Stalingrad. History The Imperative

15:05 08.02.2013 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs

History has no subjunctive mood, but the imperative mood is well known. There are events, often compressed into a short space of time, which, due to their high spirit and meaning, strongly connect the human mind and conscience with visionary interpretations. Undoubtedly, the word “STALINGRAD” fits into one of those moments in history.

However, as the academic Alexander Chubarian said, a joint Russian-German history textbook offers different versions in the reporting of this giant battle. Well, it would be worse if these points of view were in full agreement.

For Germany, the battle was not a disgrace for the German military, but it was and remains her tragedy. I will speak a "seditious thought": Hitler declared three days of mourning after the loss of the 6th Army, and it could have remained an annual national day of mourning because  the death of so many sons of the nation would be the best antidote to Nazism, and not only in this country.

For the Germans, this date will never be absent from their consciousness, but the Russian point of view will always differ in ontologism and the tragic truth about who won. But each time, regardless of the assessments, the imperative of history will rise above any private and national approaches to the great battle on the Volga.

If, any battle displayed the mysterious coming of Armageddon, it is in the form of Stalingrad.

Apparently, raising the curtain on the different points of view, the academic A. Chubarian says that for him, there is nothing new in the controversy about whether the battle of Stalingrad was a turning point in the Second World War.

As the topic is set, let us listen to the imperious steps in the history.

Let's talk about "turning" in the meaning of this battle, which "irrevocably turned" not only the historical course of the war, but also the history of Europe and humanity itself.

According to Field Marshal Paulus, the first orders for the summer offensive of 1942 had already been issued to the 6th Army in April of that year. On the eve of the event, Hitler made a speech in Poltava in which he set out his strategic vision for the campaign: "My main concept: to take the Caucasus region by thoroughly defeating the Russian forces. If I do not get the oil from Maikop and Grozny, I will have to halt the war. "

Thus, Hitler was convinced that the outcome of the campaign begun in the Volga region and the south of Russia would decide the fate of the war. However, Hitler was absolutely sure that the preponderance of his forces and the talent of his generals, as well as the fighting abilities of the German soldier, far exceeded the capacity of the Red Army. "The Russian forces were depleted in the fighting in the winter and spring. In these circumstances, it is necessary and possible to bring the war in the East to a final outcome this year, “he said.

To understand the significance of the Stalingrad epic, one needs to consider what role it played in the context of the strategy of the Third Reich and why its final ending not only changed and adjusted it, but brought down and dashed Hitler's geopolitical goals that went far beyond the 1942-1943 campaign.

In an interview with the Japanese Ambassador Oshima on January 3rd, 1942, Hitler said: "I plan to conduct no more offensive operations in the central front. My goal will be an attack on the southern front. I have decided that as soon as the weather improves, I will strike out again in the direction of the Caucasus. This direction is the most important. We need to get to the oil, to Iran and Iraq. "

These ambitious plans were formulated in April with certainty: the destruction of the enemy west of the River Don, and "to then grab the oilfields in the Caucasus and go through the Caucasian range."

The Wehrmacht generals developed appropriate operational plans: to develop a Tbilisi - Kutaisi – Sukhumi offensive line, and to connect directly with the Turkish army. By this time there were 26 Turkish divisions, collected in a fist, waiting for the Germans to break through the Soviet border.

If that happened, Turkey and Japan would agree to join the "axis." Berlin, one can say, clearly dreamed of the wealth of the Middle East.

Let us put this to one side for the moment and ask ourselves the question: which of the battles of World War II in its scope and impact could turn the ambitions of Hitler and his entourage to dust?

For all the greatness of the Battle of Kursk, the answer, of course, is negative. The Battle of Moscow, and the heroic defense of Leningrad and Sevastopol, and the opening of a Second Front in all their great contribution to the victory, could not alone defeat such far-reaching plans of the Fuhrer. Only the weight of the stone that fell on him Stalingrad could crush his ambitious plan for world domination.

