Stalingrad: The Battle And How I Believe It Was The Most Important Battle Of World War Ii

1569 words - 7 pages

Stalingrad: The Most Crucial Battle of World War IIWorld War II was the bloodiest war ever fought in the history of the world. Countless men lost their lives and countries were almost obliterated. One could only imagine what would have become of the human race had the Nazi war machine defeated all of Europe and then made its way into America. While Germany was expanding its territory all over Europe, they made it as far as Russia, and a battle ensued that became one of the greatest victories in war history. The Germans were met by the Red Army at Stalingrad, a city where the fate of the world was decided. The Battle of Stalingrad was perhaps the bloodiest conflict in history. The Soviets suffered a million fatalities, which was more than the western Allies lost during the whole Second World War. The battle cost Germany and its allies about 1.5 million casualties (Roberts "Stalingrad" 36). Even sixty years after the battle, historians still cannot say how many civilians died during the 200 days of fighting. The estimate of civilian casualties alone was in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands (Borisova). After the battle ended, a census found only 1,515 people who had lived in Stalingrad in 1942 (Craig xv ).The beginning of Hitler's failure to take Stalingrad lay in the ill-fated commencement of Operation Barbarossa, Germany's Blitzkrieg (lightning) invasion of Russia launched on June 22, 1941 (Roberts "Stalingrad" 36). Between June and December of 1941, the Germans drove deep into the Soviet Union, pushing as far as the gates of Moscow and Leningrad. German panzer divisions tore up the Red Army and captured millions of Soviet soldiers. Hitler, however, failed to defeat Russia in the course of a short and sweet campaign. "You only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down," he said (Roberts "Stalingrad" 36). Russian defenses proved to be fragile, but the communists mobilized their resources and rallied their citizens into a patriotic defense. The resistance was enough to stop the Germans at Moscow and let the Russians prepare for the next round (Roberts "Stalingrad" 36). After the failure of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler faced a friction in his ranks, and to cure this, he needed oil and on the way to get the oil, he would seize Stalingrad because of its strategic location on the Volga River. Capture of the city would provide the Germans with protection against counter-attack and also allow them to block oil supplies to northern Russia (Roberts "Stalingrad" 36).First off, the onslaught of the city began with air raids that killed thousands of civilians and left the city in ruin. The German troops moved in and advanced through the city towards the Volga, aimed at taking control of the Volga River and cutting off supplies to the defending Soviets (Roberts "Stalingrad" 36). The German 6th Army, commanded by General Fredrich Paulus, was expected to take the city quickly and easily, the Germans outnumbered their enemy two-to-one in men and equipment. Defending Stalingrad was the 62nd Soviet Army led by General Vasilii Chuikov. Chuikov and his men (and many women, too) defended the ruins of the city with great valor. Diaries of German soldiers referred to the Soviet defenders as "devils," not men. The Russians fought the Germans both on land, and at sea. One of the key figures of the Volga battles was Sergei G. Gorshkov, commander of the Azov Flotilla when the Germans began their advance on Stalingrad. Gorshkov and many like him operated on the Volga in support of the Russian forces in and around the city (Pellas 62).Next, on April 5, 1942, Hitler ordered Army Group A and B to seize control of Russia's oil supply and cut the Volga at Stalingrad. This was called Operation Blue (Novakovsky). By November, the Germans controlled 90 percent of Stalingrad, but the Soviet forces were entrenched in a 16-mile strip adjacent to the Volga. From this position, they could still be resupplied and still continue to be a threat (Roberts "Stalingrad" 36). While defending the city, the Russian army suffered an astounding 75 percent casualty rate. One division of 10,000 Soviet soldiers emerged from a battle with only 320 survivors (Roberts "Stalingrad" 36). The Russian defenders were fighting not only for their country, but their culture and their way of life. Had the Red Army's discipline, determination, and desperation not been