Battle of Stalingrad Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Battle of Stalingrad marked one of the most significant turning points in World War II: Soviet forces defeated the German Sixth Army after a hard-fought campaign lasting five months. The Germans’ surrender represented a permanent momentum shift in their invasion of the Soviet Union.

Summary of Event

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, Adolf Hitler was determined to conquer that nation and force a surrender within six months. German armies using blitzkrieg Blitzkrieg tactics (“lightning war”) tactics were victorious in the south, with the capture of Kiev, and their soldiers reached the outskirts of Leningrad in the north. Hitler’s goal of a rapid and total victory was not realized, however, because of delays in beginning the invasion, bad weather, logistical problems, Soviet resistance, and the German strategic plan calling for a broad frontal attack instead of a decisive single thrust to Moscow. German forces were halted before Moscow in December, 1941, and Joseph Stalin ordered a successful counteroffensive that forced a partial German withdrawal in that sector. Hitler ordered the German troops to stand fast, however, and they dug in for the winter. By the spring of 1942, when major military operations resumed, the Germans were still deep within the Soviet Union and Hitler could plan a renewed assault aimed at forcing Russia to surrender. Stalingrad, Battle of (1942-1943) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Russian campaign Soviet Union;German invasion of World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];European theater [kw]Battle of Stalingrad (Aug. 19, 1942-Feb. 2, 1943) [kw]Stalingrad, Battle of (Aug. 19, 1942-Feb. 2, 1943) Stalingrad, Battle of (1942-1943) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Russian campaign Soviet Union;German invasion of World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];European theater [g]Europe;Aug. 19, 1942-Feb. 2, 1943: Battle of Stalingrad[00580] [g]Soviet Union;Aug. 19, 1942-Feb. 2, 1943: Battle of Stalingrad[00580] [c]World War II;Aug. 19, 1942-Feb. 2, 1943: Battle of Stalingrad[00580] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 19, 1942-Feb. 2, 1943: Battle of Stalingrad[00580] Chuikov, Vasily Göring, Hermann Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;Russian military campaign Stalin, Joseph [p]Stalin, Joseph;World War II military leadership[World War 02 military] Manstein, Erich von Paulus, Friedrich Rokossovsky, Konstantin Yeremenko, Andrey Zhukov, Georgy

Hitler increasingly took personal command of the German troops on the eastern front, issuing orders to his commanders and interfering with military operations. His plans for 1942 had two primary objectives: the capture of Leningrad in the north, and a drive upon the Donets industrial basin in the Ukraine and the Caucasus oil fields in southern Russia. By midsummer, the Germans still had been unable to capture Leningrad. To the south, the Germans drove the Russians back and were advancing toward the vital oil fields. Hitler now turned his attention upon the city of Stalingrad, to protect his left flank from Soviet counterattack.

Stalingrad, an industrial city, was situated on the Volga River. If the city could be captured, vital river traffic, especially oil being shipped to Moscow, could be stopped. Furthermore, an attack would draw in the Russian army to battle the German forces with the expectation of further German victories. Hitler believed that Russian reserves were small and the defeat of these Soviet troops would topple Stalin’s regime. To achieve his goal, he ordered General Friedrich Paulus and the German Sixth Army to capture Stalingrad and seize the left bank of the Volga in order to halt river traffic.

Troops of the Sixth Army reached the Stalingrad area by late August, attacking the city on August 19. As foreseen, the Russians rallied to the defense of the city. During the extended fighting, lasting several months, the city was reduced to rubble. This made the German task even more difficult, for pockets of resistance within the city continued to plague the Germans even after the main portion of the town was taken. Fighting continued into November.

Meanwhile General Georgy Zhukov, in charge of overall Soviet forces, planned a counteroffensive to relieve Stalingrad and break the German advance toward the Caucasus region. Because Paulus’s Sixth Army was overextended and German troops were forced to cover a long flank, Zhukov formed two armies, commanded by General Andrey Yeremenko and General Konstantin Rokossovsky. Their assignment was to encircle the Germans. On November 19, 1942, these two armies began an enveloping maneuver to trap Paulus in Stalingrad. By November 24, Paulus and 250,000 men were encircled in the Stalingrad “pocket.”

