Stalin always insisted that his armies were unprepared for the German attack. However, after the war it transpired that not only Churchill, but also Germans from the Rote Kapelle had warned him. Even Hitler's personal secretary, Martin Borman, provided information via his private radio station, out of megalomania and an all-pervading inferiority complex. His body was never found in the Berlin ruins because the Russians spirited him away to Moscow where he died in the early sixties.
When the advance in the south progressed better than expected,
plans were changed, and the city became the focal point of the
German command. The 6.Armee was able to occupy part of Stalingrad,
but when Stalin gave his famous order to defend the city
or die, and Hitler countered with his order to hold Stalingrad
to the last man and the last bullet, its fate was sealed and both
dictators hung on with grim determination to the end.
Fortunes turned when the Russians were able to cut through the lines of the Roumanian divisions west of the city, threatening Armeegruppe Don and forcing 4.Panzerarmee to regroup. This move almost cut off 6.Armee, commanded by Generaloberst Paulus, and it was left to 4.Panzerarmee under Generaloberst Hoth to advance and smash the Russian stranglehold.
They almost succeeded by 40 km, and then waited for Paulus to commence his break-out in order to save his army which was fast running out of supplies. But in the meantime it had become clear that Hitler refused to give up Stalingrad, and when Goering made his rash, absurd promise of supplying the defenders via an air- bridge, Paulus' and his army were doomed.
The air-bridge was impossible to conduct, there were not enough transport planes available anywhere, and the atrocious winter conditions with frost, snow, slush, storms and temperatures to 30 C below, curtailed flying severely. Almost 70% of aircraft were lost, the required supplies were not flown in, and the end of the German defenders was in sight.
A portrait of Paulus shows him as a well bred, intelligent officer who, despite his lack of fighting experience, was thrust into a position of enormous responsibility for which he was not tough enough. He lacked the courage of a Guderian, a Rommel, remaining undecided, but complaining often and putting blame on others. Early in January 1943 the Russians attacked with force during a howling storm, conditions on the German side deteriorated rapidly, they ran out of ammunition, defended themselves with cold steel, and the sick and wounded could not be fed anymore. A handful of small groups continued to fight, preferring to die rather than fall into enemy hands.
On 2.February Paulus capitulated. He was flown to Moscow, interrogated, and almost immediately broadcast to the German soldiers at the front denouncing Hitler and his system.
Of the 120 000/150 000 soldiers taken prisoner, plus 30 000 wounded, all that remained of 6.Armee of over 240 000, it is estimated that at least half died during the long marches to prison camps, and the rest during the next twelve years in the gulags. Only 6 500 returned in 1955.
Other battles may have been more costly or protracted, but for sheer heroism, agony and suffering, Stalingrad was without equal on both sides.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE FIRST SOCIETY MEETING IN 2002 WILL TAKE PLACE ON THE THIRD THURSDAY OF JANUARY 2001
Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167