Stalingrad, the Encirclement
Stalingrad--Tsaritsyn before the Revolution, Volgograd after the de-Stalinization of the mid-1950's--stands on the high west bank of the Volga 560 miles from Moscow, 1,400 miles from Berlin. Around the city the flat, treeless steppe stretches away in all directions, hot, dry, and dusty in summer, cold, sometimes bitterly cold in winter. For half a year, under the burning August sun and in the frigid January calm, armies of a million and a half or more men fought in the city and around it. On the 60,000-square-mile battlefield the two sides committed, according to Soviet estimates, 2,000 tanks, 25,000 artillery pieces, and 2,300 aircraft.1
Possessing some strategic attributes in its own right, Stalingrad became, in part by accident in part by design, the focal point of one of the decisive battles of World War II. The city's half-million population, large tractor plants converted to tank production, a gun factory, metallurgical and chemical works, railroads, and oil tank farms made it an important war asset. Equally important was Stalingrad's commanding position on the lower Volga River, the Soviet Union's chief waterway and the main route for shipment of oil from the Caucasus.2 By the late summer of 1942 the Germans had accomplished successes more sweeping than capture of Stalingrad could be--without putting victory within their grasp.
Strategically Stalingrad was no Moscow; nevertheless, as a symbol it acquired commanding proportions. The name alone implied a personal contest between the Soviet dictator and his German counterpart. Hitler had made Stalingrad the end objective of the summer offensive and could not claim a full success without it. Conversely, holding the city gave the Soviet command its last chance to demonstrate to the world that the Germans had not completely regained the upper hand.
What was to happen at Stalingrad had occurred at Moscow the year before. In the midst of the engagement the relative strengths of the offense and the defense began to shift and the result of the battle came to hinge on how far that shift went and how fast.
The Advance on Stalingrad
Soviet historians set the starting date of the Stalingrad battle (the battle on the Volga in post-Stalin Soviet usage) as 17 July 1942, the day on which Stalingrad Front, which had replaced Southwest Front (disbanded on 12 July), committed two newly created armies, the Sixty-second and Sixty-fourth Armies, in the Don bend, their forward elements on the Chir and Tsimla
The Advance to Stalingrad
17 July-18 November 1942
Rivers 100 miles west of Stalingrad. (Map 3) The date corresponds closely with the recasting of the German offensive which, together with the appearance of the fresh Soviet armies, set the stage for the coming battle. Four days before, Hitler had
ordered the attack toward Rostov and had turned Fourth Panzer Army south, leaving Sixth Army to carry the advance toward Stalingrad alone.
For the next several weeks Hitler tinkered with the machinery, trying to find the precise minimum of power that would bring Stalingrad into his hands. To meet the Soviet forces behind the Chir and Tsimla, General der Panzertruppen Friedrich Paulus, commanding Sixth Army, initially had one infantry corps approaching the Chir, two others farther back and coming up slowly. On the 18th Hitler took an infantry corps and XIV Panzer Corps out of the concentration north of Rostov, where units were beginning to pile up anyway, gave them to Paulus, and ordered him to strike fast for Stalingrad before the Soviet resistance had a chance to harden.3 In two days XIV Panzer Corps reached the Chir, and on the 21st took a bridgehead, but then it ran out of gasoline and had to stop.4 On 23 July, in the directive that sent Army Group A south into the Caucasus, Hitler gave Paulus another corps, XXIV Panzer Corps, from Fourth Panzer Army and, for the first time, a definite order to take Stalingrad.5
By the 25th, Sixth Army had cleared the Don bend except for two strongly held Soviet bridgeheads flanking the direct approach route to Stalingrad and a third, smaller bridgehead upstream around Serafimovich. Then the army stopped, having run low on gasoline and nearly out of ammunition. Hitler desired that the "emphasis" be put on the Army Group A operations. Consequently, the OKH quartermaster had to divert half of Army Group B's motor transport to Army Group A, leaving less than enough to sustain Sixth Army as it moved farther into the steppe away from the railheads.6 Lack of gasoline also slowed the redeployment for the attack toward Stalingrad. The Hungarian Second Army had taken over a sector on the Don below Voronezh, but Paulus still had strung out along the middle Don the better part of two corps that he could not bring east until the Italian Eighth Army arrived to replace them.
On the last day of the month Hitler, still tinkering, ordered Generaloberst Hermann Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army to do an aboutface at Tsymlyanskaya and strike toward Stalingrad from the south along the east bank of the Don. For his mission, Hoth was to have only XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, which had already covered 400 miles in the summer campaign, an infantry corps, and a Rumanian corps. The distance from Tsymlyanskaya to Stalingrad was 120 miles.
In the meantime the Stavka had committed the newly formed First and Fourth Tank Armies against Sixth Army.7 The Italian Eighth Army was beginning to relieve the Sixth Army divisions upstream on the Don, but Paulus reported that at the rate he was getting gasoline and ammunition, 200 tons a day, he would not have enough to start operations against the two large Soviet bridgeheads until 8 August. Hitler demanded that he start a day earlier
GERMANS ADVANCING OVER THE STEPPE TOWARD STALINGRAD
to prevent the Russians from escaping across the river.8
Sixth Army attacked the strongest of the bridgeheads, the one west of Kalach, on 7 August, and before the day ended had encircled the forward elements of Sixty-second Army and First Tank Army. In the next four days it mopped up the pocket, taking 50,000 prisoners, and then turned against the less strongly held bridgehead north of Kalach, where the Russians fought stubbornly but did not repeat the mistake of standing and letting themselves be encircled.9
The defeats on the west bank of the Don sent a nervous tremor through the Soviet command. On 5 August, to reduce the span of control, the Stavka had created the Southeast Front out of the southern half of Stalingrad Front. On the 10th it reversed itself and made Headquarters, Stalingrad Front subordinate to Headquarters, Southeast Front. Two days later it sent Vasilevskiy to co-ordinate, and on the 13th it put Yeremenko in command of both fronts, with Khrushchev as member of the Military Council (political commissar) and the front commanders as deputies.10
By 18 August Sixth Army had bridgeheads across the Don, but the fighting in the river bend had been exhausting and costly, and the army, particularly the infantry,
was not in condition to make the 35-mile thrust to Stalingrad. On the 21st, XIV Panzer Corps broke out and in three days drove a slender spearhead through to the Volga north of Stalingrad. To keep its toehold on the river, from which it brought the shipping under artillery fire, the corps had to break contact with the army and form a hedgehog.
