoshka. [191]

The events of the Battle for Stalingrad have been covered in numerous media works of British, American, German, and Russian origin, [192] for its significance as a turning point in the Second World War and for the loss of life associated with the battle. The term Stalingrad has become almost synonymous with large-scale urban battles with high casualties on both sides. [193] [194] [195]

German preparations [ edit | edit source ]

The Germans had begun massing troops near the Soviet border even before the campaign in the Balkans had finished. By the third week in February 1941, 680,000 German soldiers were stationed on the Romanian-Soviet border. ⎷] ⏐] In preparation for the attack, Hitler moved 3.2 million German and about 500,000 Axis soldiers to the Soviet border, launched many aerial surveillance missions over Soviet territory, and stockpiled materiel in the East. The Soviets were still taken by surprise, mostly due to Stalin's belief that the Third Reich was unlikely to attack only two years after signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The Soviet leader also believed the Nazis would be likely to finish their war with Britain before opening a new front. He refused to believe repeated warnings from his intelligence services on the Nazi buildup, fearing the reports to be British misinformation designed to spark a war between Germany and the USSR. ⏑]

Spy Dr. Richard Sorge gave Stalin the exact German launch date Swedish cryptanalysts led by Arne Beurling also knew the date beforehand, but Sorge and other informers (e.g., from the Berlin Police department) had previously given different invasion dates which passed peacefully before the actual invasion. In addition, British intelligence gathering information through Ultra warned the Soviet Union of impending invasion several months prior to 22 June 1941. ⏒]

The Germans set up deception operations, from April 1941, to add substance to their claims that Britain was the real target: Operations Haifisch and Harpune. These simulated preparations in Norway, the Channel coast and Britain. There were supporting activities such as ship concentrations, reconnaissance flights and training exercises. Some details of these bogus invasion plans were deliberately leaked. [ citation needed ]

German military planners also researched Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia. In their calculations they concluded that there was little danger of a large-scale retreat of the Soviet army into the Russian interior, as it could not afford to give up the Baltic states, Ukraine, or the Moscow and Leningrad regions, all of which were vital to the Red Army for supply reasons and would thus have to be defended. ⏓]

The strategy Hitler and his generals agreed on involved three separate army groups assigned to capture specific regions and cities of the Soviet Union. The main German thrusts were conducted along historical invasion routes. Army Group North was to march through the Baltics into northern Russia, and either take or destroy the city of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). Army Group Center would advance to Smolensk and then Moscow, marching through what is now Belarus and the west-central regions of Russia proper. Army Group South was to strike the heavily populated and agricultural heartland of Ukraine, taking Kiev before continuing eastward over the steppes of the southern USSR to the Volga with the aim of controlling the oil-rich Caucasus.

The postponement of Barbarossa from the initially planned date of 15 May to the actual invasion date of 22 June 1941 (a 38-day delay) occurred due to a combination of reasons the Balkans Campaign required a diversion of troops and resources insufficient logistics (preexisting and those incurred by the Balkans Campaign) hampered the preparations and an unusually wet winter that kept rivers at full flood until late spring could have discouraged an earlier attack, even if it was unlikely to have happened before the end of the Balkans Campaign. The importance of the delay is still debated. ⏔] ⏕]

The Germans also decided to bring rear forces (mostly Waffen-SS units and Einsatzgruppen) into the conquered territories to counter any partisan activity in areas they controlled. ⎼]

More Comments:

Richard Posner - 10/21/2009

I find Mr. Neumann's comments nearly farcical. He lauds companies like Standard Oil for their cooperation, apparently unaware that the company refused to allow US companies to use their process for making artificial rubber because it was already exclusively licensed to IG Farben. In truth, Standard Oil threatened Roosevelt with cutting off oil supplies if his administration continued exposing their corporate officers' cooperation with Fascist/NAZI elements for decades prior to the war.
It is pure corporate propaganda, a re-writing of history no different than Stalin. I'm ashamed to see that no one has called him on it all these years later. I stumbled over this entry while researching a novel or else I would never have seen these lies.
'History' indeed!

Jean Peckham Kavale - 9/23/2009

On the subject of oil and gas for the troops during World War II, I would like to mention the important role of the army's Fuels and Lubricants Division. You can download an ebook on the subject from www.Lulu.com. The title is "Supplying the Troops with Oil and Gasoline: The Fuels and Lubricants Division in World War II."

Charles M. Browning - 5/3/2005

The Smith Portable pipelines were critical to the delivery of gasoline to the fronts and airfields in France. There were three six inch pipelines (two mogas and one avgas) from Cherbourg to Mainz (paralleling the 'Red Ball' Highway. A four inch line (avgas) and a six inch (mogas) line ran up the Rhone Valley from Marseilles. These lines could deliver almost 900 thousand gallons of fuel per day. These were steel pipes with 'Victaulic' couplings and could be laid rapidly. A larger number of pipelines delivered fuel from Antwerp to Brussels, between two tank farms. I believe there were eight lines there. BTW, General Patton did not believe in refilling the jerricans carried on the tanks, but expected the pipelines to be built as fast as his tanks could advance.