Surprisingly, the strategic miscalculations of both Moscow and Berlin in the summer campaign of 1942 in their development phase almost mirror each other. In a conversation persuading the Japanese into the union, Hitler had already assured the Japanese Ambassador that the Red Army would soon be destroyed in the coming summer.

"The possibility of its salvation no longer exists ... The Bolsheviks will be thrown back so far that they could never touch the cultural soil of Europe" (here there is a striking association with the words of Napoleon on the eve of the crossing of the Russian border in 1812, when he talked about the need for Russia to be pushed back to the lifeless shores of the Arctic Ocean, excommunicated forever from European civilization).

The weakness of the Red Army was absolutely clear to Hitler. Similar illusions were appreciated by the Commander in Chief of the Red Army in his assessment of the enemy. By skillful disinformation, according to Georgi Zhukov, Stalin was led to believe that the main attack would be done not in the south but on the Central Front against Moscow. He also underestimated the strength of the enemy, which led to an underestimation of the overall situation on the southern front.

The academic Georgy Kumanev from the Russian Academy of Sciences, based on new archival documents, which he says testify to a fatal "underestimating of the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht forces and their capabilities and an overestimation of the power of the Red Army." The reason for these misconceptions lay in disputed the information about the losses that were supplied to the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate.

The scientist says that "according to the data, the German armed forces from 22 June 1941 to 1 March 1942 lost 6.5 million men, including the 5.8 million soldiers, when in fact the total loss of enemy land forces during this time amounted to slightly more than 1 million people.” This underestimation of the enemy cost the Soviet army dearly in the first days and months of the Battle of Stalingrad.

A German correspondent wrote from the event: "The Russians, who previously fought hard for every kilometer, retreated without a shot. Our progress was slowed only by destroyed bridges and air raids. When the Russian rear guards could not avoid a fight, they chose positions that enabled them to hold out until dark ... it was very unusual to go into these broad steppes, seeing no sign of the enemy. "

On the first days of the defense of Stalingrad Marshal Vasily Chuikov wrote: "Our units suffered heavy losses and retreated - it does not mean that people are pulling back under orders, in an organized manner, from one line to another. This means that our soldiers (not even in units) crawled out from under the German tanks, more often wounded, to the next line, where they were received, combined into a new unit, supplied mainly with ammunition and again thrown back into the battle. "

Reading the documents of the time one is involuntarily reminded of Tolstoy's novel "War and Peace", where the story goes its own way, regardless of the will of the powerful leaders, who concentrated in themselves an enormous, almost complete control. None of the parties considered the part of the front in the Volga steppes of the Stalingrad area as being the main, decisive front, able to hold down a huge number of all kinds of weapons and troops.

At a meeting in Vinnitsa on September 12th, 1942, Hitler warned Paulus and the other generals: "The resistance of Stalingrad should be assessed as only being of local value. They (the Russians) can no longer respond in a broad strategic way which could be dangerous to us ... We must take care that we take the city in our hands, and not let it devour our focus for a long time. "

However, despite these warnings Stalingrad turned into a "black hole", drawing in the finest divisions of the Wehrmacht, one by one.

Meanwhile, Stalin, excluding the possibility of a German offensive in the south, weakened it more and more, convinced that Hitler’s main forces would be cast against Moscow.

As a consequence, according to Western historians, the Germans had almost a threefold superiority in men and artillery, six times more tanks, and the Luftwaffe dominated the skies. It was only at a meeting on September 13th that Zhukov and Vasilevsky persuaded Stalin of the opportunities for a decisive counter offensive at Stalingrad, giving access to the flanks of Paulus group.

Stalin continued to doubt. Still, he granted permission for the development of the operation, prohibiting it being reported, even to members of the Politburo of the Central Committee and the State Committee of Defense.