On the 24th the Soviet Twenty-first, Sixty-third, and First Guards Armies attacked Sixth Army's deep left flank out of the small bridgeheads they held at Serafimovich and Kremenskaya. Paulus reluctantly decided that he could not spare enough infantry to open a corridor to XIV Panzer Corps, at least not until Fourth Panzer Army freed his right flank.11 At the moment that prospect did not look good. Like Paulus, Hoth was having to hold his attack to a narrow front. He was making his thrust along the chain of salt lakes due south of Stalingrad. This drive threatened the Soviet Sixty-second and Sixty-fourth Armies with an encirclement west of Stalingrad but left a 40-mile gap between his and Paulus' flanks.
After fighting off a strong, well co-ordinated counterattack on 26 August, XIV Panzer Corps reported that it probably could not resist a second such attempt, but during the following two days the crisis suddenly evaporated. The counterattacks against XIV Panzer Corps weakened, and Russian morale appeared to be breaking. Sixth Army reported a marked increase in Russian deserters, including--and this was unusual--tank crews with their tanks.12 Fourth Panzer Army, which had regrouped and shifted its panzer corps west to make contact with Sixth Army sooner, experienced a similar slackening in the Soviet resistance.
When Hoth observed that the Russians were falling back toward Stalingrad, he turned east on the 30th, and in three days pushed his armored points through to Pitomnik and nearly to Voroponovo Station due west of Stalingrad. On 2 September at noon Sixth Army attacked toward Stalingrad, opening a secure corridor to XIV Panzer Corps that day and making contact with Fourth Panzer Army near Pitomnik the next.13
The Stavka had declared a stage of siege in Stalingrad on 25 August and had begun a total civilian evacuation. A few of the shops and plants were kept running to repair military equipment. The city, a typically unprepossessing Russian mixture of stone and concrete government buildings, sprawling factories, and drab, unpainted wooden dwellings lying in a tight 2½-mile by 12-mile band along the cliffs of the river's edge, was about to enter history.
During the night of 2 September the Soviet Sixty-second and Sixty-fourth Armies withdrew to the inner Stalingrad defense ring. Sixth Army's lead corps aimed toward the 300-foot-high Mamai Hill, the city's central and dominant topographical feature. Fourth Panzer Army closed in on the southern outskirts.
Responding to Stalin's 3 September call for a counterattack, Stalingrad Front, which as the battle developed had been pushed away from the city to Sixth Army's
BRIDGING AN ARM OF THE DON
north flank, hastily deployed the First Guards, Twenty-fourth, and Sixty-sixth Armies on a short front due west of the Volga and on the 5th attacked south. The counterattack, although it was conducted by incompletely trained armies and practically without preparation, carried enough weight to keep Sixth Army preoccupied for several days.14 In three days, 8 to 10 September, Fourth Panzer Army, spearheaded by a motorized battalion, drove a wedge through to the Volga on the southern edge of the city.15 Although the battalion was forced to fall back a half mile or so and took another five days to fasten its hold on the river, Sixty-second Army, General Leytenant Vasili I. Chuikov commanding, was then in effect isolated in the Stalingrad bridgehead.16
On 13 September Sixth Army attacked into the center of the city past Mamai Hill and to Railroad Station I, a third of a mile from the river. From then on the battle assumed the character it was to retain for the next two months: a bloody, relentless struggle in which single blocks and buildings became major military objectives and in which the opponents often occupied parts of the same building, sometimes different floors. In the succeeding days the fighting at Mamai Hill and the railroad station became so heavy that it was all but impossible
STALINGRAD IN FLAMES
to tell who was attacking and who defending, and the Sixth Army troops needed a week to push from the station through to the river.17 In the meantime the OKH had given Paulus command of XXXXVIII Panzer Corps to help in cleaning out the southern half of the city. After the breakthrough to the river was made, that mission was accomplished in another five days; and on the 26th Paulus reported that the army had raised the Swastika over the government building in the Red Square.18
By the turn of the month the Stalingrad bridgehead had been reduced to a breadth of six miles and a depth of nine. Neither side had space to maneuver. The situation favored the defender, as long as he was willing to pay the price in blood, and this the Stavka was obviously willing to do. Between mid-September and the first days of October Sixty-second Army received reinforcements amounting to nine rifle divisions, two tank brigades, and a rifle brigade. The command was reorganized and tightened. General Leytenant Konstantin K. Rokossovskiy assumed command of Stalingrad Front, which was renamed Don Front. Yeremenko took command of Southeast Front, renamed Stalingrad Front.19
Toward the end of September, Paulus
began shifting his full weight east when the Rumanian Third Army moved up to take over Sixth Army's front west of the Don. The Rumanians were neither trained nor equipped for fighting on the Eastern Front. In the last three days of the month, in the Fourth Panzer Army zone, the Germans were given a demonstration of their capabilities that was a dark omen of events to come. On the 28th the Rumanian divisions on the army's right flank along the range of hills south of Stalingrad gave way before a halfhearted Soviet attack and fell into a retreat that could not be stopped until two days later, after a German panzer division had been committed. Hoth reported, "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 own units are and their estimates of enemy strength are vastly exaggerated."20 He recommended that the Rumanians be assigned very narrow sectors and that every four Rumanian divisions be backstopped by one German division as a "corset stay."21
The Germans still had the initiative, but to exercise it they were forced to accept battle on the enemy's terms in the bloody house-to-house fighting inside Stalingrad. There, nothing could prevail but elemental force capable of mastering men, concrete, stone, and steel. Four times between 20 September and 4 October Paulus reported that his infantry strength in the city was fading more rapidly than he could find troops to replenish it. He predicted that unless the decline was reversed the battle would stretch out indefinitely.22
