Thrust And Counterthrust
The Battle on the Volga
The river was the prize, specifically the nine to ten miles of its right bank from the refinery southeast of Mamai Hill to Rynok. Stalingrad had ceased to exist, except as a wreck and a ruin. Those who inhabited the city now were fighting over a corpse, and they knew it. On the other hand, the area left to be contested became more precious as it became smaller and more murderously expensive either to keep or to acquire. By the terms that had made the city an objective in the first place, the issue at Stalingrad was settled: the Volga was closed and every inch of ground still in Soviet hands could be brought under German fire. Strict military logic no longer applied on either side, however, particularly not on the German. The battle had acquired a reason for existence of its own. No longer only the last phase of BLAU-CLAUSEWITZ, it was a drama being played for the world; and as such, Hitler would not consider it terminated until every shred of organized Soviet resistance was eliminated from the right bank of the Volga. By what amounted to mutual agreement, the summer campaign was being fought again in miniature on the river. For Stalin, each fraction of a mile that was held one more day partially redeemed the near collapse of July and August and brought Operation URANUS a small step closer to reality. For Hitler, to have denied the enemy the last fraction of a mile could have driven from mind the memory of the victory lost. The stakes, however, were not even. Stalin had little to lose and, possibly, much to gain. Hitler, if he wanted to possess the river bank, had to accept the suspension of the initiative and fight on his opponents' terms, not his. He did that on 6 October when he "reaffirmed the total occupation of Stalingrad as Army Group B's most important mission."1
Troops and Tactics
During the next week, Hitler and General Weichs, commander of Army Group B, worked with Sixth Army's commander, General Paulus, to get Sixth Army in trim for another push into the city. Hitler canceled Fourth Panzer Army's projected advance to Astrakhan and ordered its commander, General Hoth, to give the 14th Panzer Division, his last full-fledged armored division, to Sixth Army. Weichs and Hitler concurred in letting Paulus take another two infantry divisions, 79th and 305th, off his flank on the Don. Sixth Army had been engaged for a month on plans to advance its front northward somewhat, between the Volga and the Don, and to secure a
better winter line. These now were dropped, and Weichs instructed Paulus to have the troops on the north front dig in for the winter where they stood.2 Irked at having to wait for the divisions to be moved, Hitler ordered intensified bombing "to deprive the enemy of the opportunity to rebuild his defenses."3 But the Russian defense was getting stronger. On 8 October, massed Soviet heavy artillery began firing into the city from east of the Volga.
On the 10th, Rumanian Third Army took over the Don front east of the Khoper River. The German strength was being drawn inward on Stalingrad as if by a powerful magnet. Fourth Panzer Army was also having to rely on the Rumanians to man most of its loose front on the chain of lakes south of Beketovka. Everyone, especially the Rumanians themselves, knew they were not trained, equipped, or motivated for fighting in the Soviet Union. Fourth Panzer Army had seen the Rumanians in action. On 28 September, several of their divisions on the army's right flank south of Beketovka had given way before a halfhearted Soviet attack and had fallen into a panic and retreat that took two days and a German panzer division to stop. Hoth had commented, "German commands which have Rumanian troops serving under them must reconcile themselves to the fact that moderately heavy fire, even without an enemy attack, will be enough to cause these troops to fall back and that the reports they submit concerning their own situation are worthless since they never know where their units are and their estimates of enemy strength are vastly exaggerated."4
The 14th Panzer and 305th Infantry Divisions were ready at LI Corps on 13 October. The 79th Infantry Division was coming east but not yet in place, and Sixth Army was still awaiting the arrival of several ammunition trains. Nevertheless, although he might be pinched for ammunition in forty-eight hours if the trains did not get there in time, Paulus decided to resume the offensive the next day anyway.5 To delay any longer had its danger as well. The weather was becoming unsettled, and although a spell of rain might not affect the fighting in the city too much, it could paralyze the army's supplies.
Lacking the strength to make a single sweep and having few other alternatives, Paulus proposed to take what was left of the city by pieces, working from north to south. In the first stage, XIV Panzer Corps would push through Rynok and Spartakovka to the mouth of the Gorodishche River, while LI Corps occupied the tractor factory and the brickworks and took a hold on the Volga south of the Gorodishche. The LI Corps would then turn south and take the gun factory, the bread bakery, the metallurgical works, and the chemical plant.6 On the advance, engineers would take the lead and carve out corridors by leveling entire blocks of buildings with explosives; panzer grenadiers, as shock groups, would establish and maintain the forward
momentum; and infantry would do the clearing and mopping-up, the grueling job of stamping out the resistance yard by yard and man by man.
