STALINGRAD: THE TURNING POINT OF WORLD WAR TWO

by Paul Miller

st_clip_image001When war broke out in 1939, people expected the trench warfare of 1914–18.They were mistaken. “World War 2 showed that new weapons and tactics could revolutionize the battlefield. Modern war began in 1939.” However despite these changes the savagery and the death toll remained as high as ever. The Battle of Stalingrad is a prime example of both these points.
In Mein Kamp, Adolph Hitler described Russia as,” the deadly enemy of Germany.” He said to his generals that,” there are no rules” in regard to fighting in Russia, as he considered the Soviets,” a race to be Disposed of.” With this in mind he launched Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941. Operation Barbarossa went well at first, in fact it made such startling progress that Hitler slowed down the advance to consolidate his new territory. This gave the Russian cities time to defend themselves. “An army of women, old men and children spent their every walking hour digging in.”
The Germans knew that the capture of Stalingrad would be,” catastrophic for the Soviet ability to withstand the German army because they would be cut off from their own oil supply.” On July 22, 1942 the German 6 Army was given the task of assaulting the industrial heart of Russia-Stalingrad. The Soviets had over 1 million soldiers in reserve and to assault an enemy position you need a majority of 3: 1. The Germans were outnumbered by 4:1.Yet many Germans mirrored the sentiment that “with a little effort the town should fall in two days.”
With this complacency, the 6 Army assault began on 19 August 1942 supported by the 4th Panzer army. From the very first engagements in the western suburbs of Stalingrad it was clear that the Russian defenders were contesting every inch of ground.
On 23 August, an airstrike of 600 bombers was launched” killing 40,000 civilians”, not rousting the defenders. On that evening German troops reached Rynok, northern most suburb of Stalingrad. The Russians were mining and sabotaging buildings as they were ousted, creating death traps for the Germans, then reclaiming the same building after the Germans had detonated all explosives and killed themselves. The Germans, however, still pushed on.
On September 3, German troops were established on the western side of the Volga. Stalingrad was now under siege. Russian commander Marshal Zhukov was ordered to attack the north and north-west of Stalingrad. The next day saw one thousand German bombers fly missions over Stalingrad. On September 5, the first Soviet counterattack began and failed. The following morning saw Russian reinforcements arrive and the two sides were now savagely attacking each other.
September 18 saw Soviet marines assault the western bank of the Volga, beating off German counterattacks in a single day. Four days later the very centre of Stalingrad was in German hands. The 23 September was marked by the arrival of two thousand Russian troops to help the marines. Slowly the Germans were pushed back. Two days later the 4 Panzer Army arrived, pushing the defenders back to the bank of the Volga. Between 25 September and 5 October more than one hundred and sixty thousand Russian troops reinforced the factories on the west bank of the Volga.
On October 11th, “after fifty one days of continuous hand to hand fighting, the Germans were preparing one final devastating assault.” This came three days later, supported by three hundred tanks. But the key areas and factories still did not fall. ” Fighting took place in every attic, on every floor, on the ruins of floors and in the cellars.” That night three thousand five hundred Russian wounded were evacuated. The Soviets were,” pounded from the air, overrun by wave after wave of German troops.” They were still defending by October 15th. The German attack had failed, yet it was renewed by them three days later. By October 20th the Russians had no more than one thousand yards of Stalingrad. But they had more reserves and launched counter attacks on both flanks, surrounding the Sixth Army. By November 8th Paulus and his Sixth Army were suffering the hardships of starvation and the bitter Russian winter so airdrops were organized by the Luftflotte. But these failed because of the terrible weather. The Germans fought tenaciously and on 11th November reached the bank of the Volga on a five hundred yard front, splitting the Russians in two. Hitler’s determination to push the city fight to an end forced him to put all available assault formations in to Stalingrad. That left under equipped and poorly motivated Romanians and Hungarians to guard the flanks. On November 19th Operation Uranus was launched and the Soviets smashed through these weak sides and encircled the 6th Army.
On December 24th, 1942 the air supply base of the 6th Army was moved away from Stalingrad due to Russian attacks along the entire front. By now the German forces were trapped in the city with no supplies. The supply of Stalingrad by air was therefore a failure and one of the most important causes of the German surrender. This fact was not lost on Field Marshal Paulus who said,” You are in fact addressing yourself to men who are already dead. ” The 4th Panzer Army which had taken part in the October 14th assault were beaten back well past the suburbs of Stalingrad.
The besieged army, by January 10th, 1943, was now living on two and a half ounces of bread, two fifths of an ounce of fats and sugar per day. “The ordeal of hunger was increased by the cold because the winter kit of the 6th Army had not got further than Kiev. For weeks the temperature was between minus twenty five and minus thirty five degrees centigrade. Artillery, ammunition and fuel were in short supply, which excluded all but very localized counter attacks.” The usual German battalion strength of eight hundred and fifty was down to seventy five during this siege. And as Paulus dryly noted, “The occupation of the entire city is not to be accomplished in such a fashion.”
The Russian situation could not have been better, though. They had half a million reserves and had about ninety brigades and divisions against twenty decimated and starved divisions of the 6th Army. On January 8th, two Soviet officers carried a flag of truce to Paulus and submitted the conditions of the German surrender. On January 10th, a massive barrage of over seven thousand artillery pieces opened up on German positions. An hour later the barrage crept forward giving the signal for the final Soviet attack of the battle. By the seventeenth over two thirds of the pocket were in Soviet hands. On January 22nd Paulus noted that the German forces had run out of ammunition.
On January 30th, Paulus, trapped in the basement of a department store, surrendered. The Germans lost seventy thousand dead while the Russians suffered forty six thousand seven hundred dead soldiers. Over ninety thousand German prisoners were captured by the Russians, fifty thousand of who died within two months. The Germans also lost seven thousand pieces of artillery, which in total reduced the entire capability of German forces by twenty five per cent. This caused the Germans to forever abandon their hopes of conquering Russia. The Soviets capitalized on their success and pushed the Germans back to Berlin.
Bibliography 1 Farringhton, J, Battle for Victory, 1992. 2 Hitler A, Mein Kamp, 1924 3 Steed P, History of World War Two, 1987 4 Gilbert J, Hitler’s Army, 1990 5 Millar P, Stalingrad, 1997 6 David k,
www.northpark.edu/acad/history/WebChron/EastEurope/Stalingrad.html
Why is this topic worthy of study? The Battle of Stalingrad was the single bloodiest battle of World War Two. Why? Hitler sent enormous forces to capture a city that would yield a questionable victory. Stalin sent even more reinforcements to counter this and so began one of the most savage battles of World War Two. The Russians had to kill 13,500 of their own troops to keep the others at their posts in Stalingrad. I wanted to learn more of this turning point in German fortunes and to me, this is one of the most interesting battles of World War Two. The Battle of Stalingrad was a turning point in the War and this is another reason why I chose to study it.
Critical Review History of World War Two. Steed P. Orbis, 1987. This was a very useful book to me because it put the Battle of Stalingrad in to context with the whole of World War Two and this prevented me from going in to too much detail on some occasions. This book also provided me with many interesting comments on tactics used throughout the war, by both sides, and I used this information in my essay. However at some parts in this book I got lost in irrelevant details on the structure of forces and this could become repetitive at times.