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Battle of Stalingrad [...] why the course of Germany and WWII turned in the battle. The Battle of Stalingrad was a turning point for the German Army and for the outcome of World War II. Stalingrad and the battles that took place around the city were pivotal for the Germans and their eventual takeover of Europe.
The Germans and Russians fought the Battle of Stalingrad from August 1942 until February 1943 in several areas around the city of Stalingrad, in Western Russia. Initially, it was Hitler's idea to destroy the Russian Army and their resistance to German forces, with the ultimate goal the isolation and eventual capture of Moscow, capital of Russia and soul of the Russian people. The two armies fought much of the battle during the bitter Russian winter, which was nearly as deadly as the battles themselves. Why was Stalingrad so important, and why was its outcome so decisive?
STALINGRAD - THE CITY
In 1941, the city of Stalingrad was an up-and-coming port and industrial city along the Volga River of nearly half a million people.
Industry was the focus of the city, and factories manufactured a variety of machinery from steel produced in the area. A historian who witnessed the battle writes, "Its northern suburbs were the site of the Dzerzhinsky tractor plant, largest in the Soviet Union, the Red October Metal Works, and other great factories, each with its workers' settlement."
Even more important, beyond Stalingrad, there was literally nothing but the Russian steppes. If Germany could take control of the city, Russia would be cut in two, and communications between the South and the center of the country would virtually disappear.
In addition, the city would give the Germans access to Russian areas rich in oil, which they needed to continue their relentless march across Europe. Thus, the city was important economically and politically to Russia, and to take it would cripple much of the Russian ability to manufacture much needed machinery necessary to the war and the Russian people's survival. This was one of the reasons the Russians held on so tightly to the city. Their behavior baffled the Germans, who really expected a quick and easy victory at Stalingrad.
THE BEGINNING OF THE BATTLE
Before Hitler decided to invade and conquer Russia, the war in Europe had been decidedly in Germany's favor. In fact, to many, Hitler's armies seemed nearly unstoppable. On August 22, the battle began. Immediately, Stalin understood the graveness of the situation, and ordered his men to hold Stalingrad "at all costs."
On August 23, the Germans showed they meant business when they attacked with over 2000 airborne sorties over the city. The German attacks leveled oil storage tanks along the river and destroyed at least 20 ships in the Volga. 300,000 residents quit the city, and on August 27, the Russians declared a state of siege.
The Germans saw an easy victory before them, and by September 13, they began to storm the city. However, they found Russian pockets of resistance everywhere, and they could not break through to take the Volga. They had superior strength in both tanks and planes, and it seemed as if this superiority would carry them through the battle to victory. Certainly, the first few days of the campaign seemed to prove this. One historian writes, "The Germans pummeled the 62nd army day and night. Sometimes the Soviets had to repulse as many as 10 attacks in a day. They were fighting not only for factory workshops but also over the debris of buildings."
When the Germans failed to take Stalingrad by late September, Hitler began a series of moves that ultimately cost him the battle and the war. He fired General Franz Halder as head of the German General Staff and ordered General Kurt Zeitzler to take over the fight. Ultimately, he would place Colonel-General Friedrich Paulus and his Sixth Army in a leadership role, and his indecisiveness about leadership helped undermine the effectiveness of the Army and its' goals.
Hitler also sent General Jodi, one of his personal favorites, to the Caucasus region of Russia, which the Germans held, to try to distract some of the Russian Army from Stalingrad. However, Hitler's strategy did not work, as Jodi quickly saw that the Germans were overextended in the Caucasus, and could not hope to hold all the territory if they escalated the fighting.
In October, the German made a concerted effort to overtake and control the city that failed, and by November, the German troops were clearly exhausted. They held much of the western area of Stalingrad, but could only hold their ground, rather than take over more decisive areas of the city. Hitler had many opportunities to pull his Army out of the area and order a retreat, yet he refused to do so - condemning millions of men to death or imprisonment.
On November 19, the German Army faced a major setback when Russian troops "surged" through Romanian lines northwest of the city, while creating other attacks north of the city that guaranteed their positions could not be flanked by the Germans.
Already, the Germans were getting a taste of the weather to come. One historian states, "In his memoirs, Zeitzler cited the following reasons for German defeat on this day: the snowstorm, the -20 [degrees] C. biting frost, and the 'crowds of fleeing Romanians' who impeded the activity of Reserve Tank Corps X."
The Germans were forced to dig in and hold on through the upcoming Russian winter, and this was a major setback to Hitler and his plans for European and ultimately world domination.
THE LONG WINTER
After the November 19 setback, Hitler also ordered his troops not to retreat. They formed a circular defense and Hitler dubbed them the "troops of the Stalingrad fortress," which sounded good to the people at home, but really signified they were surrounded by Russians. The weather conditions continued to worsen, and German troops were literally digging in during freezing temperatures and continuing snowstorms. The German fortress spread some 40 kilometers, and a vast number of soldiers. Historian Poroskov continues, "the encircled group of German forces consisted of 20 German divisions and two Romanian armies totaling 330,000 soldiers. Of these, 100,000 were later taken prisoner. The remainder died of combat, famine or cold."
Hitler knew the encamped men needed supplies, but the weather kept any planes from making at least half of the promised drops. In December, the Russians made overtures to the Germans to surrender, but Hitler refused to discuss defeat with the Russians, or allow his generals to meet with the other side. Hitler continued to spout propaganda to the German people, while privately admitting he felt the Sixth Army and Stalingrad were lost.
By the end of January, the Russians had successfully cut the German Army into two sections. Another historian notes, "General Paulus and his Sixth Army, comprising 200,000 fighting men and some 70,000 non-combatants, were cut off." And two-thirds of the German Army surrendered to the Red Army. The Battle of Stalingrad officially ended on February 2. Over 2 million people fought in the battle, and the Germans killed, wounded, or taken prisoner added up to 1.5 million.
The Germans, who had never expected defeat, were dealt a crushing blow, and Hitler could never fully admit defeat in the region, or in his own mind. Both sides suffered massive losses of life, and both sides were seen as brave fighters who would not give up until the bitter end.
THE MEN IN COMBAT AND AS POW'S
The Russian Army held on to Stalingrad for a variety of reasons, from patriotism and determination to the threat of death by their own government. After the Red Army gave up ground to Germany in the West, Russian leader Josef Stalin formed the "penalty (or shtrafniye) battalions," formed of leaders and men who had shown cowardice in the previous fighting. The men knew they would be executed if they showed cowardice, and that their families were facing reprisals at home because of their behavior.
One historian notes, "As a result, the members of these shtrafniye battalions really had nothing to lose (but their lives) and soon became the Germans' worst nightmare."
Stalin's "cowards" turned into some of the bravest fighters in the Russian ranks, and helped hold Stalingrad for six long months. The Germans anticipated an easy victory, and as the battle dragged on, the men grew more hungry and desperate. The temperatures were freezing or far below, and snow fell constantly. The men were tired, and without hope, and they received no encouragement or rescue from their Fuehrer.
One little known fact of the battle is the capture of so many German generals during and after the battle, and their eventual work with Russia against the Nazis. One historian notes, "The support these military leaders gave to the Russian-led crusade against the Nazis, although sometimes indirect, was of enormous significance to the re-education movement among the German war…[continue]
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