Taking the city of Stalingrad during the German summer offensive of 1942, as part of the general German attack on the Soviet Union, was one of Hitler's main goals. These battles had to be carried out by the 6th Army of the German Wehrmacht, which was led by General Friedrich Paulus. This army reached Stalingrad (today: Volgograd) in late August 1943. By November, the Germans had captured about 90 percent of the city. As the battle to take the city turned into a fierce house-to-house and street-to-street battle, Stalin ordered new, fresh forces to approach Stalingrad.
Consequently, on November 19, 1942, the Red Army launched a major wedge-shaped offensive northwest and south of Stalingrad. Just three days later, the attack led to the encirclement of the entire 6th Army and parts of the 4th Panzer Army and the remnants of the Romanian Third and Fourth Armies, totaling some 250,000 Germans and over 30,000 Romanian auxiliaries and Russian.
Hitler declared Stalingrad a symbol of the German will to win the war. He associated the conquest of Stalingrad, as the most important strategic center of armaments and transport on the Volga, with a personal victory over his adversary, Stalin, since the city bore his name. Hitler categorically refused a request from Paulus to allow his forces to withdraw 40-50 kilometers further west in order to break out of the encirclement. Herman Göring promised Hitler that he would supply the besieged German forces in Stalingrad by air, which of course was impossible because the besieged German forces needed 300-400 tons of supplies every day.
An attempt to break the German forces out of the encirclement began on December 12, 1942 by the Don Army Group, which was hastily assembled under the command of Erichvon Manstein. The tank units of this army group, under the command of Colonel General Hermann Hoth, approached Stalingrad 48 kilometers. But their attack stopped after nine days due to Soviet resistance. On December 23, 1942, Hitler issued the last order for Stalingrad, ordering resistance at all costs.
At that time, the daily ration of German soldiers was two slices of bread and some tea, occasionally a thin soup. The first deaths from exhaustion and malnutrition began to appear in mid-December. The Russian winter, with temperatures below -40 degrees, also claimed thousands of lives among Wehrmacht soldiers who were inadequately equipped to withstand the freezing temperatures. By January 18, 1943, German troops abandoned all lines of defense and retreated completely inside the city of Stalingrad, where they were divided into two partial encirclements. On January 30, Adolf Hitler promoted Paulus to Feldmareshal.
Since no German marshal had previously surrendered, Paulus's promotion was intended to motivate him to continue fighting with the 6th Army until "a hero's death". However, Paulus with his remaining units in the southern pocket surrendered on 31 January 1943. Two days later the exhausted German troops in the northern pocket of the city also surrendered. About 150,000 German soldiers died during the fighting, cold or starvation. About 91,000 more were taken prisoner of war by the Soviets, of whom perhaps 6,000 survivors returned to Germany by 1956. The Red Army had more than 400,000 casualties.
The German defeat at Stalingrad in the war against the Soviet Union changed the course of the war forever. The initiative of the attack now passed to the Red Army. This was also the turning point of the Second World War.
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