Stalingrad, Battle of

views updated Jun 11 2018



A series of defensive and offensive operations from 7 July 1942 to 2 February 1943, the Battle of Stalingrad produced a hard-won Soviet victory and marked a turning point in World War II on the eastern front. Fought in and around the city (present-day Volgograd) on the Volga that bore Joseph Stalin's name, the confrontation at Stalingrad evoked memories both of the savagery at Verdun in 1916 and of the Prussian encirclement of the French at Sedan in 1870.

The circumstances that produced Stalingrad flowed from imperfect execution of Operation Blau, a German strategic offensive that was intended to win for Adolf Hitler the oil-rich Caucasus by the fall of 1942. However, the offensive suffered from delay, inadequate forces and resources, overextended logistics, and clumsy command arrangements. Although the Soviets were initially uncertain over the location of the Wehrmacht's main blow, by the summer of 1942 they had learned to give ground while punishing the Germans and mobilizing a steady procession of new formations. Meanwhile, as the Germans revealed their design for 1942 by doggedly advancing south, they exposed a long and vulnerable left flank, the security of which rested on control of the Don River bend near Stalingrad. As the Soviet high command rushed reinforcements to the city, Hitler, grasping its industrial and namesake significance, directed General Friedrich Paulus's reinforced German Sixth Army to secure this new objective, thereby perhaps fatally dividing the entire German strategic effort.

Beginning in July with hard fighting across the land bridge between the Don and Volga, Paulus reached the outskirts of Stalingrad by early September. However, the Soviets had by now strengthened the city's defenses, with the tenacious General V. I. Chuikov commanding its main force, the Soviet Sixty-second Army. Almost simultaneously, the Soviet high command began planning for a counteroffensive, Operation Uranus, the objective of which was to encircle and destroy the German Sixth Army even as it bled itself dry inside the city.

Meanwhile, as both sides threw additional assets directly into the urban fray, the battle for the city soon assumed a particularly vicious form of close-quarters combat. Intense fighting swirled everywhere above and below ground, producing heavy losses among attackers and defenders. At one point, it was even remarked that the city's dogs swam across the Volga to escape the torment. Although Paulus had originally assumed that Stalingrad might fall in late September, by mid-November his Sixth Army was running short of manpower, ammunition, and supplies. Two months of incessant urban combat had left it exhausted and several hundred meters short of the Volga. Soviet commanders, meanwhile, continued to press often raw troops off Volga ferryboats into battle, only to watch them virtually evaporate in the maelstrom.

It was at this point, on 19 November 1942, with Soviet defenders barely clinging to the industrial sprawl along the Volga, that General A. M. Vasilevsky, representative of Stavka (headquarters of the supreme high command) launched Operation Uranus. With pincers from the north (the southwest and Don fronts) and south (the Stalingrad front) of Stalingrad, Soviet armored and mechanized formations easily broke through Romanian forces on the Sixth Army's soft flanks to link up near Kalach on the Don, encircling Paulus. Subsequent and complementary Soviet offensives (Mars south of Leningrad and Saturn and Little Saturn in the middle and upper Don) proved overly ambitious, but did exact losses and divert German attention and reserves from the encirclement at Stalingrad. However, the situation there remained in doubt until late December, because Paulus arguably retained sufficient combat power to fight his way out, especially in the event of timely assistance from Field Marshal Erich von Manstein's newly formed Army Group Don. However, Hitler ordered Paulus to hold at all costs, while Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering unrealistically vowed that his Luftwaffe might resupply Paulus from the air. Meanwhile, Manstein's effort to open a corridor to Stalingrad failed on 24 December, fifty kilometers short of the objective. Until the complete surrender of now Field Marshal Paulus's forces on 2 February 1943, the Soviets continued to conduct two sets of subsidiary offensive operations, one to reduce the cauldron at Stalingrad itself, the other to reinforce the outer ring of the encirclement, with an eye to exploitation that Manstein's skill largely foiled.

Losses on both sides were substantial. Paulus surrendered some 91,000 troops, while losing another 150,000 in combat for Stalingrad. Later Soviet and Russian estimates would place Hitler's total casualties for the entire campaign at 1.5 million, or approximately one-fourth of Germany's combat manpower on the eastern front. Post-1991 Russian figures place Soviet casualties at slightly more than a million, including 480,000 dead or missing.

The historiography on Stalingrad is voluminous, ranging from the reminiscences of survivors to various official histories in search of either explanation, lessons learned, or national military justification. Some blame the dictators for all the mistakes and bloodletting, while others emphasize the impact of the battle on national psyches, while still others focus on the purely military aspects that revealed a Wehrmacht and its blitzkrieg clearly on the wane and a Red Army and its deep battle operations just coming into its own. Within larger strategic content, Stalingrad ended any prospect that Hitler might consider the eastern front as an economy-of-force effort. In Soviet perspective, the battle indicated that Stalin might place growing confidence in his seasoned commanders and their increasingly resilient and capable military formations. Although the Nazi propaganda machine attempted to put the best sacrificial face on the battle's outcome, the German advance to Stalingrad gradually came to represent the high water mark of an increasingly futile effort to subjugate Stalin's Soviet Union. For the Soviets, meanwhile, Stalingrad won its own place alongside two other prominent "hero cities," Moscow and Leningrad, to symbolize tenacious defense of the motherland.

