Stalingrad: 14-19 September 1942

Stalingrad: 14-19 September 1942

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Stalingrad 1942, Peter Antill. One of the most monumental and widely discussed battles in the history of World War II, Stalingrad was a major defeat for Germany on the Eastern Front. The book provides a detailed breakdown of the armies on both sides, discusses the merits of the commanders, the ways in which these influenced the battle and the Germans allowed themselves to be diverted from their main objective and concentrate such large resources on what was, initially anyway, a secondary target. [see more]

Romanian Nightmare at Stalingrad

As morning broke on November 19, 1942, the soldiers of Romania’s 3d Army shivered in their trenches along ridges south of the Don River in southern Russia. Some winter uniforms had arrived but not nearly enough. For two months the soldiers had been protecting the left flank of German 6th Army, which was locked in a death match with Red Army defenders in the rubble of Stalingrad southeast of the Romanians’ position. The warm, beautiful autumn was over the first snow had settled atop bunkers and pillboxes on November 16. More snow arrived around midnight November 18-19, and the morning sun was hidden behind a thick, frozen mist.

At 7:30 a.m., Soviet Katyusha rockets came whooshing through the fog, their terrifying sound joined within minutes by the shriek of shells from 3,500 artillery guns and heavy mortars. The Romanians’ nightmare had begun.


Many Romanian soldiers saw no good reason to die defending Germans. For most of their lives,their nation had not intended to be a German ally – in fact, quite the opposite. Post-World War I,Romania had annexed Transylvania from Hungary, took Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina from the new Soviet Union, and seized a portion of Bulgaria, uniting the majority of Romanian people into a single nation for the first time in centuries. It signed mutual defense agreements with Czechoslovakia,Greece, Poland, Turkey and Yugoslavia against future aggression by Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria or the Soviet Union.

A 10-year military rebuilding program began in 1935, overseen by the chief of general staff – later defense minister – General Ion Antonescu, a hero of the Great War.The country’s mishmash of artillery was standardized at 75 mm. Rifles,machine guns, light tanks and 100mm light howitzers were purchased from Czechoslovakia. France provided additional weapons and training, but Germany’s 1938 takeover of Czechoslovakia and May1940 conquest of France severed Romania’s weapons pipeline.

With its most powerful ally, France, defeated, Romania officially acknowledged Adolf Hitler’s “new European order” on May 29, 1940, and subsequently was pressured into allowing Germany and Italy to mediate an agreement over its disputed territories. Everything was handed back to the previous owners. Overnight Romania lost half its territory and population.

Romania’s King Carol II, already unpopular, was driven from the country. His 19-year-old heir, Mihai (Michael), was a paper monarch real power lay with Antonescu, now prime minister, who proclaimed himself Conductator (leader). He was more nationalist than fascist, but as a proven military leader he had Hitler’s respect.


Germany’s June 22, 1941, invasion of the vast Soviet Union, code named Operation Barbarossa, required more troops than Hitler could field. He promised the Conductator that Romania could have Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina back from the USSR if it joined the Nazi invasion. Antonescu proclaimed a “holy war” against the Soviet Bolshevists, and on July 2-3, Romanian and German troops of Army Group Antonescu began crossing the Prut River. By month’s end, the two lost territories were recaptured. (See Romanian Army in the East map, p. 36.)

Romania’s war seemed to be over. Half its army was demobilized.But Hitler dangled a plum in front of Antonescu: Capture the major port of Odessa, the “Marseilles of the Black Sea,” and it’s yours. The Conductator hoped a large commitment of troops would convince Hitler to hand over the lost lands in Transylvania as well – Hungary’s contributions to the Russian invasion were meager, after all.Romania became Europe’s third-largest Axis military force, behind only Italy and Germany itself.

Fortified Odessa fell to Romania’s 4th Army in mid-October1941 – the greatest independent success of the war by any minor Axis power – but Romania’s 70,000-100,000 casualties exposed the army’s weaknesses.

Essentially a peasant army, illiteracy rates were high. Discipline was brutal. A largely aristocratic officer corps had little in common with men in the ranks, but the antiquated practice of leading from the front caused horrendous officer casualty rates – 4th Army lost 4,600 officers before the end of the Odessa campaign, primarily junior officers.

Infantry and armor crews weren’t trained to work together. The army’s 37 mm and 47 mm anti-tank guns and its similarly equipped light tanks couldn’t stand up to heavier Soviet T-34 and KV tanks. Communications equipment was in short supply, and motorized/ mechanized transport was insufficient for an effective mobile reserve. Romania’s military simply was not up to the demands of modern mobile warfare.

Regardless, in January 1942, against the wishes of many of his officers, Antonescu agreed to further operations in the Soviet Union and the Crimea in exchange for equipment and training to modernize the Romanian army. Germany, unable to fulfill its own weapons needs, provided only a trickle of equipment, frequently obsolete.

Still, the Romanian divisions fielded in the summer of 1942 were greatly improved over those that bled themselves white at Odessa. Their men were better trained, particularly in marksmanship, and some support weapons had arrived. But many officers and men felt they were fighting Hitler’s war, not Romania’s, despite propaganda to convince them their cause was just and Germany’s victory certain.


Ordered to advance toward Stalingrad on September 19, 1942, Romanian VI Corps of General Constantin Constantinescu-Claps’ 4th Army impressed the Germans by marching nearly 500 miles in two months, covering over half the distance in just 20 days, often while encountering Soviet resistance.

Ordered to protect the Germans’ exposed right flank, 4th Army’s VI Corps (1st, 2d, 4th, 18th and 20th infantry divisions) took up positions beyond some lakes south of Stalingrad. On September29, a strong Soviet counterattack penetrated all the way to VI Corps’ headquarters. Additional attacks during October drove 1st and 4thdivisions back behind the lakes with heavy casualties before the Romanians stabilized their line. In the first two weeks of November, Romanian VII Corps (5th and 8th cavalry divisions) joined 4th Army,compacting divisional frontage but exacerbating supply problems. Its“160-mile front” was closer to 185 miles wide.

In September, Romanian 3d Army arrived. Consisting of I Corps(7th and 11th infantry divisions), II Corps (9th and 14th infantry divisions), IV Corps (13th and 15th infantry divisions and 1st Cavalry Division) and V Corps (5th and 6th infantry divisions), it replaced Italian and German troops south of the Don River to the northwest of Stalingrad. The army’s commander, General Petre Dumitrescu, had received Germany’s Ritterkreuz, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, for his performance in the September-October 1941Battle of the Sea of Azov.

Dumitrescu immediately recognized a serious threat. In late August 1942, Soviet counterattacks against the Italian and German divisions that Romanian 3d Army was replacing had seized two bridgeheads south of the Don, near Serafimovich and Kletskaya. Since the Don River was Dumitrescu’s primary defensive barrier, he appealed for German assistance to push the enemy back across the river. But the Germans, fixated on Stalingrad, showed little interest in clearing a bridgehead 150 miles to the northwest. No help was forthcoming, even though Romanian 3dArmy was protecting the only rail supply line into the embattled city.

The Soviets tested 3d Army’s mettle with a series of probing attacks and heavier assaults beginning October 14 and continuing into November. Sergeant Manole Zamfir of the Pioneers Company,36th Regiment of 3d Army’s 9th Infantry Division, wrote: “Pushed forward by their officers, the Russian soldiers were yelling [in Romanian]: ‘Brothers, why are you killing us? Antonescu and Stalin drink vodka together and we’re killing each other for nothing.’”

The Romanians repulsed each attack, inflicting heavy losses but also losing over 13,000 of their own soldiers. Romanian 13th and 14th divisions suffered the most casualties – a fact not lost on the Soviet command.

Romanian 3d Army’s front stretched approximately 85 miles. Divisional reserves were sent to expand the front lines, leaving only 15th Infantry, 7th Cavalry and1st Armored divisions in reserve. Barbed wire and landmines were in short supply, like everything else.

Many Romanian soldiers wondered, “Why die for Hitler?” Others believed they were fighting a “holy war against bolshevism” or “for a fully restored Romania,” but continuing hardships sapped morale. Pay could barely purchase a liter of milk a day. Rations often consisted of a single, small hot meal once a day and a small portion of bread this was particularly true among Romanian 4th Army south of Stalingrad,which went 10 days without resupply in November.

In late October, reconnaissance by the Royal Romanian Air Force (Aeronautica Regalã Românã) indicated a Soviet buildup on the north side of the Don. The Germans were skeptical, but when their own intelligence confirmed it they began delivering a little more of the equipment they had promised, but some was still second-rate. For example, each Romanian division at Stalingrad received a half-dozen 75 mm Pak97/38 anti-tank guns – converted French field pieces only marginally better than the small-caliber anti-tank guns already in use.

