Institution: National Institute of Technology-Tiruchnapalli
Author: Adithya Vikram Sakthivel
“In war, then let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.”
– Sun Tzu, the Art of War
During the early hours of the second of February 1943, General Friedrich Paulus, the last German commanding officer still situated in Stalingrad along with what remnants were left of the infamous German 6th Army surrendered to the advancing Soviet Red Army. The myth of the Nazi ‘Aryan’ invincibility was finally burnt to the ground. The most decisive battle to rage the Eastern front during World War II was finally over.
A few years before the start of the invasion of Poland (the event that marked the beginning of the Second World War), the Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler, had signed a pact of nonaggression with the Soviet Union. Perhaps if Hitler had consolidated his gains in Western Europe, Germany might have been victorious, but the whole of mainland Western Europe was too less for a power crazy fanatic such as Hitler. Obsessed with the dream of a thousand year third Reich, Hitler chose to invade the Soviet Union, a decision that proved to be his undoing. In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Initially, the German campaign known as ‘Operation Barbarossa’ made rapid advances into Soviet territories. Yet the Soviet Red Army and a bitter winter put together managed to stand up to the aggressive German war tactics. Long battles ensued, some lasting as long as several months, with enormous casualties on both sides. During August 1942, a fierce battle broke out at Stalingrad.
The battlefield was the industrial city of Stalingrad, located on the west bank of the Volga River in Southern Russia. It was considered a strategically important location from a military point of view as it controlled the vital river and rail connections that carried oil supplies to the armament factories of central Russia and eventually to the Soviet Red Army; however this city wasn’t the original target for the invading German military. The German offensive that began on the twenty third of August, with sustained bombings by the German Luftwaffe. The same afternoon, German troops had secured apposition north of the city. By the beginning of September, Stalingrad was surrounded by the Sixth Army, with the only way to escape was east across the Volga River. As the battle became more intense, Hitler’s Soviet counterpart, Joseph Stalin had given the Red Army the following order:
“Not one step backwards”
His reason for such orders which didn’t value the lives of his men was because the city bore his name, and in his mind, should never be occupied by the Nazis. On the other side of the battlefield, Hitler was equally obstinate. German air and artillery power reduced buildings to rubble and extra German troops were dispatched as reinforcement despite the fact that these extra troops having the ability to invade all of European Russia expelling the Soviet leadership to Siberia in the process. Yet this did not break the willpower of men of the Soviet Red Army. As the German troops advanced into the ruined city, the Soviets fought the invading force house by house, and in certain cases, the two sides fought each other from different floors of the same building. On the nineteenth of November, 1942, the Red Army launched ‘Operation Uranus’, an audacious attack on German positions from the rear. Four days later, the German army was trapped in Stalingrad with no way of escaping the Soviet Red Army, which now surrounded their position.
A German attempt to rescue their trapped comrades resulted in failure on December. The battle raged on into the New Year. Eventually worn out by continuous attacks by the soviets, cold and hunger, the remnants of the German army, against the orders of Hitler, surrendered to the Soviet Union on the second of February, 1915. This marked the end of the battle of Stalingrad. However this decisive victory that changed the tide of the entire war wasn’t won without heavy casualties on both sides, as the Soviet Red Army lost 479,000 men since November while 147,000 German soldiers were killed and 91,000 German troops captured.
In conclusion the battle of Stalingrad can be best described by the following passage written by British historian and journalist Max Hastings
“The street is no longer measured by meters but by corpses… Stalingrad is no longer a town. By day it is an enormous cloud of burning, blinding smoke; it is a vast furnace lit by the reflection of the flames. And when night arrives, one of those scorching howling bleeding nights, the dogs plunge into the Volga and swim desperately to gain the other bank. The nights of Stalingrad are a terror for them. Animals flee this hell; the hardest stones cannot bear it for long; only men endure.”
“All Hell Let Loose”
Max Hastings (2011)
“8 Things You Should Know About WWII’s Eastern Front”
“Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War”
Chris Bellamy (2007)
“When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler”
David M. Glantz & Jonathan House (1995)