Stalingrad Turning Point on the Eastern Front 1942-1943
Verdun on the Volga
The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War, with over two million military and civilian casualties. The German Sixth Army was the flower of the Wehrmacht, its troops had marched through the streets of Paris in the summer of 1940 after the Germany Army's great victory over France. Now Hitler would unleash the Sixth Army's legions against a new enemy on the River Volga. After six months of battle at Stalingrad the Sixth Army was shattered and forced to surrender on the 2cnd of February 1942, to Soviet forces. The German Army lost over 850,000 troops in the Battle of Stalingrad. To give a comparison the U.S. Army lost 416,000 troops in the entire Second World War. Over 91,000 German soldiers surrendered to the Soviets at the end of the battle, only 6,000 of them would make return home to Germany in 1955. The Battle of Stalingrad marked the beginning of the end for the German Army on the Eastern Front. After Stalingrad the German Army lost its aura of invincibility. Russian historians estimate over one million Soviet soldiers died in the six months defending Stalingrad. So great were Soviet loses, the life expectancy of a newly arrived soldier was less than a day. The battle was marked with a level of brutality unequaled since man invented the act of war. The German soldiers who fought at Stalingrad, bitterly named this type of warfare Rattenkrieg ("rat war"). Hitler had told General Paulus that with his Sixth Army, the most powerful in the Wehrmacht, he could "storm the heavens." When the fighting was over, the world would begin to believe for the first time that Hitler could be defeated.
German Tanks on the River Volga Summer 1942Click thumbnail to view full-size
German Tanks on the River Volga
On the 23rd of August 1942, tanks of the 16th Panzer Division halted on the banks of the Volga. Many German soldiers thought the war against the Red Army was won. To their right, the city of Stalingrad blazed from the first of General von Richthofen's air raids, which ultimately would kill 40,000 civilians. Hitler had told General Paulus that with his Sixth Army, the most powerful in the Wehrmacht, he could "storm the heavens." For the citizens of Stalingrad, Sunday the 23rd of August 1942, was a day which will never be forgotten. The model city of which they were so proud, with its gardens along the high west bank of the Volga, and the tall white apartment buildings which gave the place a modern, cubist look, became an inferno. Richthofen's aircraft began to carpet-bomb in relays, "and not just industrial targets, but everything, said one student present that day. The huge petroleum-storage tanks on the banks of the Volga were also hit. A ball of flame rose about 1,500 feet into the sky, and over the following days, the column of black smoke could be seen from over two hundred miles away. Blazing oil spread across the Volga. Bombs destroyed the telephone exchange and the waterworks, and the main Stalingrad hospital. The attack on the hospital so terrorized the doctors and nurses that they ran away, abandoning their patients, some of whom were left for days without food or care. In the afternoon, the panzer crews looked up, squinting against the sunlight, to see waves of Junker 88 and Heinkel III bombers, as well as a squadron of Stukas, in tightly packed groups, flying towards Stalingrad. A mass of shadows passed across the steppe. On their return, the Stuka pilots sounded their sirens to greet the advancing troops. The panzer crews waved back with delight. In the distance, they could already see the columns of smoke rising from the city. General Paulus's headquarters would brag that Stalingrad, the city of Stalin, the starting-point of the Russian revolution would fall beneath his feet. General von Wietersheim who commanded the 14th Panzer Corps of which the 16th Panzer division was a part of would eventually be dismissed and sent back to Germany, ending his career as a private in the Voklsstrum in Pomerania, in April 1945.
The Battle for Stalingrad order of battle.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Soviet Snipers Influence the Battle of Stalingrad
Soviet snipers concealed themselves in heaps of rubble created during the Battle of Stalingrad inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans. The most successful sniper was Ivan Mikhailovich Sidorenko of the Soviet 1122nd rifle regiment, who made approximately 500 kills by the end of the war. Vasiliy Grigor ' yevich Zaytsev was credited with 242 kills during the battle. Snipers from the Siberian 284th Rifle Division would decimated the German troops who occupied Stalingrad. Vasily Zaytsev traveled a meandering path to the role of sniper. Born in 1915, he grew up in the Chelyabinsk region east of the Ural Mountains, in Western Siberia. Zaytsev got his first rifle at the age of twelve. But only his grandfather saw the small boy as a born hunter, and invited the youngster along when he shouldered his rifle and went stalking goats and wolves. In February 1937, at the age of 22, he enlisted in the Soviet Navy, and was assigned as a petty officer in the 4th Submarine Brigade at the Pacific port of Vladivostok. Zaytsev was a quartermaster when word came in August 1942 that the Germans were advancing on Stalingrad. A key center for industry and weapons production, Stalingrad extended like a ribbon 25 miles along the Volga's west bank. The factory district in the north included the Red October Steelworks, which produced 10% of Soviet steel, and the Dzerzhinsky tractor plant, which was a major producer of T-34 tanks in the Soviet Union. Stalingrad was a city that had been reborn during the prewar Soviet industrialization campaign. In 1930 Stalingrad had around 150,000 residents; by the time war broke out, the population of the city had swelled to over 400,000 citizens, not including more than 100,000 refugees who were fleeing the advancing German war machine. Four thousand miles to the east in Vladivostok, men of the 4th Submarine Brigade, which included Zaytsev, volunteered to join in the epic struggle at Stalingrad. On the way to Stalingrad Zaytsev pleaded to be a rifleman, his platoon leader consented to his request. The train carrying Zaytsev's platoon stopped in Burkovka, 10 miles east of Stalingrad, from the village the soldiers marched to the River Volga's east bank. Across the river