On November 17, Romania’s defense minister Mihai Antonescu, a distant cousin of the Conductator, pressed Germany’s ambassador Manfred Freiherr von Killinger for more supplies and equipment: “The Russians are right now preparing a big action in exactly the region where our troops are situated. … I don’t want to lose [our army], for it is all we have.”

The “big action” was Operation Uranus, a plan to smash through the Axis flanks and encircle German 6th Army in Stalingrad. To assault the 155,500 Romanians and 11,000 Germans south of the Don, the Soviets’ South West Front and Don Front combined had massed over 338,000 men. Four rifle divisions would strike Italian troops west of the Romanians, but the crushing blow was aimed at strung-out 3d Army.


Operation Uranus opened with a massive Soviet artillery bombardment at 7:30 a.m. on November 19. The ground shook 30 miles away. The morning’s frozen mist concealed Romanian trenches, but Soviet gunners had ranged in during weeks of probing attacks, allowing for accurate targeting. Romanian artillery crews, however, couldn’t see to fire effectively on the advancing Soviet columns.

When the 90-minute bombardment ended, Russian infantry moved out through snow and mud, with some men riding atop tanks that crushed barbed wire or on sleds pulled behind the tanks.

The attackers may have expected to roll over a demoralized foe,but most Romanians held firm, cutting down enemy riflemen and knocking out light tanks as the Soviets came on in single-echelon formation. The attack fell behind schedule. The attackers penetrated in places, but progress was slow or stalled by late morning, when the Soviet 5th Tank Army ordered the mass of its tanks to attack on a 4-mile front. Between noon and 1 p.m., the spearhead crashed through the weakened Romanian 13thand 14th divisions. When 9th Division’s right flank collapsed, the division pivoted into an L shape and held – but the Romanian line was broken and the enemy poured through.

Tanks struck the Romanians’ weak rear areas. Elements of Soviet 4th Tank Corps rolled into Grominki, three miles from Kletskaya, around 2 p.m., setting 13th Division’s headquarters to flight 14th Division’s headquarters had already been overrun. A counterattack by 15th division was driven back by Soviet tanks, but the division took a position among some small hills and inflicted enough casualties to force back the Soviets.

Romanian 7th Cavalry Division counterattacked in support of the broken 14th Infantry Division, but when it was struck by Soviet8th Cavalry Corps, it retreated with very heavy losses. Romanian11th Division bloodily repulsed an attack, foiling the Soviet plan to unhinge 3d Army’s left wing.

Throughout the morning, most of the attacking Soviet rifle divisions had failed to break through Romanian defenses until sufficiently supported by tanks and cavalry, but the afternoon saw Soviet armor and horsemen rampaging in the rear of 3d Army’s center. Hospitals and other rear echelon units fled south toward the Chir River.

To Germany’s famed Stuka pilot Ulrich Hans Rudel, flying below the low clouds with Stukageschwader 2 to bomb and strafe the Russians, the scene was one of unmitigated disaster – masses of Romanians were racing for the rear, some throwing away their weapons. “It is a good thing for them I have run out of ammunition to stop this cowardly rout,” he wrote in his memoir, Stuka Pilot.


Romanian 3d Army’s only fully mechanized reserve was its 1st Armored Division. German observers described Romanian tank crews as almost suicidally willing to fight, but their armor strength was weak. Of 105 serviceable tanks, 84 were Czechoslovakian Skoda S.IIa light tanks (LT-35s) weighing 10.5 tons each, with armor thickness of just 0.47-1.38 inches and carrying only a 37 mm gun and two 7.92 mm machine guns. Other Czech tanks (LT-34s), each armed only with a machine gun, had been distributed among the infantry divisions.

Romanian 1st Armored had received 11 each of German PzKw IIINs and PzKw Mark IVGs on October 17 but staged their first battalion drill just three days before the Russian assault began only 19 of the 22 panzers were available on November 19. Two captured Soviet light tanks rounded out the division’s armor.

Romanian 1st Armored along with German 14th and 22d panzer divisions had been formed into the XLVIII Panzer Corps to provide a tank reserve in 3d Army’s rear, near the towns of Perefazovskii and Petrovo. However, XLVIII Panzer Corps had fewer than 85 medium and 100 light tanks with which to halt a Soviet force of nearly 150 heavy, 320 medium and 270 light tanks.

German 22d Panzer, ordered to counterattack, discovered that mice nesting in the tanks’ straw camouflage had chewed through electrical wires, as if even Russian rodents had joined the Soviet partisan effort. The 14th Panzer and Romanian 1st Armored were ordered to attack toward Kletskaya, but 1st Armored was disrupted in mid-deployment when Hitler intervened and insisted the two divisions attack southwest instead of southeast. After dark,1st Armored’s headquarters was hit by a surprise attack the Soviet attackers were driven off but not before the German wireless through which XLVIII received its orders was destroyed.

Far to the rear, reports of the day’s actions were muddled. Lieutenant Colonel I. Chermanescu, with a radio company at Stalinosome 300 miles west, wrote: “I am optimistic, as [are] the majority around here, because even if we will lose some of our forces and a little ground, it’s them that will end up defeated.” Two days later, however, he called 3dArmy’s situation “critical.”

Romanian 3d Army’s center was breached on November 19 the flanks were assailed on the following days. Fragments of units on the eastern flank were forced back into the Stalingrad Pocket. In the west, Soviet 21st Cavalry, reinforced with tanks, broke through on the night of November 21-22. Groups of Romanian soldiers wandered the battle area aimlessly.

An ad hoc force – named the Lascar Group for its commander, Knight’s Cross winner General MihaiLascar – was formed from Romanian 5th, 6th and 15thdivisions and portions of 13th and 14th. On November 20, 15th Division, attacked by as many as 40 T-34tanks, drove off the enemy by cutting down the two supporting Soviet infantry battalions.

Forbidden by Antonescu from breaking out, Lascar Group refused a surrender demand on the afternoon of November 22, saying, “We will continue to fight without thought of surrender.” By November 26, Las car Group had ceased to exist. Its commander – soon to become the first non-German awarded a Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves – was on his way to a Soviet prisoner of war camp. He survived captivity to become Romania’s minister of defense, 1946-47.

Like Lascar Group, Romanian 1st Armored Division fought on as long as possible, rushing here and there, trying to stamp out individual flames in a fire beyond control. By December 2 it was behind the Chir River and down to 70 percent of its strength.

In all, Romanian 3d Army lost to combat and frostbite all but 5 percent of its combat troops and half of its rear services personnel. When facing only enemy infantry, it generally held, often inflicting sharp losses but it proved too weak to knock out the masses of Soviet tanks thrown at it.

Defensive stands and local counterattacks continued along the Chir River line well into December. Italian XXIX Corps on the Romanians’ left was dislodged on December 18, and Russian tanks again poured into the rear, virtually annihilating Romanian 7th, 9th and 11th divisions before German Major General Hermann Balck’s 11th Panzer Division halted the Soviet attack. (See Battle Studies, September 2013 ACG.) On December 26, 3d Army fought its last significant battle before being withdrawn, striking a motorized rifle brigade of Soviet 1st Guards Mechanized Corps and knocking out two tanks, two armored cars and 10 anti-tank guns.


South of Stalingrad on November 20, the Red Army’s Stalingrad Front sliced into Romanian 4th Army, just as the Soviet South West and Don fronts had done to 3d Army the previous day. At the time, 4th Army units were far below their authorized manpower strengths. Present for duty strength ranged from a high of 78 percent (18th Infantry Division) to lows of 30 percent (2d Infantry Division) and 25 percent (1st Infantry Division). Romanian 4th Army’s only mobile reserve was the 1,075-man, 120-vehicle 6th Motorized Rosiori.

At dawn on November 20, three Soviet rifle divisions, 4th Mechanized Corps and 4th Cavalry Corps tore through Romanian 1st Division’s left wing and 18th Division’s right and struck into 4th Army’s rear. Romanian 6th Motorized Rosiori, supported by a mechanized squadron and motorized 105 mm artillery battery, counterattacked in the afternoon, but a portion of its force was surrounded and destroyed. Only a minefield in which the Soviets lost 50 tanks slowed the enemy onslaught.

In the northern sector of this offensive, other Soviet rifle divisions broke through the weak Romanian2d Division, opening a gap that allowed Romanian 20th Division’sright wing to be overrun. A counterattack by 55 medium tanks of German 29th Motorized Division came to the rescue before being ordered to defend German 6th Army’s southern flank. Romanian 20thDivision would soon be forced into the Stalingrad perimeter.

