* (Under Construction)
Death of City
by Mike Yoder
On Russian military maps it is simply Hill 103. Mamaev Kurgan, or the Tatar
Mound, commands a view of central Stalingrad and the surrounding steppe. At
it's summit today is the largest free-standing statue in the world. Rodina -
Mother Russia - nearly 150 meters high and brandishing a sword weighing 14
tons, faces West and exhorts her sons to follow. But in 1942, the tide of
battle rolled across this hill so many times that defenders and attackers alike
lost count of the number of times that it changed hands. Mamaev Kurgan was
subjected to so much shell - fire that the shrapnel and scrap metal churned
into the soil prevented grass from growing there after the war. The entire hill
has been turned into a park and massive monuments bear witness to the tragedy
that befell the city on the Volga.
From it's humble origins as the town of Tsaritsyn, Stalingrad had benefited
from the decision of Soviet planners to develop the region. By 1942, it was the
third largest city in the Soviet Union, sprawling in a narrow band for nearly
20 miles along the Volga river-front. Under successive 5 Year Plans, the
Russians had erected the Krasny Oktyaber Tractor factory, the Barrikady Metal
Works, and the Lazur Chemical Plant. As a gathering point for Volga river barge
traffic, it shipped grain, oil, farm machinery, chemicals and other products to
the interior of the Soviet Union. Converted to war-time production, the
factories of Stalingrad now produced tanks, guns, and other vital war materiel
for the Red Army.
At the opening of Barbarossa, the war seemed a long ways off, and of little
immediate concern to the citizens of Stalingrad. Although most young men were
away serving with the military, life continued as it always had. But by the
middle of August,1942, the Stalingrad City Soviet began giving consideration to
evacuating children and non-essential civilians. However, the bulk of the
population was still in the city in late August when the battle got underway.
The Luftwaffe sent Luftflotte 4 to commence air raids on the city, and the
first of these set downtown Stalingrad aflame, reducing much of it to rubble.
With central Stalingrad in flames, the editors of the local paper put together
an improvised edition of Stalingrad Pravda. On a hand-cranked press, without
power, they printed out a one page edition with a banner headline proclaiming,
"We Will Smash the Enemy at the Gates of Stalingrad!" Over 40,000 civilians
were killed in these first raids, and an evacuation began in earnest. The
Luftwaffe commanders recognized that the boat traffic taking civilians across
the Volga was also shuttling reinforcements into the city. German pilots
strafed and bombed the landing in a concerted effort to panic the civilians
flocked on the shore. Thousands more died under the bombs and guns, but
the ferry traffic continued unabated.
The first elements of the 6th Army breached the city in the northern
residential suburb of Rynok. Gen. Hans Hube's 16th Panzer division was the
first to reach the banks of the Volga, and Stalingrad was boxed in from the
north. The Luftwaffe continued to pound the city into rubble, and Stalingrad
would continue to burn for the next few months. The first of many bizarre,
grotesque sights emerged as the inmates of the insane asylum came out of the
ruins, wandering dazed and naked through the streets.
By Sept. 1st, the 62nd Army was fully engaged throughout the city, and the
battle began in earnest. The rubble and the ruins of Stalingrad now posed
serious problems of movement for the Germans. With the Panzers unable to
maneuver quickly through the debris choked streets, Paulus's war of rapid
movement was over. Chuikov had turned several key buildings into strongholds,
and the Germans attempted to advance through paths which were zeroed in on by
German gains were now measured in yards and inches, as the determined Russians
made them fight for every house and building which remained standing. Stuka
dive bombers continued to hammer the Russian strong points, inflicting numerous
casualties. The survivors, though bloodied, merely found new hiding places in
the rubble and continued to fight on. Despite horrendous losses, the Germans
systematically leveled the city block by block and relentlessly pressed towards
While it was still capable of production, the Krasny Oktyaber plant continued
to produce T-34 tanks and drive them directly into battle, often crewed by the
workers who built them. Those civilians not cowering in cellars now pitched in
to aid in the defense of the city. One German Panzer battalion over-ran a
position, only to be sickened when they discovered that the defenders were
In spite of the heroic efforts of it's defenders, the 62nd Army was being
driven back slowly but surely. Chuikov struggled to maintain communications
with his beleaguered forces, but realized that the best he could hope to do was
to give general instructions. He later stated that, "In Stalingrad, every man
had to be his own General!" Russian positions which were by-passed continued to
fight on, without orders, reinforcements, or supplies. Many would hold out for
weeks, until finally running out of food and ammunition. All continued to exact
a heavy toll of the enemy up to the moment they were over-run and killed.
