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Battle of Stalingrad, the Turning Point of the Second World War

Updated: Jan 29

Written by Ardil Ulucay


The Battle of Stalingrad goes down in history as the bloodiest battle humanity ever witnessed: in the winter of 1942-1943, the Soviet Union locked horns with Nazi Germany. Stalingrad was the stage for a gut-wrenching showdown that claimed lives like no tomorrow. It's not just about shattered buildings; it's about courage giving despair a run for its money. This clash, with its wreckage and raw emotion, became a haunting reminder of the insane price we pay for war. Stalingrad isn't just a name; it's a scar on our collective memory, a chilling tale of a time when humanity faced its darkest hour that took the lives of over 1.300.000 civilians and soldiers.


After the devastating blitzkrieg that decimated all of Europe and killed millions of Soviet citizens was halted at Moscow, the German War Machine found itself running on empty, specifically out of oil. Following the crippling winter of 1941, the Wehrmacht geared up for an offensive aimed at the Caucasian oil fields—a strategic move, as these fields produced a significant portion of the USSR's vital oil supply. The capture of these oil-rich territories was poised to cripple the Red Army's logistics, providing the Germans with the necessary fuel and supplies to sustain their relentless offensive.


While Army Group B and Army Group Don of the Wehrmacht were gearing up for the impending invasion of the coveted oil fields, the Führer, in a surprising last-minute twist, made crucial adjustments to the invasion plan. The army groups were to be divided and: General Friedrich von Paulus was tasked with leading the 6th Army and the 4th Panzer Army to capture Stalingrad. A devastating mistake [1].


Stalingrad wasn't merely an industrial hub; it stood as a bastion of military and civilian production, its military factories fueled the Red Army. Nestled alongside the formidable Volga River, it held strategic importance in transportation, facilitating the movement of troops and resources. However, what prompted a drastic shift in strategy by the Führer wasn't merely its economic significance. It was the weight of history embedded in the city's name that propelled Hitler to make a sudden about-face. The city bore the moniker of an ideological nemesis, a name synonymous with resistance, Stalin. This wasn't just a geographical location; it was a living testament to the fierce battles fought during the Russian Civil War, where Stalin left a mark. For Hitler, this was personal. His vendetta against Stalin transcended military strategy and rationality; it was a burning desire to erase not just the man but every trace of his influence from the face of the earth. In Hitler's eyes, Stalingrad wasn't just an objective; it was a symbolic battleground where the eradication of Stalin's legacy became paramount. Anything bearing the faintest connection to his arch-nemesis was to be eradicated off the face of the earth. And thus the march on Stalingrad began [1, 3, 4].


The Soviet Forces, with the aid of civilians, constructed formidable structures around the city, digging ditches, and setting up trenches to slow down the enemy panzers, constructing anti-tank barricades and preparing minefields, etc.


On August 23, 1942, the Luftwaffe began bombing the city. Its architecture, mostly consisting of wooden buildings, burned like a huge bonfire. Some German soldiers even claimed that they could read a book 50 kilometers away from Stalingrad due to the flames all around the city.


On June 28th, Wehrmacht finally entered the city. Around this time Stalin issued the order 227, “Not one step back!” He refused to evacuate any civilians, stating that the army would fight harder knowing that they were defending residents of the city. He also sent General Vasily Chuikov to the city to take command [5].


On September 13th, the Germans started their ground offensive into the city. A bloody house-to-house, room-to-room urban fight began. Soldiers fought in the sewers, for houses, for rooms. Frequently, there were mere meters between the sides. The Germans called this style of warfare "Rattenkrieg," which translates to "The War of Rats." However, General Chuikov called this strategy "hugging the enemy." The Germans were used to a more chivalric style of warfare, one in which they would fight in clean and big open spaces with help from their artillery and their air force, Luftwaffe. By hugging the enemy, they prevented the Germans from using their superior artillery since the Germans knew they could hit their soldiers amidst the chaos [1, 3].


The rubble caused by the continuous bombing of the city in the early days of the war rendered tanks useless as well. German Panzers were unable to move within the tight streets of Stalingrad covered in rubble. However, the Germans still managed to capture over 70% of the city. The Führer was already giving victory speeches in Berlin, brainwashing the masses to believe that the "Heroic 6th Army was holding on!" while the soldiers were fighting in the most brutal conditions imaginable without enough supplies. General Chuikov was ordered to stall the Germans in the city as long as possible and wait for the relief force; within this period, hundreds of thousands of civilians lost their lives due to either hunger, disease, or atrocities committed by the Germans.


While this happened, the Soviets carried all of their factories to Siberia and prepared for Operation Uranus. This operation aimed to encircle the 6th Army trapped within Stalingrad. The 6th Army's flanks were defended by ill-equipped groups of Romanian, Italian, and Hungarian units. Soviets used this to their advantage, and as the Winter Months began, they started their offensive. Within a matter of days, the city was sealed off, and the 6th Army was trapped.


General Paulus kept asking for permission from the Führer to either surrender or make a breakthrough. Thousands of his soldiers were dying each day due to the cold, hunger, or diseases such as typhus, without even fighting the Red Army. Yet, the order never came. Paulus kept waiting and waiting until one day he received a telegraph from Berlin. He was getting promoted to Feldmarschall. This promotion had a dark meaning behind it. Throughout history, there wasn't a single German Feldmarschall that surrendered to the enemy; all of them either won the battle or committed suicide. So, the Führer was giving Paulus an indirect order: either fight and die or put a bullet through your head, do not surrender [3].


This was ineffective though, and in February 1943, after five months of hellish combat, the 6th Army surrendered to the Soviets. Putting an end to the single bloodiest battle in Human History. Over 1.3 million civilians and soldiers lost their lives in the battle, a city was destroyed and millions of people lost their homes. This battle remains as a stark reminder to us all about what war truly is [4].



References:

  1. (n.d.). Antony Beevor – Historian. https://www.antonybeevor.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/second-world-war

  2. Battle of Stalingrad. (1998, July 20). Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Stalingrad Stalingrad: The hinge of history—How Hitler’s hubris led to the defeat of the Sixth Army. (2023, August 17). JMVH. https://jmvh.org/article/stalingrad-the-hinge-of-history-how-hitlers-hubris-led-to-the-defeat-of-the-sixth-army

  3. The significance of the Battle of Stalingrad • FamilySearch. (2023, November 1). FamilySearch. https://www.familysearch.org/en/blog/battle-of-stalingrad-significance

  4. Battle of Stalingrad timeline. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/list/timeline-of-the-battle-of-stalingrad

















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