Keith miller - 10/14/2001

To reiterate the vital role of U. S. oil in winning World War Two, consider this from Carl Coke Rister's Oil! Titan of the Southwest (1949): "petroleum was America's major contribution to the winning of the war," At the same time, oil was available to Germany in limited amounts. So, while Mr. Neumann's reference to oil in the Caucasus, or, really it would have been better to have said, from the Baku peninsula bordering the Caspian Sea (where oil was known from Old Testament times), the Germans were never able to get this oil! Their attack on Russia stalled before they reached those oil fields. In addition, see Charles Sterling Popple, Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) in World War II (1952) on the Rumanian oil industry, which did not fall to the Germans until the spring of 1940. But, that source of oil for Germany was soon curtailed severely. First, the Ploesti refineries were bombed, and, secondly, with the advance of Russian troops on Rumania, beginning in the fall of 1943, oil from there was further reduced. In fact, Rumanian production of oil had dropped from 125,000 barrels per day (which it amounted to in 1939) to no more than 45,000 barrels per day by May 1944. Also, by June 1944, Rumanian oil output had plummetted further to 30,000 barrels per day. Then, toward the end of August 1944, Russia captured the Rumanian oil fields, which meant the Germans could no longer get even what little remaining oil production there was still coming from that country (see Popple p. 160). As Popple also points out (p. 159), during the period of World War Two, except for oil from Russia, unavailable to Germany, only Rumania and Hungary had any significant production of oil in all of Europe. Now, it must be added, in spite of Mr. Neumann's contention (or at least his assumption), oil of the Middle East played a very limited role in Allied victory. The reason--oil output from the Middle East was relatively new to the world and not yet coming in large quantities. For instance, the first really important discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia (the country, which now has the world's greatest proven reserves of crude) did not come until 1938, five years after Standard Oil of California received a concession from King Abdulazziz. The oil field in question was that of Dhahran near shores of Persian Gulf, which Saudis prefer to call the Arabian Sea (see James Wiley, "Saudi Arabia, Land of Contrasts: Some Keys to (Understanding) the Kingdom," Focus 45 (Winter 1999): 29. To "clinch" my argument on the limited importance of oil from the Middle East in winning World War Two, some statistics of oil production from that region are offered here, as taken from Basic Petroleum Data Book (sect. 4. Table 10), published by American Petroleum Institute in 1999. In 1941 the entire Middle East produced only 74,531,000 barrels of oil (while in the same year, the U. S. delivered 1.4 billion). Though it is true that the yield of oil from the Middle East increased during the war years, it never amounted to much, when compared with the output from U. S. For example, the greatest production in any one year during World War Two from the Middle East (that of 1945) was only 194,258,000 barrels. But, in U. S., for that year came 1.7 billion barrels. So, with all due respect to Mr. Neumann, I had to set the record straight. In closing, let me cite a fine article "Geographic Aspects of Petroleum Use in World War II," in World Geography of Petroleum, ed. Wallace E. Pratt and Dorothy Good (1950), pp. 344-53. By the way, if any reader of this would like to know more about Wallace E. Pratt, one of the greatest petroleum geologists ever and an ardent conservationist, see my sketch of his life on American National Biography at www.anb.org (2001).

Keith miller - 10/12/2001

One thing Mr. Neumann could not know--the original title (which HNN editor did not stay with) for my essay was "Fightin' Oil: American Petroleum and World War Two." even so, with the title, which was used instead, I think Mr. Neumann is missing a major point--in my essay I state that 6 billion of the 7 billion barrels of oil used by the Allies in fighting and winning World War Two came from American oil fields. So, while I accept the importance of oil supplies elsewhere in the world, that does not change the following fact--without U. S. oil (above all other sources) and the extraordinary cooperation between the U. S. governmemt and American oil companies, World War Two could never have been won by the Allied armies. I also take exception to Mr. Neumann's characterization of material treated in my essay (at least I assume this) as being too technical. I prefer the word "specificity," which one of my professors on my doctorate at Miami University of Ohio recommended so far as writing with precision is concerned. Too much writing, even in history, depends too much on generalizations, unsupported by detail. Having said as much, I still appreciate Mr. Neumann's commemts and will take them in stride. Keith Miller

Paul Neumann - 10/12/2001

The article is very interesting, but it is focused on American issues, and on technicalities.

During the WWII it was the oil of the Middle East and Caucasus that played the real strategic role. It was already the object of political issues before the outbreak of the war. It caused that there were waged the most important battles of the WWII: Caucasus and Stalingrad, North Africa and Alamein. Also it was the reason of such political actions like occupation of Iran and Iraq, winning the Arabs and Jews against each other, evacuation of the Polish troops from the USSR to the Middle East - just to name few of them most important ones and having their consequences even nowadays.

Death of the Wehrmacht

A Soviet T-34/76 tank crosses a snow-covered wasteland near the corpse of a German soldier in 1942, portending an end to the German way of war. [Photo by Slava Katamidze Collection/Getty Images]

That 1942 was the turning point of World War II is one of those “facts” that everyone knows. Like much of the received wisdom on the war, however, the concept of its “turning point” requires a certain amount of nuance. This conflict, more than any other before it, was a vast and sprawling set of interlocking campaigns on land, sea, and air. It involved hundreds of millions of human beings, from the freezing cold of the Arctic to the sweltering heat of the Burmese jungle, and the notion that there was a single discrete moment that “turned” it is problematic, to say the least.

Still, it is clear that something important happened in 1942. It was, after all, the year of El Alamein in the African theater, and of Midway and Guadalcanal in the Pacific. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, before 1942 the Allies never won a victory, and after 1942 they never suffered a defeat. But for that year to live up to its billing as the “hinge of fate,” in Churchill’s memorable phrase, a fatal blow had to be dealt to the German armed forces, the Wehrmacht. Could the Allies, even with their sheer superiority in materiel and men, pull it off?

In 1942, the German Army, turning one last time to its traditional Prussian tactics of maneuver, met its end.

The Reich had been locked in a conflict with Great Britain since September 1939, one that it tried half-heartedly to end in the summer and fall of 1940. Since mid-1941, it had done nothing but add enemies. On June 22, with Britain still unconquered, the German führer, Adolf Hitler, had launched an invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa. In its early weeks, the Wehrmacht had smashed one Soviet army after another: at Bialystok, at Minsk, at Smolensk, and especially at Kiev. As summer turned to fall, Barbarossa evolved into Operation Typhoon, a drive on Moscow. The Germans were within sight of the Soviet capital by December 6, when the Red Army launched a great counteroffensive that drove them back in confusion, inflicting punishing losses on an army that had been largely untouched by the first two years of the war. The very next day, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and five days later Hitler declared war on the United States.

Earlier in the year, Germany had been at war with Britain alone. Six short months later, it was at war with an immense and wealthy enemy coalition, which Churchill, with a nod to his great ancestor the Duke of Marlborough, dubbed the “Grand Alliance.” The alliance controlled the vast majority of the world’s resources. It included the preeminent naval and colonial power (Britain), the largest land power (the Soviet Union), and the globe’s financial and industrial giant (the United States): more than enough potential power to smash Germany. But Germany’s situation, being ringed and vastly outnumbered by an alliance of powerful enemies, was nothing particularly new in Prusso-German military history.

In fact, the Reich’s next, and what was to be its last, major campaign—drives to capture Stalingrad and the oil fields of the Caucasus—seemed to offer another textbook opportunity for the Germans to demonstrate that sound maneuver tactics and strategy grounded in more than a century of experience—and including the modern mechanized variant, blitzkrieg—could best even the massive forces arrayed against them.

Until the war’s end, on the eastern front and elsewhere, Germany sought to land a resounding blow against one of its enemies, one hard enough to shatter the enemy coalition, or at least to demonstrate the high price that the Allies would have to pay for victory. The strategy certainly did its share of damage in those last four years, and the Allies and most historians play down how frighteningly close it came to succeeding.

