On June 22, 1941 Germany and the Axis powers invaded the Soviet Union. Having been defeated in many battles in 1941, the Soviets counterattacked the Battle of Moscow. The German forces were stopped on their way into the capital. Part of their philosophy was to attack where least expected so rapid gains could be made. An attack on Moscow was seen as to predictable by Hitler , the German leader. The U.S. entered the war following Germany’s declaration of war in support of its Japanese Ally. Hitler wanted to end or slow down the fighting on the Eastern Front before the U.S. got too deeply involved in the war in Europe.
The capture of Stalingrad was important to Hitler for many reasons. One of them was that the city bore the name of Hitler’s nemesis, Joseph Stalin, which would make the city’s capture an ideological coup. Stalin soon recognized this and sent any strong man who could hold a rifle to war. Stalin also had an ideological way of defending the city which bore his name in honor of his defense of the Russian Civil War, but he was under tremendous constraints time and resources. At this stage the Red Army was less capable of highly mobile operations, and the prospect of combat inside a large urban area minimized the their disadvantages against the Germans.
Army Group South was selected for a sprint forward through the Russian steppes into the Caucasus to capture the Soviet oil fields. These fields were a key goal for Hitler and instead of focusing his ideas on Moscow he continued to send his supplies to the southern Russian front. Hitler ordered that the Army Group be split in two. Army Group South (A) under the command of Wilhelm List, was commanded to continue to go south towards the Caucasus with the Seventeenth Army and the First Panzer Army. Army Group South (B) including Friedrich Von Paulus’s Sixth Army and Hermann Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army was to move east towards Volga and the city of Stalingrad.
On June 28, 1942 Blue finally opened as Army Group South began it’s attack into southern Russia. The German offensive started well. The Soviets ran eastward in disarray and many attempts to form defensive lines failed when other German units outflanked them. Two major pockets were formed then destroyed.
The battle began with the bombing of the city by the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. Many died once the battle began. Many buildings survived and factory workers join the fighting.
Hitler wouldn’t allow any civilians leave the city. Civilians, including women and children, were forced to build trenches and other fortifications. Then a massive German air bombardment on August 23 caused a firestorm killing thousands. Eighty percent of the living space was destroyed.
In November, after three months of fighting the Germans finally reached the river banks and had captured 90% of then ruined city. They split the remaining Soviet forces into two narrow pockets. In addition, the Volga now prevented boats and tugs from supplying the Soviets. Nevertheless, the fighting inside the factory part of the city continued as fiercely as ever.
The battles for the tractor and steel factories became world famous.
Beginning of the Battle Attack on a factory in Stalingrad.
During the siege, the German, Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian armies protecting Army Group South (B)'s flanks had pressed their headquarters for support. The Hungarian Second Army, consisting of mainly ill-equipped and ill-trained units, was given the task of defending a 200 km section of the front north of Stalingrad. This resulted in a very thin line of defense with some parts where 1–2 km stretches were being guarded by a single platoon. Soviet forces held several points on the south bank of the river and presented a potentially serious threat to Army Group South (B). However, Hitler was so focused on the city itself that requests from the flanks for support were refused. The chief of the Army General Staff, Franz Halder, expressed concerns about Hitler's preoccupation with the city, pointing at the Germans' weak flanks. Hitler replaced Halder in mid-October with General Kurt Zeitzler.
On November 19, the Red Army unleashed Uranus. The attacking Soviet units under the command of Gen. Nikolay Vatutin consisted of three complete armies, the 1st Guards Army, 5th Tank Army, and 21st Army, including a total of 18 infantry divisions, eight tank brigades, two motorized brigades, six cavalry divisions and one anti-tank brigade. Thinly spread, outnumbered, and poorly equipped, the Romanian Third Army was shattered. On November 20, a second Soviet offensive was launched to the south of Stalingrad, against points held by the Romanian IV Corps. The Romanian forces collapsed almost immediately. Soviet forces raced west in a pincer movement, and met two days later near the town of Kalach, sealing the ring around Stalingrad. The Russians later reconstructed the link up for use as propaganda, and the piece of footage achieved worldwide fame.
Soviet armies consolidated their positions around Stalingrad, and fierce fighting to shrink the pocket began. An attack from by a German battle group was successfully fended off by the Soviets in December. The full impact of the harsh Russian winters set in. Many soldiers died of frostbite, malnutrition, and disease.
On Dec. 16, Soviets launched a second offensive (Operation Saturn) to go through the Axis army on the Don and take Rostov. If successful, this would trap the remainder of Army Group South.
Some German officers said that Paulus defy Hitler’s orders to stand fast and instead attempt to break out of the pocket. Whereas a breakout would have been possible at this stage, the Sixth Army didn’t have enough fuel required for such a breakout. The German troops would have faced great difficulty trying to break through the Soviet lines in these harsh winter conditions.
The Germans in the pocket managed to get to the suburbs. They were running low on food and ammunition.
Hitler promoted Friedrich Paulus to Generalfeldmarschell. Hitler thought that he would fight or take his own life. Nevertheless when the Soviet forces closed on Paulus’ headquarters, he surrendered on February 2; 91,000 ill, tired, and starving soldiers were taken captive.
Only 5,000 of the 91,000 captive soldiers survived and returned home.
Soviet Victory Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus with his general staff.