For the first, the formula was going to work. Describing the events of 14 October, General Chuikov, then commander of Sixty-fourth Army, has said, "Those of us who had already been through a great deal will remember this enemy attack all our lives."7 Sixth Army would later remember the assault on the tractor factory as "the one really complete success in the battle for the northern part of Stalingrad."8
Early in the morning on the 14th, Paulus set up his forward command post in Gorodishche, west of the tractor factory. The tanks and panzer grenadiers of the 14th Panzer Division had moved out at daylight in light rain. They were into the tractor factory by 1000. On their left, 305th Infantry Division pushed through the workers' settlement toward the Gorodishche River. North of the river, XIV Panzer Corps had begun clearing several hills west of Spartakovka, and in the afternoon, 14th Panzer Division's right flank reached the brickworks. The division kept going through the night, and by 0700 the next morning, it had one of its panzer grenadier regiments through to the Volga east of the tractor factory. With that, Sixty-second Army's bridgehead was cut in two. By dark, XIV Panzer Corps was at the western edge of Spartakovka; the tractor factory and brickworks were occupied; and 14th Panzer Division's line south of the brickworks was just 300 yards from Chuikov's command post that was dug into the cliff above the Volga east of the gun factory. (Map 41.)
The 14th Panzer and 305th Infantry Divisions turned south in the morning on the 16th. They had half of the gun factory by 1200. During the day, LI Corps and XIV Panzer Corps also made contact on the Gorodishche River west of Spartakovka and encircled parts of several Soviet divisions between there and Orlovka. When the gun factory and the blocks of houses to the west of it were taken on the 17th, it looked as if the battle could not last more than another two or three days. But Paulus decided to bring in the 79th Infantry Division anyway, "to be ready for all eventualities." The resistance had toughened in the last two days, particularly on the 17th, and numbers of fresh enemy battalions were being identified. At the same time Paulus' strength was fading again. His whole front was now within reach of the Soviet artillery across the river, and the nights were as wearing as the days because Soviet planes kept up a running bombardment from dark to daylight. The OKH liaison officer reported, "The Russians' air superiority over Stalingrad at night has assumed intolerable proportions. The troops cannot rest. Their endurance is strained to the limits. The losses in men and material are unbearable in the long run."9
One of Hitler's adjutants, a Major Engels, arrived at Sixth Army on the 17th "to gather personal impressions of
13 October-19 November 1942
the battle for Stalingrad." Paulus and his chief of staff took him to an army observation post where he could see some of the fighting and then gave him a statistical rundown. Since 13 September, the army had lost 343 officers and nearly 13,000 enlisted men (killed, wounded, and missing), bringing its total losses since it crossed the Don on 21 August to 1,068 officers and 39,000 men. Enemy losses, judging from the numbers of prisoners taken--17,900 after 13 September and a total of 57,800 since 21 August--were much higher than Sixth Army's but not nearly as high as the Soviet losses had been in previous battles. The intensity of the fighting could be deduced from the ammunition consumed, which for the month of September amounted to 25 million rounds of rifle and machine gun ammunition, a half-million antitank rounds, and three-quarters of a million artillery rounds of all calibers.10
On the 18th, while the infantry worked on cleaning out pockets of resistance in the gun factory, LI Corps repositioned its artillery and rocket projectors to bring them to bear on the next objectives, the bread bakery and metallurgical works. Heavy rain had set in during the night, and by midday, the approaches to the Don bridges, over which all of the army's supplies had to come, were "passable only with difficulty." Paulus thought he might be able to resume the advance the next afternoon if the artillery and infantry were ready by then, if the roads did not get worse, and if the weather did not keep the airplanes grounded. But the roads did get worse as the rain, interspersed with snow showers, continued for two more days, and pockets of Russians were still holed up in the gun factory shops on the 21st when the sky began to clear.
The LI Corps, under General Seydlitz, went back into motion on the 23d with 79th Infantry Division in the lead. It had half of the metallurgical works, the blocks of houses west of the bread bakery, and most of the bakery itself in its hands by afternoon and, at nightfall, had a spearhead on the Volga. The next day, XIV Panzer Corps, which had been diverted by Soviet attacks on its north front, took the western two-thirds of Spartakovka. But the momentum dropped off fast at both corps. The XIV Panzer Corps' troops had been in action without a break for ten days, and 79th Infantry Division, which had been at the Don bridgeheads for weeks before coming into Stalingrad, had, from the first, only been fresh by comparison with Seydlitz's other divisions. Infantry strength was being dissipated in a dozen or more small but costly actions around or inside shops and buildings in the metallurgical plant and against Soviet contingents dug-in along the river as far north as the brickworks. For a week after the 24th, LI Corps' effort was totally absorbed by day in fighting for what previously would have been considered miniscule objectives--shops number 1, 5, and 10 in the metallurgical plant and a furnace in the same plant--and by night in trying to disrupt boat traffic on the Volga that was bringing Chuikov replacements after dark for his losses in the daylight.11
ON THE ATTACK AT THE STALINGRAD GUN FACTORY
The Clock Runs Down
Paulus, Weichs, and their chiefs of staff met on 1 November to discuss the question "how the attack on Stalingrad can be nourished with new forces, since the strength of the 79th Infantry Division has so far declined that it can no longer be considered for larger missions."12 Paulus thought of exchanging the 79th Infantry Division for the 60th Motorized Infantry Division, which was on the XIV Panzer Corps north front. Getting the one division into the line on the north, however, and the other out would take some time, and the 60th Motorized Infantry Division, which had not exactly been in a quiet spot, would also need a few days rest. Weichs proposed possibly taking two regiments from the 29th Motorized Infantry Division, which was closer to and acting as the mobile reserve for both Fourth Panzer Army and Rumanian Third Army. General Richthofen, the commander of Fourth Air Force, had made an offer that was welcome on the one hand and troublesome on the other. He had said he would be willing to relinquish some of the air force's railroad haulage space to allow the army to ship in more artillery ammunition--because the fighting was getting to be at such close quarters that he believed "the Luftwaffe cannot be very effective any more."13
