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From Small Causes, Great Events Part 2
Nomonhan, 1939 book review
The Fate of the Kido Butai
From Small Causes, Great Events Part 1
Urban Warfare Series
  StuIG at Stalingrad
  "A Time of Testing": Battle for Hue
  Battle of Mogadishu
Only the Admirals were Happy
What if?
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
For Want of a Nail
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Pearl Harbor and Midway
Amphibious Assaults in WWII
Sealion vs. Overlord

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The Sturminfanteriegeschutz 33B (StuIG) at Stalingrad
The Sturminfanteriegeschutz 33B (StuIG) at Stalingrad
A Technological Approach to the Problem of Urban Warfare
by Larry Parker 

Introduction

Urban Warfare has been part of the human condition since the advent of cities and organized conflict. Cities form the political and economic center of gravity of nations. They are one of the preferred operating areas for the weaker party in any conflict in order to negate numerical superiority or technological advantage. Consequently, while there are many good reasons to avoid urban warfare tactically, there are equally compelling strategic realities that make urban warfare necessary. Since urban warfare is unavoidable at times, the question becomes how to conduct urban campaigns effectively. At Stalingrad Nazi Germany sought a technological solution to the problem of urban warfare. This paper will examine the StuIG 33B within the larger context of the Russian Campaign. Given the Wehrmacht's technological superiority and its tactical success in 1942 why was the overall campaign a strategic failure? What lessons learned can we apply to today's urban conflicts?

Development of the StuIG 33B

The combined arms doctrine dubbed "Blitzkrieg" by an awed western press called for coordinated operations by Panzer, motorized infantry, artillery and tactical air forces to quickly breach enemy lines, exploit penetrations and sustain rapid movement. Speed was the essence of Blitzkrieg. Shock value (speed plus firepower) counted far more than enemy numbers or weight of shell. To stop, to allow the enemy time to assess and regroup invited disaster. To keep their Panzer divisions moving, to keep the enemy off balance, strong points, according to doctrine, must be bypassed or reduced quickly. The JU87 STUKA performed yeoman service in that capacity as ‘flying artillery' but air support has its limitations. From the earliest days of World War II the Germans recognized the need for mobile heavy artillery support to replace their horse drawn units which could not keep pace with the Panzers and motorized infantry. As an interim measure 15-cm guns were mounted on PanzerKampfwagen I (PzKpfw I), PzKpfw II, Czech PzKpfw 38 (t) and even captured French ‘Tracteur Blinde' 37L hulls. These awkward, crude, open topped, often open backed vehicles quickly proved their worth leading to development of the StuIG 33B.

Based on the proven Pz Kpfw III chassis and incorporating lessons learned from its predecessors, the StuIG 33B featured a significantly lowered silhouette and a fully enclosed fighting compartment. Formed into batteries, assault gun units were manned by men of and controlled by the artillery rather than the Panzer branch of the army. Given their artillery heritage Sturmgeschutz units emphasized accurate gunnery. Installation of an artillery type sight with twice the magnification of standard panzer sights aided in this goal. With its ability to reduce a building to rubble with two or three well placed shots and increased crew protection these weapons soon found a new role during the bitter struggle for Stalingrad.

Brief Overview of the Stalingrad Campaign

Like Hitler in the opening campaigns of Barbarossa, Stalin attempted too much and pushed his armies too far during the 41 / 42 – winter / spring counter offensive. Exhausted, both combatants used the infamous Russian Rasputitsa (literally ‘time of no roads' or muddy season) to regroup for the coming summer campaign. The Germans recovered first. Learning nothing from his mistakes in 1941, Hitler again split his armies between three separate objectives organized and tasked as follows:

  • Army Group A (List) consisting of 17th Army (Ruoff) and 1st Panzer Army (Kleist). After taking Rostov, Army Group A would drive into the Caucasus capturing the oil fields at Maykop. At Hitler's direction this already ambitious objective was expanded to encompass the entire Caucasus on a line from Batumi to Baku.
  • Army Group B (Bock) consisting of 2nd Army (Weichs), 4th Panzer Army (Hoth) and 6th Army (Paulus). 2nd Army was ordered to take Voronezh to anchor the Southern front. 6th Army was assigned to clear the Donets Corridor. 4th Panzer Army would clear the Don River driving on Stalingrad. Together they would form a blocking force along the Don anchored between Voronezh and Stalingrad. Under Hitler's grandiose revision their roles were reversed. 4th Panzer would clear the Donets Corridor while 6th Army followed the Don River with Stalingrad its goal.
  • Lastly, Hitler ordered Army Group North, reinforced by 11th Army and its huge siege train fresh from their triumph at Sevastopol, to complete the investment of Leningrad.
Leningrad could have been taken by coup de main in July 1941. Ominously for the Wehrmacht, Leningrad instead endured 900 days of brutal privation and almost four million casualties but never fell. Leningrad was an omen Hitler chose to ignore in 1942 for in the south Russian armies disintegrated before the German onslaught. The panzers rolled almost unopposed across the endless steppes. Accompanying infantry trudged behind in their dust. Hoth's 4th Panzer Army rapidly approached Morozovsk. Only the remnants of a few shattered units stood between 4th Panzer and the open country of the Kalmyk Steppe. At this point Stalingrad was an open city. On 17 July, Hitler intervened. Repeating his mistake at Kiev in 1941, Hitler diverted Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, which could have taken Stalingrad on the run in late July or early August, to assist Kleist's 1st Panzer Army in crossing the Don River at Tsirilyansky. 6th Army continued to push toward Stalingrad but without 4th Panzer its progress was slow. With his soldiers within ninety miles of the Caspian Sea and the Soviet Trans-Caucasus Front near collapse, Hitler then ordered 4th Panzer to resume its drive on the Volga. It would now assist 6th Army by attacking Stalingrad from the South. In the interim the Soviets had regrouped and begun to organize its defense. Stalin determined his namesake should not fall. He might not survive such a blow to his prestige. Recognizing its political significance, Hitler became equally obsessed with its capture. As with Moscow the previous winter, once again political and economic factors overruled military reason. Stalingrad must fall! Convinced the Soviets were near collapse Hitler assigned Rumanian, Hungarian and Italian armies to guard the long Axis flank along the Don River to appease concerns about Soviet counter strikes. Lacking training, experience and, most critically, effective anti-tank guns; this strategic deployment was an invitation to disaster.

As Army Group B converged on Stalingrad, Army Group A continued to push into the Caucasus. The oil fields of Maykop fell to the Germans but they gained not one liter of precious fuel. Production and storage equipment were destroyed by the retreating Soviets. Transportation routes now exceeded 1500 miles in length. Harried Quartermasters resorted to using camels to transport fuel, rations, ammunition and parts. Supply lines stretched to the breaking point, the panzers literally ran out of gas well before Grozny. Batumi and Baku were out of the question, chimeras in Hitler's imagination. A single division maintained tenuous contact between the two widely separated Army Groups.

As 6th Army and 4th Panzer converged on Stalingrad they lost room for tactical maneuver. Flanking attacks became frontal assaults. Voluntarily surrendering their greatest asset, mobility, the Germans played into the Russians greatest strength, static defense. Completely outclassed in open warfare, the Soviet soldier would prove formidable in the ruins of Stalingrad. Repeated bombing by Luftflotte Four demolished the city. Where they had intended to strike fear however, the Germans had sown resolve. The rubble created ready made defensive positions and tank traps. The Russian soldiers fought doggedly for every foot of ground, every room, every building. Progress, which had been measured in miles, was now measured in yards. To negate German air and artillery superiority the Soviet commander, Chuikov, ordered his men to "hug the enemy." In close quarters the Stukas and 88's could not strike the Soviets without killing their own as well. Even now, various options were still open to the Germans. They could cross the Volga north and south of Stalingrad encircling the city, mask that portion of the line or begin a siege. Frustrated with the reduced pace, blinded by political concerns to other possibilities, Hitler ordered a direct assault.

For months the Germans hammered relentlessly at Stalingrad. The Russians fought back with equal ferocity. The city became an enormous abattoir, devouring men and machines on a scale not seen since Verdun. Realizing the Germans were reaching the end of their tether and sensing an opportunity to strike back STAVKA kept reinforcement of Stalingrad to a minimum, barely replacing casualties. 6th Army, at Hitler's insistence, was drawn further and further into a trap. Meanwhile, 27 Soviet infantry divisions and 19 armored brigades assembled north and south of the city totaling one million men, 13,500 artillery pieces 900 tanks and 1,100 aircraft. Code-named Operation Uranus, its goal was nothing less than the annihilation of 6th Army followed by the destruction of Army Group South and the collapse of the southern front.