While the German strategy for winning the war failed—and did so spectacularly in 1942—no one at the time or since has been able to come up with a better solution to Germany’s strategic conundrum. Was it a war-winning gambit? Not in this case, obviously. Was it the best strategy under the circumstances? Perhaps, perhaps not. Was it an operational posture in complete continuity with German military history and tradition as it had unfolded over the centuries? Absolutely.

In 1942 the Wehrmacht provided a characteristic answer to the question, “What do you do when the Blitzkrieg fails?” It launched another—indeed, a whole series of them. The centerpiece of 1942 would be another grand offensive in the east. Operation Blue (Unternehmen Blau) objectives would include a lunge over the mighty Don River to the Volga, the seizure of the great industrial city of Stalingrad, and, finally, a wheel south into the Soviet Caucasus, home to some of the world’s richest oil fields. With the final Operation Blue objectives more than a thousand miles from the start line, no one can accuse Hitler and the high command of thinking small.

Yet what might have seemed a reach for another country’s army appeared achievable by the Wehrmacht, steeped as it was in a winner-takes-all tradition. Since the earliest days of the German state, a unique military culture had evolved, one that we can call a “German way of war.” Its birthplace was the kingdom of Prussia. Starting in the 17th century with Friedrich Wilhelm, the Great Elector, Prussia’s rulers recognized that their small, impoverished state on the European periphery had to fight wars that were kurz und vives (short and lively). Crammed into a tight spot in the middle of Europe, surrounded by states that vastly outweighed it in both manpower and resources, Prussia could not win long, drawn-out wars of attrition. Instead, it had to fight short, sharp wars that ended in rapid, decisive battlefield victories. Its conflicts had to be front-loaded, unleashing a storm against the enemy, pounding him fast and hard, and making him see reason as soon as possible.

This solution to Prussia’s strategic problem was something the Germans called Bewegungskrieg—the war of movement. It was a way of war that stressed maneuver on the operational level. It was not simply tactical maneuverability or a faster march rate but the rapid movement of large units—divisions, corps, and armies. Prussian commanders sought to maneuver their formations in such a way that they could strike the mass of the enemy army a sharp, even annihilating, blow as rapidly as possible. It might involve a surprise assault against an unprotected flank, or against both flanks. On several notable occasions, as in the Great Elector’s winter campaign against the Swedes in 1678–79 and Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke’s signal triumph over the French at Sedan in 1870, it even resulted in entire Prussian or German armies getting into their enemy’s rear, the dream scenario of any general.

The desired end was something called the Kesselschlacht: literally, a “cauldron battle,” but more specifically a battle of encirclement, one that hemmed in the enemy on all sides before destroying him through a series of “concentric operations.” This vibrant operational posture imposed certain requirements on German armies: an extremely high level of battlefield aggression and an officer corps that tended to launch attacks no matter what the odds, to give just two examples.

The Germans also found over the years that conducting an operational-level war of movement required a flexible system of command, one that left a great deal of initiative in the hands of lower-ranking commanders. It is customary today to refer to this command system as Auftragstaktik (mission tactics): the higher commander devised a general mission (Auftrag) and then left the means of achieving it to the officer on the spot. It is more accurate, however, to speak, as the Germans themselves did, of the “independence of the lower commander” (Selbständigkeit der Unterführer). A commander’s ability to size up a situation and act on his own was an equalizer for a numerically weaker army, allowing it to grasp opportunities that might be lost if it had to wait for reports and orders to climb up and down the chain of command.

While this way of war had served Germany well up to 1941, it had clearly come up short during Operation Barbarossa, and it would be easy to view Operation Blue as doomed from the start. The near-collapse of the previous winter had left scars that had not yet healed, and there is for the connoisseur a smorgasbord of unhappy statistics from which to choose.

For some, it might be the 1,073,066 casualties that the Wehrmacht suffered in its first nine months in the Soviet Union. For others, it might be the General Staff’s estimated replacement deficit of 280,000 men by October 1942, a minimum figure that was valid only if things went well and operations succeeded with relatively light casualties. The one hundred seventy-nine thousand horses lost in the Soviet Union in the first year were not going to be replaced anytime soon, and the loss figures for motor transport were equally dismal. An Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) report in May found the figure at only 85 percent of the trucks required for the army’s mobile divisions of the spearhead. A report from the Army Organization Section warned that it was closer to 80 percent and those at the sharp end thought the situation was a great deal worse.

Gen. Walter Warlimont, deputy chief of operations for the high command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW), warned that the army’s mobility was going to be “considerably affected,” adding that “a measure of demotorization” was inevitable—dire words indeed for an army that lived and died by operational-level maneuver. Although historians often speak of the Germans scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel in 1944–45, they had already started that process in 1942. The class of 1923 had already been drafted in April 1941, eighteen months ahead of time, and raw 18- and 19-year-old recruits would play a key role in filling out the rosters of the new divisions being formed for Blue.

Perhaps the best indicator of Germany’s new military economy of scarcity is this: of the forty-one new divisions slated for Case Blue, fully twenty-one of them would be non-German: ten Hungarian, six Italian, and five Romanian. It was a sure sign that the Germans were having difficulty with the enormity of the front, which by now stretched some seventeen hundred miles from Murmansk in the north to Taganrog in the south.

There were other problems. The German emphasis on maneuver usually meant they devoted less time and effort to vital areas like logistics and intelligence. Like so many great German military operations, this one would be based on an abysmally inaccurate portrait of enemy strength. The Germans estimated available Soviet aircraft at 6,600 planes the reality was 21,681 they estimated they were facing 6,000 tanks the actual number was 24,446 the German estimate of Soviet artillery (7,800 guns) was also off by a factor of four (the actual number was 33,111). All in all, the intelligence failure of 1942 was one of the worst in German history, rivaled only by the failure of these same agencies during the run-up to Operation Barbarossa.

Yet this campaign did not appear to be at all hopeless to Hitler, to Josef Stalin, or to their respective staffs. Indeed, the preliminaries to Blue showed that the Wehrmacht still brought to the table some formidable operational skills: May 1942 saw Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s decisive victory at Kerch in the Crimea, an equally impressive win at Kharkov in the Ukraine, and finally Gen. Erwin Rommel’s decisive victory over the British at Gazala in the Western Desert. Kerch, Kharkov, and Gazala were all classic examples of the “war of movement,” operational-level battles of annihilation marked by high mobility, a freewheeling and aggressive officer corps, and successful attempts to surround and destroy the enemy.

