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World War II/Stalingrad and the Caucasus

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In the summer of 1942, German and German-allied forces launched an offensive at the Volga and Caucasus regions in an attempt to secure the industrially active and resource-rich Transcaucasian region. The German Sixth Army was tasked with seizing the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) on the banks of the Volga. While initially a subsidiary effort, the Battle of Stalingrad soon developed into a major battle due to tenacious Soviet resistance and a major Soviet counter-attack. The German forces in Stalingrad were forced to surrender after being surrounded.

The decisive German defeat at Stalingrad was a major turning point in the Second World War. The German forces in the Caucasus were forced to retreat, lest a second, much worse, envelopment developed. After their defeat, the Germans lost the strategic initiative on the Eastern Front. The Battle of Stalingrad is also notable for being one of the largest and costliest battles in history.

Case Blue, or the attack against the Volga and the Caucasus, was launched on June 28 1942. With the envelopment of German troops in the city of Stalingrad and the retreat from the Caucasus in late November, the German plan had failed. The Battle of Stalingrad ended on February 2 1942, although resistance by Germans in the pocket continued into March.

Background[edit | edit source]

Operation Barbarossa, launched in June 1941, failed to achieve Hitler's objective of decisively defeating the Soviet Union in a single campaign. However, German forces occupied vast swathes of Soviet territory and industry, and the war was still going fairly well for the Germans.

Despite the setbacks of the previous year, Hitler wanted to go on the offensive. Hitler's decision to launch a campaign at the Caucasus region in the south of the front was influenced by faulty information fed to him by his economic advisers: they told him that Germany would be incapable of sustaining the war without the resources in the Caucasus and Transcaucasia. North of the mountains was a center of agricultural production, which also held significant coal and metal reserves; to the south, was the region of Transcaucasia, a densely populated industrial center which produced some eighty percent of the Soviet Union's annual oil production.

By February 1942, the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), or High Command of the Army, was planning an offensive against the Caucasus region. On April 5, 1942, Hitler issued Fuhrer Directive No. 41, which laid out the basic plan for the new offensive; this plan would become known as Fall Blau, or 'Case Blue'. The main objectives were the major oilfields in the Caucasus and Transcaucasia: Maikop, Grozny and Baku. The German generals were worried about such a deep thrust into enemy territory, fearing for the safety of their flank. Thus, part of Hitler's plan included the occupation of Stalingrad by German-allied troops (although city would initially be taken by Germans) and the establishment of a defensive line along the rivers Don and Volga, which would also be held by allies. Additionally, capturing Stalingrad would have the additional benefit of blocking all enemy traffic on the Volga, a crucial transport artery.

Forces[edit | edit source]

Army Group A, under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm von List, was composed of the 1st Panzer Army, 11th and 17th Armies and the 3rd Romanian Army. The Army Group was tasked with the attack on the Caucasus.

The Volga campaign was to be conducted by Army Group B, under Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock, and later Generalfeldmarschall Maximilian von Weichs. Army Group B was composed of the 4th Panzer Army, the 2nd and 6th Armies and the 2nd Hungarian, 4th Romanian and 8th Italian Armies.

Providing air support for the German Army Groups was Luftflotte 4, composed of the Fourth and Eighth Air Corps and commanded by Generaloberst Alexander Lohr, later replaced by Generalobertst Wolfram von Richthofen (the cousin of the famous fighter ace, Manfred von Richthofen).

The Soviet Stavka or Army Command believed that the Germans would attack Moscow. Although the Soviets had recovered plans for Case Blue from the wreckage of the crashed plane of a German staff officer, Stalin believed these plans to be part of a deception, and, in part due to a genuine German deception attempt, remained firm in his belief that the German offensive would target Moscow. Thus, the majority of Soviet forces were deployed to defend Moscow. However, the Soviets still had a million front line troops and 1.7 million reserve troops (about a quarter of their total strength) in the area targeted by Case Blue.