Two days later, Weichs' chief of staff, General Sodenstern, told General Schmidt, the Sixth Army chief of staff, that the OKH would not allow the two regiments to be detached from the 29th Motorized Infantry Division but had instructed Weichs to let Paulus have five pioneer (combat engineer) battalions from divisions in the line on the Don. The idea to use the engineers had come to Hitler, through air force channels, from the inveterate dabbler in the ground war, Richthofen, who had been impressed with the engineers' performance in the assault on the tractor factory.14 Sodenstern said that the Army Group B staff believed getting the engineer battalions would not be "bad at all" for Sixth Army. Schmidt, however, replied that the engineers could "in no way be a substitute for infantry." They were specialists, he said, "particularly accomplished in cracking bunkers and other large objects," but what the army needed was the "strength" of infantry. The attack on the tractor factory, he pointed out, had succeeded because the army then had infantry to do the "permanent mopping up" behind the engineers and the panzer grenadiers.15
Chuikov, who had shifted his command post on the 17th, to the river bank east of the chemical plant, also had an interest, though of a different sort, in Sixth Army's problems. Watching the pressure on his front drop in the last days of the month, he knew his army would survive for at least one more round. On the other hand, his position was not all that good. As he has put it, he and his troops were sitting "dangling our legs in the Volga."16 All Sixty-second Army held on the west bank were two small bridgeheads about a half-mile deep, the one taking in parts of Rynok and Spartakovka, the other around the chemical plant with a narrow, ragged tail reaching into the metallurgical plant and upstream along the river bank to the brickworks. Replacements continued to come across in as large numbers as the area could accommodate, and the artillery on the east bank had come prominently--perhaps decisively--into play. Sixth Army attributed the 79th Infantry Division's rapid decline primarily to the "effect of the enemy's massed artillery."17
But the predominant Soviet effort was being directed elsewhere. The buildup for URANUS was being brought to its conclusion. The Southeastern and Ryazan-Ural divisions of the railroad system, the ones serving the Stalingrad region, were running at ten times their normal capacities. Railroad workers were stationed along the track to supplement the mechanical signal systems and to make it possible to run trains at closer intervals, and cars were being heaved off the tracks at terminal points to avoid having to backhaul empties. From the railheads, 27,000 trucks and horse-drawn vehicles delivered cargo to the front. Troops moved only at night and bivouaced under cover during the daytime.18 Between 1 and 19 November, vessels of the Volga Flotilla carried 160,000 troops, 430
tanks, 600 artillery pieces, and 14,000 motor transport vehicles across the river to Stalingrad Front.19
Between 1 and 10 November, Generals Zhukov and Vasilevskiy, as Stavka representatives, conducted a round of conferences and inspections to make certain the plans were understood and preparations properly made.20 These were things that could not yet be taken for granted in the Soviet Army, and they required a great deal of on-the-spot checking and coaching of the staffs. In his speech on 7 November commemorating the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalin dropped the "Not a step back!" appeal and, instead, struck a note of high confidence saying, "The enemy has already felt the force of the Red Army's blows at Rostov, at Moscow, at Tikhvin. The day is not far off when the enemy will feel the force of new blows by the Red Army. There will be a celebration in our street too!"21 On 13 November, Zhukov and Vasilevskiy explained URANUS to the members of the Politburo and the Stavka and assured them that all commands, "from front to regiment," knew and understood the plan, the nature of the terrain, and the techniques of infantry, armor, artillery, and air coordination.22 But Sixth Army was still on the offensive, and there would be another round in the contest for the city. Weichs told Paulus on 3 November, "The general situation requires that the battles around Stalingrad be ended soon." Sixth Army, he added, would be getting the five pioneer battalions in the next week, and they should be combined with infantry under panzer grenadier regimental staffs. The next objective would be the chemical plant at Lazur.23 Two days later, however, Sodenstern called Schmidt to tell him the army group had just received word that Hitler had "expressed the opinion" that the ground east of the gun factory and metallurgical plant ought to be taken first. The two chiefs of staff agreed--as later did General Zeitzler, chief of the General Staff--that doing so would consume too much strength and would most likely rule out a subsequent attack on the chemical plant. Nevertheless, the next day Paulus received the following by teletype from the army group:
The Fuehrer has ordered: Before resuming the attack to capture the Lazur Chemical Plant, the two sections of the city the enemy still holds east of the gun factory and east of the metallurgical plant are to be taken. Only after the bank of the Volga is entirely in our hands in those places is the assault on the chemical pant to be begun.24
On the 7th, the artillery began counterfire against the Soviet artillery across the river, and Paulus told Weichs he would start to move east of the gun factory on the 11th and at the metallurgical plant, "at the earliest on the 15th."25
While it waited, the army made some random observations that were not causes for high alarm but were not
RUBBLE PROVIDES COVER FOR SOVIET SOLDIERS
reassuring either. For one, in a short course the army was giving to qualify NCOs from other branches as infantry lieutenants, a number of the candidates declared they would rather not be infantry officers and asked to be returned to their original branches. Paulus ordered the men dropped from the course and sent to the infantry. For another, several days of below freezing temperatures signaled the end of the fall rains. On the 8th and in the days thereafter, reports on the Soviet buildup in the Don bridgeheads opposite Rumanian Third Army became more frequent. On the 10th, the army group transferred the Headquarters, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, into the Rumanian Third Army area and alerted the 29th Motorized Infantry Division for a move in behind the Rumanians "on the shortest notice."26
On the other hand, owing to a quirk of nature, Sixty-second Army was confronted with the most immediately ominous new development. Unlike other Russians rivers, the Volga does not freeze quickly. It first forms slush, then ice floes that pile up along the banks, then a massive coat of drifting ice than can sink the strongest boat but is too treacherous to be crossed on foot by men or animals. Weeks, in some years, months, pass before the surface freezes solid, which could have meant an extended period of isolation for Sixty-second Army during the approach of winter in 1942.