Early on November 21, Romanian VI Corps’ headquarters was attacked and forced to retreat, but it formed a defense to the southwest from remnants of battered divisions and 6th Motorized Rosiori, aided by a few tanks and assault guns that a German liaison officer appropriated from German 4th Panzer Army’s workshop. This force offered a stiff but brief resistance when attacked on the night of November22-23 before falling back south of the Aksai River.

Romanian 4th Division was unmolested until November 23, when it was outflanked due to Romanian 1st Division’s loss of a key position the previous day. It began a fighting withdrawal but was outflanked on both the east and west by evening and lost some artillery before establishing a temporary defensive position.

Romanian 4th Army’s commander, General Constantinescu, wanted to pull all his units into a perimeter around Kotelnikovo but was ordered by German 4th Panzer Army to hold advanced positions: A relief column was being formed under German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein to break through to Stalingrad from the area held by 4th Army. (See What Next, General? in the November 2012 ACG.)

A German detachment of motorized and armored troops with motorized Romanian heavy artillery arrived to drive back a Soviet thrust on November 26 and secure the Romanian flank but by month’s end Constantinescu’s band of survivors had lost the Aksai River line, falling further back before the lead units of Manstein’s column began arriving.

Ordered to cover Manstein’s assembling troops, the Romanians gave ground but bought time with blood. By December 8, Constantinescu’s army was down to fewer than 40,000 men, over two-thirds of them rear area service personnel.

Four days later, Manstein’s Operation Winter Storm began. Romanian 4th Army, after a few days to rest and reorganize, was assigned to protect his right flank. It recaptured a few small towns and established a bridgehead across the Aksai before the Soviets counterattacked on December 24 with nearly 150,000 men and 635 tanks. On the night of December 26-27, Constantinescu ordered a withdrawal of all units, but apparently he didn’t notify the Germans. The highly mobile Soviet offensive caught the retreating Romanians anyway, virtually destroying 4th Army. Manstein blamed Romanian failures for the forced retreat of his LVII Panzer Corps, but he never explained how Constantinescu’s ragged band was supposed to stave off five Soviet mechanized, tank and cavalry corps.

The pitiful survivors of Romanian 3d and 4th armies were sent home to refit – except for the 12,600 Romanian soldiers who had been forced inside the Stalingrad Pocket, where they earned more than 50 Iron Crosses while sharing 6th Army’s fate of freezing, starvation and death. Fewer than 3,000 Romanians survived the Stalingrad siege to be taken prisoner. In all, Romania’s losses from November 19 into January are believed to be about 110,000 casualties (killed, wounded and captured), over half of the strength of the country’s combat divisions.

In August 1944, in the Second Iasi-Kishinev (Jassy-Chisinau) Offensive, another Soviet tidal wave engulfed Romanian troops and rolled into Romania itself. King Mihai led a coup on August 23 that deposed Antonescu, and Romania belatedly joined the Allied cause in the vain hope of securing co-belligerent status as Italy had done. For the rest of World War II, Romanians fought against Germans and Hungarians – as they had expected to do when they began rebuilding their military in the 1930s.

Gerald D. Swick, editor for, previously wrote about Romania for “The Encyclopedia of World War II: A Political, Social and Military History” (ABC-CLIO, 2005). He recommends “Third Axis, Fourth Ally” by Mark Axworthy and for further information.

Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Armchair General.

4 thoughts on &ldquoThe fight for the Stalingrad grain elevator&rdquo

Been watching this on tv and the battle was the worse fighting ever and Russians were beat back every attack they tried to mount going forward , they were very brave men and women that defended their homes and towns, would love one day to visit this famous place. very determined people who would of got medals if were fighting for the British or American forces at that time!

Unbelievable what those men did for their country. Who would have thought the size and grandeur of Napoleon Bonapartes defeat could be surpassed. I would love to vist one day

Interesting story. I pray the war will not happen again.

Battle of Stalingrad - WW2 Timeline (August 1942 - February 2nd, 1943)

It seemed that the Soviet Army, as desperate as they were, came up with victories when and where they needed them most. Stalingrad proved no exception to unfolding events along the East Front.

Besieged by the German 6th Army (and backed by elements of the Italian, Hungarian and Romanian armies), the strategic Soviet city held out with minimal supplies and a dwindling band of defenders of the 62nd Army. German propaganda, based on the grand thrusts into and around Stalingrad, were already proclaiming victory for the German Army. By now, Hitler was all but committed to taking the city - at whatever cost necessary to ensure the German Army did not fail in a big way. Soldiers and supplies were pouring to the 6th Army to make sure the assault went Germany's way. German General Paulus was the man in charge.

On the other side, Soviet Marshal Zhukov was planning his counteroffensive to help alleviate his beleaguered Stalingrad defenders. While a minimal number of supplies and replacements were sent into Stalingrad, Zhukov prepared his massive ground force a short distance away, committing whatever important elements came his way to the assault to come.

Defense of Stalingrad now fell to a smallish pocket numbering some 5 miles across and contained in an industrial sector of the city, their backs against the Volga River. The Soviet winter nights set in and the environment now played against bodies and spirits of the 62nd Army. Despite all this, the defenders had repulsed a half-dozen or so offensives launched by the German 6th already.

In the early morning hours of November 19th, 1942, Zhukov ordered his cannons and rocket systems to light up the sky. Thousands of artillery guns and Katyusha rocket projector vehicles brought down lethal rain onto the Romanians guarding the flanks. Later, another Soviet action opened up against the German 6th to the south of the city. Soviet ground forces, led by infantry and tanks, poured in. In only three days, the German 6th Army was cut off and surrounded from rescue or retreat. In effect, the besiegers were now the besieged. General Paulus made repeated overtures to Adolf Hitler for a retreat and was denied. Instead, Hitler ordered elements from elsewhere to reposition and come to the aid of the 6th Army.

The German 11th Army under von Manstein got the call and moved in. Operation Winter Storm was enacted on December 21st and failed to relieve the German 6th Army. Zhukov responded on Christmas Day and launched an attack and pushed the Germans so far back that resupply to Paulus' troops was all but impossible. Air drops were an option but weather generally curtailed any support for the 6th. The besieged Germans erected hasty defenses for the time being and regrouped.

In one final attempt to end the battle, Soviet General Rokossovsky delivered a formal request for surrender of the German Army on January 8th. This was hastily rejected and the final phase of the Battle of Stalingrad was put into effect by the Soviet Army. Artillery, ground and air elements of the Red Army pummeled the German 6th into oblivion. Deadly house-to-house fighting ensued..

General Paulus officially surrendered to the Soviet Army on February 2nd, 1943, formally ending the siege of Stalingrad and the battle as well.

Of the 300,000 German souls caught up in the Battle of Stalingrad, 160,000 died with some 80,000 lost to conditions brought about by weather and a lack of food. Only 35,000 German Army soldiers were successfully rescued by the Luftwaffe before the city fell back to Soviet control, leaving a further 90,000 to deal with the Soviet brand of justice. Only 5,000 of these men were ever seen again in the post-war years - the rest dying on the long march, executed in typical Soviet fashion or dying from exhaustion in the Siberian labor camps they were confined to.

There are a total of (50) Battle of Stalingrad - WW2 Timeline (August 1942 - February 2nd, 1943) events in the Second World War timeline database. Entries are listed below by date-of-occurrence ascending (first-to-last). Other leading and trailing events may also be included for perspective.

The macabre resolution of "not one step backwards" is issued by Stalin to his generals and troops.

Elements of the German Army cross the Aksay River towards Stalingrad.

The German Army crosses the Kuban River near Armavir.

Elements of the German Army attack Soviet forces near Kalach.

The German German Army captures the strategic port of Yeysk and Krasnador on the Sea of Azov.

German forces cross the Kuban river near Krasnador.

German General Paulus and his 6th Army is ordered to attack the Soviet city of Stalingrad.

Saturday, August 22nd, 1942

German land forces advancing into the Caucasus are stopped.

Stalingard is officially under siege by the Germans Army.

Tuesday, September 1st, 1942

Germany Army elements, backed by Romanians cross the Kerch Straits.

Tuesday, September 1st, 1942

The Germans establish a bridgehead over the Terek River.

Thursday, September 3rd, 1942

The Germans enact an offensive aimed at the heart of Stalingrad.

Sunday, September 6th, 1942

The strategic Black Sea port city Novorossiysk falls to the Germans.

Tuesday, September 15th, 1942

The Soviet Army is unleashed on Voronezh.

The German 6th Army moves on Stalingrad.

Thursday, September 24th, 1942

The German Army makes headway toward Tuapse.

Malgobek falls to the German Army.

The Soviet government hands all military powers to the Soviet Army.

Wednesday, October 14th, 1942

Adolf Hitler stops all further offensives against Soviet targets in the region for the year and orders his commanders to hold their positions until 1943.

The German drive against Tuapse is stopped by the Soviets.

