Let’s head back to the Russian Front for just a couple minutes. The German army, having been halted (and even pushed back a little) in the winter of 1941, came storming back the following spring. Adolf Hitler’s generals recommended a renewed assault on Moscow, where victory had been just a few miles away the previous December. Hitler instead focused on the oil fields in the Caucasus Mountains and Stalingrad, an important industrial city and Communist cultural center.
Operation Blue, begun in late June of 1942, was the result of the Fuhrer’s orders and met with tremendous initial success. By late July, the German Sixth Army measured its distance to Stalingrad in the 10’s of miles. On the other side, the Soviets were requiring soldiers to hold their positions in an attempt to slow down the enemy advance, while simultaneously moving as much food and machinery (and as many people as possible) out of Stalingrad and eastward across the Volga River. But as we have seen before, the German machine would slow down some, just because of the vast distances required to keep troops supplied.
Still, the Germans managed to reach Stalingrad in force and, for the next five months, the city would be subjected to some of the most intense and most brutal fighting of the war. Having nearly overrun the city, Stalingrad would become a giant German trap when, on October 19th, the Soviets would launch Operation Uranus, one of the most masterful encircling counterattacks ever.
The tide of the fight turned almost overnight, with the Germans now facing the nightmare of being surrounded. Away from the front, military leaders begged Hitler to allow General Friedrich Paulus (shown above) to break out to the west and regroup with Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s Army Group A. Hitler steadfastly refused to give up an inch of Stalingrad, dooming an entire army to complete destruction.
On January’s penultimate day, with the situation in the city completely hopeless, Paulus was promoted to Field Marshal by Hitler. And since no German Field Marshal had ever been captured alive, it was assumed that Paulus would fight to the death or simply shoot himself.
Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus did neither. On January 31, 1943, he surrendered rather than see the annihilation of his forces. Though the Battle of Stalingrad wouldn’t officially end for another two days, and sporadic fighting would continue for another month, more than 90,000 German soldiers would be taken into captivity, as would a Field Marshal. Adolf Hitler’s forces had suffered the defeat from which they would not recover.
Recommended Reading: Absolute War