GERMAN FIELD ARTILLERY FIRES INTO STALINGRAD
The Last Round
Four hours before daylight on the 11th, in freezing weather, Seydlitz struck east of the gun factory. When Paulus arrived at his forward command post, just before 1000, word awaited him that the attack was moving--but slowly. By nightfall, one spearhead had reached the cliff overlooking the river and another was on the shore. Sixth Army reported to the OKH, "The attack east of the gun factory in Stalingrad achieved a partial success against a numerically strong enemy who defended himself bitterly." Paulus added that he would regroup the next day and resume the advance on the 13th.27
By the 12th, Paulus was having also to keep an eye on Rumanian Third Army. During the day, Weichs told him to squeeze 10,000 men out of his engineer and artillery units to man a support line behind the Rumanians. Meanwhile, Hoth was trying to interpret the meaning of heavy enemy movements opposite Fourth Panzer Army. One thing was certain, he remarked, the Russians were not going through all the trouble just to strengthen their defenses.28
East of the gun factory, on the 13th, LI Corps conducted what the army described as "successful shock troop actions," taking two blocks of houses and one large building called "the commissar's
house." On the Volga, ice was beginning to pile up along the bank. Two days later, after having regrouped once more, LI Corps launched more shock troop actions and "further narrowed the bridgehead east of the gun factory. During the night on the 15th, Sixty-second Army counterattacked along the whole line and was beaten off. Seydlitz's dispositions were unsettled enough, however, to rule out even shock troops actions for the next day. In the meantime, the drifting ice on the Volga had compacted into an almost solid cover extending as much as seventy-five yards out from the shore.
There could not be any more thought or talk of one last big push in Stalingrad. Artillery and troops were standing by to go out of--not into--the city to Rumanian Third Army and Fourth Panzer Army. On the morning of the 17th, a somewhat lame exchange took place between Hitler and Paulus. Hitler sent the following Fuehrer order:
I am aware of the difficulties of the fighting in Stalingrad and of the decline in combat strengths. But the drift ice on the Volga poses even greater difficulties for the Russians. If we exploit this time span, we will save ourselves much blood later.
I therefore expect that the leadership and the troops will once more, as they often have in the past, devote all their energy and spirit to at least getting through to the Volga at the gun factory and the metallurgical plant and taking these sections of the city.
I beg to report to the Fuehrer that the commanders in Stalingrad and I are acting entirely in the sense of this order to exploit the Russians' weakness occasioned during the past several days by the drift ice on the Volga. The Fuehrer's order will give the troops a fresh impulse.
Hitler's expectation had become smaller, but Paulus' capabilities were smaller still.29 The only progress of any kind on the 17th and 18th, and that not substantial, was on the north where XIV Panzer Corps had been chipping away at Spartakovka and Rynok for weeks. Paulus proposed, after more regrouping, to try a thrust to the Volga out of the northern part of the metallurgical plant on the 20th.
Sixth Army Encircled
During the night of 18 November, it snowed along the Don, so heavily that visibility at times fell to zero. The temperature was 20° F. At 0720 on the 19th, Fifth Tank Army's artillery, in the Serafimovich bridgehead on the Don 110 miles northwest of Stalingrad, and Twenty-first Army's artillery, on the Don west of Kletskaya, received the alert code word Sirena ("siren"). Ten minutes later, the command ogon ("fire") came through, and 3,500 guns and mortars opened up on Rumanian Third Army. At 0850, the first infantry echelon, Fifth Tank Army's 14th and 47th Guards Rifle Divisions and 119th and 124th Rifle Divisions, went on the attack.30 (Map 42.)