Among the units Chuikov committed to the battle in the early stages was the
13th Guards Division of General Alexander Rodimtsev. Rodimtsev was a veteran of
the Spanish Civil War, and something of a national hero. Briefed by Chuikov on
his assignment, Rodimtsev declared, "I am a Communist. I have no intention of
abandoning the city". One of Rodimtsev's junior officers would be hand-picked
by the commander of the 62nd Army himself to carry out a vital, but near
suicidal mission - hold the railroad station in downtown Stalingrad.
Lt. Anton Kuzmich Dragan received these orders from Vasily Chuikov in person.
Gathering a platoon of less than 50 men, Dragan and his soldiers proceeded to
frustrate the Germans in an epic room by room struggle for control of the depot
for nearly three weeks. Breaking through walls, crawling over the rafters, and
burrowing under the floor boards, the Russians would yield a portion of the
building to the Germans only to emerge elsewhere and start the struggle all
Exchanging gunfire down hallways, lobbing grenades back and forth between
rooms, Dragan's men inflicted as many casualties as possible on the enemy. In
spite of this heroic resistance, Dragan's force was eventually reduced to a
handful of men. Running out of ammunition, their rations gone, one of his
soldiers took out a bayonet and carved on the wall, "Rodimtsev's Guardsmen
fought and died for their country here". Under cover of darkness, Dragan and 5
of his soldiers slipped out of the building, made their way through enemy
lines, and later rejoined the fight.
Supplies and reinforcements converged upon Stalingrad from all regions of the
Soviet Union. The battle was now a test of will between the two dictators,
Hitler and Stalin. Ample materiel was available on the east bank of the Volga,
but with the Germans in command of the river from the north and south,
everything was now funneled through the ferry landing in central Stalingrad.
Holding that landing became Chuikov's top priority, for without it, the 62nd
Army would wither and die.
The east bank of the Volga now became a huge marshaling yard for men and
materiel, including a large field hospital for tending to the wounded. From
this point, the Red Army now deployed batteries of the newly developed Katyusha
mortars. Also called "The Stalin Organ" these truck launched rockets would
leave their racks with an ungodly screech, and were deadly accurate. Very
effective as a psychological weapon as well as for the damage they inflicted,
Katyushas now rained down on Stalingrad by night and day.
The Soviet Air Forces, now equipped with modern aircraft such as the Yak 1,
began to contest the Luftwaffe for air superiority over the city. For the first
time in the war, German soldiers on the ground were receiving the punishment
from the air which the Luftwaffe had inflicted upon their enemies. Among the
pilots confronting the Germans was a pretty, 22 year old blonde woman named
Lidia Litviak. Litviak, who was called Lily by her friends, was an alumnus of
the famous 588th Night Bomber Regiment, better known as the Night Witches. With
a white flower painted by her cockpit, Litviak became a national hero,
nicknamed "The White Rose of Stalingrad". Litviak shot down 12 enemy planes,
survived Stalingrad, but was killed in July, 1943, at the Battle of Kursk.
With rockets, bombs and shells pouring into the city around the clock,
Stalingrad now resembled a scene out of Dante's Inferno. The burning city cast
a glow which could be seen from 30 miles away at night. By day a gruesome pall
of smoke and dust churned up out of Stalingrad, truly a glimpse of Hell on
Earth. This fearsome sight panicked many Russian reinforcements being ferried
into the city from across the river. Some would take their chances with the
frigid waters of the Volga and jump overboard from the shuttle boats rather
than join the battle for the city. Soviet political officers would accompany
each boatload to maintain order and discipline, and shoot all would be
deserters on the spot.
Although both commanders had ample forces at their disposal, the narrow
approach to the city and the bottleneck of the river crossing forced them to
feed their units to the battle one piece at a time. The Germans were slowly
gaining ground, but at the cost of excessive casualties. Likewise, Chuikov's
delaying tactics were working, although at an enormous price in blood. The
stress was also starting to exact a physical toll from both men. Paulus had
developed an uncontrollable tic in his eye, and Chuikov was experiencing an
outbreak of eczema which kept his hands bandaged much of the time.
The situation in Stalingrad also had repercussions in Berlin. With grave
concerns over the exposed left flank, Halder continued to express his
misgivings to Hitler. In mid-October, with no immediate end to the battle in
sight, Halder and Hitler quarreled for the last time. Hitler dismissed Halder,
replacing him with Gen. Kurt Zeitzler, a spineless yes-man. Now all sound
military logic and sense of restraint was removed from Hitler's presence. The
German war-lord was free to do as he wished with his armies.
With reckless self-confidence, Hitler proclaimed to the German people that, "
the enemy in the East has been struck down, never to rise again". But although
the Soviet 62nd Army had been reduced to three small pie -shaped pieces of land
on the west bank of the Volga, Friedrich Paulus had not yet captured
Copyright © 2003 Mike Yoder.
Written by Mike Yoder. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Mike Yoder at:
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Published online: 02/04/2003.
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