Germans at the gates of Stalingrad, 1942-1943


In June 1941, Hitler ordered a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union, and for most of the following year German forces drove out Soviet troops, capturing thousands of square kilometers of their country in the process.

In August 1942 the German VI Army had pushed all the way to the banks of the Volga River, near the industrial heartland of the USSR. Once captured, the Nazis breached the Volga, potentially destroying Moscow's ability to continue fighting. All they had to do was take another city. Stalingrad.

The pre-war population of Stalingrad was four million. It was a major river port as well as home to many important war and civilian industries.

Because the city bore the name of USSR leader Joseph Stalin, Hitler took a special interest in capturing the city as a personal hit on the Soviet leader. Similarly Stalin placed great importance on the capture of the city to prevent Hitler from capturing the city bearing his name.

Although Stalingrad held significant military importance, the psychological importance that both leaders placed on the city raised it to a level of importance, perhaps even higher than that of the capital of Moscow. Both armies were willing to pay to put it beyond military utility and entered the ranks of passion entirely.

Initially the Germans made substantial and rapid progress in conquering the city. They attacked the city and its defenders with almost unopposed bombardment from the sky, tanks, artillery, mortars and other heavy weapons.

By early September 1942 the Germans were still making progress, but the rate of advance had slowed considerably. As a result of heavy bombing, the city and its buildings were reduced to a huge pile of rubble. The Russians began to develop defensive tactics that took advantage of the ruined buildings, which ironically gave them advantages.

Nevertheless, by November the relentless German offensive had pushed the Soviet line almost as far as the Volga River. At this point both sides had endured hundreds of thousands of casualties, and the barbarism of the fighting on either side of the line exceeded all limits of human behavior.

Right and wrong, morality and respect had ceased to exist between fighters. The fight had literally degenerated into an animalistic struggle for survival.

The turning point of the battle came with a massive Soviet counteroffensive, code-named Operation Uranus (November 19–23), planned by Generals Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov, Alexander Mikhailovich Vasilevsky and Nikolay Nikolaevich Voronov. It was launched at two spearheads, about 50 miles (80 km) north and south of the German flagship, with the tip at Stalingrad.

The counter-attack completely stunned the Germans, who thought the Soviets were unable to mount such an attack. The operation was a "deep penetration" maneuver, not attacking the main German forces at the forefront of the Battle for Stalingrad – but hitting weaker sides.

Those flanks were poorly exposed on the open plains surrounding the city and were poorly defended by weak, short-supplied, overburdened, and vulnerable Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian troops.

The attacks quickly penetrated deep into the flanks, and by November 23 the two ends of the attack had joined at Kalach, about 60 miles (100 km) west of Stalingrad; The encirclement of two German armies at Stalingrad was completed.

The German high command urged Hitler to allow Paulus and his army to break out of the encirclement and rejoin the main German army west of the city, but Hitler would not consider retreating to the Volga River and called Paulus " ordered to stand up and fight". With the onset of winter and a shortage in food and medical supplies, Paulus's army weakened.

The massacre of the Battle of Stalingrad finally came to an end in February 1943, when the German Sixth Army commander, General Friedrich Paulus, surrendered the remaining ninety thousand soldiers of his army to Soviet forces.

In June 1942, Nazi Germany was looking forward to victory. After six months and a million casualties, the Reich had barely struck.

The Soviets recovered 250,000 German and Romanian corpses in and around Stalingrad, and total Axis casualties (Germans, Romanians, Italians and Hungarians) are believed to be more than 800,000 dead, wounded, missing or captured.

Of the 91,000 men who surrendered, only 5,000–6,000 ever returned to their homeland (the last of them in 1945, a full decade after the end of the war); The rest died in Soviet prisons and labor camps.

On the Soviet side, official Russian military historians estimate that 1,100,000 Red Army soldiers were dead, wounded, missing or captured in the campaign to defend the city. An estimated 40,000 civilians were also killed.

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