Rommel would punctuate his victory by storming Tobruk in June, invading Egypt, and driving for Suez that same month, Manstein placed an exclamation point on his Crimean campaign by taking the great fortress of Sevastopol. In the course of these five big wins, the Wehrmacht smashed every enemy army it met and took six hundred thousand prisoners its own losses were almost nonexistent aside from Sevastopol, which had been a bloody affair. For all its manpower and equipment shortages, it is hard to disagree with historian Alan Clark when he described 1942 as “the Wehrmacht at high tide.”

Nor did the opening of Operation Blue disappoint. The Red Army had also been seriously blooded in the past year’s fighting, and its initial response to Blue was nothing less than a full speed, helter-skelter retreat. It seems to have been ordered by Stalin and Gen. Georgi K. Zhukov as a classic maneuver to trade space for time, traditional in Russian wars. On the lower levels, however, it was carried out ineptly, with huge stretches of territory abandoned without a fight, a great deal of equipment lost, and a conspicuous absence of command and control.

For the last time in this war, it was full steam ahead for the Wehrmacht. The Germans and their Hungarian allies rapidly closed up to the Don River, with Fourth Panzer Army (Colonel General Hermann Hoth) seizing the great city of Voronezh in the north on day ten of the offensive, and then wheeling south toward the Don bend, skirting the river on its left. To Hoth’s right, Sixth Army (Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus) crossed the starting line against sporadic Soviet opposition, lunged fifty miles ahead within the first forty-eight hours, and linked up with Fourth Panzer at Stary Oskol. No wonder Hitler actually looked at his situation map at the time and exulted that “the Russian is finished.”

Even as Hitler was speaking these happy words, however, the operational wheels were falling off of Blue. The initial operational plan (Directive 41) had called for a very complex set of maneuvers designed to produce small but airtight encirclements quite close to the start line. Such clearly defined plans were necessary, Hitler felt, in order to give the young soldiers in his army an early taste of victory. He and his chief of the general staff, Colonel General Franz Halder, were also anxious to avoid the kind of operational chaos that had manifested itself during the drive on Moscow in 1941, when it seemed as if every German commander was fighting his own private war. Modern historians have a love affair with Auftragstaktik, but clearly it has its dangers, and both Hitler and Halder were determined to run a tighter ship this time.

Unfortunately for them, the Soviet retreat, chaos and all, had knocked the air out of this idea from the start. The outcome of one army tethered to the tight plans of its high command and the other fleeing from the scene was a pair of what the Germans called Luftstossen—blows into the air—great German pincer movements that closed on nothing much in particular. It happened at Millerovo on July 15, and then again at Rostov on July 23. The amount of ground covered had been impressive Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army, in particular, had driven from Voronezh all the way down to Rostov in a single month. In the end, however, the Wehrmacht had achieved little beyond eating through its already limited pile of supplies.

Hitler’s response turned this puzzling misfire into an absolute catastrophe. “Directive 45” was a fundamental reworking of Operation Blue. The original timetable had called for smashing all the Soviet armies in the Don bend, taking Stalingrad as a northern flank guard for the army’s drive into the Caucasus, and only then launching the drive into the oil fields. Now, less than a month into the operation, Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht to secure Stalingrad and the Caucasus at the same time. Historians usually identify this decision to launch a “dual offensive” as the great blunder of the campaign, with an army already running low on manpower and equipment trying to do everything at once, and it is hard to argue with the common wisdom.

The problems were evident early. The German drive into the Caucasus (Operation Edelweiss) received priority in terms of supply and transport, and was thus able to explode out of the box, lunging forward hundreds of miles and seizing one of the USSR’s three great oil cities, Maikop but the drive on Stalingrad (Operation Fischreiher, or “Heron”) was a tough grind from the start. This imbalance led, within a week, to another reversal of priorities. Stalingrad was now the primary target. Edelweiss lost supply, air cover, and an entire panzer army, with Hoth motoring north to join Paulus. The entire Caucasus campaign was left in the hands of just two German armies, First Panzer on the left and Seventeenth on the right, with the Romanian Third Army holding the extreme right wing.

This was the moment that both halves of the dual campaign—the drive east to Stalingrad and the drive south to the Caucasus—came to a screeching halt. In German parlance, the freewheeling war of movement (Bewegungskrieg) suddenly turned into the static war of position (Stellungskrieg), just the sort of grinding attritional struggle that the Wehrmacht knew it could not win.

In the south, the Germans got stuck on the approaches to the high mountains, their two armies facing a solid wall of eight Soviet armies comprising the Transcaucasus Front (further divided into a “Black Sea Group” and a “North Group” of four armies apiece). In the north, Sixth Army reached Stalingrad at the end of September, its arrival punctuated by a Luftwaffe raid on the city that reduced much of it to rubble Fourth Panzer Army joined it on September 2, and the Luftwaffe announced the coming of Hoth by smashing the city a second time, churning up a great deal of rubble, killing thousands more civilians, and nearly bagging the Soviet commander in Stalingrad, General Vasili I. Chuikov of the Sixty-second Army.

The two German armies had met and reestablished a continuous front directly in front of Stalingrad. Now was a time for decisions. In front of the Germans lay a great city, with a population of some six hundred thousand and a large heavy-industry base. Just a few months earlier, the Wehrmacht had suffered some seventy-five thousand casualties reducing the much smaller city of Sevastopol, the bloodiest encounter of the spring by a considerable margin. Stalingrad, moreover, presented an unusual set of geographical problems. Rather than a collection of neighborhoods radiating out of some central point, the city was one long urbanized area stretching along the right bank of the Volga for nearly thirty miles, as straight as a railroad tie.

In operational terms, therefore, it was not so much a city as a long, fortified bridgehead on the western bank of the river. The Germans could never put it under siege. Behind it flowed a great river, behind the river a huge mass of artillery that could intervene in the battle at will, and behind the artillery a vast, secure, and rapidly industrializing Soviet hinterland.

Not for the first time in this war, the Wehrmacht had conquered its way into an impasse. It could not go forward without sinking into a morass of urban fighting. Every German officer knew what a city fight would mean. The preferred way of war, Bewegungskrieg, would inevitably degenerate into Stellungskrieg. Indeed, Hitler and the General Staff had designed the entire convoluted operational sequence in 1942 for the very purpose of avoiding this prospect. At the same time, however, it could not simply go around Stalingrad, and there was no possibility of staying put, not with Paulus and Hoth both sitting out on the end of a very long and vulnerable limb.

Given a choice of three unpalatable alternatives, the German army made the only decision consonant with its history and traditions, dating back to Frederick the Great, Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, and Moltke. On September 5, the big guns roared, the panzers stormed forward, and the Stukas screamed overhead. The assault on Stalingrad had begun.

