The Battle of Stalingrad

History 10C


In the June of 1941, Hitler launched a military campaign for the invasion of Russia, codenamed Operation Barbarossa. Hitler’s plan was to expand his empire into the vastness of the Soviet Union, in order to supply Germany with ‘living space’ in the east (Jones, class). Throughout that year, the Hitler’s army rapidly advanced into Russia. However, when the German Sixth Army division and Fourth Panzer division of Army Group B, lead by General Friedrich Paulus, tried to take the city of Stalingrad, they were turned back. The city Stalingrad was a long urban strip that lied strung out along the western bank of the river Volga. The town’s high industrialization made it a fairly important target for the Germans (The Battle for Stalingrad: Overview, Online). However, the fact that it bared the name of Stalin himself made its devastation vital, for a German victory, and its defense crucial for Russia’s defense (Jones, class). After a half of a year of exceptionally brutal and ruthless fighting, the Germans were finally surrounded by the Red Army, commanded by Army General G. K. Zhukov, and forced to either surrender, or freeze and starve to death in the bitter cold. To Hitler’s disappointment, General Paulus surrendered. (The Battle for Stalingrad: Overview, Online). This decisive and well-fought battle was an enormous victory for the Soviet forces and proved to be a major turning point, not only in the east, but in the entire Second World War.

Stalingrad was the main objective of the German Army Group B. Soviet General Zhukov, suspecting a future German attack, reinforced the city with troops from the Moscow Reserve (Perret, p.385). These reserve troops were commanded by General V. I. Chuikov who was directing all ground battle in the city, while Colonel-General A.I. Eremenko was placed in charge of handling the entire Stalingrad front (Beevor, p.435). To assist in the invasion of Russia, a phrasebook of several useful terms in Russian was actually prepared for the invading German soldiers. The useful terms included Russian for ‘Surrender!’, ‘Hands up!’, ‘Where is the collective farm chairman?’, ‘Are you a Communist?’, and ‘I’ll shoot!’ (Beevor, p.4) German soldiers were also supplied with condoms in their government distributed packs, even though they were, in fact, forbidden to have sex with any Russian women (Jones, class).

The attacks by the Sixth Army and Forth Panzer Army began in August, and slowly ground at the Soviet defenses who tried desperately to maintain a hold on the city (Murray, p.284). The attacks were preceded by massive artillery and air bombardments which did damage to the factories. However, it was Russia’s own air bombardments that turned the city to ruins, forcing a street-by-street fight for the city, that Hitler was afraid would give Russia an advantage, and it did (Jones, class).

Despite the consistent flow of reinforcements, the German infantry strength steadily decreased. By early October, frontline battalions possessed an average of only 3 officers and 62 soldiers. Nevertheless, facing constant attack and the superior fire power of the Germans the Soviet defenders were no better off, and were slowly being pushed back and by mid-November they were forced back onto a thin strip of land overlooking the Volga. On November 8th, Hitler, proudly announced that the sixth Army had conquered Stalingrad. “The German soldier now stood on the foot of the Volga, and there, the Führer pronounced, he would remain,” (Murray, p.284).

Alas, the Führer had spoken too soon. The Soviets had already been planning a counter-offensive that would take place in late fall. This attack called Operation Uranus, planned to encircle the German forces fighting on the Volga. The Operation was designed by Colonel Generals Aleksandr Vasilevsky, who would be in overall command, and N. K. Vatutin, who was in charge of the Southwestern Front. It required extensive use of deception in order to deploy the troops into the area, unnoticed (Beevor, p.285). Steady fighting since May had worn out much the German Sixth Army, and there was little reserves left for reinforcements. The Soviet forces on the other hand, were still strong. The leading four armored divisions had 660 first-class tanks (Perret, p.385).

The attack was launched on November 19th. That morning 3,500 Soviet artillery pieces opened fire on the enemy positions north of