Prelude[edit | edit source]

With the German attack expected in the north, Red Army troops under Marshal Semyon Timoshenko launched an attack in the south on May 12 to weaken the German forces. This attack developed into the Second Battle of Kharkov. While progressing well initially, it was foiled by the Luftwaffe gaining air superiority and by the launching of a Panzer counterattack. Soon enveloped, the battle became a major debacle for the Soviets. On May 28, Timoshenko ordered the end of the offensive. Within several days, the Soviets were forced to surrender and suffered almost 300 thousand casualties.

At around the same time (May 8), German forces launched an offensive against the Kerch Peninsula, an area in the far east of the Crimea which was still held by the Soviet Union. Trapped against the sea after an attack by the 22nd Panzer Division, the Soviet defense fell into chaos. Kerch finally fell on May 20. The Soviets suffered some 170 thousand casualties, compared with less than the ten thousand suffered by the Germans. The fall of Kerch gave the Germans a base from which to launch a flanking attack on the Soviets during the offensive on the Caucasus. Following an all-out air offensive, German forces then moved against the city of Sevastopol, which had been besieged by the Germans for eight months. While some defenders continued to hold out in the catacombs of the city, Sevastopol fell on July 4. The Soviet defending force was almost totally annihilated, but the Axis forces also suffered significant losses (approximately 36 thousand casualties).

With the German victories in these three battles, the way was clear for Case Blue to commence.

The Offensive[edit | edit source]

The Opening[edit | edit source]

The German offensive was launch on June 28. The Germans ran into considerable resistance on the left wing, but the 4th Panzer Army was able to break through when the Soviet forces ran out of supplies. At rapid advance to the Don followed, and the Germans soon reached the city of Voronezh. The Soviets believed that the capture of Voronezh would be followed by a northward offensive towards Moscow. The role the Germans envisaged for the capture of Voronezh was actually less grand: it would merely be a flank guard for the south-eastern drive.

Stalin's fear of an attack against Moscow led to the pouring of large numbers of Soviet reserves into the defense of Voronezh. The perceived threat against Moscow blinded the Soviets to the danger posed by the offensive towards the Caucasus. The German advance was also aided by the disorganized defense put up by the Soviets, largely due to the recent fiasco at Kharkov, and allowed the 1st Panzer Army to achieve a quick breakthrough.

Only July 22, the Germans managed to force a crossing of the Don at Voronezh, and on the next day, a wedge was driven into the defenses of the city of Rostov on the Don. Rostov quickly fell under German attacks. The capture of Rostov cut the pipeline from the oil fields, which left the Soviets dependent on oil brought north via tankers on the Caspian Sea or by a new railroad.

The Germans and their allies had now advanced some 250 miles/400 kilometers from the starting line, and had captured large numbers of Soviet troops. However, the 'bag' was significantly smaller than that of 1941. This was because of the loss of the best tank troops in 1941 and the tendency to be more cautious. Also, the panzer 'groups' on 1941 had become the panzer 'armies', which provided more support to the tanks, but, in the process, sacrificed speed. In the face of the German advance, many Soviet troops retreated towards the north-east, that is, in the direction of Stalingrad.

The Caucasus[edit | edit source]

After seizing Rostov on July 23, the Germans crossed the lower Don two days later. The 1st Panzer Army then advanced to the south-east into the valley of the Manych River. They were delayed for two days when the Soviets destroyed a dam on the river, flooding the valley.

From there, the advance of the 1st Panzer Army fanned out. Its right column drove south and captured the oil fields a Maikop on August 9, its center reached Pyatigorsk on the foothills of the Caucasus, and its left advance towards Budenovsk in the east.

While the advance in early August was quick, pace soon broke down due to the mountainous terrain, increasingly stiff resistance from locally recruited troops with better knowledge of the area and a motivation to defend their own homes, and the lack of fuel, which had to come via a railway which had to be converted from Russian to central European gauge.

After the capture of Maikop, the 1st Panzer Army was tasked with capturing the highway from Rostov to Tiflis; then it would move against the city of Baku. The 17th Army was given responsibility over a narrow area on the west of the front, bounded by the Black Sea and the Laba River. It was to capture the Black Sea ports of Novorossiisk and Tuapse, before going south the Batumi on the Soviet-Turkish border.

