Stalingrad 1942

Stalingrad was one of the major battles that became a turning point in WW2 on the eastern front in Russia. Hitler decided to launch a new offensive in July 1942 with the aim of taking Stalingrad. General Friedrich Paulus, who commanded the 6th Army, was given orders to capture the city. Stalingrad was the centre of all rail and water communications for Southern Russia which made it a prime target for capture.

In the summer of 1942 the German army advanced towards the city with 250,000 men, 7,000 artillery and mortars and 500 tanks. Progress was slow as fuel was rationed, with priority given to Army Group A. By the end of July Paulus was forced to call a halt due to fuel shortages at Kalach; supplies would finally arrive on August 7th. This prompted Paulus to preserve food and only order out the XIV Panzer Corp towards Stalingrad. The Red Army attacked forcing the Panzer Corp to halt just shy of the city. In light of this delay Paulus moved the entire army towards the city encircling Stalingrad. With the city surrounded, the German army delayed any attacks until the 7th September. The first wave of attacks came from the Luftwaffe with a large scale bombing killing thousands of civilians.

Stalin gave orders that the city should not fall into German hands and should be held at all costs. If Stalingrad fell it would open the way for the German army to advance on Moscow, and in all likelihood this would have meant the fall of Russia. The Russian war machine went into overdrive with a million infantry troops drafted into the area with support from tanks, aircraft and rocket batteries. Factories in the Urals also went into overdrive to produce the necessary armour to defend the city. Stalin gave command for the defence to the undefeated General Georgi Zhukov.

As the Germans advanced into the city, they were forced to fight for every street, house and building. The fighting became intense and brutal, troops on both sides fought amongst the rubble of the city, dying in their thousands. The deeper they managed to drive into the city the more fierce the fighting became, then the more deadlier it became with casualties amongst both forces rapidly increasing daily.

The 500 German tanks became useless as the fighting progressed deeper and deeper into the city. Infantry became the driving force for the German advance. With the fight taking place amongst the ruins of the city, the Russian army made use of snipers deploying them all over the city. On the 28th September the German army raised the Swastika over the local government buildings in Red Square though the fierce street fighting continued. Hitler commanded Paulus to take the city regardless of the cost. General Kurt Zeitzler, chief of general staff, was opposed to the idea. He wanted the 6th Army to withdraw but Hitler refused. Since entering the city the German army had incurred 40,000 casualties. On the 4th October Paulus requested more troops. A few days later five engineer battalions, along with a Panzer division, were sent to the city. Stalin in turn ordered three more armies into Stalingrad. Heavy rain in October slowed down supplies reaching the German army in the city.

Winter and the snow arrived on October 19th. The Germans were making good progress by November, controlling around 90% of the city. Troops were running short of food and ammunition when Paulus decided to launch a new offensive. For two days the Germans took heavy casualties. Worse was to come in the form of a Russian counter attack which forced them to retreat southwards giving up much hard-fought ground. They reached the airfield at Gumrak, and Hitler gave orders for them to stop and hold their ground even though this would risk the army being encircled. Paulus was reassured by high command that the Luftwaffe would drop sufficient supplies, though several of Paulus’s senior officers doubted that they could actually airlift the much needed supplies in the middle of winter. They also made a request that the army try and break out of the city before they became trapped. Paulus refused saying he had no choice but to carry out Hitler’s orders.

All through December the Luftwaffe continued to drop 70 tonnes of supplies a day – the army required a minimum of 300 tonnes a day. The army were placed on 1/3 rations, which forced them to slaughter the remaining horses just to survive. By the 7th December the situation had become dire, with food rations really low. The 6th Army were at risk of starvation and surrendering. Hitler ordered the 4th Panzer Army under Field Marshall Erich Von Manstien to make a rescue attempt. Though they were within 30 miles of the city, the Russian army managed to halt them forcing them to retreat. The German army lost 28,000 men in December. Due to a lack of food Paulus gave the order that the 12,000 wounded soldiers could no longer be fed. Manstien ordered Paulus to attempt a breakout.

On the 30th December Hitler promoted Paulus to Field Marshall and told him that no German Field Marshall had ever been captured expecting Paulus to order his troops to continue fighting. The next day Paulus surrendered. On the 2nd February, the battle for Stalingrad was over. The German army suffered 150,000 dead and 91,000 captured. The German prisoners were forced to march to Siberia where a further 45,000 German soldiers died en route to the prisoner of war camps. At the end of the war only 7,000 had survived from the original 250,000 men.

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