The Beginning of the End: The Battle of Stalingrad

Soviet Soldiers Advance on a German Position, February 1943

By early summer 1942, the Nazi war machine was firing on all cylinders. Most of mainland Eastern Europe was under the rule of Adolph Hitler. To the Germans, the undoing of the Treaty of Versailles was bittersweet, but the true Nazi interest was in the East. Hitler and the Nazis had two reasons for eastward expansion; “lebensraum”, or “living space” for ethnic Germans to grow and prosper, and to defeat the archenemy of fascism, communism and the Soviet Union.  Until now, the Nazi’s had faced little challenge in overcoming each of their conquests, but they had yet to face a beast like the Soviet Union.

Initially, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union started off on the right foot, as the Far Eastern states of Belarus, Latvia, and Ukraine fell without too much trouble for the advancing Germans. Originally, their target was the northern oil fields of the Caucuses, but Hitler made a last second decision to divert towards Stalingrad (Limbach, Britannica). Historians have debated the tactical significance of this move, but it is widely supported that its naming after Soviet leader Josef Stalin played a major part in Hitlers decision. Hitler believed that taking Stalingrad would diminish the morale of the Soviet people, but he underestimated the courage of which they would defend it.

On August 23, 1942, the Germans launched a Blitzkrieg attack on Stalingrad. While ground forces speared into the city at a blazing pace, the Luftwaffe rained ordinance from above. The first two months of the campaign proved a success, as the Soviets were pushed all the way to the Volga, but the harsh Russian winter slowed the advance. In late November, the Soviets launched a counterattack dubbed Operation Uranus to take back the city. The Soviets pushed and defeated the flanks guarded by the weak Romanian and Hungarian forces, thus encircling some 250,000  Nazis inside the city (Siegelbaum, 17 Moments). For the next two months, the Soviets sent patrol after patrol into the city, house by house, to rid the Germans, sometimes even without firearms. The tedious patrols were costly, but on February 2nd, 1943, the starving Nazis surrendered.

An Iconic Photo of the Town Center as Stalingrad Burns

Of the 400,000 original Germans  that began the attack on Stalingrad some six months earlier, only 110,000 remained. The Soviet losses were much greater. Over 750,000 Soviets were casualties of the battle of Stalingrad (Siegelbaum, 17 Moments). Including civilians, it is estimated that over 2 million people died in total from the 6 months of fighting. With that being said, the battle of Stalingrad was a major success not only for the Soviets, but for the entire Allied forces. The defeat at Stalingrad fatally crippled the Nazi war machine. Over the next two and a half years, the Soviets were able to consistently push the Germans back, until the Red Army marched the streets of Berlin.

 

Works Cited:

Dan, May. “Statue in the Center of Stalingrad after Nazi Air Strikes, 1942.” Rare Historical Photos, 14 Oct. 2017, rarehistoricalphotos.com/statue-center-stalingrad-1942/.
Limbach, Raymond. “Battle of Stalingrad.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 16 Jan. 2020, www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Stalingrad.
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The Nazi Tide Stops.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 18 June 2017, soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/the-nazi-tide-stops/.

 

20 Replies to “The Beginning of the End: The Battle of Stalingrad”

  1. You mentioned that the Romanians and Hungarians were working with the Germans, can you explain why that was the case?

    1. Yes, shortly after the onset of the war, Romania and Hungary both joined the Tripartite pact with the Axis powers. During the Battle of Stalingrad, the Nazi’s used these forces to protect the 6th Army’s left and right flanks, but these forces were overwhelmed with the Red Army’s counterattack, and thus the Soviets were able to encircle the Germans within the city.

  2. It is crazy to believe that they would raid house to house without firearms. The amount of Soviet lives lost is unbelievable but crazy to believe that in the end they still won. Really interesting read on a sad time.

    1. Yes it is crazy indeed. The Soviets even had groups called Blocking units that served to fire upon any Soviet soldiers that refused to advance when ordered, or any that attempted to flee. It is unknown how many Soviet soldiers were killed by these blocking units.

  3. I think it’s hard to overstate the significance of this battle. It really was the turning point of the war (“the beginning of the end, as you note) — although that isn’t completely clear until this victory is consolidated at Kursk a few months later. There’s a powerful film by Joseph Villsmaier (who just died, I think) called “Stalingrad”: https://youtu.be/Yfk178n80CU I always recommend this as a counterpoint to that overly optimistic Hollywood production, Enemy at the Gates. Let me know what you think if you decide to watch!

