Experts consider the Battle of Stalingrad to be the turning point of World War II. This bloody battle between the Soviets and Germans lasted for two hundred days and endured close to two million casualties.
Did you know…
… that when the Germans used wire nets to secure their windows against grenades, the Soviets cleverly attached fishhooks on their grenades, which effectively clung to the enemy nets!
One of the crucial battles of World War II was fought for the control of Stalingrad, a city located in southwestern Soviet Union (now Russia). The Battle of Stalingrad (23rd August 1942 – 2nd February 1943) proved to be the turning point of the ongoing war in Europe. The Russian forces stuck to their guns and ensured that the German army was eventually cornered and outnumbered. The defeat of the German forces in this war led to their inevitable retreat from the city.
The Germans, initially began their attack by bombing and annihilating large part of the city’s infrastructure and people. The Germans and their allies invaded Stalingrad (city was later renamed Volgograd) on 23rd August 1942. The ensuing battle led to the death of approximately 1,798,619 individuals which included civilian and military casualties from both sides. This Historyplex article endeavors to present a few startling facts about the Battle of Stalingrad.
Why was Stalingrad Attacked?
▶ Hitler wanted to attack Stalingrad because he wanted to destroy the industries in and around the city and seize the city that was named after the leader of Soviet Russia. This would have served as dual-edged sword that could be used as a means of supremacy propaganda by the Germans.
▶ His second objective was to wrest control of the Volga River, which was a major route for commercial trade and transport between northern Russia and the Caspian Sea. This blocking of route would also ensure that commodities being delivered from Russia and the Allied forces would be severed.
▶ Hitler also wanted to ensure that the material being delivered under America’s ‘Lend-Lease’ or ‘An Act to Further Promote the Defense of the United States’ to Russia would not be allowed to pass through the Persian Corridor.
▶ Since, Hitler greatly desired to control the oil fields of Baku in the Caucasus, he made the invasion of Stalingrad a part of this conquest. He believed that if the city of Stalingrad was captured it would be easier to seize the northern and western territories around it.
▶ It came as a major shock to Joseph Stalin when Hitler invaded Russia. During this time, Stalin fell into massive depression because of being betrayed by someone who he believed was an ally. When Germany attacked Russia in June of 1941, Stalin took over the office of Defense Commissar.
▶ On 28th July 1942, the Soviet forces had been issued the Order No. 227 of ‘Not a Step Back!’ by Joseph Stalin, which was to become the slogan of resistance among the comrades. Under this order, the commanders were not allowed to retreat without permission, and those who defied this rule would be liable to face a military tribunal.
▶ Since the Russians were short of trained military personnel, Stalin had ordered that anyone fit enough to hold a rifle would be sent to fight the war.
German Army Group South
▶ Hitler devised a two-pronged attack through the Army Group South, which was to capture the oil fields in Baku as well as the city of Stalingrad, via the Volga and Don rivers. This operation was named Fall Blau or Case Blue and later renamed as Operation Braunschweig. The army was split into Group A and B.
▶ The Group A was commanded by General Field Marshal Wilhelm List, who was to march the 17th Army, 1st Panzer Army, and his own contingent towards the Caucasus.
▶ Whereas, Group B was commanded by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock who along with General Friedrich Paulus’s 6th Army and General Hermann Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army were ordered to seize the Volga flanks and the city.
▶ Group B was also split into two, wherein 4th Panzer Army was to invade from the South through Voronezh, occupy Don river and enter Stalingrad. Whereas, the 6th Army was to enter Stalingrad from the West. The final objective was for both the contingents of Group B to reunite in Stalingrad and entrap the 62nd and 64th Armies of the Soviet forces.
▶ On 28th June 1942, the German Group A attacked the southern parts of Russia through the vast stretch of steppes. The attempts by the Russian army to establish defense lines were foiled twice, as they found themselves outflanked each time. Group A had successfully destroyed two important Russian pockets in the northeast sector of Kharkov and Rostov Oblast by 2nd July 1942.
▶ Simultaneously, Group B’s 4th Panzer Army and Hungarian 2nd Army had launched ‘The Battle of Voronezh’ on 28th June 1942. On 5th July, the 4th Panzer Army under the command of Hermann Hoth, captured the western bank of Don River, which back then was only 64 km apart from the Volga River.