See alsoSoviet Union; World War II.


Beevor, Antony. Stalingrad. London, 1998.

Chuikov, V. I. The Battle for Stalingrad. New York, 1964.

Erickson, John. The Road to Stalingrad. New York, 1975.

———. The Road to Berlin. Boulder, Colo., 1983.

Glantz, David M., and Jonathan M. House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence, Kans., 1995.

Rotundo, Louis C., ed. Battle for Stalingrad: The 1943 Soviet General Staff Study. Washington, D.C., 1989.

Ziemke, Earl F., and Magna E. Bauer. Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East. Washington, D.C., 1987.

Bruce W. Menning

Stalingrad, Battle of

views updated May 23 2018


The Battle of Stalingrad (July 17, 1942February 2,1943) was the most significant Red Army victory during World War II. It included the Red Army's defense against Operation "Blau" (Blue), the German Army's summer 1942 advance to Stalingrad, and offensive operations in the fall of 1942 and winter of 1943 to defeat German and other Axis forces in the Stalingrad region.

The defensive phase of the battle began on July 17, after German Army Groups "A" and "B" smashed the defenses of the Red Army's Briansk,

Southwestern, and Southern Fronts in southern Russia and advanced to the Don River west of Stalingrad. Initially, the newly formed Stalingrad Front, commanded by marshal of the Soviet Union S. K. Timoshenko, defended the Stalingrad region with the 21st, 62d, 63d, 64th, and 57th Armies, the 1st and 4th Tank Armies, and the 8th Air Army, which opposed the 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army of Army Group "B." After overwhelming the 62nd and 64th Army's defenses west of the Don River in late July and defeating a major counterstroke by the 1st and 4th Tank Armies, in late August General Friedrich Paulus's Sixth Army broke through Soviet defenses along the Don River and reached the Volga River north of Stalingrad, while General Hermann Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army reached the city's southwestern suburbs. The twin blows isolated the Soviet 62d and 64th Armies in Stalingrad and initiated two months of vicious and costly fighting for possession of the city. The fighting consumed the bulk of German forces and forced them to deploy weak Italian and Rumanian armies along their overextended flanks north and south of the city. While Stalin fed enough forces into Stalingrad to tie German forces down, the Stavka planned a counteroffensive, Operation "Uranus," orchestrated by General A. M. Vasilevsky, to encircle and destroy Axis forces at Stalingrad.

The offensive phase of the battle commenced on November 19, 1942, when the forces of General N. F. Vatutin's and A. I. Eremenko's Southwestern and Stalingrad Fronts pierced Axis defenses north and south of the city and joined west of Stalingrad on November 23, encircling more than 300,000 German and Rumanian forces in the city. Offensives by the Southwestern and Stalingrad Fronts along the Chir, Don, and Aksai Rivers in December destroyed the Italian 8th Army and frustrated two German attempts to rescue their forces besieged in Stalingrad. On February 2, 1943, after Bryansk, Voronezh, Southwestern, and Southern (former Stalingrad) Front forces attacked westward from the Don River and toward Rostov, General K. K. Rokossovsky's Don Front defeated and captured Paulus's 6th Army and almost 100,000 men.

At a cost of more than one million casualties, including almost 500,000 dead, missing, or captured, during the battle the Red Army destroyed or badly damaged five Axis armies, including two German, totaling more than fifty divisions, and killed or captured more than 600,000 Axis troops. The unprecedented German defeat was a turning point indicative of eventual Red Army victory in the war.

See also: world war ii


Beevor, Antony. (1998). Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 19411943. New York: Viking

Erickson, John. (1975). The Road to Stalingrad. New York: Harper & Row.

Glantz, David M. (1995). When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

David M. Glantz

Stalingrad, Battle of

views updated Jun 11 2018

Stalingrad, Battle of a long and bitterly fought battle of the Second World War, in which the German advance into the Soviet Union was turned back at Stalingrad (now Volgograd, until 1925 Tsaritsyn) in SW Russia in 1942–3. The Germans surrendered after suffering more than 300,000 casualties.
Sword of Stalingrad given by Britain to the Soviet people in 1943 in recognition of the defence of Stalingrad; the sword, presented by Winston Churchill at the Tehran Conference, had engraved on its blade, ‘To the steelhearted citizens of Stalingrad, a gift from King George VI as a token of the homage of the British people.’

Stalingrad, Battle of

views updated May 29 2018

Stalingrad, Battle of (1942–43) Decisive conflict marking the failure of the German invasion of the Soviet Union during World War 2. The city (now Volgograd) withstood a German siege from August 1942 to February 1943, when the German 6th Army under Friedrich von Paulus, surrounded with no prospect of relief, surrendered to the Russian General Zhukov. Total casualties at Stalingrad exceeded 1.5 million.

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