In Stalingrad and at Fourth Panzer Army, at daylight, the sky was overcast with low-hanging clouds and the temperature was just above freezing. At 1100, Sodenstern told Schmidt the offensive against Rumanian Third Army had begun. The Rumanians, he said, had reported several "weak" attacks earlier in the morning and a stronger
19-23 November 1942
one at about 0900.31 In the meantime, a momentary break in the clouds had given "a revealing insight into the enemy's movements" opposite Fourth Panzer Army. At an altitude of 300 feet, a scout plane had flown over a miles-long column of Soviet tanks headed west.32 In Stalingrad, the first part of the day was somewhat better than usual: two more blocks of houses were taken east of the gun factory, and Paulus reported he would try to stay on the offensive there for another day.33
Fifth Tank and Twenty-first Armies had both cracked the Rumanian line by 1200, and between 1300 and 1400, Fifth Tank Army's I and XXVI Tank Corps began to move through. General Mayor I. M. Chistyakov committed IV Tank Corps and III Guards Cavalry Corps in the Twenty-first Army breakthrough an hour later. Rumanian Third Army had practically collapsed under the first assault, and the Soviet tanks, against which the Rumanians had no antitank weapons heavier than 47-mm., completed its demoralization. Sixty-fifth Army, under General Leytenant P. I. Batov, also had begun its attack in the morning, but it faced German divisions on the left flank of Sixth Army and made almost no progress except against a Rumanian cavalry division on its right flank and there advanced only about three miles as opposed to thirteen to fourteen miles gained by the other two armies.34
At 2200, the following message, signed "Weichs," came off the teletype at Sixth Army: "The development of the situation at Rumanian Third Army compels radical measures to secure forces to protect the deep flank of Sixth Army. All offensive operations in Stalingrad are to be halted at once." Along with the message came an order to take three panzer divisions and an infantry division out of the city and to deploy them to meet the attack on the army's left flank.35
Stalingrad Front began the offensive on the 20th after General Eremenko had delayed the start for several hours because of fog. With ease, Fifty-seventh Army, under General Leytenant F. I. Tolbukhin, and Fifty-first Army, under General Leytenant N. I. Trufanov, broke through the Rumanian VI Corps front along the lake chain south of Beketovka.36 Fourth Panzer Army recorded that the Rumanian corps disintegrated so rapidly that all measures to stop the fleeing troops became useless before they could be put into execution. At nightfall, the army concluded that by morning the Rumanian VI Corps would have no combat value worth mentioning. Hoth said the work of weeks had been "ruined in a day"; in many places, the Rumanians had offered no resistance at all--they had fallen victim to "an indescribable tank panic." He wanted to pull back Rumanian VII Corps, which was holding the army right flank south of VI Corps, but Weichs refused permission because he feared the Rumanians would not stop once they began to retreat.37 (Headquarters,
Rumanian Fourth Army, and VII Corps, with three divisions, had been brought in at the end of October.)
During the morning on the 20th, Headquarters, XIV Panzer Corps and the four divisions from Stalingrad shifted to the west side of the Don where, together with three divisions already on the scene, they prevented the Twenty-first and Sixty-fifth Armies from forming a secondary pocket west of the river. But, confronted by superior forces and unable to achieve full mobility because they were short on gasoline, they could not operate against the more important outer arm of the envelopment. The only obstacles in Fifth Tank Army's path were the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and remnants of Rumanian Third Army. The Rumanians hardly counted any longer, although some, especially elements of one division under the Rumanian General Mihail Lascar, fought determinedly.38
Hitler at first pinned all his hopes on XXXXVIII Panzer Corps. It, however, could not establish contact between its two divisions and in the end, barely managed to escape to the west bank of the Chir River. (After XXXXVIII Panzer Corps got across the Chir, several days later, Hitler had its commanding general, Generalleutnant Ferdinand Heim, recalled to Germany, stripped of his rank, and jailed without trial.)39 At most, all the Germans and Rumanians accomplished was to set the Fifth Tank Army timetable back about twenty-four hours, and this was less their doing than a consequence of the tank army's allowing itself to be drawn into local engagements contrary to its original orders. After the delay, the army's two tank corps continued on toward Kalach and Chir Station while VIII Cavalry Corps, aided by several rifle divisions, cleared the line of the Chir, east of which the Germans and Rumanians had no hope of holding.40
Fourth Panzer Army was split in two by the end of the day. The bulk of its German contingent, IV Corps and the 29th Motorized Infantry Division, was trapped inside the pocket forming around Stalingrad. Outside the pocket, Hoth had left only the Headquarters, Rumanian Fourth Army, Rumanian VI and VII Corps, and the 16th Motorized Infantry Division. The latter, protecting the army's outer flank, was cut off at Khalkuta on the 20th and had to fight its way west to Jashkul. In such condition, Fourth Panzer Army could not stem the advance around Stalingrad, and it had no real prospect of preventing the Russians from advancing southwest along the left side of the Don.41
Although Hoth did not know it at the time, a command problem on the other side was doing more for him than anything he could have managed. After the breakthrough, Fifty-seventh Army had the relatively limited mission of turning in on the flank of Sixth Army while Fifty-first Army had the dual
mission of sending its mobile forces, IV Mechanized Corps and IV Tank Corps, in a wide sweep northwestward to complete the encirclement near Kalach and of simultaneously directing its infantry divisions southwestward toward Kotelnikovo to cover the left flank. Considering the shattered state of Fourth Panzer Army, Fifty-first Army should not have had trouble, but Trufanov and his staff had difficulty dealing with the complications of controling forces moving in divergent directions. As a result, the advances toward Kalach and Kotelnikovo were conducted more slowly and hesitantly than was necessary.42 Toward Kotelnikovo, in particular, Fifty-first Army moved so cautiously as to make Hoth wonder. Nevertheless, Fourth Panzer Army was in near mortal danger. On the 22d, Hoth described Rumanian VI Corps as still presenting "a fantastic picture of fleeing remnants."43
Sixth Army Stays
An encirclement of a modern army is a cataclysmic event. On the map it often takes on a surgically precise appearance. On the battlefield it is a rending operation that leaves the victim to struggle in a state of shock with the least favorable of all military situations: his lines of communications are cut; his headquarters are often separated from troops; support elements are shattered; and his front is opened to attack from all directions. The moment the ring closes, every single individual is in the pocket. Escape is uppermost in the thoughts of commanders and men alike, but escape is no simple matter. With the enemy on all sides, with rivers to cross, turning around an army that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, with all of its men, weapons, vehicles, supplies, and equipment, and marching it ten, twenty, thirty, or more miles is cumbersome and perilous.