▶ During this time, the Red Army executed a counterstrike which resulted in the entrapment of the 4th Panzer Army. The infantry division of the Army Group South had to be sent specifically to Voronezh in order to free the 4th Panzer Army and thus, delayed the plan to occupy the Stalingrad-facing right bank of Don river by two crucial days.
▶ On the other hand the onslaught of the 6th Army was tremendously successful and caused Hitler to order the 4th Panzer Army to join Group A. However, this decision led to a major traffic jam wherein both the 4th and the 6th Army could not find sufficient roads and space to transport their men, machines, and material.
▶ As a result, the entire entourage and their planned advance was delayed by an entire week. The sloppiness of the situation made Hitler rethink his earlier decision and he ordered the 4th Panzer Army to revert to its original plan of attacking Stalingrad.
The Beginning of The Battle of Stalingrad
▶ By the end of July 1942, the 6th Army had reached the outskirts of the city of Stalingrad, and the 4th Army was on its way to provide reinforcement to help occupy the city.
▶ During this time, Stalin stationed armies to defend Stalingrad. On 1st August 1942, Marshall Andrei Yeremenko was appointed to command the Southeastern Front. He along with Commissar Nikita Krushchev formed the 62nd Army, which was solely responsible for safeguarding the city of Stalingrad.
▶ At the same time, more volunteers from all across Russia and Siberia were being rushed to Stalingrad in order to lend a helping hand in the ensuring battle. Women and children were also made to work, and helped in building trenches and bunkers for the Soviet forces.
▶ While the city of Stalingrad was being attacked, its citizens were not allowed to leave, since their presence ensured greater resistance against the Germans from the Red Army as well as civilians. However, many did manage to escape via the Volga.
▶ On 25th July, the Germans sent its formidable air command Luftflotte 4, which under the command of Generaloberst Wolfram von Richthofen, bombarded the city as well as the Volga. Most of the city was turned to dust and several factories were completely destroyed. Ferries and Soviet ships were also sunk.
Stalingrad Tractor Factory
▶ The Stalingrad Tractor Factory had been converted into a makeshift factory for making and assembling T-34 tanks. These tanks played a pivotal role in defending the city against the German forces. The tanks were usually manned by the very workers who had volunteered to assemble them at the workshop.
▶ Most often, these tanks were used without paint and sometimes even lacking gun sights. Even though several tanks were almost instantaneously destroyed by the German forces, the Stalingrad Tractor Factory kept producing as many tanks as possible in order to compensate for the lack of skilled military manpower and offensive strategy.
▶ The factory was a key target during the ensuring battle. On 23rd August 1942, the German 16th Panzer Division destroyed the factory and put an indefinite end to the manufacture of tanks for the Red Army. The attack came from the northern sector of the city, one that was least expected by the Soviets.
Bravery of Russian Women Pilots and Soldiers
▶ This attack on Stalingrad Tractor Factory led to the emergency deployment of the 1077th Anti-aircraft Regiment which consisted entirely of volunteer women pilots.
▶ With no training on how to tackle ground targets and no other support units, the women pilots faced the incoming Germans head-on. This woman’s contingent attacked the Germans by firing at lowest possible elevations and managed to destroy 14 aircraft, 3 infantry battalions and 15 vehicles, and no less than 83 tanks before they were all gunned down midair. The Germans were shocked to recover the bodies of women from crash sites.
▶ Approximately 75,000 women and young girls were recruited from Stalingrad for military training. These women showed extraordinary courage in the line of fire. Women were trained to become snipers and played a crucial role in gunning down individual targets.
▶ Many of these women worked as telephone operators who had to control the signal posts under heavy gunfire. Some went head-on into the battlefield as machine gunners, scouts, and mortar handlers. Women nurses not only helped in treating the injured but also helped in evacuating the wounded from the enemy lines.
Mamayev Kurgan and Railway Station No.1
▶ The hill of Mamayev Kurgan in Stalingrad witnessed some of the heaviest fighting during the war. Even though this hill was a burial ground for Tartars, the German 6th Army captured this hillock on 13th September 1942.
▶ Thereafter, the Germans attacked the Railway Station No. 1 incessantly. However, the Soviets sent their 13th Guards Rifle Division, on 14th September, to carry out an immediate counterattack. Under the command of Alexander Rodimtsev, the 13th Guards showed great tactical skills and were successful at recapturing the hill on 16th September.
