It wasn’t the first Soviet victory, but it was the first time the world understood the nazis had been given a real bitch of a bloody nose.

The facts are well known, but since it’s been 75 years since the surrender of the 6th army this, we will list the highlights.

  • The German invaders were divided in three army groups, army group North, besieging Leningrad, where millions of Soviet citizens would starve, army group Center, basically pointing a dagger at Moscow and army group South, threatening the Caucasus and Stalingrad on the Wolga river.
  • In 1942, for the new offensive campaign, Hitler decides to split army group south in two, one part moving towards Stalingrad and one moving to the oil fields in the Caucasus.
  • Most German units had been depleted by the heavy fighting in 1941 and were overstretched.
  • The German army was not used to urban warfare, and moving into a city was stupid on their part, because it ruined their best asset, their superior mobility.
  • Before moving into Stalingrad the Germans organized the biggest aerial bombardment on the Eastern Front. They reduced the city to rubble, but ironically turned the city into a fortress. The rubble made it hard for German tanks to pass through.
  • The fighting dragged on inside Stalingrad and on the flanks Romanian, Italian and Hungarian auxiliary troops were placed to let the 6th Army finish the job without getting attacked from Soviet forces outside of Stalingrad
  • These non-German troops were not very motivated, were often abused by their own officers, and were lacking in equipment, especially anti-tank weapons.
  • In november 1942 the Soviets managed to concentrate a massive number of men and materiel and smashed through those weakly defended flanks
  • The Germans were surrounded, as many as 300,000 Axis forces were now stuck in the ‘kessel’ or ‘cauldron’ of Stalingrad, fighting in the city continued.
  • The commander of the sixth army didn’t try to break out. In all fairness, a breakout would have decimated his army faster. Perhaps only the most mobile units could have made a dash for it.
  • The sixth army was perhaps the best army the Germans had, plus the Russians had so far proven incapable to destroy surrounded German troops. This wasn’t the first time the Soviets had managed to surround a significant number of Germans. Earlier there had been the Demyansk pocket and the Germans had managed to supply their surrounded comrades and to extract them later. Except this time the pocket was far greater. The Luftwaffe did not have the means to supply 6th army with everything it needed to maintain its fighting capabilities.
  • Pulling back 6th would have greatly endangered the other half of Army Group South which was now deep in the Caucasus. It had to get out of there fast. To enable them to escape 6th Army had to hold out. From a strategic point of view it was critical that 6th Army stayed where it was and kept hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops busy.
  • Von Manstein tried to open a corridor to the trapped men, but ultimately did not have enough troops and materiel to keep a corridor to the men open. A corridor could have allowed supply to be moved up over land.
  • The Soviets gradually made the situation worse, by threatening the airfields that were used to land planes in the Stalingrad pocket
  • 6th Army did not receive even half of what it needed to maintain its strength
  • Hoping that Paulus, 6th army’s commander would commit suicide instead of surrender, Hitler promoted him to Field Marshall. Hitler was outraged when he did prefer Soviet captivity over surrender. Paulus lost a lot of sympathy on all sides, since he was too cowardly to actually take the responsibility and surrender, plus he was suspisciously well-fed while all his men were starving. He also didn’t impress his captors, because although now suddenly anti-Hitler, he refused to be pro-communist, isolating himself. To the last he pretended to belief in a German victory. His life after Stalingrad can’t have been a happy life, for many years he was separated from his life. Perhaps he felt happy about having the opportunity to write about his actions at Stalingrad after the war… Given the situation he would have won more respect by either surrendering a bit sooner when his men were still strong enough to have some chance to survive Soviet captivity or to not surrender at all and get killed with a gun in his hands himself… Martyrdom didn’t appeal to him.
  • The fighting around Stalingrad was very costly to the Soviets as well. Certain historians go so far as to say that it was a draw. This is a ludicrous claim, although it was a very bloody victory, it was a clear Soviet victory. Life was exceptionally cheap in Stalin’s communist paradise and he could afford expending mountains of corpses to beat back the Germans.
  • The encircling operations were skillfully conducted. Yes, the Soviets didn’t mind massacring their own men in insane assaults, but they were getting better and better as the war progressed. They never matched the tactical abilities of their German counterparts, but they were getting to be a very dangerous enemy that was capable of organizing large sweeping operations.
  • From this point on it depends on what you choose to believe. Did the Nazis ever have a chance to defeat the Soviet Union? Yes, I think so. Did they still have a chance to win after Stalingrad? Yes, I think so, although it would have taken a hell of a long time and would also depend on how weakily the western allies would have played their hand. I believe that after Stalingrad the Germans could still have bled the Red Army to death, if they had made full use of their superior mobility and if their industry had focussed more on the mass production of anti-tank weapons, and had switched to a passive-aggressive defensive attitude, constantly trading ground for Russian blood. It would have taken a very long time. Some people assume Hitler knew he did not have that time, since he was already dangerously close to die from coronary heart disease. Could a military genius have bled the Soviet army to death, post-Stalingrad? I say yes. The Germans had the tactical skills to move quickly, were stubborn defenders and were good at knocking out tanks. Hitler squandered these advantages by insisting on offensives, insisting on holding positions that could not possibly be held, and insisting on the production of very expensive tanks for which Germany had precious little fuel. I wouldn’t be surprised if more German tanks were lost due to lack of fuel than direct Soviet actions.
  • Only about 6,000 of those 90,000 guys ever got back to Germany alive…
  • The Nazis proved capable, once again, of being able to be outrageously cruel towards their own people by claiming that nobody in Stalingrad had survived. They pretended they had all died a hero’s death. What a sickening crime, to let your own women believe that their fathers, sons, husbands, brothers have died, when there’s a chance they are still alive. Imagine the hopes of a lot of these women, well into the 1950’s, more than ten years after the end of the war, that maybe, just maybe, their loved ones were still alive.

Why did the Germans lose at Stalingrad?

  • they blatantly underestimated their enemy
  • they didn’t focus on their own strenghts
  • they arrogantly thought they had already conquered Stalingrad when the fighting was still raging
  • they didn’t concentrate their forces and were chasing too many rabbits at the same time
  • their enemy spotted an excellent opportunity and made full use of it
  • the commander of 6th army was given an important position, not because he was the most competent man for the job, but because he was a meek follower. A more aggressive general could potentially have thwarted the encircling offensive, or could have delayed it long enough for the German high command to come up with a more appropriate reaction

Conclusion

  • There aren’t always good solutions to military solutions. As soon as the Soviets broke through the flanks of 6th Army the Germans were bound to incur heavy losses
  • The fierce resistance of 6th Army, in spite of their horrific situation, helped stabilize other parts of the Eastern front
  • After this Hitler should have realized that a German offensive in the summer of 1943 was a very risky business indeed. He did realize this, but being the gambler that he was, he did it anyway, resulting in the battle of Kursk, which he broke off when the western allies attacked Sicily and Italy… Some historians claim he would have won the battle of Kursk if he hadn’t withdraw important mechanized units to face the new threat in Italy. This is rather doubtful, at Kursk the Germans attacked the Soviets precisely where they were expecting an attack. In spite of heavy losses they beat back the onslaught. A skillful, very flexible defense in 1943 was the only thing that could still have saved the Germans and could perhaps have resulted in a stalemate in the very long and very bloody run, say 1947 or even later. (assuming the western allies don’t become more aggressive than they were historically).