The first effect of an impending encirclement is to intensify vastly the normal confusion of battle because the attack is carried into the areas most difficult to defend and because, as the advance continues, the forces being encircled progressively lose the points of reference, the means and the ability to orient themselves for a coherent response. It was seventy miles from the Serafimovich bridgehead to the bridge at Kalach, a few miles more to Sixth Army's railhead at Chir Station. In between, in the angle of the Chir and the Don, lay army and corps staffs, ammunition and supply dumps, motor pools, hospitals, workshops--in short, the nerve center and practically the whole housekeeping establishment of the army. All of these merged into one southward rolling wave of men, horses, and trucks trying to escape the Soviet tanks. The Don was frozen and probably could have been crossed even by trucks, but few would retreat east as long as they had any other choice.44
In the Fuehrer Headquarters the events were not clear, but their probable consequences were obvious. Short of a miracle, Sixth Army would either have to be permitted to retreat out of Stalingrad, which from Hitler's point of
view was unthinkable, or a relief would have to be organized. On 20 November, Hitler created a new army group, Army Group Don, which would be composed of Sixth Army, Rumanian Third Army, Fourth Panzer Army, and Rumanian Fourth Army, and he gave Field Marshal Manstein the command. Manstein would need about a week to transfer his headquarters.
Manstein's appointment completed the Stalingrad triumvirate of Hitler, Manstein, and Paulus. At Stalingrad, Hitler had publicly staked his personal prestige; no small matter for him. In Operations Order No. 1 of 14 October he had established the rigid defense, successful in the previous winter, as his answer to whatever the next winter might bring. Manstein had a reputation to uphold, and possibly enlarge, as an engineer of victories and as an inspired, even daring, commander and tactician. Had Hitler decided to appoint another commander in chief, army, Manstein would have been one of the likeliest candidates. In his own mind, Manstein seems to have begun to envision at least an appointment as chief of the General Staff, with enough added authority to make him Hitler's Ludendorff.45 Paulus, in his first army command, had fought the campaign well thus far. Like Manstein's, his career was on the rise. Reportedly, Hitler planned to bring him to the Fuehrer Headquarters after Stalingrad to replace General Jodl, chief, OKW Operations Staff, who was in lingering disfavor.46
On the 21st, from the Berghof where he had been vacationing, Hitler ordered Sixth Army to stand where it was "regardless of the danger of a temporary encirclement."47 On the same day, he told Manstein to expect reinforcements totaling 6 infantry divisions, 4 panzer divisions, an air force field division, and an antiaircraft artillery division, but of these, only 2 infantry divisions would be available immediately, the others were not to be expected until the first week of December.48
Hitler's order reached Paulus at Nizhne Chirskaya behind the Chir River and outside the developing encirclement, where Sixth Army's winter headquarters had been built. He had stayed in his forward command post at Golubinskiy, on the Don ten miles north of Kalach, until nearly 1200 on the 21st, when Soviet tanks heading toward Kalach came into sight on the steppe to the west.49
When Paulus left, the XIV Panzer Corps staff took over the Golubinskiy command post and from there, with parts of the 14th and 16th Panzer Divisions, tried to lure the Soviet spearheads into a stationary battle. Wherever they could, the Soviet tanks ignored the Germans and roared past them. The IV Tank Corps lost some speed; I Tank Corps let itself get tied up in a fight; but XXVI Tank Corps was not
affected at all. In a daring raid before dawn on the morning of the 22d, a battalion from XXVI Tank Corps captured the Don Bridge at Kalach and formed a hedgehog around it.50
That morning, Paulus flew into the pocket. From the Gumrak airfield, he informed Hitler by radio that the Russians had taken Kalach and that Sixth Army had been encircled.51 In the strict sense, Paulus' report was not quite correct. The Germans in Kalach held out until the next day, and the southern arm of the encirclement was not completed. It was late on the 23d, that, after an exchange of green recognition flares, IV Tanks Corps, which had crossed the Don and covered another ten miles, met IV Mechanized Corps at Sovetskiy and closed the ring.52
In the message to Hitler, Paulus had also stated that he did not have any kind of a front on the south rim of the pocket, between Kalach and Karpovka; therefore, he would have to call XIV Panzer Corps back and use its divisions to close the gap. If enough supplies could be flown in and the gap could be closed--the latter being doubtful because of a shortage of motor fuel--he intended to form a perimeter around Stalingrad. If a front could not be built on the south, the only solution, as he saw it, was to evacuate Stalingrad, to give up the north front, pull the army together, and to break out to the southwest toward Fourth Panzer Army. He requested discretionary authority to give such orders if they became necessary.53
Paulus waited in vain throughout the day on the 23d for a decision from Hitler, who was making his way back to the Wolfsschanze by rail and plane and, who at intervals, was admonishing Zeitzler by telephone not to make any decisions until he arrived.54 Aware by nightfall that the Soviet ring had closed, Paulus radioed a second appeal to the OKH in which he stated that the gap in the front on the south would expose the army to destruction "in the very shortest time" if a breakout were not attempted. As the first step, he said, he would have to strip the northern front and deploy the troops south for the escape effort. He again asked for freedom of decision, buttressing his request with the statement that his five corps commanders concurred in his estimate.55 In a separate message, Weichs seconded Paulus' request.