Every student of the war knows what happened next—how the fighting broke down into battles for the crumbling buildings and rubble-strewn streets of the dying city. Both sides incurred huge losses. The Germans, as usual, kept attacking, driving ever closer to the Volga riverbank that was their operational objective. Their last shot (Operation Hubertus, in November) would take them just a few hundred yards away from it. The Soviets were managing to hold on, just barely, to an ever-narrowing strip along the river.

In operational terms, the “dual offensive” was now firmly stuck in neutral, and this at a moment when Rommel, too, had come to a dead stop in the desert. His own last shot—the offensive at Alam Halfa, August 30 to September 7—had also broken down against a revived British Eighth Army. The Wehrmacht was in deep trouble, shorn of its own ability to maneuver and seemingly helpless against enemy strength that was waxing on all fronts.

And yet, modern war—and the peculiar German variant of it, Bewegungskrieg, remained unpredictable. Even in extremis, with a balance of forces that had gone bad and a logistical situation that edged ever closer to disaster, the Wehrmacht could still show occasional flashes of the old fire. Take the Caucasus. As the summer turned into fall, with the Black Sea front frozen in place, the focus of the campaign shifted to the east, along the Terek. The last of the major rivers in the region, it was deep and swiftly flowing, with steep, rocky banks that sheltered a number of key targets: the cities of Grozny and Ordzhonikidze (modern Vladikavkaz), as well as the Ossetian and Georgian military roads. These roads were the only two routes through the mountains capable of bearing motor traffic, and taking them would give the Wehrmacht effective control of the Caucasus. The Georgian Road was the key. Running from Ordzhonikidze down to Tbilisi, it would give the Germans the potential for a high-speed drive through the mountains to the Caspian Sea and the rich oil fields around Baku, the greatest potential prize of the entire campaign.

By October, First Panzer Army had concentrated what was left of its fighting strength along the Terek. Col. Gen. Eberhard von Mackensen’s III Panzer Corps was on the right, LII Corps in the center, and XXXX Panzer Corps on the left, at Mozdok. On October 25, Mackensen’s corps staged the last great set-piece assault of the Caucasus campaign, aiming for an envelopment of the Soviet Thirty-seventh Army near Nalchik. Mackensen had the Romanian 2nd Mountain Division on his right, and much of his corps’ muscle (13th and 23rd Panzer Divisions) on his left. The Romanians would lead off and punch a hole in the Soviet defenses, fixing the Thirty-seventh Army’s attention to its front. The next day, two panzer divisions would blast into the Soviet right, encircling the defenders and ripping open a hole in the front. Once that was done, the entire corps would wheel to the left (east), heading toward Ordzhonikidze.

It went off like clockwork. The Romanians opened the attack on October 25th, along with a German battalion (the 1st of the 99th Alpenjäger Regiment). Together they smashed into Soviet forces along the Baksan River and penetrated the front of the Thirty-seventh Army, driving toward Nalchik across three swiftly flowing rivers, the Baksan, Chegem, and Urvan.
Ju 87 Stukas supported the attack, achieving one of the war’s great victories by destroying the Thirty-seventh Army’s headquarters near Nalchik, a blow that left the Soviet army leaderless in the first few crucial hours of the attack.

The next evening, the two panzer divisions attacked by moonlight, crossing the Terek and achieving complete surprise. Soon they had blocked the roads out of Nalchik, and the Wehrmacht had achieved one of its few Kesselschlachts in the entire Caucasus campaign. Some survivors of the Thirty-seventh Army limped back toward Ordzhonikidze others apparently threw off discipline and fled to the mountains directly to the south.

Now the Panzer divisions wheeled left, heading due east, with the mountains forming a wall directly on their right. With 23rd Panzer on the right and 13th on the left, it was an operational spearhead reminiscent of the glory days of 1941. On October 27 and 28, the panzers crossed one river after the other, the Lesken, the Urukh, the Chikola, with the Soviets either unwilling or unable to form a cohesive defense in front of them. By October 29, they had reached the Ardon River, at the head of the Ossetian Military Road on November 1, the 23rd Panzer Division took Alagir, closing the Ossetian road and offering the Wehrmacht the possibility of access to the southwestern Caucasus through Kutais to Batum. At the same time, the 13th Panzer Division was driving toward the corps’ main objectives: Ordzhonikidze and the Georgian Military Road.

Kleist now ordered the division to take the city on the run. That evening, 13th Panzer’s advance guard was less than ten miles from Ordzhonikidze. It had been through some tough fighting, and just the day before, its commander (Lt. Gen. Traugott Herr) had suffered a severe head wound. Under a new commander, Lt. Gen. Helmut von der Chevallerie, it ground forward over the next week against increasingly stiff Soviet opposition indeed, so heavy was Soviet fire that the new general had to use a tank to reach his new command post.

On November 2, 13th Panzer took Gizel, just five miles away from Ordzhonikidze. The defenders, elements of the Thirty-seventh Army, heavily reinforced with a Guards rifle corps, two tank brigades, and five antitank regiments, knew what was at stake here and were stalwart in the defense. Mackensen rode his panzer divisions like a jockey, first deploying the 23rd Panzer Division on the right of the 13th, then shifting it to the left, constantly looking for an opening. Closer and closer to Ordzhonikidze they came. There was severe resistance every step of the way, with the 13th Panzer Division’s supply roads under direct fire from Soviet artillery positions in the mountains, heavy losses in the rear as well as the front.

The image of two punch-drunk fighters is one of the oldest clichés in military history, but perfectly describes what was happening. It was a question of reserves, physical and mental: Who would better stand the strain in one of the century’s great mano a mano engagements? It had it all: bitter cold, swirling snowstorms, and a majestic wall of mountains and glaciers standing watch in the background. The road network failed both sides, so columns had to crowd onto branch roads where they were easy prey for enemy fighter-bombers. Rarely have Stukas and Sturmoviks had a more productive set of targets, and the losses on both sides were terrible.

By November 3, the 13th Panzer Division had fought its way over the highlands and was a mere two kilometers from Ordzhonikidze. By now, a handful of battalions was carrying the fight to the enemy, bearing the entire weight of the German campaign in the Caucasus. For the record, they were the 2nd of the 66th Regiment (II/66th) on the left, II/93rd on the right, with I/66th echeloned to the left rear. Deployed behind the assault elements were the I/99th Alpenjäger, the 203rd Assault Gun Battalion, and the 627th Engineer Battalion. The engineers’ mission was crucial: to rush forward and open the Georgian Military Road the moment Ordzhonikidze fell.

