MOSCOW, February 2. /TASS/. Russia marks 75 years since the defeat of the Axis troops at the Battle of Stalingrad on Friday, February 2.
The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the most impressive combat operations of World War II in terms of geographic span, duration, intensity, and the size of armies engaged in the battle. Russian historian Andrei Issayev has drawn up a review of the conclusive phases of the battle specially for TASS.
Operation Koltso (Ring)
The capitulation of the so-called northern grouping of the encircled 6th Army of the Wehrmacht became the final straw of the protracted battle, which began in August 1942. The 6th Army laid down its arms and gave up resistance after a powerful attack by Soviet artillery. Its commander, General Karl Strecker threw in the towel. His superior, Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, surrendered two days earlier.
On February 2, Soviet forces captured more than 33,000 men and officers from the enemy.
The total defeat of Paulus’s Army in Stalingrad resulted in the surrender of 91,000 servicemen of the Wehrmacht, including about 2,500 officers and 24 generals. This was one of the main outcomes of the pivotal battle of World War II.
The Crushing Defeat of the Nazis
The Red Army dealt a devastating blow to the Nazis, just when the Third Reich, according to the notions harbored by its leaders was at the peak of its power. The defeat suffered near Stalingrad had no precedents in the history of the Third Reich. The Red Army encircled and utterly destroyed the largest force the Germans had positioned against the Soviet Union, some 300,000 men and officers.
A collapse of the entire southern sector of the front then followed. It manifested itself in a chaotic retreat of forces of the Army Group A from the North Caucasus and Army Group B towards Rostov-on-Don and Kharkov. The levelling of the 6th Army in Stalingrad was echoed in smaller scale battles on the river Don where the Red Army defeated the allies of Nazi Germany, namely Hungarian and Italian troops.
The losses of manpower suffered by the Wehrmacht in December 1942 and January 1943 did not have any parallel to it before. Only in the summer of 1944, were larger numbers of Nazi troops killed.
How did the Red Army pull off this victory?
Several factors made it possible for the Red Army to launch an unexpected counteroffensive in November 1942. Number one was a logical accumulation of combat reserves. The Soviet command had gradually withdrawn battered divisions behind the lines during the summer operations of 1942, and then filled the vacant positions with newly drafted men, trained them and carried out the necessary replacements.
Secondly, the Red Army went over to a qualitative new level of forming mechanized infantry and armor units. The mobility of the fully-motorized armored and mechanized infantry corps increased considerably. They were now capable of making deep breakthroughs and conducting combat operations in isolation from the main forces, sometimes at distances as extensive as 50 km to 100 km.
It was a strike by the mechanized corps from the sparsely populated steppe-lands to the south of Stalingrad where roads were few and far between that caught the Wehrmacht commanders practically by surprise.
The formation of the mechanized corps was as much a revolutionary solution in the first half of the 1940’s, as the establishment of the air-mobile helicopter-airlifted divisions is in our time.
A fact that is important to stress in this context is that the mechanized corps in November 1942 had mostly Soviet-manufactured vehicles in their fleets, as the US supplies by Arctic Convoys could not meet the demands of the Eastern Front yet.
Zhukov and Vassilevsky: Key commanders
Two remarkable Soviet military commanders, Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Vassilevsky, played a vital role in organizing the counteroffensive near Stalingrad [Operation Uranus]. The planning of an offensive of a scale and scope not known before required a great amount of intellect and confidence in one’s own strength.
Resolve and confidence were also required by the commanders of armored and mechanized corps who steered their units towards the targets in the enemy’s rear through the steppes, on terrain without landmarks, through blizzards and fog.
The persistence and courage of the soldiers engaged in Operation Uranus was rewarded when they trapped the 300,000-strong grouping of enemy forces consisting of the 6th Army and a part of the 4th Tank Army in what was then called "a pot" (which in this context stands for "entrapment").
Remarkably, the "pot" turned out to be bigger than the one that Zhukov and Vassilevsky had planned initially.
Germany’s developed economy and advanced technology helped the Wehrmacht’s commanders prolong the resistance of the encircled troops, as the final defeat of Operation Koltso was drawn out from January 10 through February 2, 1943. Isolated pockets of German troops continued fighting amid the ruins of Stalingrad for another two or three days after that but these clashes failed to have any effect on the outcome of the battle anymore.
Surprising as it might seem, a very significant effect achieved by the Battle of Stalingrad lay in the sphere of human psychology. It strengthened the faith of the Red Army soldiers in their ability to overwhelm the enemy, while the Wehrmacht began to increasingly dread the possibility of entrapment.
Last but not least, the Soviet Union’s allies in the anti-Hitler coalition saw in an extremely graphic way the practical ability of the Red Army to wipe out the Nazis’ huge military formations.