The task of the 17th Army seemed easy: it had only 50 miles/80 kilometers to go before reaching to coast, where the mountains sloped away. However, the advance was hindered by the marshy borders Kuban River near the coast and the rugged hills further east. Novorossiisk was captured in mid-September; Tuapse was never captured; and needless to say, the 17th Army failed to reach Batumi.

The 1st Panzer Army fared a little better, but its pace was slowing, and it often had to pause for several consecutive days while awaiting supplies. The logistical problems were compounded with the lack of specialized mountain troops, which had been assigned to assist the 17th Army instead. The Army had trouble crossing the Terek River on its way to Grozny and beyond, but eventually forced a passage near the town of Mozdok. Once it crossed, it suffered greatly at the hands of the tenaciously resisting Soviet troops in the forest on the southern banks of the river, and also from the arrival of several hundred Soviet bombers which could attack the Army with virtual impunity as its anti-aircraft guns had been sent to Stalingrad. Additionally, Russian cavalry units harassed its flanks. Each attempt by the Army to advance was blocked.

Generaloberst Paul von Kleist, the commander of the 1st Panzer Army, conceived a plan to use a pincer attack in an attempt to advance. He launched his attack at the end of October. The right pincer made some progress, capturing Nalchik and Alagir. However, the attack stalled again due to rain and snow. Although they were tantalizingly close to their immediate objective (Grozny), a Soviet counterattack, which led to the collapse of a Romanian division, forced the 1st Panzer Army to retreat.

Once Hitler realized that the capture of the Grozny and Baku oilfields were unlikely, he ordered a Luftwaffe bombing campaign against Grozny. Baku could not be reached unless the bombers flew completely undefended in the face of significant Soviet air power.

Hitler also planned to play his airborne trump card in an attempt to aid the 17th Army. Paratroopers from the deceptively named 7th Air Division were to parachute onto the coast road from Tuapse to Batumi, while the 17th Army made a renewed southern thrust. However, this plan was never executed, due to the sudden Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad. The paratroopers, who had already been assembled in Crimea in preparation for the drop, were rushed to Stalingrad.

The Volga and Stalingrad[edit | edit source]

The advance against Stalingrad was executed by the 6th Army, under the command of Generaloberst Friedrich Paulus. At first, the advance progressed well, but units were detached to defend the increasingly long northern flank of the advance.

On July 28, a mobile spearhead reached the bend in the Don near Kalach. The Army had advanced some 350 miles/560 kilometers during the offensive and was now just 40 miles/65 kilometers from their objective of Stalingrad. However, despite the penetration of the spearhead, the bulk of the Army was held up by tough resistance by the 64th Army, commanded by General Vasily Chuikov, who would later go one to command the 62nd Army in Stalingrad. It took two weeks to defeat the Soviet forces in the bend, and another ten days to cross.

The Battle of Stalingrad began with a massive bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe. Over a thousand tons of bombs were dropped by the Germans. On August 23, as the attack by land forces began, the Luftwaffe killed thousands and turned Stalingrad into a city of burnt out ruins and rubble in a firestorm caused by a strategic bombing.

On August 23, the Germans launched a pincer attack on Stalingrad, with the 6th Army forming the northern pincer, and the 4th Panzer Army forming the southern one. On that day, the Axis forces reached the outskirts of Stalingrad. They also occupied an 8-mile/13-kilometer-long stretch of the west bank of the Volga. This allowed their artillery to sink ship crossing the river. Despite this, the Soviets managed to keep the converging forces apart. Even when a new attack developed in the center, the Soviets held on. Many attacks were launched on the Soviets, and at times the defensive line was penetrated. However, the Soviets still managed to hold, making small withdrawals at most. The attackers managed to make very little progress and suffered considerable losses in the face of such tenacious resistance.

The battle had become a battle of attrition. However, the Soviets had much greater reserves of manpower. Although equipment was lacking, the flow of equipment from America and Britain helped alleviate the situation.

The unexpectedly strong resistance and the name of the city turned it into a potent symbol. It was far more psychologically important than it was strategically significant. The Soviets could not afford to lose it; the Germans could not afford to fail to seize it.

