by Carly Moran
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943 and was among the largest on the Eastern Front, and was marked by its brutality and disregard for military and civilian casualties. It was amongst the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare with the higher estimates of combined casualties amounting to nearly two million deaths. In the defeat, the crippling losses suffered by Germany’s military proved to be insurmountable for the war. The battle was a turning point in the war, making a German victory in the East impossible.
The German offensive to capture Stalingrad commenced in late summer 1942, supported by intensive Luftwaffebombing which reduced much of the city to rubble. The German offensive eventually bogged down in house-to-house fighting and despite controlling over 90% of the city at times, the Wehrmacht was unable to dislodge the last Soviet defenders clinging tenaciously to the west bank of the Volga River.
In November 1942, the Red Army launched Operation Uranus; a two-pronged attack specifically targeted at the inferior Romanian and Italian forces protecting the German 6th Army flanks. The success of these attacks caused the weakly held flanks to collapse and the 6th Army to be cut off and surrounded inside Stalingrad. As the Russian winter set in, the 6th Army weakened rapidly from cold, starvation and ongoing Soviet attacks. Command ambiguity coupled with Adolf Hitler’s resolute belief in the “power of the will” and the value of “standing fast” further compounded the German predicament. Eventually, the failure to break the encirclement by relieving German forces, coupled with the failure of re-supply by air, caused the final collapse. By early February 1943, German resistance in Stalingrad had ceased and the remaining elements of the surrounded 6th Army had either surrendered or had been destroyed.
Stalingrad was Stalin’s city. It had been named after him as a result of his defence of the city during the Russian Civil War. Stalin insisted that it should be held at all costs. One historian has claimed that he saw Stalingrad “as the symbol of his own authority.” Stalin also knew that if Stalingrad was taken, the way would be open for Moscow to be attacked from the east. If Moscow was cut off in this way, the defeat of the Soviet Union was virtually inevitable.
The German public was not officially told of the disaster until the end of January 1943, though positive reports in the German propaganda media about the battle had stopped in the weeks before the announcement. It was not the first major setback of the German military, but the crushing defeat at Stalingrad was unmatched in scale. On February 18, the minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, gave his famous Sportpalast speech in Berlin, encouraging the Germans to accept a total war which would claim all resources and efforts from the entire population.
The battle of Stalingrad was one of the largest battles in human history. It raged for 199 days. The Soviet captivity of deaths between 1943 and 1955 were 400,000 Germans, 200,000 Romanians, 130,000 Italians, and 120,000Hungarians. They were either killed, wounded or captured.
Of the 91,000 German POW’s (Prisoners Of War) taken at Stalingrad 27,000 died within weeks and only 5,000returned to Germany in 1955. The remainder of the POWs died in Soviet captivity.