As an amateur World War Two Historian, there are several theaters of the War you must study to get a grasp on the War as a whole. The European and Pacific Theaters take up the bulk of this study of course, but one that has fascinated me for several years is the German/Soviet Theater of War. The Battle of Stalingrad without a doubt personifies this struggle. If you want to read an excellent book on the subject, try Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege by Antony Beevor or any of the works by David Glantz.-SF
Seventy-three years ago on this date in 1943, the last remnants of the trapped German 6th Army (and a division of the 4th Panzer Army) surrendered at Stalingrad to Soviet forces under the command of Red Army General Rokossovsky. Two days earlier the German commander, Friedrich von Paulus, who just hours earlier had been promoted to the rank of Field Marshal by Adolf Hitler, had surrendered in his command post at the GUM department store in the rubble-heap of the once-beautiful downtown of this ancient city that adorns the banks of the Volga on the southern Russian plains.
Paulus, who well understood the Führer’s cynical ploy was meant to signal him to fight on to the death given that no prior German soldier who had attained the rank of General field marshall had ever – in the entire known history of the German-speaking peoples – surrendered, was nonetheless a spent man, and uninspired by the leader of the German Reich he later contemptuously dismissed as “that Bohemian corporal.” After five months of the most brutal close-quarter combat in world history, the 107,000 Axis soldiers who remained alive under his command were cold, starving, and out of ammunition (and out of 91,000 captured Germans, little more than 5,000 ever saw Germany again, and most of them only after 12 years of captivity in Russia as slave laborers), leaving Paulus no real choice: the time to break out of the Stalingrad kessel – this burning cauldron, as the Germans called it, in what had been reduced to a “war of sewer rats,” der Rattenkrieg – was long gone.
For Hitler, by this time in the war already alternating between bouts of sanity and delusional madness, it was a strategic catastrophe of immense proportions, as he freely confided to his aides. The end for his army on the Volga had been weeks in coming and had so depressed him, he declined to address the German people two days earlier, on the tenth anniversary of his ascension to power: his propaganda minister Josef Goebbels read his speech over the radio instead. For the Germans, it meant more than the first real defeat of the war. It meant the end to their ambitions for territory and oil in the Caucasus, and frustration in their attempts to cut Soviet energy supplies and indeed all Volga shipping (that included vital Allied war materiel) to the fronts north to Moscow and on to Leningrad. And indeed, the German disaster at Stalingrad contained the seeds of defeat on the Eastern Front and hence the war itself.
It was, in other words, the fulcrum point of the European war, and unless Germany could develop the secret “wonder weapons” it was then working on (the atomic bomb, jet aircraft, missiles and the like) in time to deploy them effectively, it spelled the doom of the German Reich itself. In the event, Germany never again won a decisive battle in the war on any front, and its advanced weapons systems appeared too late in the war to matter. Stalingrad is, therefore, rightly seen as the capstone to Nazi power and the limit of the failed military strategy of a global power, and as such, contains lessons for us today.
Read the Remainder at Real Clear Defense
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