The Germans enact a new offensive in the Caucasus.

The Caucasus town of Alagir is captured by the Germans.

The Caucasus town of Ordzhonikidse is captured by the Germans.

Thursday, November 19th, 1942

The Soviets push forward a new two-part offensive - Operation Uranus - north of Stalingrad and break through the Romanian-held defenses.

Friday, November 20th, 1942

Part 2 of Operation Uranus is enacted at the southern end of Stalingrad.

Friday, November 20th, 1942

German General Manstein is appointed the commander of Army Group Don.

Sunday, November 22nd, 1942

Two elements of the Soviet Army meets at Kalach, effectively encircling the German 6th Army at Stalingrad.

Wednesday, November 25th, 1942

In an effort to resupply their troops, the German Luftwaffe is called upon to exercise airdrops of vital supplies to the German 6th Army.

Saturday, December 12th, 1942

While Hitler rejects any plea from the German 6th Army to retreat from their position, the 4th Panzer Army is used through Operation Winter Storm in an attempt to relieve the beleaguered German troops at Stalingrad.

Wednesday, December 16th, 1942

The Soviet Army puts Operation Little Saturn into effect and attacks Rostov.

Wednesday, December 16th, 1942

The Italian Army goes into full retreat from the Soviet advance.

Wednesday, December 16th, 1942

German Army forces are called off from further offensives at Tuapse.

Monday, December 21st, 1942

Soviet relief forces and supplies headed for Stalingrad are stopped at Myshkova.

Wednesday, December 23rd, 1942

All further attempts to relieve Stalingrad are put on hold, indefinitely.

Thursday, December 24th, 1942

The Soviet Army launches a fresh attack at Kotelnikovo, routing its Romanian defenders and putting them into full retreat.

Monday, December 28th, 1942

German Army Group A is given the official order to retreat from the Caucasus region.

German forces at Terek retreat.

Soviet generals send in the formal request for surrender of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, a request which is formally rejected.

Soviet General Rokossovsky unleashes hell on the German 6th Army through thousands of artillery cannons and Katyusha rockets.

Tuesday, January 12th, 1943

Soviet troops make headway against the defensive lines at the Don River held by Hungarian and Italian troops.

Tuesday, January 12th, 1943

German Caucasus elements make it to their bridgehead over the Kuban River.

Wednesday, January 13th, 1943

German Army elements at Terek retreat to the Nagutskoye-Alexsandrovskoye position.

Thursday, January 14th, 1943

In an effort to replenish and build up their army ranks along the East Front, German Generals proposed conscription service of the Baltic people for service .

The German Panzer Corps at the Don are officially surrounded.

A Soviet offensive splits the German 6th Army at Stalingrad.

German forces at Armavir retreat.

German forces at Voronezh retreat.

German General Paulus formally surrenders his southern Stalingrad army to the Soviets.

Tuesday, February 2nd, 1943

The German Army north pocket at Stalingrad formally surrenders to the Soviet Army.

The Soviet WWII Counteroffensive That Changed the Course of History

Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad, a dramatic battle that routed Axis armies and became the turning point in the war against the Nazis. Russian military journalist Andrei Stanavov looks back on the key events of the battle and its lessons.

Between late 1942 and early 1943, along the snow-covered steppes off the banks of the Volga River, the Nazi war machine suffered the most devastating defeat in its history &ndash one from which it would never fully recover.

The Soviet counteroffensive around Stalingrad, known as 'Operatsiya Uran' (Operation Uranus) started on November 19, and continued until February 2, 1943. The daring operation, planned by Soviet High Command and executed by Generals Georgy Zhukov, Konstantin Rokossovsky, Alexander Vasilevsky and Nikolai Vatutin, culminated in the encirclement and liquidation of a 300,000+ Wehrmacht army group led by Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus and units from Germany's Axis partners.

'Hell on Earth'

The battle was preceded by the Nazi offensive into southern Russia and the Caucasus in the summer of 1942, during which Nazi Germany reached the zenith of its territorial gains following its invasion of the USSR. Among the goals of the operation was Stalingrad, the strategic industrial city on the Volga with the additional, symbolic importance of carrying the namesake of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, the commander in chief of the Red Army.

"Nevertheless," Russian military journalist and RIA Novosti contributor Andrei Stanavov recalled, "the enemy did not succeed in taking the embankment of the Volga and the city center, in spite of their fivefold superiority in numbers and firepower."

"Stalingrad is hell on earth &ndash Verdun &ndash beautiful Verdun, with new weapons. We attack on a daily basis. If in the morning we manage to advance 20 meters, in the evening the Russians throw us backward." This was how Wehrmacht private Walter Oppermann described the Stalingrad campaign, in a letter to his brother dated November 18, 1942, one day before the start of the Soviet counteroffensive.

Loathe to comparisons of Stalingrad to the bloody WWI meat grinder, Hitler demanded that his generals throw their battered units into Stalingrad again and again. The last push, which began in the fall and involved five infantry and two tank divisions, was halted by Vasily Chuikov's depleted and pocketed but defiant 62nd Army, which refused to give a single street, house, or room to the enemy without a fight.

"By mid-November, the Germans had been halted along the entire front and forced to switch to defense and entrenchment," Stanavov wrote. "In total, over 1,000 German tanks, 1,400 aircraft, 2,000 guns and mortars were lost, and 700,000 Wehrmacht soldiers and officers died or were wounded before the impenetrable walls of the city. Quickly assessing the situation, Soviet High Command decided not to give the enemy any time to rest, deciding instead on beginning a crushing counterblow."

"By November 1942, from the operational point of view, the Wehrmacht was not in the most favorable position on the approaches to Stalingrad," the military journalist explained. "Focused on their assault, the Germans moved their best strike formations into the city, covering the flanks with weak Romanian and Italian divisions. It would be against them that the powerful dual blows from the Red Army forces in the South-Western and Stalingrad fronts would come. Soviet command chose the Serafimovich and Keltskaya areas as the bridgeheads for the assaults, as well as the Sarpinsky Lakes area, located to the south of the city."

'Stunned and Confused'

On November 19, troops from the South-Western Front under the command of Colonel-General Vatutin and part of the Don Front started their offensive. Striking the Axis grouping in its left flank from the north in a lightening advance, the Red Army broke through the Romanian 3rd Army's defenses, driving enemy forces back 35 km. A day later, rifle divisions from the Stalingrad Front commanded by Colonel-General Andrei Yeremenko struck from the southeast, smashing the 4th Romanian Army and advancing 30 km, softening up enemy entrenchments with 80 minutes of concentrated artillery fire.

One German intelligence officer later recalled the impending disaster about to befall the Wehrmacht: "Stunned and confused, we did not take our eyes off the maps&hellipThick red lines and arrows indicated the directions of the multiple enemy attacks, flanking maneuvers, and areas where they had broken through. With all our foreboding, we could not even imagine the possibility of such a tremendous catastrophe!"

Consolidating its breakthroughs, the Red Army then began moving the breakthrough groups toward one another. On November 22, the Soviet 26th Tank Corps seized the bridge across the Don and took the town of Kalach &ndashdirectly behind the German 6th Army and elements of the 4th Panzer Corps. In the space of a few days, the Red Army proceeded to create an iron ring around the 300,000-strong Axis force, including German, Romanian, Italian, Croatian and collaborationist units from the occupied Soviet territories, trapping 22 German divisions and over 160 individual units. By November 30, enemy attempts to break out of the encirclement were stopped.

Stanavov recalled: "The surrounded Axis troops occupied an area covering over 1,500 square km the length of the perimeter of the pocket stretched 174 km&hellipDeprived of food, ammunition, fuel and medicine, Field Marshal Paulus' soldiers and officers froze in &mdash30 degree cold. Dying of hunger, they ate almost all of their horses, and hunted for dogs, cats and birds. Notwithstanding the obvious hopelessness of the situation, directives ordering them to 'fight to the end and not to surrender' continued to come from Berlin."

Stalingrad, september 1942, the crossing of the akhtuba river, volga’s left branch, world war two.

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Primary Sources

(1) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959)

A change in General Staff chiefs did not change the situation of the German Army, whose twin drives on Stalingrad and the Caucasus had now been halted by stiffening Soviet resistance itself. All through October bitter street fighting continued in Stalingrad itself. The Germans made some progress, from building to building, but with staggering losses, for the rubble of a great city, as everyone who has experienced modern warfare knows, gives many opportunities for stubborn and prolonged defence and the Russians, disputing desperately every foot of the debris, made the most of them. Though Halder and then his successor warned Hitler that the troops in Stalingrad were becoming exhausted, the Supreme Commander insisted that they push on. Fresh divisions were thrown in and were soon ground to pieces in the inferno.