In their rush down the Donets Basin Army Group A left numerous Russian bridgeheads on the west bank of the Don River. The Axis Allies ordered to hold 6th Army's flanks were not strong enough to seal, much less eliminate these breaches in the line. Believing the Russians were on the verge of total collapse, repeated warnings by the Rumanians regarding a Soviet buildup were ignored. 0n 19 November the Russians poured through these points. The Rumanians, lacking effective anti-tank guns were brushed aside. On 20 November the Soviets broke through south of Stalingrad. Three days later the two wings met at Kalach. 6th Army and parts of 4th Panzer were trapped. An immediate break out was called for. Predictably, Hitler ordered his men to stand fast. General Paulus, lacking the moral courage to disobey the Fuhrer, complied. From 19 November until the surrender of 6th Army on 02 February 1943, these two mortal enemies engaged in arguably the most brutal, most savage battle, fought under the most appalling conditions, ever recorded. Always seeking personal glory, Goering recklessly promised 6th Army 300 tons of supplies per day by air. On its best day the Luftwaffe delivered 180 tons. It averaged only 60 tons per day, destroying the Luftwaffe air transport arm in the process. As 6th Army slowly starved, the Russian soldiers took their revenge. After enduring the summer and fall months under German guns they took a cruel, but understandable, delight in driving the enemy out of his prepared positions into the open during the winter. With temperatures reaching well below zero, the ground frozen solid and no way to dig in, it was a death sentence.

Recalled from Leningrad, Field Marshal Manstein was given Army Group Don and ordered to open a supply corridor to relieve 6th Army. With the Allied landings in North Africa on 08 November however, reserves were scarce. Promised reinforcements were delayed or diverted. Manstein assembled what forces he could and on 12 December launched ‘Winter Storm' against now fully prepared and reinforced Soviet forces. Against incredible odds, Panzer troops fought to within twenty miles of the beleaguered 6th Army. Paulus again refused to disobey his Fuhrer and break out. In its weakened condition it is debatable whether 6th Army could have done so. On 23 December, Manstein broke off his rescue attempt. Smashing through the Italian army the Soviets had launched Operation Saturn on 16 December. If they were to reach Rostov, not only 6th Army but also the remainder of Army Group B as well as Army Group A would be lost. Indeed, collapse of the entire Southern Front threatened. In a miraculous reversal of fortune, Manstein's ability, superior tactical skill and the tenacity of the German soldaten prevailed and the front stabilized.

Employment of the StuIG 33B at Stalingrad

As 6th Army drove deeper into Stalingrad maneuver became impossible and the Wehrmacht's vaunted Blitzkrieg tactics devolved into a vicious house to house, hand to hand struggle requiring brute force rather than finesse. A special mobile assault vehicle was needed engage the enemy at point-blank range with high accuracy. Because German and Soviet soldiers sometimes occupied different floors of the same building, fought in close proximity only a few yards away in cellars or behind the debris of smashed walls absolute precision was required. The StuIG 33B with its 15cm (5.91-inch) heavy infantry gun, artillery sights and fully enclosed fighting compartment provided a nearly optimal solution.

On 20 September 1942 the Waffenamt (WaA) or German Ordnance Department ordered twelve self-propelled artillery vehicles mounting a 15cm L/11 howitzer for immediate production. Based on the StuG III Ausf E and F/8 chassis they were officially designated the StuIG 33B. Intended to aid in the close-quarter combat of Stalingrad the 15cm weapon was capable of demolishing a house with two or three rounds. The first twelve were assigned to Sturmgeschutz Abteilung 177 and 244 and fought with distinction through some of the worst fighting on the Volga.[1] Oberwachtmeister Karl Pfreudtner (Zug Commander, 2nd Batterie, 244th Sturmgeschutz Abteilung, 10 Sep 42), Wachtmeister Josef Galle (Zug Commander, 3rd Batterie, 244th Sturmgeschutz Abteilung, 15 Jan 43), Major Paul Josef Max Franziskus Gloger (Abteilung Commander, 244th Sturmgeschutz Abteilung, 25 Jan 43) and Oberwachtmeister Eduard Muller-Reinders (Zug Commander, 2nd Batterie, 244th Sturmgeschutz Abteilung, 25 Jan 43) earned four of the 122 Knights Crosses awarded during the Stalingrad campaign. This is a significant proportion of the total presented and striking testimony to their involvement in the fighting considering the small size of the unit.

