80 years ago on 02 February 1943, Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus commander for Nazi Germany's Stalingrad front surrendered to the Soviet Red Army along with the remaining 91,000 of the 1 011 500 German soldiers stationed on the Stalingrad front. This surrender was Hitler’s first defeat where the days of the Nazis' plight began. The surrender of the Nazis at the Stalingrad proved to be the milestone of the Second World War.
Hitler deployed the military campaign on three different fronts. The Nazi army advanced forward by targeting Leningrad in the north, focusing Moscow in the middle and grabbing the fertile land of Ukraine in the south which would have also led to the capture of Kiev, Odessa, Crimea and the oil rich areas in the South Caucasus and thereby reaching Baku. Like other European countries including France, as Hitler thought, the Soviet Union did not surrender within the three months that the Germans had estimated. The Nazis had definitely reached the gates of Leningrad, managed to reach fifty miles above Moscow, and also captured Kiev, Odessa. and Sevastopol. The Soviets suffered the destruction of the Baltic Fleet and the Black Sea Fleet of their Navy, a quarter of their Air Force fighter planes were lost, and 600,000 Red Army soldiers were either killed or made prisoners of war. Millions of ordinary Soviet people had to die. Yet the Soviet Union did not kneel.
On April 13, 1941, the Soviet Union signed a neutrality treaty with Japan (Molotov-Matsuoka Pact) and resolved the two-year-long conflict with Japan, and deployed its experienced commanders and soldiers in the eastern front to the western front. Nature also supported the Soviets. In the same year, it started to snow much earlier than the previous years. Historians say that the winter of 1942 and 1943 was the harshest of the 20th century in Europe. When the Nazis approached Moscow, Stalin had already thought of moving the capital to Yekaterinburg on the Asian side of the Ural Mountains. All arms and ammunition factories along with machinery industries were also shifted to the Asian side.
The German army was not expecting the winter weather of Russia. Nor did they take enough supplies to Russia to cope with the weather, as they took provisions accordingly in the belief that Russia would be overrun by September before the onset of winter. They could not guess the real capability of the Russian military. The landmass of the Soviet Union was so huge that with a slight misstep, the whole plan was equally likely to collapse. Due to the strong resistance of the Soviets and the extremely unfavorable weather conditions, the generals of the German army who went to attack Moscow asked for permission to postpone the plan to attack Moscow until the weather improved. Thus, in 1941, although the German army penetrated within 600 miles of Soviet territory, it failed to completely defeat the Soviet Union, and remained in the status quo until the end of November.
The Nazi army stationed on the northern front was still besieging Leningrad, which was broken only in January 1944. The people of Leningrad were bravely defending their city. The army stationed on the southern front, winning significantly, had completely captured Ukraine and then from there subjugating the Southern Caucasus region had reached Baku. The Nazi army, which was preparing to withdraw from Azerbaijan, was ordered to move from Berlin to Stalingrad.
Stalingrad, the largest industrial city in the Volga region of the Soviet Union, a major transit point to Central Russia, a supply route for oil and other commodities to the Caspian Sea and the South Caucasus region, and associated with Stalin's name, was an important city and thus, the German High Command was of the opinion that the city should not be abandoned. Therefore, the Sixth Division of Infantry under the leadership of Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus returning from Azerbaijan was ordered to attack Stalingrad with the Fourth Division of Panzer Army and General Paulus attacked Stalingrad on August 13, 1942 to comply with Hitler's order. Rather than the strategic importance of the city for Hitler, the main objective was to demolish Stalin in the eyes of the Soviet people by destroying the city due to the name associated with the Soviet leader.
The Sixth Infantry Division had limited success at first. But in the meantime Hitler intervened and ordered the Fourth Division of Panzer Army to support another group advancing south. The First Division of the Panzer Army and the Fourth Panzer Army in the other group had to use the same road route. A heavy traffic jam started to appear. It took the German army a whole week to solve the problem. Again, Hitler ordered the 4th Panzer Army to return to Stalingrad. Thus, Hitler's own unstable mood and unnecessary frequent interference with the troops on the battlefield were creating problems for the German army to advance. Whatsoever, ninety percent of the city was captured by the beginning of November by the German army.
But, the Soviets launched Operation Uranus on 19 November 1942. Under this operation, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who came to take over the front of Stalingrad towards the end of August and had earlier defeated the Japanese in the battlefield of Khalkhalin, Mongolia, re-implemented the method adopted in Mongolia. The Red Army did everything to attack the weakest link of the enemy army that had entered the city and began a large-scale attack on the Italian, Romanian and Hungarian forces guarding the German army from the outside.
Marshal Zhukov ordered his subordinate field commanders, Romanenko from the north and Chuikov, Chistyakov and Galinin from the south, to encircle the Nazis. The two groups met at a place called Kalach, east of Stalingrad, on 23 November, where other army divisions brought from Siberia also joined. Now Marshal Zhukov had slightly less manpower (1 million) than the Nazis but more artillery guns and tanks than them. Air power was more with the Nazis.