Instead of a means to an end - the end had already been achieved when German formations reached the western banks of the Volga north and south of the city and cut off the river's traffic - Stalingrad had become an end in itself. To Hitler its capture was now a question of personal prestige. When even Zeitzler got up enough nerve to suggest to the Fuehrer that in view of the danger to the long northern flank along the Don the Sixth Army should be withdrawn from Stalingrad to the elbow of the Don, Hitler flew into a fury. "Where the German soldier sets foot, there he remains!" he stormed.

(2) Walter Warlimont was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart about the invasion of the Soviet Union in his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948)

Hitler's operational plan for 1943 still showed traces of his original idea, namely to push forward on both wings and to keep back the central part of the front. In contrast to (the previous year he now shifted the centre of gravity to the southern wing. Plans of advancing on the northern front were shelved until the necessary forces became available.

The underlying idea was certainly fostered by the prospect of economic gains in the South, especially of wheat, manganese and oil. But to Hitler's mind it was still more important to cut off the Russians from these goods, allegedly indispensable for their continuation in the war, including coal from the Donetz area.

Thus he believed he could bring the Russian machine of war to a stand-still. No resistance against Hitler's plans ever came to my ears, though I firmly believe that the general trend of opinion was opposed to resuming the offensive, at least on such a large scale as foreseen by Hitler.

(3) In the winter of 1942 General Guenther Blumentritt was asked to visit the Eastern Front. His report suggesting a stepback from Stalingrad was rejected by Adolf Hitler.

I spent ten days in that sector and after returning made a written report to the effect that it would not be safe to hold such a long defensive flank during the winter. The railheads were as much as 200 kilometres behind the front, and the bare nature of the country meant that there was little timber available for constructing defences. Such German divisions as were available were holding frontages of 50 to 60 kilometres. There were no proper trenches or fixed positions.

General Halder endorsed this report and urged that our offensive should be halted, in view of the increasing resistance that it was meeting, and the increasing signs of danger to the long-stretched flank. But Hitler would not listen. During September the tension between the Fuhrer and Halder increased, and their arguments became sharper. To see the Fuhrer discussing plans with Halder was an illuminating experience. The Fuhrer used to move his hands in big sweeps over the map - 'Push here, push there'. It was all vague and regardless of practical difficulties. There was no doubt he would have liked to remove the whole General Staff, if he could, by a similar sweep. He felt that they were half-hearted about his ideas

Finally, General Halder made it clear that he refused to take the responsibility of continuing the advance with winter approaching. He was dismissed, at the end of September, and replaced by General Zeitzler - who was then Chief of Staff to Field-Marshal von Rundstedt in the West. I was sent to the West to take Zeitzler's place.

(4) After the war Albert Speer reported what Adolf Hitler said when he was told of the Red Army offensive at Stalingrad in November 1942.

Our generals are making their old mistakes again. They always over-estimate the strength of the Russians. According to all the front-line reports, the enemy's human material is no longer sufficient. They are weakened they have lost far too much blood. But of course nobody wants to accept such reports. Besides, how badly Russian officers are trained! No offensive can be organized with such officers. We know what it takes! In the short or long run the Russians will simply come to a halt. They'll run down. Meanwhile we shall throw in a few fresh divisions that will put things right.

(5) George Orwell, BBC radio broadcast (3rd October 1942)

The battle for Stalingrad continues. Since last week the Germans have made a little progress in their direct attacks on the city and savage house-to-house fighting is still going on. Meanwhile the Russians have launched a counter-attack to the north-west of Stalingrad which has made progress and must have the effect of drawing off some of the German reserves.

It is still uncertain whether or not Stalingrad can hold out. In a recent speech the notorious Ribbentrop, onetime ambassador to Britain and signatory to the Russo-German pact, was allowed to state that Stalingrad would soon be in German hands. Hitler made the same boast in his speech which was broadcast on September 10th.

Elsewhere, however, there has been a marked note of pessimism in German pronouncements and a constant emphasis on the need for the German people to prepare themselves for a hard winter and for an indefinite continuation of the war.

Hitler's latest speech was broadcast on September 30th. Although it mostly consisted of wild boasting and threats, it made a surprising contrast with the speeches of a year ago. Gone were the promises of an early victory, and gone also the claims, made more than a year ago, to have annihilated the Russian armies. Instead all the emphasis was on Germany's ability to withstand a long war. Here for example are some of Hitler's earlier broadcast statements: On the 3rd September 1941: "Russia is already broken and will never rise again." On the 3rd October 1941: "The Russians have lost at least 8 to 10 million men. No army can recover from such losses." He also boasted at the same time of the imminent fall of Moscow. That was a year ago. And now, on 30th September, the final boast upon which Hitler ended his speech was: "Germany will never capitulate." It seems strange to look back and remember how short a while ago the Germans were declaring, not that they would never capitulate, but that they would make everyone else capitulate. Hitler also uttered threats against saboteurs, a tacit admission that the German home front is no longer entirely reliable.

(6) Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (1970)

Hitler now commanded units to be detached from all other sectors of the front and from the occupied territories and dispatched in all haste to the southern sector. No operational reserve was available, although General Zeitzler had pointed out long before the emergency that each of the divisions in southern Russia had to defend a frontal sector of unusual length and would not be able to cope with a vigorous assault by Soviet troops.

Stalingrad was encircled. Zeitzler, his face flushed and haggard from lack of sleep, insisted that the Sixth Army must break out to the west. He deluged Hitler with data on all that the army lacked, both as regards to rations and fuel, so that it had become impossible to provide warm meals for the soldiers exposed to fierce cold in the snow-swept fields or the scanty shelter of rums. Hitler remained calm, unmoved and deliberate, as if bent on showing that Zeitzler's agitation was a psychotic reaction in the face of danger. 'The counterattack from the south that I have ordered will soon relieve Stalingrad. That will recoup the situation. We have been in such positions often before, you know. In the end we always had the problem in hand again." He gave orders for supply trains to be dispatched right behind the troops deploying for the counteroffensive, so that as soon as Stalingrad was relieved something could at once be done about alleviating the plight of the soldiers. Zeitzler disagreed, and Hitler let him talk without interrupting. The forces provided for the counterattack were too weak, Zeitzler said. But if they could unite successfully with a Sixth Army that had broken out to the west, they would then be able to establish new positions farther to the south. Hitler offered counter arguments, but Zeitzler held to his view. Finally, after the discussion had gone on for more than half an hour. Hitler's patience snapped: "Stalingrad simply must be held. It must be it is a key position. By breaking traffic on the Volga at that spot, we cause the Russians the greatest difficulties."

(7) Wilhelm Hoffmann, 267th Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division, diary entry in Stalingrad on 26th December 1942.

The horses have already been eaten. I would eat a cat they say its meat is tasty. The soldiers look like corpses or lunatics. They no longer take cover from Russian shells they haven't the strength to walk, run away and hide.

(8) William Joyce, Germany Calling (16th January, 1943)

The extent of the enemy's sacrifices has been colossal and cannot be maintained. In the Stalingrad Sector, above all, the Soviets have been employing heavy forces and their losses have been proportionately high. Day after day, more Soviet tank losses have been reported and at the same time, the ratio between the German and Soviet air losses is incomparably in favour of the Luftwaffe. For example, it was reported yesterday that sixty-seven Soviet aircraft had been shot down as against four German losses on Tuesday, the ratio was fifty-two to one in our favour. As might be expected, the Luftwaffe's superiority has dealt a hard blow at the enemy and it is now reported that the Soviets are being compelled to use untrained personnel in their larger bombers.

(9) Friedrich Paulus, radio message to Adolf Hitler (24th January 1943)

Troops without ammunition or food. Effective command no longer possible. 18,000 wounded without any supplies or dressings or drugs. Further defence senseless. Collapse inevitable. Army requests immediate permission to surrender in order to save lives of remaining troops.

(10) Adolf Hitler, radio message to Friedrich Paulus (24th January 1943)

Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their positions to the last man and the last round and by their heroic endurance will make an unforgettable contribution toward the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western world.

(11) Hermann Goering, radio broadcast on Stalingrad (24th January 1943)

A thousand years hence Germans will speak of this battle with reverence and awe, and will remember that in spite of everything Germany's ultimate victory was decided there. In years to come it will be said of the heroic battle on the Volga. When you come to Germany, say that you have seen us lying at Stalingrad, as our honour and our leaders ordained that we should, for the greater glory of Germany.

(12) Friedrich Paulus, radio message to Adolf Hitler (31st January 1943)

The Sixth Army, true to their oath and conscious of the lofty importance of their mission, have held their position to the last man and the last round for Führer and Fatherland unto the end.

(13) German stenographic record of what Adolf Hitler said at a meeting with his generals on 1st February 1943.