Strategically Sixth Army had accomplished its mission by the end of September. The Volga was closed. Half of Stalingrad was in German hands and all the rest could be brought under fire. Prudence would have recommended that Sixth Army stop, consolidate its front, and wear down the Russians gradually. Hitler himself had always been against wasting troops in street fighting. Paulus may have been about to make such a recommendation. On 4 October he warned that he had no reserves and the Russians, if they counterattacked, might break through.23 But Hitler's frustration at that stage of the campaign had overcome reason. On 28 September he opened the drive for the Winter Relief at the Sportpalast in Berlin with a speech in which he ridiculed the publicity he had lately been receiving in the world news media. Pinpricks like the Dieppe raid of mid-August, he complained, were touted as brilliant Allied victories while his own march from the Donets to the Volga and the Caucasus was "nothing." To carry his point home he added, "When we take Stalingrad--and you can depend on that--that is nothing." As a clincher, he vowed a second time to take Stalingrad and assured the audience, "You can be certain no one will get us away from there."24
On 6 October Paulus temporarily stopped the attack in Stalingrad. His infantry strength was too low. In one division the infantry battalions were down to average strengths of 3 officers, 11 noncommissioned
THE SWASTIKA OVER RED SQUARE, STALINGRAD
officers, and 62 men. Ammunition also was beginning to run short. In September alone the army had fired 25 million rounds of small arms ammunition, better than half a million antitank rounds, and three-quarters of a million artillery rounds. The army's losses since crossing the Don in August numbered 7,700 killed, 30,200 wounded, and 1,100 missing.25
After receiving five special pioneer battalions from the OKH, taking an infantry division from his flank, and getting a panzer division from Fourth Panzer Army, Paulus renewed the attack in Stalingrad on 14 October. Soviet historians have described the next two weeks as the period of the bitterest fighting of the whole battle. The second day, the Germans took the tractor factory in the northern quarter and reached the Volga, splitting the bridgehead in two.26 From the left bank of the Volga massed Soviet artillery laid down fire on the German lines now everywhere within reach.
With characteristic suddenness, the season was changing. Several days of cold were followed on the 18th by heavy rain that next day turned to wet snow. On the steppe, mud engulfed the German supply convoys. Nevertheless, in the city, without managing to repeat their first two days' success, the Germans for a while maintained more momentum than in their earlier attempts. On an especially successful day, 23 October, they took half the "Red October" metallurgical works, several blocks of houses, and the greater part of the ruin that formerly had housed the municipal bakery. A week later, however, the army had to report that its ammunition was running short and it, therefore, could not sustain the attack at its former intensity.27
In early November a hard freeze set in, creating a condition that complicated the Soviet defense in Stalingrad. Most Russian rivers freeze solid from bank to bank in a few days. The lower Volga does not. It first forms slush, then ice floes, which combine into large masses of ice that drift downstream with the current. In the latter stage crossing the river becomes slow and hazardous for even the strongest boats. At the latitude of Stalingrad the river takes weeks, sometimes months, to freeze over, and Sixty-second Army depended entirely on supplies and replacements coming across from the other side.
By the time the freeze began Chuikov's hold at Stalingrad was reduced to two bridgeheads, one six miles wide and at most a mile and a half deep in the city, the other in the northern suburbs less than half that size. On 11 November the Germans broke through to the river near the northern end of the larger bridgehead and cut off one division.28 On 17 November, in an order to Sixth Army, Hitler stated, "The difficulties of the battle around Stalingrad and the decline in combat strength are known to me. But for the present the Russians' difficulties occasioned by the drift ice on the Volga are even greater. If we exploit this time interval we will save ourselves much blood later." He called for "one more all out attempt."29
GERMANS AMID THE RUINS OF STALINGRAD
When the Eastern Intelligence Branch, OKH, concluded at the end of August 1942 that in the coming fall and winter the Russians would retain a considerable offensive potential, it undertook also to predict where they would attack. The Army Group B and Army Group Center zones seemed, from the Soviet point of view, to offer the best prospects. In the Army Group B area the relatively weak German front and easy terrain favored a Soviet bid to recapture Stalingrad and raised the prospect of a thrust across the Don west of Stalingrad to Rostov, which, if successful, would collapse the greater part of the Army Group B front and the entire Army Group A front. But the Eastern Intelligence Branch believed that the Russians would be more eager to remove the threat to Moscow posed by the forward elements of Army Group Center and would therefore most likely exploit the salients at Toropets and Sukhinichi for converging attacks on Smolensk, with the objective of destroying the Ninth, Third Panzer, and Fourth Armies. It assumed that the Russians were not yet capable of directing and sustaining offensives toward remote objectives, for instance Rostov or the Baltic coast, and so would attack where the configuration of the front offered greatest prospects of success without overtaxing their tactical capabilities.30
The trend of the following two months appeared to the Eastern Intelligence Branch to confirm its August forecast. Having maintained through the summer a relatively stronger deployment against Army Group Center than against the two southern German army groups, the Russians in September began, on Army Group Center's north flank around Toropets, an offensive buildup that had progressed so far by the second week of October that Hitler wanted to attempt a spoiling attack.31 The Germans believed the offensive would start immediately after the fall rains, which began on 16 October and were expected to last two to three weeks. Shortly before the middle of that month the beginnings of a build-up were also detected opposite Army Group B, but they did not appear to be on a scale that would indicate an offensive in the near future. On 15 October the Eastern Intelligence Branch concluded that the Russians would eventually attempt an offensive in the Army Group B zone, but the main significance of the deployment there for the present was that to make the necessary forces available they would have to give up whatever thoughts they might have had of enlarging the forthcoming operation against Army Group Center.32
