The Battle of Stalingrad took place on the Eastern Front of the Second World War, in and around the city of Stalingrad, in Russia, in the former Soviet Union. It was ferociously fought between the German 6th Army and the Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies, from August 23, 1942, to February 2, 1943. It was a house-to-house urban battle, which was fought among the rubble of artillery-torn buildings at -40ºC (below zero). This military engagement was the most savage and bloodiest battle in the history of mankind. Almost two million men died and a whole German field army completely destroyed.
After the Battle of France in 1940, the Germans had launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941. Using Blitzkrieg tactics, the German armies had advanced fast, overwhelming and encircling large numbers of Soviet troops. But in December 1941, when the German Army Group Center had reached the gates of Moscow, the Soviets began a counter-offensive which drove the Germans back 100 miles. Nevertheless, the Germans had stopped this counter-attack and once the front had been stabilized in a line which ran from Leningrad to Rostov in the south, Adolf Hitler had begun planning again. This time his objective was the oil-rich Caucasus region in the south, and in order to achieve this, he first wanted to secure the left flank of Army Group South in their advance southeast, and the only way to concretize this was to capture the city of Stalingrad, which was also strategically important as it lay on the Volga river, an important means of communication. For these two objectives, the German Supreme Command set in motion Fall Blau, which was a military operation for the conquest of the Caucasus.
The Battle of Stalingrad began on August 23, 1942, when Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers of the Luftwaffe’s 4th air fleet started bombing the city as the German 6th Army, under the command of General Friedrich von Paulus, reached its outskirts. Despite the initial peripheral skirmishes, the Germans decided not to penetrate into Stalingrad until September 7. As the Germans made their way into the city, the Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies, set up their defense lines with strongpoints in factories and houses. Fighting within the wrecked city was ferocious and desperate. Elements of the 6th Army could raise the German flag over the buildings near the main square on September 26, but the house-to-house fighting went on viciously as the Soviets were continously being resupplied with men and ammunition by ferryboats from the opposite bank of the Volga river.
By mid-October, the Russians had begun building up a massive concentration of infantry troops and armored divisions to the north and south of Stalingrad. When 90% of Stalingrad had fallen to the Germans by mid-november, the Soviets, under the command of Georgy Zhukov, launched Operation Uranus on November 19. Weakly-held sectors by Romanian troops in north and south of the city were hit hard. If von Paulus had taken decisive actions by sending some German elements north and south to hold off the Russian attack, the bulk of 6th Army would have been withdrawn out of Stalingrad and saved. Then, as the Germans were being trapped in the Soviet pincers movement, von Paulus asked for authorization to attempt to break out of the encirclement and save at least half of his men, but Hitler refused and ordered him to fight to the last man instead.
When the Germans got trapped, they began to starve, yet they kept fighting tenaciouly. Hermann Göring tried to organize an airbridge to resupply them with food and medicines, but, because of the freezing weather conditions, the Luftwaffe’s Junkers Ju 52s could not operate effectively and many of the supply packages parachuted in the wrong site. On January 31, 1943, Friedrich von Paulus surrendered to the Soviet forces and the unconditional surrender document was signed on February 2. The once-glorious 6th Army, which had successfully fought in the Battle of France two years before, had been wiped out. From the million men it was composed of, only 91,000 survived and surrendered to the Russians. After the war, only 5,000 of them would make it back home, surviving the brutal Soviet treatment in the Stalinist concentration camps.
Battle of Stalingrad Footage