Lessons Learned

In retrospect it seems obvious that the German strategic plan for 1942 was seriously flawed in many respects:

  • The Germans grossly underestimated Soviet capacity for replacement of men and production of material.
  • Ignoring the correlation of time, distance and numbers Hitler foolishly allowed an ambitious plan to grow into a grandiose plan based on faulty intelligence, utilizing inadequate forces with no reserve.
  • In attacking Stalingrad frontally Hitler surrendered the Wehrmacht's greatest strength, mobility, to the Red Army's greatest strength, static defense.

Wars are seldom, if ever, fought on purely military terms however. Political objectives frequently trump operational and tactical considerations. Once committed to the Stalingrad assault the Wehrmacht quickly revived the Hutier or Stoss Truppen infantry tactics of 1918 forming ten man teams armed with a light machine gun, a light mortar, a flame thrower and automatic weapons. They also brought to bear their considerable technical expertise in the form of the StuIG 33B. The combination of these tactical and technical elements proved quite potent. Since collateral damage was not a consideration the German Army enjoyed initial success conquering all but a narrow sliver of land on the east bank of the Volga prior to the Soviet counterattack.

Why then did the Germans ultimately fail, losing all of 6th Army and very nearly the remainder of Army Group South in the process?

  • Urban terrain, perhaps more so than dense jungle, rugged mountains or heavy forest, tends to negate any advantage in numbers, war fighting doctrine or technical superiority.
  • The urban environment channelizes movement and is replete with ambush points and defensive bastions.
  • Heavy bombardment, as the Allies would discover at Monte Casino, merely creates additional barriers and easily defensible strong points.[2]
Consequently, urban warfare is more a contest of will and resources than tactics and technology. In such a conflict military considerations are easily overwhelmed by political objectives. Ultimately Hitler had the will but not the resources to win a battle of attrition with an equally determined, equally ruthless Soviet colossus. At Hue twenty-five years later the United States possessed the resources but, in spite of tactical victory, lost its political will. In Mogadishu fifty years after the tattered remnants of 6th Army marched into captivity the United States again had the resources but again in spite of tactical victory, lost its political will.

Conclusion

As a consequence of the Cold War and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union the world is flooded with conventional weapons. As a result the third world countries where today's conflicts are fought are extensively urbanized, heavily armed camps. In places like Baghdad and Port au Prince war material is readily available to our enemies. In spite of our tremendous technological advantage, superior training and doctrine, it remains to be seen whose will is most enduring in the current war on terror and future asymmetrical conflicts.

* * *

Footnotes

[1]. A second production run of twelve was assigned to the 9th Company, 201st Regiment, 23rd Panzer Division during Manstein's attempted rescue of 6th army.

[2]. The restrictive Rules of Engagement (ROE) that our forces frequently fight under further exacerbates the problem of offensive action.

* * *

Copyright © 2006 Larry Parker

Written by Larry Parker. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Larry Parker at:
lknpark2004@yahoo.com.

About the Author:
Lieutenant Commander Larry Parker, United States Navy, served as a Surface Warfare Officer, with afloat tours onboard USS De Wert (FFG-45) as Ordnance & Fire Control Officer, USS Portland (LSD-37) as First Lieutenant, and USS Butte (AE-27) as Operations Officer. Rotations ashore included Navy Reserve Center Cheyenne, Navy & Marine Corps Reserve Center Denver and Navy Reserve Readiness Command Region 16 Minneapolis. He retired in July 2000 and taught Navy Junior ROTC until June 2011. LCDR Parker holds a Bachelor's degree in English and History from the University of Kansas and a Master's degree in Military Studies - Land Warfare from American Military University. In his free time LCDR Parker pursues a lifelong passion for military history. His articles are the result of extensive research and personal experience in surface warfare, fleet logistics and amphibious operations.

Published online: 04/29/2006.
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