When we think of the WWII Eastern Front, most of us think of Stalingrad. The fierce urban warfare of the Battle of Stalingrad has been the subject of countless films, books, and video games.
Details of the five-month battle could fill several volumes. We don’t have that kind of time, so let’s take a closer look at some of the broad strokes.
Table of Contents
It’s clear why Stalin would put up such a fight to defend it for propaganda purposes. However, the city also had tremendous strategic value.
Stalingrad was a major industrial city located along the Volga River to the north of the Caucasus. The Caucasus is the oil-rich land that separates the Black and Caspian Seas.
For the Germans and the Soviets, whoever held Stalingrad had access to oil pipelines, factories, and transportation along the Volga.
Summer & Fall of 1942
Throughout the summer of 1942, the German Army Group South rapidly advanced.
Between July and the end of August, they had moved from central Ukraine, crossed the Don River, and targeted the rich oil fields surrounding Baku. While half the force sped south into the Caucasus, the other moved to secure Stalingrad.
On August 23, 1942, German soldiers reached the outskirts of Stalingrad.
Although Stalin prepared for the German attack by evacuating supplies, the 400,000 residents were forced to stay and build defenses. Thousands died as the Luftwaffe bombed the city.
Soviet troops massed along the eastern bank of the Volga couldn’t reinforce the city’s defenders as German planes prevented them from crossing.
Throughout September, the Germans pushed through the city against bitter Soviet resistance.
Aerial and artillery barrages reduced the city to rubble while combat raged street to street, house to house, room to room. Even sewers became hotly contested battlefields.
In this close-quarters urban combat, submachine guns proved invaluable, especially the Soviet PPSh-41 with its 71-round drum magazine and 1,200 RPM rate of fire.
After three months of brutality, the Germans reached the Volga River in late November. But the Axis’ focus on the city itself meant they had few resources left to focus on the surrounding areas. Support units along the flanks were stretched thin.
Operations Uranus & Ring
Soviet Gen. Zhukov launched Operation Uranus on November 19 to surround Stalingrad and encircle the Germans.
In just four days, the Red Army burst through the poorly-defended flanks and sealed off the city with 265,000 Axis soldiers inside.
The Luftwaffe tried but failed to keep the trapped men supplied. German efforts to reach the trapped men also failed. By the end of December, new Soviet offensives caused the Germans to give up their plans of reaching the city again.
With German lines forces further and further away from Stalingrad, the Soviets launched Operation Ring in January 1943. Clearing the city took another month of heavy fighting as the encircled Germans held out.
Even when the Soviets captured German Gen. Paulus, he refused to issue the order for his remaining men to surrender.
When the battle finally ended on February 2, nearly half of the encircled men had been killed in action.
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