He'll be brought to Moscow - and imagine that rat-trap there. There he will sign anything. He'll make confessions, make proclamations - you'll see. They will now walk down the slope of spiritual bankruptcy to its lowest depths. You'll see - it won't be a week before Seydlitz and Schmidt and even Paulus are talking over the radio.

They are going to be put into the Liublanka, and there the rats will eat them. How can they be so cowardly? I don't understand it. What is life? Life is the Nation. The individual must die anyway. Beyond the life of the individual is the Nation. But how can anyone be afraid of this moment of death, with which he can free himself from this misery, if his duty doesn't chain him to this Vale of Tears.

So many people have to die, and then a man like that besmirches the heroism of so many others at the last minute. He could have freed himself from all sorrow and ascended into eternity and national immortality, but he prefers to go to Moscow!

What hurts me most, personally, is that I still promoted him to field-marshal. I wanted to give him this final satisfaction. That's the last field-marshal I shall appoint in this war.

(14) Official German radio broadcast on 3rd February 1943.

The battle of Stalingrad has ended. True to their oath to fight to the last breath, the Sixth Army under the exemplary leadership of Field-Marshal Paulus has been overcome by the superiority of the enemy and by the unfavourable circumstances confronting our forces.

(15) William Joyce, Germany Calling (3rd February, 1943)

It would be a profound, a cardinal error to suppose that the German nation does not know how to take one defeat after so many victories. Nor, if the truth must be told, am I convinced that Stalingrad was, in the worst sense of the word, in the most essential, in the psychological sense, a defeat. Let us look at the facts. I think it was Napoleon who said, 'In warfare the moral is to the physical as three to one'. So far as divisions, brigades and battalions are concerned, Stalingrad was a German defeat. But when a Great Power like the National Socialist Reich is waging a total war, divisions and battalions can be replaced. If we review the position in sober and cold calculations, all sentiment apart, we must realise that the fall of Stalingrad cannot impair the German defensive system as a whole. Whatever individuals have lost, whatever they may have sacrificed, there is nothing in the position as a whole to controvert the view that the main objectives of the enemy offensives have been frustrated. Stalingrad was a part of the price which had to be paid for the salvation of Europe from the, Bolshevik hordes.

(16) Studs Terkel interviewed Robert Rasnus about his experiences in the US Army in Germany for his book, The Good War (1985)

We were aware that the Russians had taken enormous losses on the eastern front, that they really had broken the back of the German army. We would have been in for infinitely worse casualties and misery had it not been for them. We were well disposed toward them. I remember saying if we happen to link up with 'em, I wouldn't hesitate to kiss 'em.

I didn't hear any anti-Russian talk. I think we were realistic enough to know that if we were going to fight them, we would come out second best. We hadn't even heard of the atomic bomb yet. We'd just have to assume that it would be masses of armies, and their willingness to sacrifice millions of troops. We were aware that our leaders were sparing our lives. Even though somebody would have to do the dirty work in the infantry, our leaders would try to pummel the enemy with artillery and tanks and overpower them before sending the infantry in. If that was possible.

In the final campaign down through Bavaria, we were in Patton's army. Patton said we ought to keep going. To me, that was an unthinkable idea. The Russians would have slaughtered us, because of their willingness to give up so many lives. I don't think the rank of the GIs had any stomach for fighting the Russians. We were informed enough through press and newsreels to know about Stalingrad. I saw the actual evidence in those black-bordered pictures in every German household I visited. Black border, eastern front, nine out of ten.

3 reasons why the Red Army won the Battle of Stalingrad

The German onslaught in the summer of 1942 on Stalingrad was almost impossible to stop. Berlin aspired to take the city at any cost and cut supply routes via the Volga River and deprive Moscow of Caucasian oil. To counter the German offensive the Soviets accumulated all their resources. To boost the morale and discipline of the troops Joseph Stalin issued the famous Order 227. It blamed &ldquos ome stupid people at the front&rdquo who &ldquocalm themselves with talk that we can retreat further to the east&rdquo and stated that it was &ldquotime to finish retreating.&rdquo

&ldquoNot one step back! Such should now be our main slogan.&rdquo

In August the retreat stopped at Stalingrad. Another slogan of that time was &ldquoThere is no land for us behind the Volga River.&rdquo The city authorities urged its residents to turn &ldquoevery block of flats, every quarter, every street into an unwinnable fortress.&rdquo That is pretty much what happened and the resistance shown by the troops and city&rsquos residents was remarkable.

The German Luftwaffe bombs Stalingrad in September 1942

Berliner Verlag/Archive//Global Look Press

One German officer recalled what the battle of Stalingrad was like: &ldquoThe enemy holds some of the Red October plant&rsquos territory. The main source of resistance is the open hearth shop. Taking it means the fall of Stalingrad. It&rsquos been bombed by our planes for weeks&hellipThere&rsquos no untouched place left here&hellip In three hours we managed to move ahead by only 70 meters! At that very moment a red flare appeared, then a green one. It means the Russians have started a counterattack&hellipI do not understand where the Russians get their energy. It&rsquos the first time in this war I&rsquove encountered a task I cannot accomplish&hellipNow the open hearth shop is entirely under the control of the Russians.&rdquo (The link is in Russian)

2. Mass heroism

The strong Soviet resistance would not have been possible without the mass heroism of Stalingrad&rsquos defenders. The medal &ldquoFor the Defense of Stalingrad&rdquo was given to about 760,000 Soviet soldiers. Over 100 soldiers were decorated with the highest award, the Hero of the Soviet Union , that marked cases of exceptional courage and self-sacrifice.

Pavlov&rsquos House , an ordinary four-story apartment building, became a symbol of the resistance by the Red Army soldiers in Stalingra d. It was defended by only 24 people but the Germans could not take it during their three month assault on the city. One of the commanding generals of the Soviet forces in Stalingrad, Vasily Chuikov, pointed out that the Germans lost more men trying to take Pavlov's House than they did taking Paris.

Every building in Stalingrad was turned into a fortress

Georgy Lipskerov/Global Look Press

Mamayev Kurgan, a dominant height overlooking the city and another symbol of the heroic resistance, witnessed particularly fierce fighting. Control over the hill meant control over the city. The Soviet troops defended their positions on the slopes of the hill throughout the battle. Tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers died fighting for the height. After the battle it was discovered that the soil on the hill contained between 500 and 1,250 pieces of shrapnel per square meter.

3. German mistakes

The success of the Soviet counteroffensive that started in mid-November was partly determined by the mistakes of German commanders. The initial one concerned the fact that the Wehrmacht overestimated its potential and tried to deal two blows at a time: One to the Caucasus to take Azerbaijani oil and a second on Stalingrad. The Germans dispersed their forces. As Major general Hans Doerr later wrote: &ldquoStalingrad has to enter history as the greatest mistake ever committed by military commanders, as the greatest disdain to the live organism of the army ever demonstrated by the leadership of the country&rdquo (the article is in Russian).

The battle of Stalingrad was a turning point in WWII

By November another mistake had been committed. In trying to take Stalingrad, the German army stretched its flanks for hundreds of kilometers, certain that after their onslaught the Red Army had no resources to counter. What was worse for Berlin was that the stretched flanks consisted of a Allied troops: Italians, Hungarians, and Romanians - who were inferior to the Wehrmacht. The Chief of the Army General Staff in the Wehrmacht - Kurt Zeitzler - recalled later that he warned Hitler that around Stalingrad &ldquothere was a serious danger that should have been liquidated.&rdquo In response, Hitler called him a &ldquodesperate pessimist.&rdquo

Around 91 000 German prisoners were captured in the battle of Stalingrad

What was also important, Zeitzler noted, was that by autumn of 1942 combat effectiveness of the Soviet troops increased as well as the level of their commanders&rdquo (the article is in Russian). So, when the Soviets accumulated the necessary forces, the Red Army needed just four days to break the ranks of the Axis troops and encircle around 300,000 German soldiers.

If you want to know more about the battle of Stalingrad, read the recollections of those who experienced those traumatic events.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

Stalingrad: the crushing of the Reich

From its foundation in the mid‑16th century, the old fortress town at the confluence of the Tsaritsa and Volga rivers has had three identities. Originally called Tsaritsyn and today labelled Volgograd, it was known for a mere 36 years (1925–61) by the name with which it will be eternally associated – Stalingrad.

The very name quickly became shorthand for the Nazi defeat in the east, and even at the time was considered a turning point of the Second World War, by all sides – Soviet and German included.

At the 70th anniversary of Stalingrad, the achievement of the Soviet people remains just as awe-inspiring. In 1941, Germany had nearly conquered European Russia, being checked and rolled back only at the gates of Moscow. In November 1941, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock had visited an artillery command post, from where he could see the winter sun glinting off the Soviet capital’s buildings through his field glasses, while two weeks later his men reached Kuntsevo, a western suburb of Moscow, before being repulsed.