In the last two weeks of the month intelligence reports indicated that the build-up opposite Army Group B was limited to the Serafimovich bridgehead opposite Rumanian Third Army. On 31 October the Eastern Intelligence Branch reported that the level of activity in the bridgehead did not presage a major attack but rather appeared more and more to indicate that only local attacks were to be expected.33 At the same time, in the Army Group Center zone, Ninth Army recorded that the offensive against it could begin any day, and as of 30 October the army anticipated at best no more than a week's respite in which to complete its regrouping.34
Hitler's interpretation of the enemy activity in Army Group B's zone was less sanguine than that of the Eastern Intelligence Branch. As early as mid-August he had begun to worry that Stalin might attempt, as he put it, the Russian "standard attack"--a thrust toward Rostov directed across the Don in the vicinity of Serafimovich--which the Bolsheviks had executed with devastating success in 1920 against the White Russian army of General Peter Nikolayevich Wrangel. On 26 October he reiterated his anxiety over a major offensive against the allied armies ranged along the Don and ordered Air Force field divisions moved in to stiffen the Italian, Hungarian, and Rumanian fronts on the Don.35
On 2 November, when aerial photographs revealed that the Russians had thrown several new bridges across the Don to the Serafimovich bridgehead, Hitler once more predicted a major offensive toward Rostov. Realizing the Air Force field divisions
would be small help in a real crisis, he canceled the order concerning them and on 4 November had the 6th Panzer Division and two infantry divisions transferred from the English Channel coast to Army Group B, where they were to be employed as a ready reserve behind the Italian Eighth and Rumanian Third Armies. Since those divisions required a certain amount of refitting and could not have reached the Eastern Front in less than four to five weeks, it appears that Hitler did not expect the offensive to begin before December.36
During the first two weeks of November new clues came in almost daily. By the 4th it was clear that a build-up was also under way south of Stalingrad for an attack on Fourth Panzer Army, and on the 8th a division of the Soviet Fifth Tank Army, still believed to be in the Orel-Sukhinichi area, was identified opposite Rumanian Third Army. Two days later another division of Fifth Tank Army was identified and the appearance of a new headquarters, Southwest Front, was detected--an important sign, since it could be assumed that as long as only one front headquarters, Don Front, commanded all the Soviet forces against Army Group B north of Stalingrad, the span of control there would be too great for the Russians to attempt a major offensive.37 Despite these ominous portents the Eastern Intelligence Branch, as late as 6 November, was certain that the main effort would be against Army Group Center and that the offensive on the Don would come later.38 On 12 November it described the picture as too obscure to warrant a definitive prediction but hedged only to the extent of stating, "However, an attack in the near future against Rumanian Third Army with the objective of cutting the railroad to Stalingrad and thereby threatening the German forces farther east and forcing a withdrawal from Stalingrad must be taken into consideration."39
Army Group B's Dispositions
Although the Eastern Intelligence Branch possibly was right in assuming that the Russians intended to direct a heavy blow, possibly even the winter's main effort, against Army Group Center, it was clear to Army Group B by the second week of November that there would be an offensive against Rumanian Third Army and probably also Fourth Panzer Army; and against the Rumanian troops even a secondary offensive was cause for utmost concern. On 9 November Weichs, commanding Army Group B, considered taking the 29th Motorized Infantry Division from Fourth Panzer Army and stationing it behind Rumanian Third Army but dropped the idea because Fourth Panzer Army was also expecting an attack. Instead, on 16 November, he decided to shift the 22d Panzer Division from Italian Eighth Army to Rumanian Third Army where, together with the Rumanian 1st Armored Division, it would become part of a reserve corps under the command of Headquarters, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, transferred from Fourth Panzer Army.40
On paper XXXXVIII Panzer Corps constituted a fairly strong reserve; in fact it was nothing of the sort. The 22d Panzer Division, hardly more than a regiment, had 46 tanks, 38 of them in working order, on 19 November; and Rumanian 1st Armored Division, which had not yet seen action, had 122 tanks, 21 of them old German Panzer III's armed with 50-mm. guns, the rest captured Czech tanks mounting 37-mm. guns.41
On 4 October Zhukov and Vasilevskiy, representing the Stavka, headed a conference that initiated planning for a Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad. (Map 4) During the remainder of October and the first two weeks of November, while German Sixth Army strained to end the battle in the city, the Russians carried through a build-up on the army's flanks. On 28 October, Headquarters, Southwest Front, under General Leytenant N. F. Vatutin, moved in to take command of Sixth, First Guards, Sixty-third, Fifth Tank, and Twenty-first Armies on the Don upstream from Kletskaya. Don Front, its sector reduced by better than half, kept Sixty-fifth, Twenty-fourth, and Sixty-sixth Armies on the front between Kletskaya and the Volga; and Headquarters, Stalingrad Front, remained in command of Sixty-second, Sixty-fourth, Fifty-seventh, and Fifty-first Armies in Stalingrad and opposite Fourth Panzer Army. The strongest of the reinforcements, Fifth Tank Army, consisting of six rifle divisions, two tank corps, a guards tank brigade, a cavalry corps, artillery, antiaircraft, and mortar regiments, began moving into the line opposite Rumanian Third Army in the latter half of October, completing the redeployment on about 6 November.42 Except for Fifth Tank Army the reinforcement was accomplished with units of less than army size.43 The infantry strengths were increased, and the armies in the main attack were given mobile forces in the form of tank, mechanized, and cavalry corps.44
By the time the deployment was completed Soviet armored strength around Stalingrad stood at 4 tank and 3 mechanized corps, 14 independent tank brigades, and 3 tank regiments--all together 900 tanks, 60 percent of all the Soviet tanks at the front. The Stavka had also moved in one-third of the Soviet Army's rocket launchers, 115 battalions, and had significantly reinforced the other types of artillery and the air forces.45 The number of Soviet troops in the offensive zone was slightly over one million.
