Edited by Jim Gerber Happy New Year and welcome to the Dr. Harold C. Deutsch World War Two History Roundtable. Tonight we welcome back author and historian, Dennis Showalter. His topic is: The Battle of Stalingrad; Turning the Tide on the Russian Front. The Battle of Stalingrad The battle of Stalingrad is considered to be the most important turning point of the war in the European Theater and possibly of WW II. It is considered to be the bloodiest battle in human history, with more combined casualties suffered than any battle before or since. The battle was marked by brutality and disregard for military and civilian casualties on both sides. The battle includes the German siege of the southern Russian city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd), the battle inside the city, and the Soviet counter-offensive which eventually trapped and destroyed the German Sixth Army and other Axis forces around the city. The battle raged for 199 days. Total casualties for both sides are estimated to be over two million.
Numbers of casualties are difficult to compile due to the vast scope of the battle and the fact the Soviet government didn’t allow estimates to be run for fear the cost would have proven too high. In its initial phases, the Germans inflicted heavy casualties on Soviet formations; however, the Soviet counter strike cut off and annihilated the entire 6th Army (which was exceptionally strong) and parts of the 4th Panzer Army. Various scholars have estimated the Axis suffered 850,000 casualties of all types among all branches of the German armed forces and
its allies: 400,000 Germans, 200,000 Romanians, 130,000 Italians, 120,000 Hungarians were killed, wounded or captured. In addition, as many as 50,000 turncoat Soviets were killed or captured by the Red Army. According to archival figures, the Red Army suffered 478,741 men killed and 650,878 wounded (for a total of 1,129,619). These numbers, however, include a wide scope of operations. Also, more than 40,000 Soviet citizens died in Stalingrad and its suburbs during a single week of aerial bombing as the 6th and 4th Panzer armies approached the city; the total number of citizens killed in the regions outside of the city is unknown. The estimate of 2 million Axis and Soviet casualties is very plausible. The 850,000 casualties suffered by the Axis forces were about ¼ of their strength on the Eastern Front plus huge amounts of equipment and supplies. The Axis forces were never able to recover from this loss and were eventually forced into a long retreat out of Eastern Europe. For the Soviets, who also suffered great losses during the battle, the victory at Stalingrad marked the start of the liberation of the Soviet Union leading to eventual victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. Besides being a turning point in the war, Stalingrad was also revealing in terms of the discipline and determination of both the German Wehrmacht and the Soviet Red Army. The Soviets first defended the city against a fierce German onslaught. So great were Soviet losses that at points in time, the life expectancy of a newly arrived soldier was less than a day, yet discipline was maintained. Many soldiers sacrificed themselves instead of partaking in one of two activities considered undesirable: retreating or being captured. Their sacrifice is immortalized by a soldier of General Rodimstev about to die who scratched on the wall of the main railroad station “Rodimstev’s Guardsmen fought and died here for their Motherland.” On the other side, the German Army showed remarkable discipline after being surrounded. It was the first time it had operated under adverse conditions of such scale. Short of food and clothing, during the latter part of the siege, many German soldiers literally starved or froze to death. Yet discipline and obedience to authority prevailed, until finally at the very end when resistance no longer served any useful purpose, to save the lives of his remaining men, Field Marshall Friedrich Paulus disobeyed Hitler and surrendered. The capture of Stalingrad was important to Hitler for several reasons. It was a major city on the banks of the River Volga (a vital transport route between the Caspian Sea and northern Russia) and its capture would secure the left flank of the German armies as they advanced into the Caucasus. Finally, the fact that the city bore the name of Hitler’s nemesis, Joseph Stalin, would make the city’s capture an ideological and propaganda coup. It is believed that Stalin also had an ideological and propaganda interest in defending the city which bore his name, but the fact remains that Stalin was doing the best he could given the time and resources. Some believe the siege of Leningrad lasted too long due to his diversion of forces from Leningrad to Stalingrad. During the Russian Civil War he played a prominent role in the Red defense of the city, then known as Tsaritsyn, from White forces. Also, the Red Army, at this stage of the war, was less capable of highly mobile operations than the German Army. The prospect of combat inside a large urban area, which would be dominated by infantry and artillery, maximized the Red Army’s advantages
against the Germans.
Further Reading on Tonight’s Topic: Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege
By Anthony Beevor
New York, New York 1998 The Road To Stalingrad: Stalin’s War With Germany, Vol. 1