Starting on 6 December and through the winter of 1941/42 the Soviets struck back in a series of counteroffensives, removing the German threat to Moscow, and making it clear that the eastern front was likely to become a long, attritional campaign.

Although the German army no longer had the strength and resources for a renewed offensive in 1942 on the scale of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler was adamant that remaining on the defensive and consolidating his gains was not an option.

While Hitler’s forces had captured vast tracts of land, cities and important industrial resources, the Soviet Union remained unbowed. The führer’s Army General Staff (Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH) therefore searched for an offensive solution that would employ fewer men, enable Germany to destroy most of the remaining Soviet armies, capture the Caucasus oil vital to the war effort of both sides, and so knock the Soviet Union out of the war.

Heading south

Stalin was convinced there would be a renewed thrust towards Moscow, but achieving complete operational surprise, on 28 June 1942 von Bock instead unleashed Fall Blau (Case Blue), the continuation of Operation Barbarossa. His objective was not the Soviet capital, but the south.

Field Marshal von Bock’s command was divided into Army Groups (Heeresgruppen) A and B. The former, under Wilhelm List, was ordered to swing south, cross the Caucasus mountains and reach the strategic resource of the Baku oil fields.

Maximilian von Weichs’ Army Group B was to protect its northern flanks by securing Voronezh (with Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army) the regional capital, Stalingrad, (using Paulus’s 6th Army) and the Don and Volga rivers.

To the south, Ewald von Kleist’s 1st Panzer Army surged towards the oil fields, reaching the more westerly wells around Maikop in six weeks, though these were sabotaged as the Wehrmacht arrived.

As in 1941, the Soviet forces, with inferior training and equipment, were outmanoeuvred with a repeat of the Blitzkrieg tactics of the previous year. The German integration of air and ground forces, targeting of Soviet command posts and, above all, their speed, proved decisive.

This was arguably the USSR’s weakest hour, for her generals appeared to have learned little from 1941, and her newly raised legions were barely trained and woefully short of air support, artillery and modern armour.

Hitler’s direction of the new eastern campaign would prove disastrous, however, for he was torn continually between the overriding necessity of capturing the strategic oil resources in the Caucasus and seizing the city that bore the name of his personal adversary. Before succumbing to the lure of Stalingrad, then a city of 400,000, Hitler was on record as declaring: “If I do not get the oil of Maikop and Grozny, then I must end this war.”

Within two months, on 23 August, Paulus’s 6th Army of 22 divisions (two of which were Romanian) had reached the outskirts of Stalingrad. His 200,000 men outnumbered the 54,000 defenders by nearly four to one. Since April, the city – an interwar showcase of communist achievement with many modern factories, apartment blocks, contemporary public buildings and wide boulevards – had been suffering air raids from the Luftwaffe’s Luftflotte (Air Fleet) 4, reducing much of the area into twisted rubble.

The battle of Stalingrad underlines the great contrasts between the German and Soviet war machines. The two opposing commanders, 51-year-old Friedrich Paulus of the German 6th Army and Vasily Chuikov, aged 42, commander of the Soviet 62nd Army, could not have been more different.

Paulus was a superbly talented staff officer, an outsider who lacked aristocratic or Prussian blood, came from relatively modest origins, and yet had risen to become General der Panzertruppen and chief staff officer of the 6th Army by the end of 1941.

Paulus was the very antithesis of his superior, the coarse and unkempt Field Marshal von Reichenau, who loathed routine paperwork, preferring to be at the front. Yet when Reichenau died of a heart attack in January 1942, Paulus was considered his natural successor.

Preferring to command from well behind the line, he possessed an unusual fixation for a soldier: he despised dirt – and bathed, and changed uniforms, every day. With an eye for minute detail, and known by his nickname ‘the ditherer’, Paulus had spent most of his professional life on the staff. While a nimble administrator and logistician, he had rarely been called upon to lead.


If Paulus was a ditherer, his opponent was the very opposite. Possessed of a volatile temper, and known to have used his walking stick to strike subordinates who had displeased him, the weather-beaten face of Chuikov proclaimed a born fighter of even humbler background.

The 8th of 12 children, Chuikov had risen to become a regimental commander in the Russian Civil War, aged 19, through sheer ability. Surviving Stalin’s purges of the army because of his youth, he had commanded the 4th Army in the Soviet invasion of Poland. He was the military attaché in China when Operation Barbarossa began and was thus untainted by the setbacks of 1941.

Recalled in early 1942, he commanded the 64th Army, delaying the German approach to Stalingrad, before assuming command of the defenders on 12 September, under the watchful eye of the local commissar, Nikita Khrushchev.

Though the original Fall Blau did not require the physical capture of Stalingrad – just domination of the area, which acted as a gateway to the Urals and controlled river traffic along the Volga – Paulus was now ordered to seize the city. Gradually, Kleist’s armoured thrusts towards the more important oil wells lost their momentum, as Hitler diverted some of his panzers back to Stalingrad.

The 6th Army commander reasoned that Stalingrad was too large to encircle, and on 14 September, he launched several ferocious assaults to reduce the city to smaller blocks he could defeat piece-meal. Chuikov had insufficient manpower to counterattack, but determined to defend doggedly, destroying as much of Paulus’s war machine as he could, while his defenders were overwhelmed.

Military history taught that attackers should outnumber their opponents by at least three to one. The same logic demonstrated that determined defenders will inflict a large number of casualties on their enemies and so it proved.

Shells and snipers

As Paulus tried to capture the industrial areas in the north, ferry crossing points over the Volga, and the high ground of Hill 103 (to the Soviets, Mamayev Kurgan), German unit strengths plummeted. On the first day, six battalion commanders died, and over the ensuing days many irreplaceable young infantry officers were caught by shells or succumbed to snipers.

This was the real tragedy of Stalingrad for Germany: a generation of trained leaders perished in a few months. In October, a panzer officer had already recorded: “Stalingrad is no longer a town… Animals flee this hell the hardest stones cannot bear it for long only men endure.”

By early November, Paulus controlled nearly 90 per cent of the city and had destroyed almost three quarters of Chuikov’s army, yet those left alive clung to the west bank of the Volga and refused to submit.

Unlike Paulus, Chuikov’s dogged personality certainly inspired his troops: all ranks knew they were to hold their positions or die in the attempt. He had anticipated house-to-house fighting, built strongpoints along the major streets the Germans would have to use and prepositioned his artillery to strike at the Wehrmacht’s likely concentration areas.

While the NKVD were instructed to shoot anyone attempting to withdraw, Chuikov reinforced this ‘last-man-last-bullet’ mentality with his own proclamation: “There is no land past the Volga.”

Yet before Paulus had even arrived, the STAVKA (Soviet High Command) had determined to use Chuikov and his 62nd Army as a ‘tethered goat’, attracting the Germans to their prey, then surrounding them with even larger forces. Unaware of this, and fed by Paulus’s optimism (he was commanding from far outside the city), Hitler announced on 8 November: “I want to take it, and you know, we are being modest, for we have got it!”

However, the führer had lost sight of his strategic objective – oil – in favour of a personal struggle with Stalin through the town that bore the latter’s name. The place had no strategic value in itself, and, in drawing such exaggerated attention to the battle, Hitler was setting himself up for a fall of catastrophic proportions from which his Reich would never recover.

The Soviet counteroffensive, Operation Uranus, began on 19 November, when six armies attacked from the north, targeting the weaker Romanian 3rd Army, securing Paulus’s northern flank. Within hours, Paulus’s front was in tatters as the attack sliced far behind the German lines.

A day later, three more Soviet armies assaulted, this time from the south again the stiletto of attacking forces drove deep into the German rear. On 23 November, the two Soviet thrusts met at Kalach, west of Stalingrad. In doing so, they sealed Paulus’s 6th Army into a kessel (cauldron-shaped pocket), measuring at its greatest extent 80 miles wide.

At this stage, Paulus should have lifted the siege and made attempts to escape, returning to fight another day. Three personalities then intervened to condemn the 6th Army to a slow, agonising death, and forever shatter the aura of invincibility that had accompanied the Wehrmacht.

First, Paulus dithered on a grand scale: he neither requested to break out, nor sought to impose his own will on the battle, becoming a prisoner of events. Second, from the safety of Berlin, Hermann Göring intervened and promised that his Luftwaffe would supply the besieged army with all the food, fuel and ammunition it required.

However, Göring’s slow Junkers-52s were to provide less than half the minimum of 300 tonnes per day necessary for Paulus’s men. They also took heavy losses themselves, and once Pitomnik and Gumrak airfields had fallen, could do nothing. Göring’s unreal assurances inspired the third individual, Hitler, to insist that the 6th Army stand and fight where it was, rather than impugn his reputation.