Soviet estimates make the two sides about
equal in numbers of troops and the Soviet advantages in tanks, artillery, and aircraft slight--about 1.3:1, 1.3:1, and 1.1:1 respectively.46 The actual ratios could not have been anywhere near that close. The Soviet 1,000,000-man strength approximates the total strength of Army Group B, of which not much more than half was deployed around Stalingrad. Assuming the figure for the Soviet strength to be accurate, the Soviet over-all superiority was probably in the neighborhood of 2:1, much higher in the crucial sectors and, considering the quality of the troops the Germans had committed on Sixth Army's flanks, relatively overwhelming. The same was, no doubt, also true of the other ratios. The armored strength of Army Group B, all told, could not have amounted to more than 500 tanks, at least a third of them outmoded Czech models and Panzer II's and III's. The aircraft ratio appears to have been secured by figuring in the entire German air strength on the Eastern Front.
The Plan and Tactics
The Soviet plan was to tie down Sixth Army on the front between the Don and the Volga and in Stalingrad, smash the Rumanians on its left, and thrust behind the army to cut its lines of communications across the Don. The main effort was to be in the Fifth Tank Army sector where, after 6 rifle divisions, 4 in the first wave and 2 in the second, opened a gap in the Rumanian Third Army's front, 2 tank corps would break through aiming for Kalach on the Don due west of Stalingrad. Following behind the tank corps, the cavalry corps and 3 rifle divisions of Sixty-third Army would fan out to the right to cover the outer flank by establishing a line on the Chir River. Inside the arc of the tank corps, advance elements of Twenty-first Army and Sixty-fifth Army were to break through on either side of Kletskaya and encircle the four Sixth Army divisions west of the Don. They would get help from Twenty-fourth Army, which was to prevent the divisions from joining the Sixth Army main force by taking the Don crossings at Pan'shirskiy and Vertyachiy. To complete the encirclement, Fifty-seventh and Fifty-first Armies were to cut through Fourth Panzer Army south of Stalingrad and strike northwestward to meet Fifth Tank Army at Kalach.47
The Stalingrad offensive ushered in a new stage in the Soviet conduct of operations, a stage in which the Russians demonstrated a command of offensive tactics equal to that of the Germans in conception and sufficiently effective in execution to prevail against an opponent who had passed the peak of his strength. Most significant was the use of infantry massed on a narrow front to open a gap that was then exploited by strong, independent armored forces for a breakthrough deep into the enemy rear. Formerly the Russians had almost always employed mixed armor and infantry in frontal attacks, which, though less effective and more costly, were easier to command. The new tactics showed that the Soviet higher commands had achieved a level of competence that enabled them to take the risks and reach for the greater rewards of mobile warfare. An increased sophistication was evident in all phases of operations. The deployment for the Stalingrad offensive, for instance, was executed rapidly, smoothly, and unobtrusively without the
heavy-handed probing for weak spots and lengthy artillery duels with which the Soviet commanders in their earlier offensives had often frittered away the element of surprise.48
Sixth Army Encircled
After waiting for the Allied landings in North Africa to tie down the Germans in the West--and for the ground to freeze hard enough to carry tanks--the Russians opened the offensive at Stalingrad on 19 November 1942. At midnight it had begun to snow, so heavily that visibility was reduced to zero. The temperature was 20° F. At 0850, in the wake of an artillery barrage that lasted about an hour and a half, Fifth Tank Army and the Twenty-first Army launched their infantry against Rumanian Third Army.
By early afternoon the Rumanian line was breached, and at 1400 the two tank corps and one cavalry corps of Fifth Tank Army began to move through. An hour later a tank corps and a cavalry corps were committed to exploit the breakthrough in the Twenty-first Army sector. Rumanian Third Army had collapsed under the first assault, and the Soviet tanks, against which the Rumanians had no antitank weapons heavier than 4.7-mm., completed their demoralization. Sixty-fifth Army also began its attack on the morning of the 19th, but it faced the German divisions on the left flank of Sixth Army and made practically no progress except against the Rumanian cavalry division on its right flank and there advanced only about 3 miles as opposed to 13-14 miles gained by the other two armies.49
The next day Fifty-seventh and Fifty-first Armies broke through the front of Rumanian VI Corps south of the Beketovka bridgehead. 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 Rumanian VI Corps would have no combat value worth mentioning. Hoth reported that what had taken weeks to achieve had been ruined in a day; in many places the Rumanians had offered no resistance--they had fallen victim to an "indescribable tank panic."50 He wanted to pull back Rumanian VII Corps, which was holding the army right flank south of VI Corps; but Army Group B refused permission on the grounds that once the Rumanians began to retreat they would not stop.
Shortly before midnight on 19 November Army Group B ordered Paulus to stop operations against the Soviet bridgeheads in Stalingrad and take three panzer divisions and an infantry division out of the city to meet the attack on his left flank. The next day the divisions, under the command of Headquarters, XIV Panzer Corps, shifted to the west bank of the Don where, together with the three divisions already there, 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 of gasoline shortages,
they were not able to operate against the more important outer arm of the envelopment. The only obstacles in the path of the Fifth Tank Army advance were the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and remnants of Rumanian Third Army. The Rumanians hardly counted any longer, although some, notably elements of one division under the Rumanian General Mihail Lascar, fought valiantly. XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, on which Hitler at first pinned all his hopes, could not establish contact between its two divisions and in the end barely managed to escape to the west bank of the Chir River.51 At most, all the German and Rumanian troops 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. Subsequently, the army's two tank corps continued on toward Kalach and Chir Station while the cavalry corps, aided by several infantry divisions, cleared the line of the Chir River, east of which the Germans and Rumanians had no hope of holding out in any case.52
On the south flank Fourth Panzer Army was no better off. The offensive had split the army in two, trapping IV Corps and the 29th Motorized Infantry Division inside the pocket forming around Stalingrad and leaving Hoth the Headquarters, Rumanian Fourth Army, Rumanian VI and VII Corps, and the 16th Motorized Infantry Division as all that remained of his army.53 The 16th Motorized Infantry Division, protecting the Army's outer flank, was cut off at Khalkuta on the first day of the offensive and had to fight its way west to Jashkul. In that condition, Fourth Panzer Army not only could not stem the advance of the Russian units encircling Stalingrad from the south, but it had no real hope of preventing the Russians from also advancing southwest along the left bank of the Don.
