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.
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.