Over the next few days, German gains were measured in hundreds of meters: six hundred on November 4, a few hundred more on November 5. By now, it had become a battle of bunker-busting, with the German assault formations having to chew their way through dense lines of fortifications, bunkers, and pillboxes. Progress was slow, excruciatingly so, but then again the attackers didn’t have all that far to go. Overhead the Luftwaffe thundered, waves of aircraft wreaking havoc on the Soviet front line and rear, and pounding the city itself. Mackensen’s reserves were spent, used up a week earlier, in fact. It must have been inconceivable to him that the Soviets were not suffering as badly or worse.

But Mackensen was wrong. On November 6, the Soviets launched a counterattack, their first real concentrated blow of the entire Terek campaign, against the 13th Panzer’s overextended spearhead. Mixed groups of infantry and T-34 tanks easily smashed through the paper-thin German flank guards and began to close in behind the mass of the division itself, in the process scattering much of its transport and cutting off its combat elements from their supply lines. Supporting attacks against the German left tied up the 23rd Panzer Division and the Romanian 2nd Mountain Division just long enough to keep them from coming to 13th Panzer’s assistance. There were no German reserves, and for the next three days, heavy snowstorms kept the Luftwaffe on the ground. Indeed, the 13th Panzer only had the strength for one last blow—to the west, as it turned out—to break out of the threatened encirclement. After some shifting of units, including the deployment of the 5th SS-Panzer Division Wiking in support, the order went out on November 9. The first convoy out of the pocket used tanks to punch a hole, followed by a convoy of trucks filled with the wounded. Within two days, a badly mauled 13th Panzer was back on the German side of the lines. The drive on Ordzhonikidze had failed, as had the drive on the oil fields of Grozny, and, indeed, the Caucasus campaign itself.

But how close it had been! Consider the numbers. Take a German army group of five armies and reduce it to three, and then to two. Give it an absurd assignment, say a 700-mile drive at the end of a 1,200-mile supply chain, against a force of eight enemy armies, in the worst terrain in the world. Wear down its divisions to less than 50 percent of their strength, both in men and tanks. Then make it 33 percent. Feed them a hot meal perhaps once a week. Remove them from the control of their professional officer corps and put them into the hands of a lone amateur strategist. Throw them into sub-zero temperatures and two feet of snow.

Add it all up, and what do you get? Not, surprisingly, an inevitable defeat, but a hard-driving panzer corps, stopped but still churning its legs, less than two kilometers from its strategic objective. Karl von Clausewitz was right about one thing: war is, indeed, “the realm of uncertainty.”

Dramatically, in May 1942 the Wehrmacht began the campaigning season with some of the greatest operational victories in the entire history of German arms: Kerch, Kharkov, and Gazala. All of them took place within weeks of one another. Then, in the summer, the Wehrmacht brought down the curtain on this very successful season with the reduction of Tobruk and Sevastopol. After providing all the participants with enough terrifying moments to last several lifetimes, the year’s fighting ended improbably but with equal drama just six months later, with the Germans suffering two of the most decisive reversals of all time: El Alamein and Stalingrad.

Again, these two signal events took place within weeks of one another. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Panzerarmee Afrika was still streaming across North Africa in some disarray—ignoring Hitler’s last-second order to stand fast—at the very moment that the Soviets were launching Operation Uranus, which encircled the German Sixth Army in Stalingrad.

In those brief six months, an entire way of war that dated back centuries had come to an end. The German tradition of maneuver-based Bewegungskrieg, the notion that “war is an art, a free and creative activity,” the belief in the independence of the subordinate commander: each of these bedrock beliefs had taken a pounding in the past six months, and in fact had revealed themselves as no longer valid. The war of movement as practiced by the German army had failed in the wide-open spaces of the Soviet Union the southern front especially presented challenges that it was not designed to handle.

The notion of war as an art was difficult to maintain in the face of what had happened in North Africa and on the Volga. Here, enemy armies looked on calmly as the Wehrmacht went through its ornate repertoire of maneuver, then smashed it with overwhelming materiel superiority: hordes of tanks, skies filled with aircraft, seventy artillery gun tubes per kilometer. German defeat in both theaters looked far less like an art than an exercise in a butcher’s shop: helpless raw materials being torn to shreds in a meat grinder.

The German pattern of making war, grounded in handiwork and tradition and old-world craftsmanship, had met a new pattern, one that had emerged from a matrix of industrial mass production and boundless confidence in technology. At El Alamein and Stalingrad, the German way of war found itself trapped in the grip of the machine.

Another aspect of Bewegungskrieg, independent command, also died in 1942. The new communications technology, an essential ingredient in the Wehrmacht’s earlier victories, now showed its dark side. Radio gave the high command a precise, real-time picture of even the most rapid and far-flung operations. It also allowed staff and political leaders alike to intervene in the most detailed and, from the perspective of field commanders, the most obnoxious way possible. The new face of German command, 1942-style, was evident in the absurd Haltbefehl to Rommel in the desert and the incessant debates between Hitler and Field Marshal Wilhelm List about how to seize the relatively minor Black Sea port of Tuapse.

At the height of the battle of Zorndorf in 1758, Frederick the Great ordered his cavalry commander, Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, to launch an immediate counterstroke on the left of the hard-pressed Prussian infantry. When it seemed late in coming, the king sent a messenger to Seydlitz with orders to march immediately, and with threats if he did not do so.

Seydlitz, however, was a commander who only moved when he judged the moment ripe. His response was part of the mental lexicon of every German commander in the field in 1942: “Tell the king that after the battle my head is at his disposal,” he told the king’s messenger, “but meantime, I hope he will permit me to exercise it in his service.”

Those days were evidently long gone by 1942. Hitler symbolically took a number of heads in this campaign while the fight was still raging: Bock, List, Halder, and many others were retired. The new dispensation was most evident in the attenuated struggle within the Stalingrad Kessel. Paulus may have been cut off from supply, but he certainly wasn’t cut off from communication. From Hitler’s first intervention (his orders of November 22 that “Sixth Army will hedgehog itself and await further orders”) to the last (the January 24 refusal of permission to surrender), the führer had been the de facto commander of the Stalingrad pocket.

This is not to exculpate Paulus’s pedestrian leadership before the disaster and his curious mixture of fatalism and submission to the führer once he had been encircled. Indeed, Paulus may have welcomed Hitler’s interventions as a way of evading his own responsibility for the disaster. But Hitler did not kill the concept of flexible command. Radio did.