the entire city of Stalingrad appeared to be on fire as a think cloud of black smoke hovered over the city. Overhead, German pilots were shooting down one Soviet plane after another. That night Zaytsev's division, the 284th Rifle Division, was ferried across the Volga into the flaming ruins. His division was sent immediately into the battle for Mamayev Hill, the most hotly contested patch of Stalingrad. For the next four months, both sides would battle for control of the hill. During the battle for Mamayev Hill, an enemy bunker protected by snipers was holding up Soviet attacks. A superior ordered Zaytsev into the battle, telling him to take two snipers. At they neared the location of the bunker, shots suddenly rang out forcing the trio on their stomachs crawling back to their own lines. Zaytsev and his comrades would attempt to approach the bunker for the next five hours with similar results. Their attempts gradually revealed the enemy sniper to be located somewhere far on the back side of the bunker. Grabbing a trench periscope, Zaytsev scanned the battlefield as the Soviet infantry charged the bunker, which was putting up a lethal wall of machine-gun fire. The German sniper, perhaps assuming he had killed Zaytsev and his comrades rose up into view. Zaytsev immediately shot and killed the sniper. Zaytsev then continued on and went for the machine-gunners in the bunker, suppressing their automatic fire. Afterward, the Soviet infantry took the bunker without losses. So began the legend of Vasily Zaytsev, by late February 1943, he was at the Kremlin accepting the Hero of the Soviet Union, his nation's highest honor. In the course of the battle for Stalingrad, Soviet snipers would kill over 10,000 German soldiers, but the numbers don't show the psychological impact they had on the battlefield. German veterans of Stalingrad described shots coming from behind stumps, from out of pipes, and from beneath the corpses of fallen soldiers.
Russian sniper Ivan Sidorenko Credited with over 500 Kills during The Battle of StalingradClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Dora in Action
The Rail-Road Gun Dora.
The Dora Heavy Artillery Piece
With no end in site, the German Army began transferring heavy artillery to Stalingrad, in an effort to pound the Soviet forces into submission. Dora was the name of a German 80cm railway gun used in the battle for Stalingrad. It was developed in the late 1930s by Krupp as siege artillery to destroy the main forts of the French Maginot Line, the strongest fortifications in existence. The fully assembled gun weighed nearly 1,350 tons, and could fire shells weighing seven tons to a range of 29 miles. It was the largest-caliber rifled weapon ever used in combat, the heaviest mobile artillery piece ever built in terms of overall weight, and fired the heaviest shells of any artillery piece in the Second World War. The Dora was destroyed near the end of the war to avoid capture by the Red Army.
The Stuka Dive Bomber or the Junkers Ju 87 in the sky over Stalingrad.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Battle for Mamayev Kurgan would determine the fate of StalingradClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Battle for Mamayev Kurgan
When forces of the German Sixth Army launched their attack on the city center of Stalingrad, on the 13th of September 1942, Mamayev Kurgan was the scene of particularly fierce fighting. Control of the hill became vitally important, as it offered a commanding view over the entire city of Stalingrad. Soviet troops had prepared strong defensive lines on the slopes of Mamayev Kurgan containing trenches, barbed-wire, and minefields reminiscent of the Western Front during the First World War. German forces were able to capture the hill only after taking very heavy casualties. Once they captured the hill, they started firing on the city center of Stalingrad, as well as the main railway station under the hill. That same day, the Soviet 13th Guards Rifle Division arrived in the city from the eastern shores of the Volga River under heavy German artillery fire. The division's 10,000 men immediately were rushed into the battle for Mamayev Kurgan. On the 16th of September 1942, they recaptured the hill and kept fighting toward the railway station, before the day ended most all of them had died. Soviet forces would hold onto the slopes of Mamayev Kurgan until the German forces surrendered control of the city in February 1943.
Nikita Khrushchev Led the Defense of StalingradClick thumbnail to view full-size
The crippling blow fell on the Sixth Army on the 19th of November 1942, when the Red Army unleashed more than a million fresh troops in a large pincer movement to surround Stalingrad, code named Operation Uranus. On the 23rd of November, Russian spearheads closed the trap around the Sixth Army sealing the fate of the German troops holding Stalingrad. One reason for their success was that some attacks fell on areas held by Germany's allies. Due to a lack of resources Hitler's generals had used their allies armies to hold the flanks around Stalingrad, German troops were used as the tip of the spear in the attack on Stalingrad. The Third and Fourth Rumanian Armies and the Italian Eight Army were powerful on paper, but lacked the fighting spirit and equipment of German soldiers. Soon they were overwhelmed by the Red Army's tidal wave of tanks and troops and in full retreat. Under front-line pressure few of Germany's allies could match the fighting qualities of German troops. At Stalingrad this was an important factor in sealing the destiny of the Sixth Army.
Field Marshal Fredrick Wilhelm Paulus surrendering to Soviet forces on January 31, 1943.
Sixth Army Commander Fredrick Wilhelm Ernst Paulus
Once captured by Soviet forces on January 31st, 1943, Field Marshal Paulus became a propaganda piece for Stalin until the war ended. After his release from captivity in 1953, he would live in Dresden, East Germany. In late 1956, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease and died 3 months later in Dresden, on the 1st of February 1957, 14 years after he surrendered the Sixth Army to the Red Army at Stalingrad. He was buried next to his wife in Baden, West Germany, whom he had not seen since the summer of 1942 when he left to meet his fate at Stalingrad.
Paulus after the war at a press conference at East Berlin in 1954.
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