In fact, though it was not known at the time, the army was saved more by the Russians' tactical shortcomings than by any efforts of its own. 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 strongest force, a paired tank corps and cavalry corps, in a wide sweep northwestward to complete the encirclement in the vicinity of Kalach and simultaneously directing its infantry divisions southwestward toward Kotelnikovo to cover the flank. Considering the shattered state of Fourth Panzer Army, this splitting of forces should not have caused trouble; but the Headquarters, Fifty-first Army, was not equal to the task of controlling forces moving in divergent directions; and, as a result, the advance
toward Kalach and that toward Kotelnikovo were both conducted more slowly and hesitantly than was necessary. Toward Kotelnikovo, in particular, the Russians, after their initial success, advanced cautiously. Even so, Fourth Panzer Army was in near mortal danger. On 22 November Hoth described Rumanian VI Corps as presenting "a fantastic picture of fleeing remnants."54
Manstein, Paulus, Hitler
A sudden encirclement of a modern army is a cataclysmic event, comparable in its way to an earthquake or other natural disaster. On the map it often takes on a surgically precise appearance. On the battlefield it is a rending, tearing operation that leaves the victim to struggle in a state of shock with the least favorable military situation: his lines of communications cut, headquarters separated from troops, support elements shattered, and front open to attack from all directions. The moment the ring closes every single individual in the pocket is a prisoner. Death is in front of him and behind him; home is a distant dream. Fear and panic hang in the air. Escape is the first thought in the minds 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 its men, weapons, vehicles, supplies, and equipment and marching it 10, 20, 30, or more miles is a cumbersome and perilous undertaking.
The first effect of the impending encirclement is vastly to intensify the normal confusion of battle because the attack is carried into the areas most difficult to defend and because as the advance continues the victim progressively loses the points of reference, the means, and the ability to orient himself for a coherent response. That was what was happening to Sixth Army in the first days of the offensive. It was 70 miles from the Serafimovich bridgehead to the bridge at Kalach, a few miles farther to the 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 entire inner workings 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 those who would retreat east as long as they had any other choice were few. Not many had ever seen a Soviet tank or wanted to and, in fact, not many would, but rumor had the Russians everywhere.55 Disbelief added to the confusion; the Russians had never yet executed a completely successful breakthrough in depth.
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 withdraw from 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 gave Generalfeldmarschall Fritz Erich von Manstein command. Manstein was commanding Eleventh Army on the left flank of Army Group Center and would need about a week to transfer his headquarters.
Manstein's appointment completed the Stalingrad triumvirate, Hitler, Manstein, Paulus--a fateful combination of personalities.
Hitler could not stand to see an animal injured or to view the human consequences of battles, but in his headquarters remote from the battlefield, where he and his staffs dealt with unit symbols on maps and those mostly in the abstract as "blocks," he could coldbloodedly give orders that were certain to cost thousands of men their lives. Governed by emotions and inclined to rely on intuition rather than reason, he was incapable of objective or dispassionate thought on any matter that affected his own image of himself and he could, therefore, not tolerate defeat. At Stalingrad he had publicly staked his personal prestige. In the previous winter he had discovered--and successfully employed--the one reaction to military adversity that suited his personality, the rigid defense.
Manstein in his professional sphere, and without Hitler's irrationality, was nearly as much of an egoist as Hitler. In the 1930's he had held the two top posts under the Chief of Staff, OKH, in the Army General Staff and had, before the 1938 shake-up brought in Brauchitsch and Halder, been the leading candidate for the next appointment as Chief of Staff, OKH.56 Relegated to an assignment as army group chief of staff, he had proposed changes in the plan for the French campaign of 1940 that were received without enthusiasm in the OKH but which caught Hitler's imagination and ultimately contributed to the swift German victory. No favorite in the OKH--Brauchitsch described him as too ambitious and too conscious of his own achievements--he was first given a panzer corps to command in the Russian campaign. But Hitler held him in high regard, gave him command of Eleventh Army in September 1941, and in July 1942, after the conquest of the Crimea that culminated in the brilliantly executed capture of Sevastopol, promoted him to field marshal. Manstein, when he took command of Army Group Don, had a reputation to uphold, and possibly enlarge, as an engineer of victories and as an inspired, even daring, commander and tactician. He had Hitler's confidence. Had the Fuehrer decided to appoint another Commander in Chief, Army, he 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 Staff, OKH, with enough added authority to make him Hitler's Ludendorff.
Paulus was the ideal staff officer, thoroughly trained, conscientious, capable, hard-working, and reserved. Nearly all of his military career had been spent as a staff officer, culminating in an appointment in 1940 as Oberquartiermeister I, the plans chief in the OKH. Sixth Army was his first combat command and the 1942 summer offensive his first campaign in the field. He lacked the ability to inspire the personal loyalty enjoyed by some of the other army commanders, but he had fought the campaign well by professional standards.
Like Manstein's his career was also on the rise.57 Reportedly, Hitler planned to bring him back to Fuehrer headquarters after Stalingrad to replace Jodl, who was in lingering disfavor.58
On 21 November Hitler ordered Sixth Army to stand where it was "regardless of the danger of a temporary encirclement."59 At the same time, he promised Manstein reinforcements totaling 6 infantry divisions, 4 panzer divisions, an Air Force field division, and an antiaircraft artillery division, but of those only 2 infantry divisions were available immediately, the others not to be expected until the first week of December.60
The order reached Paulus at Nizhne Chirskaya behind the Chir River and outside the developing encirclement, where the Sixth Army's winter headquarters had been built. He had stayed at his forward command post at Golubinskaya, on the bank of the Don ten miles north of Kalach, until nearly noon, when Soviet tanks headed toward Kalach came into sight on the steppe to the west. The XIV Panzer Corps staff moved into the headquarters at Golubinskaya and from there, with parts of the 14th and 16th Panzer Divisions, tried to lure the Russian spearhead into a stationary battle. Wherever they could, the Russian tanks ignored the Germans and roared on past. IV Tank Corps lost a little speed. Its neighbor on the west, XXVI Tank Corps, was not affected at all. In a daring raid before dawn on the morning of 22 November, a battalion from XXVI Tank Corps captured the Don bridge at Kalach and formed a hedgehog around it.