Like any deep-rooted historical phenomenon, Bewegungskrieg died hard. It resisted both the foibles of Hitler’s personality and the more complex systemic factors working against it. Those haunting arrows on the situation maps will remain fixed permanently to our historical consciousness as a reminder of what a near-run thing it was: the 13th Panzer Division, operating under a brand new commander, just a mile outside Ordzhonikidze and still driving forward German pioneers in Operation Hubertus, bristling with flamethrowers and satchel charges, blasting one Soviet defensive position after another and driving grimly for the Volga riverbank just a few hundred yards away Rommel’s right wing at Alam Halfa, a mere half-hour’s ride by armored car from Alexandria. Rarely have the advance guards of a subsequently defeated army ever come so tantalizingly close to their strategic objectives.

In the end, the most shocking aspect of 1942 is how absurdly close the Wehrmacht came to taking not one but all of its objectives for 1942: splitting the British Empire in two at Suez and paving the way for a drive into the Middle East, while seizing the Soviet Union’s principal oil fields, its most productive farmland, and a major share of its industries.

What would you say was the turning point in fighting Nazi Germany and the European Axis powers?

As someone who's very interested in the European and African conflicts of WW2, I've often disagreed with the statement that Stalingrad was the turning point. I believe the following 3 are more significant:

-Battle of Britain, effectively stopped operation Sealion, tied down German divisions and forces that could have been used against the Soviets and provided a launch base for the third front (North African/Italian and Eastern)

El Alamein, if Rommel had won in North Africa, the Suez Canal and vital oil fields would have fallen into German hands. An out flanking manoeuvre taking the south Russian oil fields would have crippled the Soviets and provided a vital source of oil for the German war effort (oil was a commodity the Germans were constantly in dire need of, with Romania being their main source) The capture of the Suez canal would also have been disastrous for Britain in supplying troops in the far east fighting Japan

So, any other opinions on this topic?

In my opinion, the real turning point in Europe during World War 2 was Operation Typhoon: the battle of Moscow.

At the outset of Operation Barbarossa Germany's army was well-equipped, well-led and battle hardened but also numerically inferior to the Red Army. Germany's economy wasn't on a full war-time footing either and so had considerable slack which wouldn't be taken up in war production until 1943-44. By contrast, the Soviets would start the war fully committed to maximizing war-time production. As a result, despite the enormous losses of territory and population during 1941, already by 1942 Soviet war production had passed Germany's and despite losing 4 million soldiers (killed, wounded and captured) during Operation Barbarossa the Red Army was larger at the start of 1942 than it was when Operation Barbarossa began.

In the face of such a massive mobilization of resources and manpower, Germany had to win quickly. That was the whole point of Blitzkrieg: the rapid defeat of enemy military forces so as to not require full wartime mobilization. While the German army invaded Russia in three huge movements toward Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev, the stated objective of Operation Barbarossa was to destroy the Red Army in Western Russia in 6-8 weeks. The Germans failed to accomplish the task, partly because there were more Russian divisions than they had anticipated (303 vs. 240) and partly because it was too ambitious for their forces to carry out. The emphasis on destroying enemy forces is why, for example, Germany's army group centre was diverted south toward Kiev and away from Moscow to help destroy the massive Soviet formation there.

After the Battle of Kiev, most of Germany's military forces headed for Moscow. At the outset of Operation Typhoon 60%+ of Germany's total military strength was concentrated on the massive offensive for the city. The Russian's stopped the German offensive and in so doing inflicted enormous losses in manpower and materiel on the Germans. The Soviet counteroffensive ran out of steam and left the Germans defending an enormous front line with fewer divisions than the Soviets had.

I think this was the final turning point. The 1942 offensive by the Germans was initially a strategic withdrawal by the Soviets followed by a bloodbath in Stalingrad and an enormous counteroffensive. At the Kursk Germany was hoping to shorten their own line and blunt the Soviet's ability to conduct offensives. By that time the war was about survival rather than renewed invasions of the USSR.

The Germans certainly weren't defeated after Moscow, but I think it's fair to say that after that point it was the Soviet's war to lose rather than the German's to win.

Leadership [ edit | edit source ]

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|date= >> The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were both ideologically driven states (Soviet communism and Nazism respectively), in which the leader had near-absolute power. The character of the war was thus determined by the leaders and their ideology to a much greater extent than in any other theatre of World War II.

Adolf Hitler [ edit | edit source ]

Adolf Hitler led Germany during World War II

Adolf Hitler exercised a tight control over the German war-effort, spending much of his time in his command bunkers (most notably at Rastenburg in East Prussia, at Vinnitsa in Ukraine, and under the garden of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin). At crucial periods in the war he held daily situation conferences at which he used his remarkable talent for public speaking to overwhelm opposition from his generals and the OKW staff with rhetoric.

In part because of the unexpected success of the Battle of France (despite the warnings of the professional military) Hitler believed himself a military genius, with a grasp of the total war-effort that eluded his generals. In August 1941 when Walther von Brauchitsch (commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht) and Fedor von Bock were appealing for an attack on Moscow, Hitler instead ordered the encirclement and capture of Ukraine, in order to acquire the farmland, industry, and natural resources of that country. Some historians like Bevin Alexander in How Hitler Could Have Won regard this decision as a missed opportunity to win the war.

In the winter of 1941–1942 Hitler believed that his obstinate refusal to allow the German armies to retreat had saved Army Group Centre from collapse. He later told Erhard Milch:

Hitler with generals Friedrich Paulus and Fedor von Bock in Poltawa, German-occupied Ukraine, June 1942

I had to act ruthlessly. I had to send even my closest generals packing, two army generals, for example … I could only tell these gentlemen, 'Get yourself back to Germany as rapidly as you can – but leave the army in my charge. And the army is staying at the front.'

The success of this hedgehog defence outside Moscow led Hitler to insist on the holding of territory when it made no military sense, and to sack generals who retreated without orders. Officers with initiative were replaced with yes-men or fanatical Nazis. The disastrous encirclements later in the war – at Stalingrad, Korsun and many other places – were the direct result of Hitler's orders. This idea of holding territory led to another failed plan, dubbed "Heaven-bound Missions", which involved fortifying even the most unimportant or insignificant of cities and the holding of these "fortresses" at all costs. Many divisions became cut off in "fortress" cities, or wasted uselessly in secondary theatres, because Hitler would not sanction retreat or voluntarily abandon any of his conquests.

Frustration at Hitler's leadership of the war was one of the factors in the attempted coup d'etat of 1944, but after the failure of the 20 July Plot Hitler considered the army and its officer corps suspect and came to rely on the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Nazi party members to prosecute the war.