In the middle of September, the Germans had penetrated into the suburbs and then into the industrial areas of the city. This deprived the Germans of maneuvering space, which was crucially important for an army so dependent on speed, surprise and blitzkrieg for its previous successes. The built-up areas in the city also prevented major attacks; instead, the battle split into a sequence of local assaults, reducing the chances of a decisive attack. The Soviet tactic of 'hugging' the enemy, that is, staying as close to them as possible, prevented the widespread use of air support and artillery. The Germans, engaged in what they called Rattenkrieg or 'Rat War', were unable to win through the superior tactics that they had used in the past.

The Soviets realized that the best way to defend Stalingrad was to hold buildings which overlooked strategic streets and squares. Thus, all manner of buildings were turned into fortresses with snipers, machine guns and barbed wire. House to house combat was fierce, with almost every building, ruin and sewer being contested; even different rooms in a single house were fought for. The concentration of troops in Stalingrad was unprecedented, with entire divisions attacking on fronts just one mile/1.6 kilometers wide, or even less.

Fighting was especially fierce in the factory area, with several factories becoming famous for the battles that raged over the control of them. Mamayev Kurgan, a hill overlooking the city, was also fiercely contested, changing hands several times in the course of the battle. 'Pavlov's House', an apartment building in the city center overseeing a large square and situated on a cross-street, was defended by a mere platoon armed with mortars, anti-tank rifles and mortars. Designated a fortress on German maps, its defenders held out for over a month before being relieved.

The fighting was so ferocious and desperate that Soviet reinforcements sent to Stalingrad had an average life expectancy of just twenty-four hours in battle. Even elite units fared little better. Officers survived for an average of three days. Some Soviet soldiers, realizing that they were unlikely to survive, attempted to flee across the Volga. However, when the Soviet 'Special Detachments', later renamed SMERSH, threatened to summarily execute anyone who crossed the river, the tide of deserters was stemmed.

After three months of hard fighting, the German forces had taken all of Stalingrad west of the Volga, except for some parts of the factory area and Mamayev Kurgan.

Soviet Counterattack[edit | edit source]

Troops fighting in Stalingrad.

The Plan[edit | edit source]

While the battle was progressing in the city of Stalingrad itself, the Soviets were probing the weakly defended flanks of the German advance with small exploratory attacks. The German flanks were primarily defended by thinly-spread, ill-trained and ill-equipped troops, the majority of which were not German. In some sectors a single platoon defended stretches of 1.2 miles/2 kilometers. The German allies holding the flanks requested support from the Germans. Even the German General Staff had noticed the weakness of the flanks and warned Hitler that the flank could not be defended if the Soviets attacked during the winter. Hitler disregarded their advice and ordered the attack on Stalingrad to go on. In fact, the head of the General Staff, Generaloberst Franz Halder, was sacked for his frequent disagreements with Hitler.

The General Staff's concerns about the strength of the flanks and a potential Soviet counterattack proved justified. Even as early as September, just after German forces entered Stalingrad, the Soviet Stavka was already planning a counteroffensive against the Germans. This offensive, which came to be known as Operation Uranus, was planned primarily by Soviet Generals Aleksandr Vasilevsky and Georgy Zhukov.

The plan for Uranus envisaged a Soviet breakthrough to the north and south of Stalingrad, where the lines were thinly held by Romanian troops. They would then meet behind the German lines, encircling the 6th Army and trapping it in Stalingrad. It was to coincide with Operation Mars, an offensive further north against the German Army Group Centre.

In preparation for the upcoming offensive, the Soviets deployed 1.1 million men and over 800 tanks, 13000 artillery pieces and 1000 aircraft to the Stalingrad area.

Despite aerial reconnaissance indicating a suspicious force buildup in the area, German generals refused to believe that the Soviets could launch simultaneous attacks on two different areas of the front. Thus, the Germans were surprised when the offensive began.