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 was encircled. In the strictest sense, the report was not correct. The Germans in Kalach held out until the next day; it was late on that day, the 23rd, that, after an exchange of green recognition flares, IV Tank Corps, which had crossed the Don and covered the intervening ten miles, met IV Cavalry Corps at Sovetskiy, and closed the ring.61
In the message to Hitler on 22 November, Paulus 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 doubtful because of shortages of motor fuel--he intended to form a perimeter around Stalingrad. If a front could not be established in the south, the only solution, as he saw it, was to evacuate Stalingrad, give up the north front, pull the army together, and break out to the southwest toward Fourth Panzer Army. He requested discretionary authority to give such orders if they became necessary.62
Having waited in vain throughout the day on the 23rd for a decision from Hitler and by then aware that the Russians had plugged the last gap, completing the cordon,
Paulus that night radioed a second appeal to the OKH in which he stated that the German front still open in the south would expose the army to destruction "in the very shortest time" if the breakout were not attempted. As the first step 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.63 In a separate message Weichs seconded Paulus' request; and during the night General der Artillerie Walter von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, Commanding General, LI Corps, concluding that a breakout was inevitable and that Hitler would have to be presented with a fait accompli, began pulling back several of his divisions on the northeastern tip of the pocket--which brought a prompt and angry protest from Hitler.64 Seydlitz, for whom destiny was preparing a unique place among the Stalingrad generals, was in personality the antithesis of Paulus, impulsive, temperamental, and enterprising.
Manstein, who also submitted an estimate to the OKH, was less positive than Paulus and Weichs. He agreed that the breakout was the safest course and that an attempt to hold out was extremely dangerous; but he did not support an immediate attempt. He believed a relief operation could start in early December if the promised reinforcements were made available. At the same time, he warned that the breakout could still become necessary if the relief forces could not be assembled.65
That Hitler was not being influenced by any of these communications soon became clear. On 24 November he ordered Sixth Army to draw the northwest and southwest fronts inward slightly and then hold the pocket. He promised to supply the army by air.66 Over Zeitzler's strenuously expressed doubts, Goering had assured him that the Air Force would be able to transport 600 tons of supplies per day into the pocket.67 Hitler also ordered Fourth Panzer Army to stop the Russians north of Kotelnikovo and get ready to counterattack north to re-establish contact with the Sixth Army.68
Two days later Hitler set out the details of his intentions in a message to Manstein. To evacuate Stalingrad would mean giving
up the "most substantial achievement" of the 1942 summer 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 was to "extend a hand" to Sixth Army from the Kotelnikovo area and hold a bridgehead around the confluence of the Don and Chir Rivers to facilitate a secondary advance to Stalingrad from the west. When contact with Sixth Army was re-established supplies would be moved in, the city would be held, and Army Group Don could begin to prepare for a northward advance to clear out the area of the breakthrough between the Don and the Chir.69
After he had made his decision Hitler was confident. That feeling was not shared at the front.70 On receiving the Hitler order of 24 November, Seydlitz told Paulus there could be no question of holding; the army had either to break out or succumb within a short time. He believed supplies, which had already been running short before the Russian offensive began, would decide the issue; and to base any hopes on air supply was to grasp at a straw since only thirty JU-52's were at hand (on 23 November), and even if hundreds more could be assembled, a feat which was doubtful, the army's full requirements would still not be met.71 Paulus commented sharply that Seydlitz was interfering in affairs which were no concern of his but nonetheless agreed in substance and on 26 November in a personal letter to Manstein again asked permission to act at his own discretion if necessary, pointing out that the first three days of air supply had brought only a fraction of the promised 600 tons and 300 JU-52's per day.72 Manstein, who assumed command of Army Group Don on 27 November, knew Hitler's plans and did not reply.
The Russians Neglect the Flanks
As bad as the situation at Stalingrad was, it could have been far worse. Once the Russians had completed the encirclement, they devoted their main strength to fastening the hold on Sixth Army and virtually discontinued the offensive in the Chir River and Fourth Panzer Army sectors. By 28 November they had concentrated 94 brigades and divisions against Sixth Army and about 49 opposing the remnants of Rumanian Third Army and Fourth Panzer Army, no more than 20 of those in the line.
On the German side, the line of the Chir was held in the north by XVII Corps and, south to the confluence of the Chir and Don, by Rumanian Third Army. XVII Corps had two German divisions and most of the remaining Rumanian troops. Rumanian Third Army existed in name only; its headquarters was manned by German staff officers and its front held by a scratch force of smaller German units.73 In the
WEICHS, PAULUS, AND SEYDLITZ AT LI ARMY CORPS HEADQUARTERS
Fourth Panzer Army sector the remnants of Fourth Panzer Army and Rumanian VI and VII Corps were redesignated Armeegruppe Hoth.74 Under Hoth, Headquarters, Rumanian Fourth Army, took command of the two Rumanian corps. With the Rumanians and a scattering of German rear area troops, Hoth attempted to stop the Russians north of Kotelnikovo; but, he reported on 24 November, if they made anything approaching a serious effort they could not help but have the "greatest" success. By 27 November Kotelnikovo was within Russian artillery range, but Stalingrad Front and Fifty-first Army were moving
cautiously; and in the last four days of the month the first transports of German troops for the counterattack began to arrive.75
Hitler's decision to hold Sixth Army at Stalingrad had embodied two assumptions: sufficient forces to conduct a successful relief operation could be assembled; and Sixth Army could be maintained as a viable fighting force by air supply until that was accomplished. The air supply problem appeared to be one of simple arithmetic, of matching the number of planes to tonnages. Such was not the case, but even if it had been, the problem would still have been beyond solution. In late November 1942, the German Air Force was undergoing its greatest strain since the start of the war. At Stalingrad and in North Africa, it was fighting a two-front war in earnest. By the end of November 400 combat aircraft had gone out of the USSR to North Africa, reducing the total strength by one-sixth and the effective strength by nearly one-third. Of 2,000 planes left in the east, the OKW estimated 1,120 were operational on 29 November.76
Generaloberst Wolfram von Richthofen, commanding Fourth Air Force, reported on 25 November that he had 298 trimotor JU-52 transports; to supply Stalingrad he needed 500. He recommended that Sixth Army be allowed to break out, a suggestion which Hitler "rejected out of hand."77 The subsequent employment of HE-111 twin-engine bombers as transports further reduced the number of aircraft available for combat missions without decisively improving the air supply. As it was, even the number of aircraft at hand could not be organized into an effective airlift across enemy-held territory, through contested air space, in uncertain weather, and without adequate ground support. On 29 November, 38 JU-52's (load 1 ton per plane) and 21 HE-111's (maximum load 1,000 pounds) took off. Of those, 12 JU-52's and 13 HE-111's landed inside the pocket. The following day 30 JU-52's and 36 HE-111's landed out of 39 and 38 committed.78 If Sixth Army was to be saved, it would have to be done soon.
