Discuss the battle of Stalingrad……………………….
Russiahad already lost over 6 million soldiers by mid 1942, thanks to a German invasion, leaving half of the Russian soldiers killed and another half captured by the Germans, together with a large part of the territory. The arctic winter however did help the Russians as it managed to push back the Germans just as they approachedMoscow, owing to their level of exhaustion. Come the summer of 1942, the German military had gathered its forces once more and was ready to show its formidability, especially at that moment whenRussiawas still weak owing to the large loses they had undergone (Beevor 1999, 67).
The main aim of the German Generals was to attack from the side ofMoscowwhich they considered to be the heart ofRussia, and also its nerve center, and in the process be able to destroy the remaining Russian forces in their way. However, Hitler was less willing to listen to the advice of these Generals as compared to before and he opted to command the army by himself and do things in his own personal way (Carroll 1997, 23).
“War directive 41”, code named Operation Blue, which was issued in April of the same year 1942, was issued by Hitler which was a detailed plan of the Russian front. The main plan of the directive was the concentration of German forces in the Russian front of the southern flank, destroying that long front line then advancing in two directions which would cover the secondary and the primary objectives, which were the main industrial centers and the most important in the Southern part ofRussia. The primary objective was to advance through the Caucasus region which was mountainous and in the southeast, in order to be able to capture the oil fields which are located in theCaspian Sea. The secondary objective was to advance towards a major industrial center which was also used for transportation in the east, towards Stalingrad, which was on theVolgaRiver, the west bank. This was the main water way found in innerRussia, which run from North of Moscow to the south, in theCaspian Sea(Roberts 2002, 38).
It is however important to note that occupying the city ofStalingradwas not one of the objectives of Hitler. The main directive in the objective was to reach the city itself or to cover it with artillery with an aim of destroying it completely to disengage its ability to be a transportation and industrial centre. The first day of the battle saw the German forces achieve this with minimal losses to their forces. This was the first day of the battle ofStalingrad. The stubborn battle that was aimed at occupying the whole city coupled with Hitler’s stubbornness and refusal to retreat from the city made him lose his Southern campaign, not mentioning big loses to both sides. The city was named after Stalin who was a fierce enemy of Hitler, and this made Hitler desire to occupy the city even more. Hitler persisted with this desire till the last German man was destroyed in the process (Beevor 1999, 97).
June 28th 1942 saw the attack of South Russia byGermany, just a year after the invasion had begun. The Germans advanced with the aid of their allies who were the Italians, the Hungarians and the Romanians, with their main task being that of ensuring that they had secured the long German flanks. This led to the collapse of the Russian line and the Germans proceeded straight towards the last line of defense that South Russia had, which was theVolga (Roberts 2002, 67).
July 28th saw the issue of “order 227” which was simply ordering everyone to be ready to defend the Soviet soil till the last drop of blood was shed, and even secret police placed behind the front line with orders to shoot and kill anyone who tried to retreat or even desert the front line. It was therefore an advantage when the order appealed to the Russian patriotism (Fein 2008, 48).
Despite all the efforts that the Russian armies West of Stalingrad tried, they were unable to stop the Germans who were advancing towards the city from entering (Carroll 1997, 43). They were pushed back and the empty arid plain was perfect for the launch of an attack, thus the Russians had themselves pushed back in toStalingrad.
On 23rd August, 1942, the German army managed to capture an eight kilometer stretch of land that was next to the Volga River bank, which was north of Stalingrad. Upon reaching the Volga, the German tanks and artillery began the onslaught of ships and ferries by ensuring that they sank them. On the same day there were units of the 6th army that managed to reach the outskirts of the city, and they begin the heavy bombarding of the city, which continued for weeks which resulted in the damaging and destroying of every building within the city. Thus this is how the battle ofStalingrad begun (Fein 2008, 39).