so high, the Germans would surely have won. By mid-to-late November, the Germans' push towards the Caucasus had been almost halted. The Soviets were now ready to launch their counter-offensive (Roberts "Stalingrad" 36).As the fighting in the city went on through the autumn, the Soviet general Georgy Zhukov, who was the strategic planner of the Stalingrad area, concentrated massive amounts of Soviet forces in the northern and southern sectors of the city. His plan was to keep pinning the Germans down in the city, then to push through the weak flanks and surround the enemy within the city. The operation was code-named "Uranus" and launched along with Operation Mars, which was directed at the strongest German Army group attacking Russia ( "Battle of Stalingrad" Wikipedia). Operation Uranus was scheduled to commence on November 11th, 1942, but it was delayed until the morning of November 19th. Altogether some 60 percent of the whole tank strength of the Red Army was allocated to Operation Uranus (Beevor 226). Uranus began in the middle of a blinding snowstorm and within a day was successful ("Battle of Stalingrad" Military History Online).Moreover, with the Germans trapped inside the Soviet city, Paulus informed Hitler that he only had six days of food and supplies for his troops. Although the Germans were about to starve themselves to death inside the city, their morale remained high as they nick-named their position "Der Kessel," or, "The Kettle." Hitler knew, however, that the supplement of his army was impossible ("Battle of Stalingrad" Military History Online). As the attempt to supply the Germans in the city fell on its face, Paulus's proud army became nothing more than a collection of zombies. Although Hitler had received messengers from Paulus, informing him about the dire situation of his troops, Hitler still insisted that the men hold on until help arrived. After the last airlift had left the Germans in the city, the Red Army broke through and destroyed their control tower and airport facilities. With all hope of reinforcements or rescue gone, Paulus radioed Hitler, asking for permission to surrender. Hitler promptly refused, but offered Paulus with a Field Marshal's promotion in rank, as well as promotions for dozens of other senior officers of the army. Days later, the Red Army broke through and the Germans surrendered to them. Of the 350,000 men that followed Paulus into Stalingrad, only about 90,000 were able to surrender and 5,000 made it home to Germany after the war was over ("Battle of Stalingrad" Wikipedia). The Battle of Stalingrad came to an effective end with the surrender of General Friedrich Von Paulus's 6th Army on January 31, 1943 ("Anniversaries").In conclusion, it is easy to see how the Battle of Stalingrad was the turning point of the Second World War. Some historians would argue that Stalingrad was not the most crucial battle, but had the Soviets not stopped the Germans from marching eastward, the world as we know it could be vastly different than it is today. Geoffrey Roberts said it best when he accounted for the Soviet victory in the greatest battle of the Second World War:The site of the decisive battle of the Second World War was not the windswept sands of North Africa beloved of British war mythology, nor the broad expanses of the Pacific favored in the American version, but the snow-covered steppes of Southern Russia and the debris of a devastated city on the river Volga called Stalingrad.By the turn of the century, Stalingrad had resumed its place as a defining battle not just of the Second World War, but of a whole epoch (Roberts "Victory at Stalingrad" 179)."Anniversaries." Times, The (United Kingdom) 31 Jan. 2003.Battle of Stalingrad. Ed. Mike Yoder. Military History Online. 7 April, 2005"Battle of Stalingrad." Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. 7 April, 2005. 7April, 2005Beevor, Antony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. New York: Penguin, 1999Borisova, Yevgenia. "Stalingrad Civilians Were Not Counted." Moscow Times, The (Russia) 4Feb. 2003.Craig, William. Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad. Old Saybrook: Konecky& Konecky, 1973.Novakovsky, Steve. "The Battle of Stalingrad: 1942." Northpark University Nov 15 199731 March 2005Pellas, William J. "Stalingrad's Forgotten Defenders." World War II November 2004:62-64.Roberts, Geoffrey. "Stalingrad." History Review Dec. 2004: 36-38---. Victory at Stalingrad. London: Longman, 2004.


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