Battle Spotlight #6: Battle of Stalingrad

On the day of August 24, 1942, two armies clashed in one of the largest and bloodiest battles in WWII. The German 6th Army attacked two Soviet Armies at the city of Stalingrad. Six monthes of bloody fighting for one city, almost 2 million casualties of men and equipment, and one ruined city. This is the Battle of Stalingrad.

By the summer of 1942, the Germans had again made good progress on their second offensive. Their first offensive stopped short when Operation Typhoon, the assault on Moscow, failed. Ironically, the one who may have cost the Germans the capital was the same one who relieved dozens of generals after the failure. This man is Adolf Hitler. He had never had the military experience, and sometimes would make silly military commands, but no one would object openly, or they would have to deal with the Gestapo.

Preparing to restart their offensive from the freezing winter and the muddy spring, the Germans unleashed “Case Blue”. The initial plan was to let the entire Army Group South strike from Eastern Ukraine into south-western Russia. However, HItler intervened and split the Army Group in two. Army Group South(A) commanded by List, formed by the 1st and 17th Panzer Armies, were to continue moving south towards the Caucasus. Army Gourp South(B) commanded first by Bock and then WEichs, formed by the 6th Army and the 4th Panzer Army. There objective was to take the city of Stalingrad and the Volga River bordering the eastern part of the city. By late July, the armies were just 12 kilometers from the city.

The attack on the city first began with a miassive bomabrdment from Wolfram von Richthofen‘s Luftflotte 4, at the time was the world’s largest air squadron. Initially, the attack was a success, as Stalin desperately sent troops to the East Bank of the Volga, but resistance stiffened as propaganda raised Soviet spirits during September and October. During these battles, many techniques were used to make sure that the Germans could never gain the environment they had the advantage in: open land. Hand to hand combat was wide spread, and snipers would camp on a building, waiting for someone foolish enough to reveal themselves. Stalemates would often occur, and sometimes one side would go into the sewers and try to flank the enemy from behind. Battles in industrial centers were especially tense, as the Soviets fought hard so the Germans could not get the factories. In one situation a platoon turned an apartment building into a fortress. They put anti-tank guns in the basement, MG nests, snipers, and infantry on the rest of the floors, and even put a mortar in the attic. As the Soviets were being pushed farther back, they found it easier to get supplies from the eastern Bank of the Volga to the western bank. After three months of tough fighting, the Germans finally managed to split the remaining Soivet forcces into two pockets, and occupying 90% of the city. But they were not done yet.

Thanks largely from the stiff resistance the Germans encountered during late 1942, it had not only exhausted the Germans, but also gave time for the Soviets to gather a large force on the German Army’s flanks. The German’s flank were protected by poorly equipped Hungarian, Romanian, and Croatian forces. The position was ripe for a counter attack. The Soviets called their offensive Operation Uranus, and when the attack was made on November 19, 1942, it trapped the German Army into Stalingrad. At first, no breakout attempts were mentioned, and the German Army fought on as they were supplied from the air. But they soon realized that they weren’t getting enough, and when you are in the middle of a Russian winter, it is the worst situation you want to be in.

As the weeks went by Hitler ordered Army Group  Don commander Erich von Manstein to unleashed Operation Winter Storm, a breakout attempt. This failed, and the 6th Army were trapped with few supplies from the air. As a last attempt, Hitler promoted Paulus, the leader of the trapped Germans, to Field Marshal. Since no German Field Marshal has yet to surrender to the enemy, Hitler believed that Paulus would commit suicide rather than surrender. Ironically Paulus surrendered himself and his staff on February 2, 1943, and would serve as a Stalin’s Committee of Free German Officers. The Battle of Stalingrad was finally over.

A total of 1.8 million men were engaged at Stalingrad, 23,000 artillery, 1300 tanks, and 1,800 aircraft. By the end of the battle, there were almost 1.5 million casualties in men, 1.8K aircraft, and 1,300 tanks. After the battle Hitler was stunned, his entire mood changed, and his decisions were even more outrageous and random. The battle turned the tide of the eastern front, gave the Soviets an edge in the offensives next year.


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