The Battle of Stalingrad (23 Aug. 1942 to 2 Feb 1943) was a major and decisive battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. It is among the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare; higher estimates of combined casualties amount to 2,000,000.
The epic battle at Stalingrad...entered the realm of legend almost as soon as the guns fell silent. In the years that followed, its importance as a military event, even a "turning point" in the war on the Russian front, became axiomatic.
The Red Army was marching to the west. From now on there would be no retreats...
Stalingrad was now more than a resounding triumph of Soviet strategy, technology, guts and endurance. It was the feat of an indomitable spirit whose goal was the wholesale destruction of fascism as the embodiment of the supreme counterrevolution.
Realizing all hope was lost, Friedrich von Paulus, in command of what remained of the 6th Army, started forming plans for surrender. Realising this, and hoping to rescue something of the battle, Hitler promoted him to Field-Marshal on January 30th, 1943. No German Field-Marshall had ever been taken alive in war, and it was hoped this would force him to fight on, or take his own life.
Instead von Paulus saw this as yet another example of Hilter's increasing irrationality. On January 31, 1943 von Paulus ordered the 6th Army to surrender on February 2.
Air Marshal Hermann Goering, commander of the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force), pledged to deliver 300 tons of supplies a day to the engulfed German troops of Stalingrad. However, it soon became clear that due to harsh winter conditions, the Luftwaffe could not accomplish this task. On average, less than 120 tons (instead of the 300 promised) per day arrived.
By mid-January 1943, the remnant of Paulus' command had shrunk to an area roughly 10 miles square. The Staff officers at OKW had tacitly admitted to themselves that 6th Army was lost and they tried to salvage what they could of technicians and specialists while abandoning the ordinary Landsers to their fate. They stepped up evacuation of officers with rare skills and ability, giving them priority on flights out of the pocket even in front of the wounded.
On 19 November, the Russians launched a pincer shaped counter-attack at the weak points on the German flanks north and south of Stalingrad, which were defended by the 3rd and 4th Romanian armies respectively. By 22 November, the Russian "pincers" succeeded in joining together and trapping some 240,000 troops of the German 6th Army (together with elements of two Romanian armies) in a pocket stretching some 35 miles from the east of Stalingrad to the west and some 20 miles from north and south.
In August, the German Sixth Army made advances across the Volga River while the German Fourth Air Fleet reduced Stalingrad to burning rubble, killing more than 40,000 civilians. In early September, General Paulus ordered the first offensives into Stalingrad, estimating that it would take his army about 10 days to capture the city...
In their attempt to take Stalingrad, the German Sixth Army faced General Vasily Chuikov leading a bitter Red Army employing the ruined city to their advantage, transforming destroyed buildings and rubble into natural defensive fortifications. In a method of fighting the Germans began to call the Rattenkrieg, or "Rat's War," the opposing forces broke into squads eight or 10 strong and fought each other for every house and yard of territory.
The capture of Stalingrad was important to Hitler for two primary reasons. Firstly, it was a major industrial city on the Volga River -- a vital transport route between the Caspian Sea and Northern Russia. Secondly, its capture would secure the left flank of the German armies as they advanced into the oil-rich Caucasus region -- with a goal of cutting off fuel to Stalin’s war machine. The fact that the city bore the name of Hitler’s nemesis, Joseph Stalin, would make its capture an ideological and propaganda coup. Stalin realized this, also, and despite being under tremendous constraints of time and resources, ordered anyone who was strong enough to hold a rifle be sent out to defend the city.
Commencing on June 28, 1942, the attack started off well. So well in fact that Hitler felt that the 4th Panzer Army was not needed with Army Group B, and sent them south to join Army Group A. By this point they had passed the 6th Army (as was expected, they were motorized) and had to cross the 6th's path of march on their way south.
The resulting traffic jam took several days to clear. This confusion, along with provisions originally intended for the 6th being given to the 4th instead, slowed the advance towards Stalingrad by almost two weeks. With the advance now delayed, Hitler then changed his mind again and ordered the 4th to rejoin the original line of march.
...Hitler's offensive, which he named Operation Blue, got off to a good start. Army Group B made steady eastward progress toward Stalingrad while Army Group A headed for the oil fields in the Caucasus. But it was almost too easy. On closer look, German field commanders realized that Russian battle tactics had changed. Instead of stubbornly standing their ground and inviting encirclement, the Red Army had adopted a new strategy, the fighting retreat, to minimize losses and draw the Germans ever deeper into Russia, thereby stretching already-overtaxed supply lines to the breaking point.