The German soldiers were so confident that during the first days of fighting they assumed that they would occupy the city quickly despite the fact that the Russian soldiers were defending the city with much enthusiasm even from the very beginning. Things did not look any better on the Russian side either as they had only 40,000 troops in Stalingrad, which constitutes of reserve soldiers who were not well equipped and the local population who missed out on the evacuation or were unable to be evacuated, thus the assumption that Stalingrad would be conquered in just a matter of days. It was thus very clear to the Russians that the only thing that would salvage the city from the German attack was a strong willed commander who would rule with an iron fist, with military skills that were superb and all the necessary reinforcement that they would gather (Roberts 2002, 98).
This led to the selection of two commanders who fit into the ideal candidate of the commander that would beStalingrad’s savior. TheMoscowfront was to be led by General Zhukov according to Stalin’s orders, on a national level, and his task was to go to the south ofRussiaand try to save what he could. Zhukov has been described as the military crisis solver in Stalin’s administration, and has even been dubbed as the most influential and even the best Russian general in World War 2 (Beevor 1999, 107).
Vasily Chuikov was called to be on the regional command post on the local level and he was a general, deputy commander 64th army in the south of Stalingrad and a commander who was determined and aggressive. He was appointed the new commander of the 62nd Russian army, after the situation was presented to him and its severity revealed. The army that he was presented to command was the army that still held most ofStalingrad. When asked how he was going to undertake his mission, he responded by saying that they would defend the city or die. The manner, in which he led the army over the next couple of months, went to prove that he meant what he said as they defended the city with much fatalism (Hoyt 1999, 56).
By the time that General Chuikov arrived atStalingrad, the army that he was supposed to command had already lost more than half of the soldiers that it originally had. Most of them considered this a “death trap” and some of them tried escaping by crossing theVolga. The General then knew that the only way that he could achieved his mission objective of protecting Stalingrad was to use blood to buy time (Carroll 1997, 63).
The soldiers that were defendingStalingradwere informed of the presence of secret police at the points that were used to cross the River Volga, and anyone who tried to cross over without authorization was to be shot dead. Fresh reinforcements also arrived which constituted of elite units crossing the Volga despite the heavy German fire that was coming intoStalingrad. Even though a majority of them were killed in the process, General Chuikov managed to hold off the Germans and maintain part ofStalingrad. It has been found that the normal life expectancy rate atStalingradof an officer that came on as reinforcement was a mere 24 hours (Craig 2001, 78).
The intensity of the fighting that was present inStalingradas well as the concentration of forces that were present was not unparalleled. This forced General Chuikov to have to move his post from place to place within the city so as to avoid being captured mostly during the final moments or even being killed (Roberts 2002, 128).
Sending in more reinforcements with an aim of replacing the dead soldiers was just not enough. Chuikov came up with a strategy that involved getting close to the German position and narrowing the gap between them, such that if the German Stuka bombers tried to bomb the Russian positions, they could not be able to do so without hitting their compatriots with friendly fire, and thus this was aimed at reducing the losses (Hoyt 1999, 90). This resulted in the fighting being restricted to small battles that were geared towards dominance of every building, street or even floors or rooms. There were situations where certain positions that were key toStalingradchanged hands a couple of times within the battle, and a lot of blood was shed in the process. The Russians had an advantage over the Germans when it came to fighting under the cover of darkness in the ruined buildings, where they would only use knives or grenades with the use of guns being unnecessary. The ruined city was a perfect zone for snipers with snipers from both sides benefiting from the ruins, and even the head of the sniper school inGermanywas sent here to hunt and kill the Russian snipers, but was later killed by another sniper. There were some Russian snipers who became heroes owing to their success and even one of them managed to kill up to 224 Germans by November (Gilbert 2004, 22).
TheStalingrad streetfighting academy was the name that was given to the city as a nickname by the Russians. The German artillery made the crossing of theVolgadangerous and thus the Russians starved many a times since ammunition and soldiers were given priority over food when it came to shipping of supplies. There were a number of Russians killed while crossing the Volga in toStalingrador being carried out of the city due to wounds.
The advantage that the Germans had in terms of heavy fire from dive bombers and tanks was matched by the Russian reinforcements of all types. The Russians also did a good job of increasing their air attacks by including more aircraft piloted by well trained pilots.
