On the evening of January 31st 1942, the German ambassador in Rome, while on holiday in the resort of St.Moritz, received the following call from the German ambassador in Berne:
“Stop dancing! Stalingrad has fallen”
Three days later the news was announced to the German people by a special broadcast:
“The supreme command of the Wermacht announces that the battle for Stalingrad has come to an end…The sacrifice of the 6th army was not in vain. They died so Germany may live.”
1. The importance of “…a name, no more than a dot in the map”.
The battle of Stalingrad was the biggest military defeat of Germany in WW2, probably the most calamitous defeat in German history. The number of dead is still disputed; however no less than 60.000 died in the Kessel (castle-the surrounded area) and no less than 130.000 were taken prisoners. By adding the losses during the relief attempts, the battles around Stalingrad and the death of prisoners the total number of German losses can be no less than 290.000. Few of the prisoners ever returned. Other estimates bring up the Axis casualties of all types among all branches of the German armed forces and its allies to 850,000. The Red Army suffered over 750,000 casualties but still there is no final estimate on the exact number. The total number of civilians killed in the regions inside and outside the city is unknown but estimates put it as high as 150,000. In all, a total of no less than 1.7 million Axis and Soviet casualties resulted from the battle.
But the most important aspect was the political impact. The Soviet efforts in Stalingrad greatly aided by an efficient propaganda gave Stalin a free hand in his negotiations with the Western Allies. The Soviet death toll combined with a well publicized victory, allowed Stalin to sway US and UK public opinion, to put pressure on Roosevelt and Churchill and to gain a moral high ground to support his territorial demands. In that sense Stalingrad did much, towards deciding the fate of Eastern Europe in the post-war era.
2. A brief timeline
June 22, 1941. Operation BARBAROSSA begins. Over 3 million German soldiers and 3300 tanks cross the Russian border. The Wehrmarcht is organized into three Army Groups . Facing them is the world's largest army comprised of 230 divisions of 14,000 men each, with 20,000 tanks.
November 25, 1941. Operation TYPHOON. The Wehrmarcht's final drive on Moscow begins. The attack reaches to within 20 miles of Moscow before it is halted by stiff resistance and bitter cold.
December 5, 1941. Hitler abandons the attack on Moscow. Two weeks later Guderian is dismissed for “giving ground”.
June 28, 1942. Operation BLUE. Leaving the Northern and Central armies to hold their ground, Group army South split into two Groups would advance into the Caucasus, seizing Russia's oil supply and cut the Volga river at Stalingrad. The second force consists of the 6th army commanded by Paulus, Hungarian, Romanian and Italian troops.
August 23, 1942. A massive bombardment by Ricthofen’s 4th air fleet, signals the beginning of the battle for Stalingrad.
November 19, 1942. Operation URANUS, a two pronged Soviet attack is launched against the 6th Army. 5 days later, the Soviet forces meet at Kalach trapping the bulk of the 6th Army. Hitler reiterates his “no retreat” order; air bridge effort begins.
December 12, 1942. Operation WINTER STORM, fails to break the Soviet encirclement, and is called off after four days by Manstein.
February 2, 1943. Surrender of the 6th Army.
3. The causes of Defeat.
Stalingrad was lost in 1933.
Hitler refused to gear up the German society, industry and economy for war. In fact until 1942 and the ascension of Albert Speer in the armaments ministry, German industry was still producing vacuum cleaners in large quantities. The losses in army material and the indirect losses in personnel could be perceived as a deciding factor of Wermacht’s inability to sustain a prolonged war effort.
Stalingrad was lost in May 1940
The speed of the French collapse, created a cloud of false assumptions about the abilities of the German army and the efficacy of a war of movement. Hitler with his complete ignorance of logistics assumed that, what was true in the western theater of war should apply in any case. The wear and tear in vehicles, the supply nightmare, the communications quagmire and the resulting casualties that plagued the German army were instrumental in the defeat. Furthermore, Hitler’s support on Manstein’s Plan (see http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?t=48150) enabled him to push aside the advice of OKW (Geman Military Command); when his luck with military insights run out the situation was already irreversible.