▶ Both armies kept losing their grip over Mamayev Kurgan over the next one year, and part of the slope was occupied by the Germans until 26th January 1943 after which they were defeated by the Soviets.
▶ The Motherland Calls monument was erected in 1967 on Mamayev Kurgan. It was sculpted by Yevgeny Vuchetich and engineered by Nikolai Nikitin. Back then, The Motherland Calls was the tallest sculpture in the world. It is 279 feet tall from the tip of the sword to the foot of the statue. The Mamayev Kurgan hill has 200 steps leading to the statue, which symbolize the number of days of the Battle of Stalingrad.
▶ The Pavlov’s House was named in honor of Russian Sergeant Yakov Pavlov, under whose command the building was defended by his platoon during the Battle of Stalingrad. This four-story house oversaw the city’s 9th January Square and was situated near the Volga river. The Germans captured this building in September 1942, however, the13th Guards Rifle Division’s platoon recaptured the building on 25th September and defended it until 25th November 1942.
▶ Sergeant Yakov Pavlov ordered that the building be protected with four layers of barbed wire. Mines were planted all around the building which made its extremely risky for the Germans to advance with their tanks. Pavlov destroyed close to 12 tanks by mounting a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle on the roof of the building.
▶ Almost everyday, the Soviets would have to sneak out of the building in order to push down the pile of enemy corpses, so that the Soviet anti-tank gunners had a clearer view for firing.
Operation Uranus and Little Saturn
▶ The Red Army’s Operation Uranus was launched on 19th November 1942 by Georgy Zhukov and A. M. Vasilevsky, who assigned Gen. Nikolay Vatutin to carry out the mission. Soon the northern flank of Stalingrad was captured from the defending Romanian 3rd Army and the very next day, the Red Army successfully captured the southern flank of the city from the Romanian 4th Army Corps as well.
▶ After the successful completion of operation Uranus, the Red Army captured and encircled over 265,000 enemy troops including 40,000 German Hiwi volunteers or Soviet traitors from all around Stalingrad.
▶ During this time, the remaining Axis soldiers from the 6th Army, 4th Panzer, and Romanian 4th Army had regrouped to form the short-lived Army Group Don.
▶ Operation Winter Storm was a failed attempt by the German 4th Panzer Army to free the German 6th Army which had been encircled by the Soviets after Operation Uranus. General Field Marshal Erich von Manstein was assigned the task of breaching the encirclement and making an opening towards the captive German 6th Army. On 12th December 1942, the Germans took the Soviets by surprise and captured the areas around Verkhne-Kumskiy.
▶ On 16th December 1942, the Soviets launched their second successful counterattack, Operation Little Saturn, which intended to separate German Army Group A, from the rest of the Axis forces. The Soviet forces attacked Italian, Ravenna, and Cosseria pockets, which led to their withdrawal from certain areas. The Germans were also forced to withdraw and move back 250 km away from Stalingrad. Reinforcements were not sent to the German 6th Army, which by then was running low on fuel, food, supplies, and patience.
German Surrender and Red Army’s Victory
▶ The destruction of the Pitomnik German airfield and Gumrak between 16-22 January 1943, ensured that the Germans could no longer count on delivery of supplies and airlifting of the injured. The Germans were being pushed towards the Volga and had very few functional tanks to execute a strong enough attack.
▶ The Soviets tried to bargain with General Friedrich Paulus, so as to make him surrender. He was assured that all prisoners would be provided medical aid and given the option of repatriation. Nonetheless, Paulus did not heed this offer. On 22nd January 1943, his request to surrender was struck down by Hitler.
▶ By 26th January, the Germans had stationed their men at the northern and southern pockets of Stalingrad, which were under the command of General Walter Heitz and Paulus respectively. On 27th January, the southern pocket was defeated and Paulus was captured. Paulus was promoted to the rank of General Field Marshal on 30th January and was expected not to surrender until, either he was killed or committed suicide. By 2nd February the northern pocket also surrendered. The Germans had finally surrendered and the Soviets had won the Battle of Stalingrad.
Approximately, 91,000 soldiers were made Prisoners of War (POW). By 1955, only around 6,000 prisoners returned to Germany, while the others died while serving their sentence. The estimated casualties suffered by both sides culminated to between 1.7-2 million and thus recorded the Battle of Stalingrad was indeed one of the bloodiest battles to have been waged during World War II.