    1. Hi Dr. Nelson, I totally agree that this battle played a major role in the defeat of the Axis powers. Thanks for sharing the film “Stalingrad”. I have seen Enemy of the Gates, which i thoroughly enjoyed but agree its a bit “Hollywood”, but will definitely check this one out.

  4. I always find it wild how Hitler decided to divert part of an Army Group to attack a city with for unclear strategic purposes. How do you think the German invasion of the Soviet Union would have progressed had the Germans secured the Caucasian oil fields before turning north? Would the Soviet Union have been able to continue the war with their available oil reserves and the American/British Lend-Lease programs? Great post!

    1. Hi Eric, i agree that its crazy how Hitler decided last second to change his plans, but Hitler was known for making weird impulse decisions with little tactical significance. I think a German grasp of the oil fields would have been a huge blow to the Soviets, but not a final one. I think the will of the Soviets and sheer numbers they were willing to expend would have eventually worked in their favor. Thanks for reading!

  5. Hello! I really enjoyed reading this post. It was really well written, and I loved the detail in which you explained the battle that became the major turning point of the war. I found the house-by-house raids especially interesting, loved the post it!

    1. Hi Kendall, thanks for reading! We learned of the house by house raids in a class i took about World War 2. The Soviets had groups of machine gunners called “blocking units” that served only to shoot any Soviet soldiers that refused to advance or tried to flee. Its really interesting and i recommend looking them up.

  6. I find Hitler’s last minute decision to attack Stalingrad was quite reckless but the Soviets definitely took this attack to heart. Do you know what tactics they used to defend the city? Like do you know if it was hit and run type stuff or hunker down and stand your ground?

    1. Hi Kellan. They basically just bunkered down and made the Nazi’s push them back street by street. Anyone who tried to abandon post was typically shot by blocking units that served with the only purpose of doing such.

  7. I never knew that the Romanian and Hungarian armies were present during this battle and could be cited as one of the main reasons that the Nazis were surrounded. I think that this battle is often focussed on due to its massive role in turning the tides in WWII but also because of the large number of causalities involved. Great post!

    1. Hi Michael. Yes it is crazy to think about the amount of people that were killed in the sixth months of fighting. Actually there were more Soviets killed in this one battle, than Americans killed in the entire war. The Nazi’s definitely made a mistake by using the Romanians and Hungarians to defend the flanks, but they obviously didn’t realize it at the time.

  8. The battle of Stalingrad doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves among the general public for being one of the watershed moments of WWII. While it is definitely important for being the place where the German advance was turned into a retreat, I think more focus should be placed on the 5-6 months of the siege. It was here that the unrelenting advance of the blitzkrieg was bogged down with Russian bodies until its momentum was completely spent. And most significantly for the Allied war effort, those months of siege on the banks of the Volga were months that *the Soviet Union did not fall*. A renewed German advance would likely have knocked the USSR out of the fight entirely. Instead, Stalingrad gave the Soviets time to kick their wartime economy into gear, moving factories across the Urals and really getting the military into shape. Without the (albeit extremely costly) respite Stalingrad gave the rest of the Soviet war effort, it would likely have crumbled without ever hitting its stride.

    1. Hi Michael, i totally agree. I think from an American perspective of history, the Soviets efforts are kind of downplayed and ignored, rather focusing on the American accomplishments instead. I also agree that it could have completely turned the war in the opposite favor, had a few things gone differently.

  9. Andrew Grant – The battle of Stalingrad is often considered the “turning point” of the Second World War, but I would argue that the Battle of Moscow, was one of the major decisive victories that showed that the Axis military machine could be stopped. The Battle of Moscow, was one of the first times, the German military, was defeated in its relentless push across Europe, they had conquered France in 4 weeks, Yugoslavia in 12 days, Poland in 3 weeks, etc. I would argue for this reason, that the Battle of Moscow was one of the true “turning points.”

    1. Hi Andrew, i totally agree that the Battle of Moscow was really the first time the Nazi’s were handed defeat. Combined with Stalingrad, the two events were really the end of Operation Barbarossa.

  10. One of the things about this battle I found interesting is the close quarters fighting in the city, especially with the sniper fests going on and the battle for “Pavlov’s House”, where a Red Army platoon successfully defended an apartment longer than the French lasted in WW2. The Battle of Stalingrad was the ultimate turning point in the war.

    1. Yes i totally agree. The Soviets really made the Nazi’s fight for every square inch of the city, and towards the end, vice versa. The losses were catastrophic, but the success was ultimately worth it.

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