When ground relief attempts from Field Marshal von Manstein’s Army Group Don, operating from north of the Crimea, were themselves threatened with another great Soviet encirclement, the Germans belatedly realised that the 6th Army was beyond rescue. Both sides fought their rattenkrieg (rat-war) in Stalingrad’s stinking, germ-ridden cellars dreadfully emaciated survivors spoke of cannibalism and desperate fighting between comrades for scraps of food.

Paulus, though, remained well-fed and clean-uniformed, and initially failed to respond to Soviet offers of surrender terms. When he eventually requested permission to yield from Berlin on 22 January 1943, Hitler refused. Instead, on 30 January, he encouraged Paulus to continue fighting with the bribe of promotion to Generalfeldmarschall.

But Paulus had had enough and surrendered the next day, singularly failing to alleviate the plight of his own men in any way throughout the struggle. In sub-zero temperatures, nearly 100,000 men marched into captivity, of whom fewer than 5,000 would emerge from the Gulags a decade later.

The military legacy

Stalingrad set the agenda in terms of terminology and tactics for urban warfare, and the drawn-out battles for Monte Cassino, Caen and Berlin were seen and reported in similar terms to their Soviet predecessor.

Allied (and later NATO) doctrine would emphasise the careful preparation and battle drill required of attackers and defenders, the complex equipment they would need, the high casualties they were likely to sustain and how overwhelming artillery support was highly desirable to crush strongpoints and minimise casualties. Certainly, Bernard Montgomery learned to concentrate hundreds of his guns into AGRAs (Army Groups, Royal Artillery).

As a result of Stalingrad, the Soviets came to rely on hundreds of truck-mounted Katyusha multiple rocket launchers as well as traditional cannon in their great offensives, and called artillery the ‘Red God of War’.

The battle also haunted NATO military planners during the Cold War, when it was assumed that a Warsaw Pact steamroller would head westwards and trigger urban warfare in European cities on a Stalingrad scale.

The lessons of 1942–43 were constantly studied and revised, and much energy devoted to replicating fighting in built-up areas (FIBUA) or military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) in Cold War exercises. Yet both sides feared the impact of mass battle casualties from this kind of encounter, for Stalingrad had cost the Germans over 750,000 men and the Soviets over a million killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

The legend of Stalingrad

The battle for Stalingrad has been interpreted in many different ways by writers and film-makers in the 70 years since silence settled over the shattered town. The wartime media made much of the city’s heroic defence and Churchill decided to present Stalin with a specially commissioned, jewelled sword commemorating the battle at the 1943 Tehran conference. The battle made good newspaper copy and was seen, in tandem with El Alamein, as the stemming and turning back of the Nazi tide.

The early writers of Stalingrad were mostly Soviet commanders or sympathisers, who lauded Stalin’s personal leadership and his brilliance in selecting talented subordinates and his direction of the STAVKA. Once Khrushchev (the commissar at Stalingrad) had denounced Stalin’s achievements in 1956, Soviets switched their interpretation to one of triumph of the Soviet people.

Commanders like Chuikov and Zhukov (who planned the counteroffensive) began to receive praise, as did civilians and workers who had contributed to the remarkable victory. Notably, Soviet commentators ignored the supply of war materials to the USSR from Britain and the USA.

As for the Wehrmacht, it was portrayed as inept, corrupt and undistinguished German soldiers were not interviewed, for the Soviets’ aim was solely to praise the USSR in its Great Patriotic War. Few Germans dared write of the Ostfront in the first decade afterwards, tainted as it was with sickening war crimes against the Soviet people.

Gradually, accounts (such as Guderian’s Panzer Leader of 1952 and Manstein’s Lost Victories of 1955) trickled out, emphasising bitterness at the suffering, or the opportunities that Hitler squandered. Inevitably, East Germans wrote of the corruption of the Nazi regime (see Theodor Plievier’s dark novel, Stalingrad).

On the Soviet side, Vasily Grossman’s fictional Life and Fate, set around events at Stalingrad, was considered so shocking that it was suppressed in 1959 and published only in the 1980s after being smuggled to the west. It was recently serialised on BBC Radio 4.

Following the era of glasnost (openness) associated with Mikhail Gorbachev, objective historians such as Antony Beevor (Stalingrad, 1998) and Christopher Bellamy (Absolute War, 2007) were able to study Soviet archives that had been sealed since 1945, and are again harder to access under the Putin regime.

In recent decades, the estimated figure of 20 million Soviet war dead has been revised upwards, with some historians arguing for a total as high as 27 million. We will never know for sure.

Before Glasnost, the west had known remarkably little of the eastern front, and the Soviet Union’s suffering. One of the few historians active in researching the subject was John Erickson, whose Road to Stalingrad (1975) and Road to Berlin (1983) sold extremely well.

It was Beevor and Bellamy who brought the scale of Barbarossa and Stalingrad to a wider audience, through their mix of private accounts and official papers. Perhaps the west’s ignorance also lay in a Cold War reluctance to accept what Erickson, Beevor and Bellamy have since argued: that the war in Europe was won in the east, and that, though Stalin was in many ways as ruthless and bloodthirsty as Hitler, his nation triumphed.

However, for political reasons, we in the west have never wanted to acknowledge the sacrifices the Soviets made.

Peter Caddick-Adams is a lecturer at UK Defence Academy in Shrivenham and author of Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell(Preface, 2012).

  • July 17, 1942 – Battle of Stalingrad begins as the Luftwaffe begins to bomb the city and Soviet shipping on the Volga River.
  • August 23, 1942 – Panzer column reaches Volga River just north of Stalingrad.
  • September 13, 1942 – German ground offensive starts in the city.
  • November 19, 1942 – Red Army begins Operation Uranus to encircle German 6th Army.
  • November 23, 1942 – Encirclement is complete trapping roughly 290,000 Axis troops.
  • December 12, 1942 – Field Marshal von Manstein’s army group launches an attack to relieve the 6th Army in Stalingrad. German advance is halted by the Soviets.
  • February 2, 1943 – German troops trapped at Stalingrad surrender.

Motherland Calls Statue

Standing 85 meters (279 feet) high, the monument is one of many memorials on the Mamayev Hill. It was this strategic position overlooking the Hero City, that some of the fiercest fighting occurred in the Stalingrad Battle.

Mamayev Hill Memorial Complex

The Mamayev Memorial Complex To the Heroes of the Stalingrad Battle, is a moving memorial with numerous sites-memorials as you ascend to the crest of the hill where the Motherland Calls Statue is situated. Its interesting to note that many of the monuments were created with the bricks of the ruined city of Stalingrad.For more information about the memorial complex, see the official website (English, German, Russian).

Eternal Flame

Also on Mamayev Hill, the Hall of the Warrior Glory, Mamayev Hill, Volgograd houses the eternal flame and the names of 7200 Russian soldiers who perished in the fighting.

Battle of Stalingrad Panorama Museum

The Volgograd State Panoramic Museum Battle of Stalingrad houses an impressive 360′ artistic panorama, “The Defeat of Fascist Armies at Stalingrad”, plus 8 exhibition halls with over 3500 exhibits including photos, portraits, firearms and war paraphernalia. There is also an outside exhibit with Russian tanks and artillery. For more information about the Panorama Museum, see the official website (English, German, Russian).

Steam Mill Memorial

Part of the Battle of Stalingrad Panorama-museum, the ruins of the old mill are testament to the brutality of the fighting and the bravery of the Soviet soldiers who defended the besieged city of Stalingrad.

River Embankment

Stairs and monuments leading to Volgograd’s centralriver embankment. It was this narrow stretch of land that separated Soviet victory and defeat. The river embankment is thus named in honor of the 62nd Army which fought here.

Chekists Monument

Dedicated to members of Soviet counterintelligence division (called Cheka or NKVD during the war) for their bravery in stopping German advances north of the city near the tractor factory in August 1942.

Pavlov House

Pavlov House memorial, site where a well defended apartment building stood in the Battle of Stalingrad. Sergeant Yakov Pavlov and his platoon stormed and seized the building and successfully defended it from countless German attacks. The building became a symbol of the stubborn Soviet resistance during the Battle of Stalingrad and in the war in general.

Steamship Gasitel

Built in 1903 under the name Tsarev, the ship participated in the Russian Civil War and played a key role in the Battle of Stalingrad, ferrying supplies and reinforcements across the Volga River to the front line while evacuating wounded Soviet soldiers.

Watch the video: Soviet Union 1942 Battle of Stalingrad Summer Offensive Fall Blau 4 Grain Elevator Sept 42 (July 2022).


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