The Battle Of Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the most important battles of World War II. Around 1.5 million people died there in less than 6 months. It was the first disaster of the war for the Germans, and the first important vicotry for the Russians.

The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the most important battles on the Eastern Front of World War II.. Close to one and a half million people lost their lives in a battle that became the symbol of a struggle between Hitler and Stalin. For the Red Army the costly victory increased moral many fold and paved the way for future successes. For the Nazis, it was the beginning of the end. The Battle of Stalingrad was so costly to Germany that they were never able to recover. The Soviet victory weakened Hitler's army enough that the allies were able to take Rome, land on the beaches of Normandy, recapture North Africa, and drive the Germans all the way back to Berlin. If the Germans had easily won as they had assumed they would, many more troops would have been available on all the other fronts, possibly changing the course of history.

By the summer of 1942 the German army had surrounded Leningrad, driven dangerously close to Moscow, conquered Ukraine and much of the Caucasus and they were poised to deliver a knockout blow to the Red Army. In the west, most of France was under German control, Rommel had taken most of Northern Africa, and the British were weakening from the constant German air raids. The allies were in desperate need of a victory.

On August 23, 1942 the Germans attacked Stalingrad and on the first day it seemed as though they would achieve an easy victory. However, because of logistical difficulties and concern about a Russian counterattack, General Friedrich von Paulus, commander of the German Sixth Army, hesitated for two weeks. He did not begin his crushing attack that was designed to finish off Stalingrad until September 13. By this time the Russians had already begun to recover.

Stalin had given the order that his city, Stalingrad, was to be a place from which the Red Army would not retreat, they were to fight to the last man. Stalin's determination to defend the city at all costs, paired with Hitler's determination to destroy it caused the battle to become one of the bloodiest in the history of the world.

General Georgi Zhukov was given command of the city. The German armies were to be tied up fighting in Stalingrad while Russian troops surrounded them and cut off any chance of retreat.

The battle soon turned from a mobile war into a bloody war on the streets. Often Russian and German troops would camp within blocks of each other. This type of fighting was perfect for snipers. Every soldier lived in constant fear of a bullet from an unseen enemy. Vasili Zaitsev was the most famous sniper on the Russian side. He killed hundreds of German soldiers over the course of the battle.

As the battle dragged the entire city became a pile of rubble. Street corners and desecrated buildings changed hands almost every day. Artillery from both sides shelled the city without much regard for whose side they were hitting. As moral declined, desertion became a problem for both sides. By the end of September both sides were close to breaking and it was rumored that the commanders on both sides were suffering from nervous disorders.

In this battle of attrition it became apparent that neither side would win, it became a matter of who would lose first. The Germans were far from their homes and their supplies were dwindling rapidly, but they still controlled most of Stalingrad. The Russians, on the other hand, were fighting for their homes and were close to supply lines, easing their suffering.

On October 4, 1942 the Germans under General Paulus, launched what became their final offensive. He drove the Russians back until they held only two small areas of the city.

However, by early November General Zhukov was finally prepared to trap the Germans in the city and cut off their supply lines. He crossed the Volga into Stalingrad on rafts, ships, and anything else that would float with over 120,000 soldiers to reinforce the two small areas that were held. By mid November more than one million Soviet soldiers were in position. On November 19th, 1942 the counter offensive began, trapping over 250,000 Germans in Stalingrad.

General Paulus sent a message to Hitler asking that he be allowed to withdraw all German troops from Stalingrad. Hitler did not give permission to leave. A plan was made that the Luftwafte, German Air force, would deliver supplies to the trapped soldiers until a counteroffensive could be launched.

The plan was a complete failure, even on the best days only a few planes made it through with supplies. Soon the German soldiers were suffering from disease, starving, and running low on ammunition.

Field Marshal Manstien took control of an army outside of Stalingrad and attempted to create a corridor out of Stalingrad so that Paulus and some of his men could escape, but Paulus refused to abandon the city without direct orders from Hitler, and so his chance to escape was lost.

Conditions for the Germans trapped in Stalingrad, continued to worsen. The Russian winter added to their troubles. Almost every day more than one thousand troops died of frostbite, dysentery, typhus, and starvation.

On January 8, 1943 the Soviet Union gave Paulus a chance to surrender, but he rejected the offer, determined not to fail Hitler. Only a small portion of his once huge army remained, but Hitler had given him the order that he was to fight to the last man.

On January 31 Paulus finally surrendered. About 100,000 of his men became Soviet prisoners, but only a few of them ever returned to Germany alive.

In a city where only 500,000 people had lived when the Germans arrived, close to 1.5 million had died. The Russians were able to recover from their losses. At first their progress was slow but they soon pushed to Germans out of the Soviet Union and all the way back to Berlin. The Germans were never able to recover from the losses they sustained in this battle. The loss of men, tanks, planes, bullets, and guns severely weakened both armies, but since the Germans were fighting a two front war, their disaster had far more devastating consequences.

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