During the night, Seydlitz, having concluded that a breakout was inevitable and that Hitler would have to be presented a fait accompli, began pulling back several LI Corps divisions on the northeastern tip of the pocket. The next morning, Hitler demanded a full report on the LI Corps withdrawal and forbade any further actions contrary to Operations Order No. 1. Weichs attempted to gloss over the matter by explaining that the troops had been taken back to prepared positions to gain a division for other employment; but Hitler was not convinced and, suspecting Paulus, gave Seydlitz, of whose action
T-34 TANKS ADVANCING AT SPEED
he apparently was not aware, command of the entire north front, making him personally responsible for holding that side of the pocket.56
Manstein and part of his staff arrived at Weich's headquarters on the morning of the 24th, where Weichs told him Sixth Army's position was untenable. After making his own calculations, however, Manstein sent the OKH a less pessimistic estimate than those of Paulus and Weichs. He agreed that a breakout was the safest course and that to hold out would be extremely dangerous, but he said he could not concur "at present" with Army Group B's stand in favor of a breakout. He said he believed a relief operation could start in early December if the promised reinforcements were supplied. At the same time, he warned that the breakout could still become necessary if a relief force could not be assembled.57
Whether Hitler would have been persuaded by the unanimous voices of Manstein, Weichs, and Paulus is doubtful. That he was not going to be influenced by the other two with Manstein dissenting was certain. In fact, Hitler had made what was going to be his final
decision on Sixth Army early on the 24th, without waiting for Manstein's opinion. He instructed Paulus to draw his northwest and southwest fronts inward slightly and then to hold the pocket, and he promised to supply Sixth Army by air. To Fourth Panzer Army, he sent orders to stop the Russians north of Kotelnikovo and to get ready to counterattack north to reestablish contact with Sixth Army. In Hitler's mind, the correctness of the decision was probably confirmed less by Manstein's estimate than by an assurance from Reichsmarschall Goering, commander in chief, air force--accepted over Zeitzler's strenuously expressed doubts--that the air force would be able to fly 600 tons of supplies per day into the pocket.58
Two days later, Hitler put down his thoughts on Stalingrad in a message to Manstein. To evacuate the city, he said, would mean giving up the "most substantial achievement" of the 1942 campaign; therefore, the city would have to be held regardless of the cost, especially since to retake it in 1943 would require even greater sacrifices. Fourth Panzer Army would have to "extend a hand" to Sixth Army from the Kotelnikovo area and would have to hold a bridgehead around the confluence of the Don and Chir rivers to facilitate a secondary thrust toward Stalingrad from the west. When contact with Sixth Army was reestablished, supplies would be moved in; the city would be held; and Army Group Don could begin to prepare for an advance north to clear out the area of the breakthrough between the Don and the Chir.59
Hitler had made his decision and was confident, but his confidence was not shared at the front. On seeing the order of 24 November, Seydlitz told Paulus there could be no question of holding; the army either had to breakout or succumb within a short time. He believed supplies, which had already been running short before the counteroffensive began, would decide the issue. To found any hopes on air supply, he added, was to grasp at a straw since only thirty JU-52s were at hand (on 23 November), and even if hundreds more could be assembled, a feat which was doubtful, the army's full requirements could still not be met. Paulus told Seydlitz to keep out of affairs that were no concern of his but, nevertheless, agreed with Seydlitz in substance and, on the 26th, in a personal letter to Manstein, again asked for authority to act at his own discretion, pointing out that the first three days of air supply had brought only a fraction of the promised 600 tons and 300 JU-52 flights per day.60
Manstein knew Hitler's thinking and did not answer. After Army Group Don was formally activated on the next day, the 27th, Manstein learned more. Zeitzler told him that he, too, would not be given the authority to order a breakout--which he had asked for in
the 24 November estimate. Later, Richthofen, who was running the airlift, told him the planes would not be able to deliver even 300 tons of supplies a day. In the meantime, that morning, Hitler had called on the troops in the pocket to stand fast and to convert the breakthrough into a Soviet defeat as they had the one at Kharkov in the spring.61
1. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 6 Oct 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