The remaining soldiers and civilians still inStalingradhad a life that consisted of endless gunfire and explosions, exhaustion and fear, for as long as life lasted. This was the case day in day out for weeks to come, and this significantly contributed to the increase in the rates of disease infections (Kerr 2005, 109).
By the end of October 1942, only a narrow strip was held by the Russians, and there were even some who were in some isolated parts ofStalingrad. The Germans then decided to launch one final attack to take over the city before winter, but the rate of exhaustion and the inadequate supply of ammunition hindered them, but fighting persisted (Hoyt 1999, 112).
Hitler finally frustrated by the manner in which the battle was taking too long decided to push more divisions closer to the city, which only served to weaken the German flanks that were long in the West and Southside of the city. The assumption that he had when making this decision was that the Russians were now consuming their last reserves and a major attack on the Germans by the Russians was a case that was highly unlikely if not impossible according to Hitler. He was later to be proved wrong (Gilbert 2004, 34).
The weakening of the German flanks is the opportunity that General Zhukov had been expecting ever since the battle began. This was as a result of the German forces underestimating the Russians by pushing more forces in to the city weakening their flanks. The harsh winter that followed also reduced the German army’s mobility greatly (Roberts 2002, 130).
General Zhukov put in place a major counter attack strike on the Germans which was code named Uranus, aimed at attacking the German flanks at the points where they were the weakest. The main goal of the General was not to only win the battle ofStalingradbut to put an end to the entire German campaign in the south of the city (Carroll 1997, 103). The attack that the Russians had staged came as a surprise and by the time the Germans realized that the Russians had gathered forces that outnumbered them, it was too late for them to do anything. When the German Chief of Staff realized this and asked Hitler abandonStalingrad, he vehemently refused (Kerr 2005, 165).
The attack by the Russians came there months after the battle had begun which was on November 19th 1942. This was the first attack in World War 2 that was fully prepared for and it was a success. The pressure from the advancing Russian artillery coupled with the level of exhaustion that the Romanians had forced them to surrender after just two days (Hoyt 1999, 149).
Results of the Battle and Conclusion
February 2nd 1943 saw the last resistance from the German army. Hitler was furious accusing the Generals and the field marshals, not aware that the blame was solely his. 150,000 soldiers were lost by the Germans, not mentioning the 91,000 that were captured. The surviving ones that were 50,000 only returned back home after spending years in Russian prison camps. In total; together with their allies fromRomania andItaly, the Germans lost 300,000 soldiers while the Russians lost 500,000 soldiers and civilians (Overy 1997, 108).
Not only did the Germans lose the battle ofStalingrad, but it also lost the image that it had of being invincible. This was a morale booster to the Russian forces who kept a spirited fight in the war for two and a half years from the end of the battle ofStalingrad. The Americans and the British morale were also boosted by this victory. The bad news which was originally censored was exposed and it served to shake the German morale. The battle of Stalingrad served as a turning point for World War 2, with the war turning the odds againstGermany. Stalin was so happy that Zhukov was promoted to a Field Marshal and so did he make himself one too, despite his status as a civilian (Gilbert 2004, 82).
The surviving soldiers that defended the city could finally leave the city, and the 62nd unit was given an elite status. General Chuikov managed to lead his troops till the end of the war, and even received the surrender of Berlin in 1945 May 1st. He was later promoted to Field Marshal and also served in the 1960s as a deputy minister of defense (Overy 1997, 178).
Beevor, Antony. Stalingrad.New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
Carroll, Bob. The Battle of Stalingrad.California: Lucent Books, 1997.
Craig, William. Enemy at the gates: the battle for Stalingrad.New York: Penguin Books, 2001.
Fein, Eric. Impossible Victory: The Battle of Stalingrad.Minnesota: Capstone Press, 2008.
Gilbert, Martin. The Second World War: A Complete History.Maryland: Henry Holt, 2004.
Hoyt, Edwin. 199 Days: The Battle for Stalingrad.London: Forge, 1999.
Kerr, Walter. The Russian Army: Its Men, Its Leaders and Its Battles.Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2005.
Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won.New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.
Roberts, Geoffrey. Victory at Stalingrad: the battle that changed history. London: Longman, 2002.
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