The Attack[edit | edit source]

While Uranus was supposed to begin on November 17, it was delayed for two days. Due to fog and consequent poor visibility on the morning of November 19, some Soviet commanders wanted to postpone the beginning of the offensive. However, front headquarters decided to proceed, and at 7:20 in the morning, 3500 guns opened fire on the 3rd Romanian Army, which was guarding the left flank of the 6th Army in Stalingrad. The artillery bombardment lasted for eighty minutes. Although the enemy positions were obscured by the thick fog, prior preparation allowed the Soviet artillery to lay down accurate fire. The bombardment destroyed supply dumps, communication lines and artillery positions. Some surviving Romanian units began to flee.

Despite the artillery bombardment and the desertion of some Romanian troops, the first two Soviet attacks, carried out by the 21st and 65th Armies and the 5th Tank Army, were repulsed. However, the tank forces managed to break through, and by the end of the day, the Romanian troops were routed. The Soviets captured 27 thousand Romanian troops. Meanwhile, the 48th Panzer Corps was sent to counterattack the advancing Soviet forces. They succeeded in holding up the Soviets for a short time, but were defeated by the following day.

The Soviet troops were hampered by a blizzard. Gun sights were blocked and tanks lost traction. However, the blizzard also prevented a coherent German response to the threat.

While the Red Air Force played in active role in providing air support to the Soviet troops, the Luftwaffe made almost no contribution to the defense of the German lines.

On the next day, another attack developed to the south of Stalingrad. Due to the heavy fog, orders were given for the attack, originally scheduled to begin at 8:00 in the morning, to begin at 10:00 instead. The 51st Army failed to receive that order, and attacked prematurely. Despite the mistake, the 4th Romanian Army put up only negligible resistance, and many men surrendered. At 10:00, the 57th Army joined in the attack.

This time, the Germans were quicker to respond. The 29th Panzergrenadier Division was deployed to attack the Soviets. While scoring some initial victories, the Division was soon redeployed.

In the next few days, the Soviet pincers moved towards each other. On the night of November 22, the northern pincer reached the town of Kalach, the site of a bridge across the Don. Finding it difficult to believe that enemy troops could penetrate so deep into friendly territory, the bridge guards initially did not attempt to oppose the Soviets' passage, assuming them to be German tanks. Not until too late did they realize otherwise, and they were unable to either stop the tanks or demolish the bridge. On November 23, the pincers met just south of Kalach, and the encirclement of the 6th Army, as well as a corps of the 4th Panzer Army, was complete. In the following days, the link between the two Soviet forces was strengthened, and an outer Soviet envelopment was executed to stop any relieving forces that might come to the aid of the trapped 6th Army.

The Endgame[edit | edit source]

Winter Storm and Little Saturn[edit | edit source]

Inside the kessel or pocket (literally 'cauldron') of Stalingrad, 290 thousand German and Romanian troops were trapped, as well as approximately ten thousand Soviet civilians and several thousand Soviet prisoners.

Shortly after the Soviet double-envelopment, the German generals requested permission for a breakout attempt towards the Don. However, Hitler was in his mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden in Bavaria with Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, the commander of the Luftwaffe. Goering assured Hitler that the Luftwaffe could supply the encircled troops by air while a relief force was gathered. It should have been clear that such an operation was impossible. Indeed, due to a combination of bad weather, technical faults, fighter interceptions and heavy anti-aircraft fire, the air supply mission failed miserably, with an average of less than a hundred tons of supplies delivered a day. The trapped troops needed some eight hundred tons of supplies per day.

Meanwhile, on November 25, the Stavka began planning for Operation Saturn, which was aimed at cutting off the German forces in the Caucasus region, and Operation Ring, which was aimed at destroying the German forces inside the Stalingrad kessel.

At around the same time, Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein, considered one of the best strategists in the Wehrmacht, began to make plans for a counter stroke designed to break the Soviet blockade of Stalingrad. This was codenamed Operation Winter Storm, or Wintergewitter in German.