2. Ibid., 6-8 Oct 42.
3. Greiner Diary Notes, 7 Oct 42, C-065q CMH file.
4. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 30 Sep 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
5. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 13 Oct 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
6. A0K 6, Ia Nr. 3843/42, 8.10.42, AOK 6 30155/43 file.
7. Chuikov, Stalingrad, p. 180.
8. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 3 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
9. Ibid., 15 Oct 42.
10. Ibid., 17 Oct 42.
11. Ibid., 18-30 Oct 42.
12. Ibid., 1 Nov 42.
14. Kehrig, Stalingrad, p. 41.
15. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 3 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
16. Chuikov, Stalingrad, pp. 197-99.
17. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 1 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
18. IVOVSS, vol. III, pp. 20-22.
19. Matsulenko, "Operativnaya maskirovka," p. 11.
20. Zhukov, Memoirs, pp. 402-04; Vasilevskiy, "Delo," p. 247.
21. IVMV, vol. VI, p. 48.
22. Vasilevskiy, "Delo," p. 247f; Samsonov, Stalingradskaya bitva, pp. 350-52.
23. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 3 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
24. Ibid., 6 Nov 42.
25. Ibid., 8-10 Nov 42.
27. Ibid., 11 Nov 42.
28. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 13 Nov 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
29. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 17 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
30. Samsonov, Stalingradskaya bitva, p. 375.
31. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 19 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
32. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 13 Nov 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
33. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 19 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
34. Sbornik, Nomer 6. See also Samsonov, Stalingradskaya bitva, pp. 378-81.
35. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 19 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
36. IVMV, vol. VI, p. 56.
37. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 20 Nov 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
38. AOK 6, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 20 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
39. Heim was released in August 1943, without having been tried. He was restored to rank a year later and appointed to command the Boulogne Fortress in France. Walter Goerlitz, Der Zweite Weltkrieg, 1939-1945 (Stuttgart: Steingruben Verlag, 1951, 1952), vol. I, p. 398, vol II, p. 363; Walter Goerlitz, Paulus and Stalingrad (New York: Citadel Press, 1963), p. 201n.
40. Sbornik, Nomer 6; AOK 6, Ia, Angaben ueber Vorgaenge seit dem 20.11.42, AOK 6 75107/6 file.
41. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 20-21 Nov 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
42. Sbornik, Nomer 6.
43. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 22 Nov 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
44. A graphic, semifictionalized account of the encirclement is given in Heinrich Gerlach, Die Verratene Armee (Munich: Nymphenburger, 1959).
45. General der Infanterie Erich Ludendorff, although nominally subordinate to the head of state and commander in chief, Emperor William II, and to the chief of the General Staff, Generalfeldmarschall Otto von Hindenburg, had directed the entire German war effort during the last two years of World War I.
46. OKW, KTB, vol. II, p. 12.
47. H. Gr. B, Ia, an AOK 6, Fuehrerentscheid, 21.11.42, AOK 6 75107/6 file.
48. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 420947/42, an H. Gr. B, 22.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file.
49. Heinz Schroeter, Stalingrad (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958), p. 80; Kehrig, Stalingrad, p. 163.
50. Schroeter, Stalingrad, pp. 81, 83-85; Kehrig, Stalingrad, pp. 163-65, 170-72; Samsonov, Stalingradskaya bitva, pp. 382-84.
51. AOK 6, Ia, KR-Funkspruch an H. Gr. B, 22.11.42, AOK 6 75107/3 file.
52. IVOVSS, vol. III, p. 40.
53. AOK 6 Ia, KR-Funkspruch an H. Gr. B, 22.11.42, AOK 6 75107/3 file.
54. Kehrig, Stalingrad, p. 218.
55. Paulus, Funkspruch an OKH, Nachrichtlich H. Gr. B, 23.11.42, AOK 6 75107/6 file.
56. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 420964/42, an 6 Armee, H. Gr. B, H. Gr. Don, 24.11.42 and OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 134/42, an H. Gr. B, AOK 6, 24.11.42, AOK 6 75107/6 file; H. Gr. B, Ia Nr. 4242/42, an H. Gr. Don, 24.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694 file.
57. Ob. Kdo. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 4580/42, an OKH, Op. Abt., 24.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file; Kehrig, Stalingrad, pp. 222-24.
58. Kehrig, Stalingrad, p. 220; OKH, GenStdH, an AOK 6, 24.11.42, AOK 6 75107/3 file; OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 420961 /42, an H. Gr. B, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file; MS T-9, Der Feldzug in Russland ein operativer Ueberblick (Generaloberst a.D. Gotthard Heinrici), ch. X, pp. 81-82.
59. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 420964/42, an Herrn Generalfeldmarschall von Manstein, 26.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/36 file.
60. Der Kommandierende General des LI A.K., Nr. 603/42, an den Herrn Oberbefehlshaber der 6. Armee, 25.11.42, AOK 6 75107/3 file; O.B. der AOK 6, an Generalfeldmarschall von Manstein, 26.11.42, AOK 6 75107/3 file.
61. Kehrig, Stalingrad, pp. 264, 279.