OK Economics ECON. SYSTEMS HISTORY FSU RUSSIA  Full Graphics

 

The Battle
of Stalingrad
    
by Ryo Shimizu

 

 

In the history of WWII, the Battle of Stalingrad was one of the most important strategic turning points of the war, when the German advance into the Soviet territory was halted by the severe resistance of the Red Army.  Although Hitlerís army was initially better trained and equipped than the Russians, they were unaware of the bitterly cold winter of 1942 that they had to confront, a situation they were not trained and equipped for.  With the victory of the Soviets, this event also became a symbol of senseless loss of human life by virtue of political illness for both Russia and Germany.

 

Hitler ordered the offensive as he knew that the Caucasus area in southern Russia was filled with natural resources, which was desperately needed in Germany in order to keep its army intact. Deposits in and around the Caspian Sea are thought to contain about 200 billion barrels of oil-
 almost equal to the size of the entire Iranian oil reserve, in addition to the rich natural gas of about seven trillion cubic meters Ėthe amount equal to U.S. and Mexico combined- that can be found in the same region.  Hence, Hitlerís campaign to successfully occupy this region was of vital importance, as Germanyís oil reserve continued to decrease in the course of war. 

 

By the end of August 1942, the German Fourth and Sixth Army, which was also accompanied by Italian and Hungarian forces, with roughly 330,000 manpower was approaching the strategically situated city of Stalingrad on the Volga, while they threatened the railway and river connections to the Caucasus. 

Especially the Sixth Army, led by General Friedrich von Paulus, was extremely powerful, and continued to successfully penetrate into the city.  More than 200,000 German soldiers advanced from the south towards Stalingrad as they broke through the Russian Fronts.  Shortly after, the Sixth Army managed to enter the city from the west.  

 

Meanwhile, Stalin had greater concerns about Moscow, and kept most of the troops around the city to counteract upon Hitlerís army in case of an invasion.

 However, his decision was threateningly inconvenient for the defense of Stalingrad, where Russian soldiers were rather poorly equipped compared to the Germans. 

 Eventually Stalin decides to send in troops when he finally realized the danger of the situation and what might be the potential consequence of a German predominance in that area.

 

While General Vasily Chuykov was taking up German offensive too powerful to hold up, General Vasilevski and Marshall Zhukov were ordered to move in Stalingrad and support the Red Army.  During the months October and November, fighting continued severely in the city in terms of acquiring rather small distances, similar to the trench warfare in WWI, as the Germans attempted to obtain buildings and industrial territory.  However, because of the severe resistance, the battle seemed prolonged, enough for the winter to set in on the side of the Red Army.

 

With temperatures decreasing to extremes, the German Army was by far unprepared for such weather conditions, since most came in with light equipment needed for the warmer seasons. Having taken over the advantage, the Russian High Commanders initiated a massive counteroffensive known as Operation Uranus, led by General Zhukov and General Vasilevsky. 

  They launched heavy attacks upon German troops outside of Stalingrad, and managed to break through the Hungarian, Italian and Romanian frontline from the southwest of Stalingrad, resulting as a successful encirclement of the remaining German Sixth Army and the Fourth Panzer Division in Stalingrad itself. 

 

Numerous attempts were made to relief the Sixth Army and the Fourth Panzer Division from outside, though they failed continuously.  With supplies falling dangerously short, General Von Paulus was ordered by Hitler to take stand and fight to the bitter end, while retreat was unacceptable for the F>hrer. 

 In addition, the German pocket was impossible to break through, since Russian manpower kept increasing on daily basis. 

 

The primary issue that concerned the Germans by far the most was the supply of food and ammunition.  Statistics confirm that the Stalingrad-Airlift, that met the necessary transportation of food and ammunition to the Sixth Army and the Fourth Panzer Division in the beginning of the battle, dropped to less than a half of the minimum required supply to the surrounded soldiers.  Occasionally, this shortage in food was reduced by slaughtering horses, and so forth.  Ammunition was another concern, since the Red Army constantly fired upon the Germans, forcing them to use their precious ammunition to fight back.   

 

However, as it became obvious that offering resistance to the Red Army meant that it was a matter of time for they would be annihilated themselves, Paulus reached a conclusion that surrendering was the best decision.  Roughly 91,000 Germans were taken prisoner on the last day of January, 1943, all that remained from the 330,000 soldiers, of which only 6000 returned home.  147,000 others died in the battle, starved or froze to death. 

 On the side of the Soviets, the number of casualties was even worse; almost half a million people lost their lives.

 

The Battle of Stalingrad was a turning point, because the Russian victory was the beginning of the end of Hitlerís campaign in the east, an obsessive drive for additional Lebensraum.  More important, it was the beginning of the gradual Russian counteroffensive to the west, that started to drive the Germans back to their original starting point: Berlin.  By the end of 1943, more than two-thirds of the German occupied Soviet territory was recovered by the advancing Red Army.  Eventually, the Soviets succeeded in defeating the entire German Army in the Eastern Front, which would have failed if the Nazis had reached the Caucasus and controlled the Caspian oil wells

 

 

 

 

 

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