Stalingrad was lost in June 1941
The scope of Barbarossa was too ambitious for the actual potential of the German army. The denial by Hitler to prepare the army for winter war, the consequent lack of lubricant for the machines and winter uniforms for the men reduced even more the chances of the operation. The ability for resistance and recovery of the Soviet army was grossly underestimated, as well as the profligacy with which the Soviet command would be throwing lives on the tracks of the Panzers. The concept of a nation hating Stalin as much as the invaders was soon dispelled in view of the clever Soviet propaganda that took Stalin and communism from the front pages and replaced them with “the great patriotic war”. Stalin would return as the “great strategist” only after Stalingrad.
Stalingrad was lost in July 1941
The delays in operation Typhoon resulting from the absence of clear strategic planning and Hitler’s constant redeployment of Panzer forces from Leningrad to Moscow and from Moscow to Kiev condemned the whole operation. If all German forces were concentrated either towards Moscow or towards the Caspian oilfields chances of success would be considerably higher.
Stalingrad was lost on January 1942
100.000 Germans managed to hold while encircled in the Demyansk Kessel, supplied by airdrops until relieved at the end of April. This event led to two dangerous pre-conceptions: that surrounded troops should automatically hold their ground and that an air bridge can always re-supply cut off forces. These assumptions were catastrophic for the conduct of operations in Stalingrad
Stalingrad was lost on January 6th, 1942
On this day Friedrich Wilhelm Paulus, a man who had never commanded a division or a corps before was appointed Commander of the 6th army. Lots have been written for his personality, he has been characterized indecisive and unimaginative with lack of initiative and failure to inspire the tr0ops. One can only wonder if the other commander from 13th Regiment, Rommel would fare better in his shoes during the initial offense. Or if an officer with a record of insubordination, like Guderian, would take the risk to ignore the orders that led to the encirclement of the 6th army as he did with his own troops after the battle of Moscow and was dismissed. This is one of the big “what ifs” for historians focused on personality perspectives of history. I am afraid that the correlation of forces, the strategic ambivalence, and finally the sorry state of the 6th army in the Kessel render this a rhetoric question.
Stalingrad was lost in July 1942
Entirely against all advice, Hitler restructured Operation Blue, depriving the 6th army of strong mobile forces like the XL Panzer corps and Hoth’s 4th Panzer army that could capture Stalingrad with minimal casualties in July, and also secure the flanks, thus preventing the later fateful Russian counterattacks. Over reliance on axis allies that were neither trained nor equipped for such task further undermined Operation Blue.
Stalingrad was lost in December 1942
This is the date of the failed relief effort by Manstein and Hoth. The issue is a thorny one because everyone involved acted under the assumption that this was a real (albeit final chance). It has been argued that Paulus did not attempt to break through and join with Manstein’s forces that had reached 30 kilometers from the Kessel. There were only three persons able to give this order: Paulus himself, Manstein as his immediate superior and Hitler. Paulus as we saw earlier could not take this step, Hitler would not so that leaves manstein as a potential villain. In my opinion this is not true. The 6th Army had no fuel, the soldiers were undernourished, frostbitten and suffering from dysentery making a desperate rush through the frozen steppe as suicidal as their encirclement. Manstein knew that from the beginning, having at his disposition all the reports from the 6th army. The relief attempt was a half hearted effort to show the world that at least he tried.
Operation Winter Storm
During the Teheran conference Churchill presented Stalin with a sword, a gift from King George "...too the steelhearted citizens of Stalingrad". One can only wonder at the irony. The symbolic sword that Stalin used to rule the Eastern Europe was already his.
Stalingrad (1998) Anthony Beevor
Barbarossa:The russian German conflict 1941-1945 (1996) Alan Clarck
Lost Victories (1959)Erich von Manstein
Panzer Leader (1952) Heiz Guderian
and (thanks Hans for the heads up) an excellent website