The Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad raged 200 days and nights on a vast territory of almost 100,000 square kilometres. Over 2.1 million people, 2,100 tanks and over 2,500 aircraft took part in the fighting.
During the defensive period (July 17 to November 18, 1942), which saw the fiercest and bloodiest fighting, Soviet troops foiled Hitler’s plan to capture Stalingrad. During the offensive period (November 19, 1942 to February 2, 1943), the Red Army encircled and defeated the main forces of the 4th Panzer Army and 6th Army, as well as those of the Axis troops, and mounted a major offensive on the Southern Front.
Stalingrad was defended by the 62nd Army under General Vasily Chuikov and the 64th Army under General Mikhail Shumilov. Soviet soldiers and officers gained the bitter experience of urban warfare and night combat and learnt the new close combat tactics for assault groups in the rubble of Stalingrad buildings in the autumn of 1942. The Wehrmacht soldiers had not encountered anything of the kind before. “Physically and spiritually one Russian soldier is stronger than our whole company ... For 58 days we stormed one single house!” wrote German soldier Erich Ott from Stalingrad.
On November 19, after an 80-minute artillery bombardment, the Red Army launched a counterattack codenamed Operation Uranus. Neither party had any clear advantage in ground troops or aviation. The Soviet army was numerically stronger in artillery. The Stalingrad Front and Southwestern Front hit the enemy’s flanks defended by Romanians and subsequently waged a counteroffensive. It came in two spearheads, whose tip was at Stalingrad. The prongs of the attack linked up and the encirclement of over 300,000 German troops was complete on November 23. After the attempt to break out of the trap failed, the encircled group was abandoned by the German high command to its own devices. On February 2, its commander Friedrich Paulus promoted to field marshal two days earlier, as well as 24 generals and the last of 91,000 men (all that was left of the armies) surrendered to the Soviets.