On December 12, the 4th Panzer Army began its north-eastward advance towards Stalingrad. The Germans achieved some early gains against weak Soviet resistance, but were unable to bring about a decisive success and were checked 30 miles/40 kilometers short of the beleaguered 6th Army. The Soviet 2nd Guards Army was redeployed to block the Germans. On December 19, von Manstein sent an intelligence officer to inform Paulus, the commander of the 6th Army, about the strategic situation and to urge him to attempt a breakout in co-operation with von Manstein's relieving force. Although he initially agreed, Paulus changed his mind, believing that the 6th Army was too weak to attempt a breakout. Another German advance on the same day was halted almost 50 miles/80 kilometers short of Stalingrad.

On December 16, while von Manstein's relief effort was under progress, the Soviets launched Operation Little Saturn, a modified and, as its name suggests, less ambitious, offensive based on Operation Saturn. This new offensive, which involved two pincers attacking from the middle Don and Chir River, threatened to cut off the 4th Panzer Army, and on December 23, the Army was ordered to retreat. It arrived at its position prior to Winter Storm the following day. With the failure of Winter Storm, all hope for the salvation of the 6th Army by a relieving force was killed off. The annihilation or surrender of the Army was now inevitable.

Operation Little Saturn soon managed to sweep the enemy out of the Don-Donetz corridor. However, the stubborn German resistance and deep snow slowed the progress of Little Saturn. Nevertheless, despite the slowing offensive, even Hitler himself was finally brought to realize that Little Saturn posed a major risk to his troops in the Caucasus. He awakened to the fact that if he stubbornly persisted with his attempt to conquer the Caucasus, as fiasco even more severe than the encirclement of Stalingrad and ensue. In January 1943, Hitler gave the order for Army Group A to retreat. They escaped just in time.

The Surrender of the 6th Army[edit | edit source]

While the German troops in Stalingrad steadfastly believed that they were going to be rescued, it was clear that the 6th Army was now beyond relief. With the launch of Operation Ring on January 10, the Germans were forced to retreat from the suburbs of the city into the actual city itself. Several days after the beginning of the Soviet attack, the Germans lost their main airfield at Pitomnik. Soon, the Germans had no airfields under their control. Air supply ceased, with the exception of a few supplies dropped on parachutes.

Despite the fact that the German troops were running out of both food and ammunition, they continued to resist with the same tenacious determination that the Soviets had shown when they were defending.

In these last, desperate days of the battle, a group of junior Soviet officers presented a ultimatum to Paulus: if the 6th Army surrendered within twenty-four hours, the Soviets would guarantee the safety of all prisoners, provide 'normal' rations and medical care for the sick and wounded and allow prisoners to keep their personal belongings. Paulus did not respond. On January 22, Paulus requested permission to surrender, but, in response, Hitler ordered that Stalingrad was to be held 'to the last soldier and the last bullet'.

On January 30, Hitler promoted Paulus to Generalfeldmarschall. As no German field marshal had ever been captured in the past, Hitler assumed that Paulus would commit suicide in preference to being taken prisoner by the Soviets. However, when Soviet forces closed in on Paulus' headquarters in a department store on the next day, Paulus surrendered. On February 2, the rest of the Axis forces in the city, with the exception of a few small pockets of resistance, surrendered. The 'bag' of prisoners numbered some 91 thousand troops, including three thousand Romanians. It included twenty-two generals. Hitler was incensed by Paulus' surrender, bitterly remarking that Paulus 'could have freed himself from all sorrow and ascended into eternity and national immortality, but he prefers to go to Moscow'. By March, all resistance had ceased.

Stalingrad was the first time the Nazi government publicly acknowledged a failure when they broadcast news of the defeat on January 31. On February 18, Joseph Goebbels made a famous speech at the Berlin Sportpalast, admitting that Germany was in grave danger, and encouraging the German people to continue the war despite the difficulties they were facing, as the existence of Germany and Western Civilization was a stake.

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Casualties[edit | edit source]

It has been estimated that the Axis forces suffered between half a million and 850 thousand casualties (killed, wounded or captured). Of the 91 thousand Axis soldiers captured at the end of the battle, only five or six thousand returned to Germany alive. The Soviets, on the other hand, suffered over 1.1 million casualties. In addition to the military losses, many Soviet civilians were killed or wounded during the battle. In total, up to two million casualties may have been suffered, making Stalingrad one of the costliest battles is history.

