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  Operation Barbarossa
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  The Commanders
  Death of a City
  Rattenkrieg
  Uranus and Saturn
  Der Kessel
  Annihilation and Aftermath

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Battle of Stalingrad
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Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
by Mike Yoder

Operation Barbarossa
On June 22, 1941, the German Army poured across the borders of the Soviet Union, initiating nearly 4 years of the most savage and brutal warfare humanity ever experienced. Three Army Groups penetrated Russia on a front extending from the Baltic coast to the Black Sea. One and a half million soldiers of the Wehrmacht obeyed the Fuehrer's directive to destroy the Red Army and the Soviet Union. "The World will hold it's breath!", Adolf Hitler told his Generals. And as the world watched in amazement, the Wehrmacht rolled triumphantly across the Russian steppe, seemingly invincible. Caught by surprise, the bulk of the Russian Air Forces were destroyed on the ground. Under orders not to provoke the Germans, the Russian frontier armies were not given coherent directions to mount a defense of their borders. The Red Army fell back in disorder, surrendered in wholesale numbers, or died in a futile effort to halt the German advance. Western military experts gave the Russians 6 weeks, perhaps 8 at the most, before suffering total military disaster at the hands of the Germans. Battered by one defeat after another, the poor performance of the Red Army gave no one reason to believe otherwise.
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Operation Blue
During the winter of 1941-42, the Russian front stabilized, with little more than skirmishing among both armies. The extreme cold of the Russian winter effectively immobilized both sides. The Germans struggled with logistical problems, and debate raged at OKW about how to proceed from this point. High ranking officers such as the Luftwaffe's Field Marshal Erhard Milch, argued that Germany needed to consolidate her gains in the East. He pointed out that enormous resources were now available to Germany, but it would take time to use these to their best advantage. The head of the German General Staff, Generaloberst Franz Halder, was of the opinion that the Wehrmacht had been bloodied badly in the opening phase of the campaign, and needed time to recuperate. He felt that under no circumstances should the German army resume the offensive. With over 850,000 casualties, the numbers seemed to bear him out. Other factions at OKW held that a partial withdrawal should be made, taking advantage of natural defensive barriers such as rivers. Let the Soviets beat their brains out trying to retake their own territory.
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The Commanders
The principal adversaries in the battle for Stalingrad marked a sharp departure in tradition for European armies. Up to and including World War I, high ranking officers in both the German and Russian military had been drawn from the ranks of the nobility. Now the son of a Hessian book-keeper and a Russian peasant would square off against one another in the largest clash of arms the world has ever seen. Generaloberst Friedrich Paulus had joined the German army in 1910. He had risen to the rank of Captain during the First World War, and had been largely involved in work as a staff officer. He married well, winning the hand of a beautiful young woman of the Romanian nobility, Elena Rosetti-Solescu, whose friends called her "Coco". Paulus served both in the Balkans with the Alpenkorps, and at the Battle of Verdun. He stayed in the post-war Reichswehr, rising as high as Major before Hitler came to power. Paulus had a strange fixation for a soldier. He despised dirt, bathed and changed uniforms several times in a day, even on the rare occasions he ventured into the field. He grew professionally as an excellent staff officer, contenting himself with sand-table models of various battle-field scenarios.
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Death of a City
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.
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Rattenkrieg
With the German 6th Army in control of 90 percent of Stalingrad, Chuikov's army struggled to maintain its precarious foothold. Their backs now to the Volga, the Russians contested the very sewers of the city. Prolonged street fighting and the utter destruction of Stalingrad had reduced men to a primitive level of existence. The Germans had a name for this - Rattenkrieg - War of the Rats. A German infantryman wrote to his family, "Animals flee this burning hell of a city...the hardest stones do not last for long. Only men endure." Chuikov sought to minimize the German advantage in firepower by instructing his men to close with the enemy and seek hand to hand combat at every opportunity. The Wehrmacht would then be unable to call in airstrikes or artillery without hitting their own men. The Blitzkrieg tactics which had enabled them to conquer much of Europe were useless, and the battle for the city was now reduced to hundreds of small unit actions.
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Uranus and Saturn
With the launching of the Soviet counter-offensive, Gen. Halder's worst fears about the vulnerable left flank were about to be realized. But no one had anticipated the size and scope of the operation which was about to encircle Paulus's 6th Army as well as one half of Gen. Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army. While Chuikov fought the Wehrmacht to a bloody draw in the ruins of Stalingrad, he had purchased a valuable commodity with the lives of his soldiers - time.
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Der Kessel
With his army trapped inside a ring of Soviet armor, Paulus informed Hitler that he only had 6 days of food for his troops. Similar shortages of fuel, ammunition, clothing and all other materiel needed to sustain an army in the field were now building to a crisis. Morale remained fairly high among the Germans, and they nick-named their position "Der Kessel" - The Kettle. What the world would soon know as "The Stalingrad Cauldron" was no laughing matter. One of the finest armies in history was about to die from starvation, disease and exposure.
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Annihilation and Aftermath
As the attempt at resupply by air gradually faded away, the proud army that Paulus had marched to the edge of the Volga was disintegrating. The elite men of the German 6th Army were now a tattered collection of emaciated walking skeletons. Although the famous discipline of the Wehrmacht still remained largely intact, it too was starting to fade away as starvation, disease and despair stalked the German soldiers. Desertions, unauthorized surrenders and even an occasional mutiny further diminished their capacity for organized resistance as the Red Army relentlessly closed the ring around the city.
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Copyright © 2003 Mike Yoder

Written by Mike Yoder. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Mike Yoder at:
mikeyzinaz@hotmail.com.

About the author:
Coming soon...

Published online: 02/04/2003.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
Featured Books


Stalingrad - The Fateful Siege


The Road to Stalingrad - Stalin's War with Germany


An Infantrman in Stalingrad


Sniper on the Eastern Front: The Memoirs of Sepp Allerberger, Knight's Cross

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