Sturminfanteriegeschutz 33B (StuIG) at Stalingrad
A Technological Approach to the Problem of Urban Warfare
by Larry Parker
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:
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.
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
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
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. 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.
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?
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.
Urban terrain, perhaps more so than dense jungle, rugged mountains or heavy
forest, tends to negate any advantage in numbers, war fighting doctrine or
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.
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.
. 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.
. 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:
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.