These plans and designs were destined to come to fruition through sweat, blood and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people during the autumn-winter campaign, from November 19th to February 2nd. On February 2nd at 14.oo hours, a lone German reconnaissance aircraft flew over the hushed remains of a destroyed Stalingrad. He sent a short radio message: "There is no sign of battle in Stalingrad."

The irrevocability of the subsequent course of the war, for any reasonable thinking person, let alone historians, is of course, not only in terms of the military and material losses.

In no other single battle did the Wehrmacht lose 1.5 million officers and men, in other words, a quarter of all German troops involved in the entire extent of the Eastern Front. The number of prisoners of war, according to Soviet data, exceeded 154 thousand men, according to the Germans - 113,000.

Giving the rank of Field Marshal to Paulus, Hitler said to General Jodl: "In military history there has never been a documented case of the capture of a German Field Marshal." On the same day, January 31st, Paulus was captured along with his staff.
This "never before" in the context of the Battle of Stalingrad goes on. According to the German generals, defeat at the hands of the enemy had never before plunged the German people into such a nightmare. In the words of Lieutenant General Siegfried Westphal,"never in the history of Germany has there been such a case of so terrible a loss of so many troops."
The academic Georgy Kumanev quoted General Buttlar, who was clearly aware of the irrevocability of the war after Stalingrad: "Germany not only lost the battle and lost a battle-tested army. It lost the glory acquired at the beginning of the war and which had already started to fade in the Battle of Moscow in the winter of 1941. It was a loss that in the very near future was to have an extremely negative impact on the entire course of the war ... "
One Berlin diplomat testified that the crisis affected all sectors of German society, "not only the leadership and the ruling regime, but also the whole of Germany. It is symbolized by one word - "Stalingrad".
Stalingrad shattered Berlin’s plan for Japan and Turkey joining the war on their side and soon after Italy broke the alliance with the Third Reich. Finally, Stalingrad, destroyed all the geopolitical plans of Hitler, and paved the way for the opening of the Second Front.

The landing of the Allies in Normandy  was specifically conditional  on the understanding that the Germans at that time should have a reserve of no more than 12 mobile divisions, and that they would not be able to transfer more than 15 combat-ready divisions from the Eastern front. Stalingrad bled the Wehrmacht not only quantitatively but also qualitatively, and in fact, removed such fears in Washington and London.
The most insightful and very different of people, such as the great Jewish actor Charlie Chaplin and the former Wehrmacht general, and Nazi Hans Doerr, correctly sensed that the historical significance of Stalingrad went beyond the war itself.
The latter wrote: "Outside of Poltava, Russia won the right to be called a great European power. Stalingrad was the beginning of its transformation into one of the two great world powers. “For his part, Charlie Chaplin enthusiastically said: "Russians, you have won the admiration of the world. Russians, the future is yours. "
From the heights of the historical significance of the Battle of Stalingrad to the world let us come down to earth. People who passed the test of fire just felt "supramundane" with a great sense of what had happened.
The historian Kumanev wrote:"As for the front-line veterans, there are no atheists in war ... the hearts of so many defenders on the Volga burned with appeals to God."
From the films of yesteryears, often can be heard during an attack the calls: "For the Motherland! For Stalin, " but just as much another can be heard:" Save us and protect us! "... And afterwards the first candle was lit (in one of the intact churches) by the commander of the 62nd Army Vasily Chuikov, “the trench General, "as he was affectionately called by the soldiers of this army.
According to the testimony of the daughter of Marshal Zhukov and Archimandrite John (Krestiankin), Georgi Zhukov "always carried with him an Icon of the Mother of God from Kazan during battle, and Marshal B. M. Shaposhnikov carried an Icon of Saint Nicholas in his breast pocket during the war."
Kumanev appropriately quotes the philosopher Ivan Ilyin, "Patriotism can live and will live only in the spirit, for which there is something sacred about the land, which is a living experience tested objectively and with absolute sacred dignity – it is in the shrines of the people." Stalingrad is not only a Russian achievement, but also an achievement in world history. 


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