Hitler's direction of the war was disastrous for the German Army, though the skill, loyalty, professionalism and endurance of officers and soldiers enabled him to keep Germany fighting to the end. F. W. Winterbotham wrote of Hitler's signal to Gerd von Rundstedt to continue the attack to the west during the Battle of the Bulge:

From experience we had learned that when Hitler started refusing to do what the generals recommended, things started to go wrong, and this was to be no exception.

Joseph Stalin [ edit | edit source ]

Joseph Stalin led the Soviet Union during World War II

Joseph Stalin bore the greatest responsibility for some of the disasters at the beginning of the war (for example, the Battle of Kiev (1941)), but equally deserves praise for the subsequent success of the Soviet Army, which depended on the unprecedentedly rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union, which Stalin's internal policy had made the first priority throughout the 1930s. Stalin's Great Purge of the Red Army in the late 1930s involved the legal prosecution of many of the senior command, many of whom the courts convicted and sentenced to death or to imprisonment. The executed included Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a proponent of armoured blitzkrieg. Stalin promoted some obscurantists like Grigory Kulik who opposed the mechanization of the army and the production of tanks, but on the other hand purged the older commanders who had held their positions since the Russian Civil War of 1917–1922, and who had experience, but were deemed "politically unreliable". This opened up their places to the promotion of many younger officers that Stalin and the NKVD regarded as in line with Stalinist politics. Many of these newly promoted commanders proved terribly inexperienced, but some later became very successful. Soviet tank output remained the largest in the world. Since the foundation of the Red Army in 1918, political distrust of the military had led to a system of "dual command", with every commander paired with a political commissar, a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Larger units had military councils consisting of the commander, commissar and chief of staff, who ensured the loyalty of the commanding officer and implemented Party orders.

Following the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, of the Baltic states and of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in 1939–1940, Stalin insisted on the occupation of every fold of the newly Sovietized territories this move westward positioned troops far from their depots, in salients that left them vulnerable to encirclement. As tension heightened in spring 1941, Stalin desperately tried not to give Hitler any provocation that Berlin could use as an excuse for a German attack this caused him to refuse to allow the military to go on the alert – even as German troops gathered on the borders and German reconnaissance planes overflew installations. This refusal to take the necessary action was instrumental in the destruction of major portions of the Red Air Force, lined up on its airfields, in the first days of the German-Soviet war.

At the crisis of the war, in the autumn of 1942, Stalin made many concessions to the army: the government restored unitary command by removing the Commissars from the chain of command. Under order 25 of 15 January 1943, shoulderboards were introduced for all ranks this represented a significant symbolic step, since shoulderboards had connotations as a symbol of the old régime after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Beginning in autumn 1941, units that had proved themselves by superior performance in combat were given [ by whom? ] the traditional "Guards" title. But these concessions were combined with ruthless discipline: Order No. 227, issued on 28 July 1942, threatened commanders who retreated without orders with punishment by court-martial. Infractions by military and politruks were punished with transferral to penal battalions and penal companies, and the NKVD's barrier troops would shoot soldiers who fled.

As it became clear that the Soviet Union would win the war, Stalin ensured that propaganda always mentioned his leadership of the war he sidelined the victorious generals and never allowed them to develop into political rivals. After the war the Soviets once again purged the Red Army (though not as brutally as in the 1930s): many successful officers were demoted to unimportant positions (including Zhukov, Malinovsky and Koniev).

1920: The Red Army Triumphant

The White threat was at its greatest in October 1919 (Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War, p. 195), but how great this threat was is debated. The Red Army had survived in 1919 and had time to solidify and become effective. Kolchak, pushed out of Omsk and vital supply territory by the Reds, tried to establish himself at Irktusk, but his forces fell apart and, after resigning, he was arrested by left-leaning rebels he’d managed to totally alienate during his rule, given to the Reds, and executed.

Other White gains were also driven back as the Reds took advantage of overreaching lines. Tens of thousands of Whites fled through the Crimea as Denikin and his army were pushed right back and morale collapsed, the commander himself fleeing abroad. A ‘Government of South Russia’ under Vrangel was formed in the region as the remainder fought on and advanced out but were pushed back. More evacuations then took place: nearly 150,000 fled by sea, and the Bolsheviks shot tens of thousands of those left behind. Armed independence movements in the newly declared republics of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan were crushed, and large portions added to the new USSR. The Czech Legion was allowed to travel east and evacuate by sea. The major failure of 1920 was the attack on Poland, which followed Polish attacks into disputed areas during 1919 and early 1920. The worker’s revolt the Reds were anticipating didn’t happen, and the Soviet army was ejected.

The Civil War was effectively over by November 1920, although pockets of resistance struggled on for a few more years. The Reds were victorious. Now their Red Army and Cheka could focus on hunting down and eliminating the remaining traces of White Support. It took until 1922 for Japan to pull their troops out of the Far East. Between seven and ten million had died from war, disease, and famine. All sides committed great atrocities.

What were the major turning points of World War 2?

Battle of the Bulge was one of the more telling moments of the war that swung the tide for the Allies.

  • The German decision to stop the advance in France, thus allowing the British and French Reebarkment in Dunkirk.
    • The German decision to invade Russia.
    • The US entering the war after Pearl Harbor.
    • Kursk (more than Stalingrad, here the Germans lost the initiative of the war in the east for good).
    • The battle in the Gulf of Leyte
    • Guadalcanal

    There are others, but the big ones have two stars, that is how I see it, be sure I forgot something.

    Answer the major turning points of ww2 are as followed, Hitler killing himself was definitely one of the most biggest turning points of ww2 because nazi Germany and all other nazi soldiers lost their faith and agressivness. Hitler could of led gremnat to a strong victory if he hadnt of told and say to japan to go along and fight us that idiot who i consider a very smart man made the biggest mistake in the war. jospeh stalon being the dictator of russia (the ussr.was what put Germany at scare stalon had a winter to back up his army and some nice artilary too much to name had hiler scared.that's what i think were the major turning points of ww2.

    The major turning point of WWII was the Battle of Britain. Hitlers first major defeat and the end to his dream of global domination. No other battle in WWII was so pivotal.

    Pearl harbour, the victory in north Africa were vital.

    The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union was an irrelevance as even if Hilter had won the allies would have got to Berlin and cut off the nazi soldiers in Russia anyway. The Russian soldiers fought bravely though.

    Midway was not piotal as Japan had no ability to achieve gobal domination as they were unable to beat the British in India and Australia, or to invade the USA.

    Watch the video: Operation Barbarossa: Hitlers failed invasion of Russia (June 2022).


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