Strategic Analysis[edit | edit source]

The debacle of Stalingrad was due to the mistakes of the Wehrmacht commanders including Hitler himself.

A major cause of the failure to complete any of Case Blue's objectives (the capture of the Caucasus and Transcaucasia and the seizure of Stalingrad) was Hitler's hubris, arrogance and overconfidence. By ordering that simultaneous offensives be make against both Stalingrad and the Caucasus, Hitler split up Army Group South into two, leaving both with insufficient forces to reach their objectives. Had Hitler concentrated his strength on the capture of the Caucasus, the Germans may well have had sufficient forces to both reach their objectives and secure their flanks.

The German generals can also be justifiably accused of excessive confidence. In the earlier stages of the war, the German forces used the tactic of blitzkrieg with great success, bursting through enemy lines, driving deep into their rear and leaving large numbers of enemy troops trapped in pockets of resistance to be 'mopped up' later. Why Paulus in his attempt to capture Stalingrad did not envelop the city and destroy the enemy forces later (as the Soviets did) can be put down to his belief that the Soviet troops were on the brink of collapse and that Stalingrad would thus fall within a few days. However, the frontal assault on the city cost the 6th Army greatly. Even if they had successfully taken Stalingrad, it would have been Pyrrhic victory at best. Paulus should also have used a reserve force, but he obviously thought this unnecessary. Although he did have a few divisions scattered in his rear, Paulus did not have a sufficiently large reserve that could decisively influence the course of the battle if a great opportunity or a disaster arose.

While Paulus was an excellent staff officer, he lacked decisiveness and flexibility in command, and was also a blind admirer of Hitler almost until the end. When the assault on Stalingrad stalled, Paulus did not attempt a different solution, despite clear indications that his current strategy was not going to be successful. When it was pointed out that Paulus' flanks were insecure, he failed to provide a reserve, thinking that the Russians were insufficiently strong to attack him. Paulus was slow to react when the Russian counteroffensive came, taking three days before he realized the danger and requested permission to break out. When Operation Winter Storm was executed, Paulus, not wanting to disobey Hitler, failed to seize the opportunity to break out.

Strategic Significance[edit | edit source]

The Battle of Stalingrad is often regarded as one of the great turning points in the Second World War. While Germany's defeat on the Eastern Front was probably decided by their failure to administer a swift knock-out blow during Operation Barbarossa, Stalingrad marked the high-water mark for Germany's successes during the war.

As a result of the Battle of Stalingrad, Germany took extremely heavy losses, which it could not afford. Not only did the Germans lose in excess of half a million men at Stalingrad; 12 thousand guns and mortars, 3 thousand aircraft and 3500 tanks and self-propelled guns were lost. This amounted to approximately half of German arms production every year. Six Axis armies, including the 6th Army, the largest and arguably finest army in the Wehrmacht, were destroyed. In addition to the loss of men and matériel, twenty-two generals were captured.

As the first major German military disaster in the war, Stalingrad was also a major blow to German morale. The Wehrmacht's leadership and the German population at large began to lose confidence in the ability of the Wehrmacht to defeat the Soviet Union. Germany's allies also lost confidence, and many tried to pull out of the alliance.

The defeat of the Axis forces at Stalingrad allowed the Soviets to secure their access to their vast oil reserves and industrial centers in the Transcaucasian region. This fuel was crucial to the Soviet war effort. This region, along with Murmansk, was a major route through which the Americans shipped in Lend-Lease aid. This aid was also vital in maintaining the Soviet war effort and helping Soviet industry recover.

Perhaps the most important consequence of Stalingrad was that the strategic initiative passed from the Germans to the Soviets. It would never shift back. Prior to the envelopment of the 6th Army in Stalingrad, Soviet industry was just beginning to recover and the Red Army's supply lines were under threat. Once the Battle of Stalingrad was won, the threat to the supply lines was eliminated, and the Soviet Union emerged from the battle with a two-to-one advantage in manpower. The Germans never recovered from the debacle of Stalingrad.