Still, General Paulus could break the siege in such a situation, but with the assurance of sending more help from Hitler, he was ordered not to break the siege, but to hold his position with the enemy in Stalingrad.
For the second time on January 8, 1943, Soviet General Konstantin Rokossovsky offered Nazis to surrender by ending the war. On the terms of surrender, they would get normal rations, treatment for the wounded, they could take their military badges as well as their personal belongings and they would be allowed to go to any country they wanted after the end of the war. General Paulus asked for permission from Hitler. But as usual Hitler replied that he would fight "until the last man and the last bullet". The Soviets resisted the two other teams that came to support Paulus's team and did not let them reach their destination. After recapturing the last airfield used by the Nazis through a fierce counterattack, the Soviets once again offered Germans to surrender on January 25.
General Paulus radioed Hitler asking for permission to accept the Soviet offer, saying that it was difficult for him to command as munitions, warm clothes and food had run out and 18,000 German soldiers were wounded and needed immediate treatment. Hitler gave the order to commit suicide but not to surrender. On January 30, General Paulus told Hitler that the lives of the Germans were only for a few hours. But Hitler promoted Paulus to Field Marshall on the radio to cheer him up, but again did not allow him to surrender.
Finally, on the morning of January 31st, he surrendered his arms to Soviet General Vasily Chuikov, saying, "Why should I kill myself for that Bohemian corporal?" After he surrendered his weapons to the Soviet general, the remaining 91,000 German soldiers became Soviet prisoners of war. The formal surrender took place two days later, on 2 February 1943, and Stalingrad returned into the hands of the Soviets at the end of the most terrible battle in history. This is why it is also called the turning point of World War II.
It has been mentioned above that the front of Stalingrad was equally important for both sides. But it was more a question of life and death for the Soviet Union than for Germany, because Nazi Germany was an invading power and was imposing war on other nations. So, if we leave aside the loss of soldiers and war materials on the battlefield, Nazi Germany would not be affected by all the loss of wealth and people there. If the war was won, it would have been a bumper for Germany. But for the Soviet Union, if the war had been lost, unimaginable results would have come. If the Nazis would start marching on the entire European territory of the Soviet Union all the agricultural land, industries and mills and natural resources of the Soviet Union on the European side would have to be lost. Old Russian art, literature and culture would have been tarnished by the Nazis. The Nazis would have either exterminated all the Soviet citizens of the Slavic race, or made them slaves for sure. This was the declared policy of the Nazis. The People’s sovereignty based on the new ideology would die in a short life. So, the Soviets took this front as life and death and fought bravely to protect the motherland.
The fighting was so fierce that it was fought from house to house, from room to room, in the basement of the house, on the street, in the factory, in the park, and even in the sewers. In the same house, when one side occupied the living room, the fight was going on in the kitchen and bedroom. In some cases, there was even fist fighting between Nazi and Soviet soldiers in this battle.
The over 102 meter high mound of the famous park called Mamayev Kurgan was completely flattened due to the pressure of heavy military boots and the movement of thousands of soldiers and the whole area was completely covered with pieces of metal. No vegetation grew there for years. The ownership of railway station number 1, stationed below that, was changed 14 times in 6 hours.
Snipers were used from both sides. Famous Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev alone killed 225 enemies. Factory workers, school and college students, farmers, housewives and children all participated in the war in some form. Housewives and children, they also dug trenches. Students made anti-tank machine guns. A group of untrained girls destroyed 37 German tanks. Workers made working tanks from a tractor factory. There are also courageous examples of Soviet nurses carrying the wounded from the battlefield and treating them by themselves. Soviet snipers included women too. At least three entire air regiments were of women only. Soviet Citizens were requested not to leave cities to encourage the Red Army. British historian Antony Beevor has opposed such a strict policy of the Soviet government. On the other hand, while praising the unique courage of the Soviet army, he has also mentioned that terror alone does not act as a factor to show such a sense of sacrifice. Another historian Richard Overy accepted that hatred of the enemy, rather than the harshness of the Soviet army, was the main motivational factor for such massive unity. After interviewing thousands of war veterans, Catherine Merridale concluded that their response was very enthusiastic and joyful. She cites the example of a soldier, Lev Lvovich, who said, “This is a necessary and important step and we would have been ruined if we had not done it, but now we breathe a sigh of relief”.
Thus, history tells us that the patriotic sacrifice of the Soviet people saved that country from annihilation. From that moment, the widespread offensive of the Soviet army began, which led to the complete defeat of Fascist Germany.
- The New York Times (2 Feb 2012)
- The Telegraph (3 Feb 2016)
- Sputnik (1 Feb 2016)
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