The Germans had a reasonable chance to break out from the Stalingrad area until approximately mid-December. Despite pleas from his generals, Hitler ordered Paulus to stand fast and hold the ground already captured. The German führer also ordered Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, commander of Germany Army Group Don, to advance toward Stalingrad to lift the siege and supply Paulus. Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, the German air force, assured Hitler that he could supply Paulus by air.

When it became apparent that the Luftwaffe would not be able to carry out its task, partly because of logistical problems and severe weather conditions, Manstein asked Hitler to order Paulus to break out of the city and join his relief force; otherwise, Manstein said he would not be able to relieve Paulus. Hitler refused Manstein’s request, for the possession of Stalingrad had become a point of prestige. Manstein’s forces fought their way to within thirty miles of Stalingrad but could get no farther, especially after Zhukov launched an offensive against his supply lines.

By early January, 1943, Paulus had lost any chance of breaking out of the encirclement. His troops were tired, cold, and hungry, and they lacked adequate ammunition. Relentless Soviet attacks, plus growing casualties and freezing weather, wore down the Germans in the “pocket.” Hitler still ordered Paulus not to surrender but to fight to the last man if necessary. He even promoted Paulus to the rank of field marshal, on the theory that no German officer of such high rank had surrendered. Paulus’s men could not resist further, and on February 2, 1943, the Sixth Army capitulated to the Russians. Approximately one hundred thousand Germans became prisoners when the battle ended.

Two women make their way through the rubble during the siege of Stalingrad.

(Library of Congress)

Casualties on both sides in the Stalingrad campaign likely will never be known with precision. Estimates suggest that as many as two hundred thousand Germans had died by the final capitulation. Germany and its allies (Hungary, Italy, and Romania) may have suffered as many as one million total casualties in the overall campaign. Soviet military casualties are estimated at a minimum of 750,000 killed, wounded, and missing. Civilian losses are in addition. These numbers scarcely begin to convey the full horror of the battle for the participants.

Significance

The massive German defeat at Stalingrad marked the turn of the tide on the eastern front, for Germany never again won a major battle in that region. Powerful and numerically superior Soviet forces now undertook a series of offensive campaigns to liberate their nation from Nazi control. They continued to push the Germans back for the next two years, until the Russians captured Berlin in April, 1945, and World War II came to an end in early May. Stalingrad, Battle of (1942-1943) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Russian campaign Soviet Union;German invasion of World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];European theater

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carell, Paul. Hitler Moves East, 1941-1943. Translated by Ewald Osers. Boston: Little, Brown, 1965. Comprehensive coverage of military campaigns on the eastern front.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chuikov, Vasily I. The Battle for Stalingrad. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964. Memoirs by the Russian commander of the Sixty-second Army at Stalingrad.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Craig, William. Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1973. Includes events leading to the Stalingrad campaign, plus many details of the battle itself.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goerlitz, Walter. Paulus and Stalingrad. New York: Citadel Press, 1964. Uneven but useful biography of the German commander of the Sixth Army.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Khrushchev, Nikita. Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev. Edited by Sergei Khrushchev. Translated by George Shriver and Stephen Shenfield. Vol. 1. University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 2004. This volume of the Soviet premier’s memoirs deals with his life through the end of World War II. Includes a chapter detailing his experience of the Battle of Stalingrad and its importance to the overall Soviet campaign. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Richardson, William, and Seymour Freiden, eds. The Fatal Decisions. Translated by Constantine FitzGibbon. London: Michael Joseph, 1956. Includes a useful analysis of the Stalingrad campaign, by the former chief of the German army general staff.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tarrant, V. E. Stalingrad: Anatomy of an Agony. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1992. Clearly written account based on German and Russian sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ziemke, Earl F., and M. E. Bauer. Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East. New York: Military Heritage Press, 1988. Covers the 1941 German invasion to the end of the Stalingrad campaign in early 1943.

World War II: European Theater

Germany Mounts the Balkan Offensive

Germany Invades Russia

Germany and Italy Declare War on the United States

Wannsee Conference and the “Final Solution”

Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe

Allied Forces Begin the Battle for Germany

Battle of the Bulge

V-E Day Marks the End of World War II in Europe

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