On 1 December Army Group Don began preparations for Operation WINTERGEWITTER, the relief of Sixth Army, assigning the main effort to Fourth Panzer Army's LVII Panzer Corps which with two fresh panzer divisions (6th and 23d) then on the way would advance northeastward from the vicinity of Kotelnikovo toward Stalingrad. Rumanian VI and VII Corps were to protect the flanks. For the secondary effort Fourth Panzer Army was given XXXXVIII Panzer Corps to strike toward Kalach out of the small German bridgehead astride the confluence of the Don and Chir Rivers. Headquarters, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, left its two original divisions, the 22d Panzer Division and the 1st Rumanian Armored Division, on the Chir front and assumed command in the bridgehead of three divisions then arriving, the 11th
Panzer Division, 336th Infantry Division, and 7th Air Force Field Division. Paulus was to concentrate all of his armor on the southwest rim of the pocket and be ready to strike toward LVII Panzer Corps if ordered. He was also to be prepared to break out toward Kalach, but was at the same time to hold the fronts on the north and in Stalingrad. Manstein wanted to be ready to start any time after daybreak on 8 December.79
Doubts and Delays
The outlook for WINTERGEWITTER was not auspicious from the first and grew less promising with each passing day. Sixth Army moved two motorized divisions and one panzer division with 80 tanks to its southwest front for the breakthrough, but beginning on 2 December the Don and Stalingrad Fronts for a week staged a full-fledged effort to liquidate the pocket and tied down the three divisions in defensive fighting.80 On 3 December the Russians also became active along the Chir in the Rumanian Third Army sector, forcing Manstein to commit there the divisions for XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and making it extremely unlikely that the corps would be able to participate in the advance toward Stalingrad. Further, the divisions for LVII Panzer Corps were slow in arriving, and the OKH instructed the army group to use the Air Force field divisions, one with XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and one with Fourth Panzer Army, for defensive missions only.
By 9 December WINTERGEWITTER had dwindled to a two-division operation. Nevertheless, the next day Manstein decided to go ahead, and he set the time for the morning of 12 December, having to delay that much because freezing weather had just begun to set in after several days' rain and thaw had made the roads impassable. A further postponement, he believed, could not be tolerated because supplies were running short in the pocket and because Soviet armor had been detected moving in opposite Fourth Panzer Army.81 Sixth Army reported that an average of only 70 tons of supplies per day had been flown in and that ammunition stocks were declining dangerously and rations, except for odds and ends, would run out by 19 December.82
Hitler was optimistic. On 3 December, answering a gloomy Army Group Don report, he cautioned Manstein to bear in mind that the Soviet divisions were always smaller and weaker than they first appeared to be and that the Soviet Command was probably thrown off balance by its own success.83 A week later his confidence had grown, and, concluding that the first phase of the Soviet winter offensive could be considered ended without having achieved a decisive success, he returned to the idea of retaking the line on the Don. By 10 December his thinking had progressed to the point where he planned to move the 7th and 17th Panzer Divisions to the Army
Group Don left flank and use them to spearhead an advance from the Chir to the Don.84 The next day he ordered Manstein to station the 17th Panzer Division in the XVII Corps sector, thereby, for the time being, ending the possibility of its being used to support Fourth Panzer Army's attack toward Stalingrad.85
Jumping off on time on the morning of 12 December--the German forces being probably about equal to those opposing them--LVII Panzer Corps made good, though not spectacular, progress. During the afternoon situation conference at Fuehrer headquarters, Zeitzler tried to persuade Hitler to release the 17th Panzer Division for WINTERGEWITTER; but Hitler refused because a Russian threat appeared to be building up on the Army Group Don left flank where it joined the right flank of the Italian Eighth Army. In the conference he restated his position on Stalingrad, saying, "I have reached one conclusion, Zeitzler. We cannot under any circumstances give that [pointing to Stalingrad] up. We will not retake it. We know what that means . . . if we give up that we sacrifice the whole sense of this campaign. To imagine that I will get there again next time is insanity."86
On the second day Of WINTERGEWITTER, LVII Panzer Corps reached the Aksay River and captured the bridge at Zalivskiy; but, on the Chir and at the Don-Chir bridgehead XXXXVIII Panzer Corps barely held its own against the Fifth Tank and Fifth Shock Armies, which were attempting to fasten the Soviet hold on Sixth Army by enlarging the buffer zone on the west.87 Before noon Manstein reported to Hitler that the trouble on the Chir had eliminated any chance of XXXXVIII Panzer Corps' releasing forces for a thrust out of the bridgehead and that without such help LVII Panzer Corps, east of the Don, could not restore contact with Sixth Army. He wanted the 17th Panzer Division to take over the attack from the bridgehead and the 16th Motorized Infantry Division--then stationed between the Army Group Don and Army Group A flanks--to support the LVII Panzer Corps offensive. Concerning Hitler's plan for an advance to the Don north of Stalingrad, he stated that it could not start before 10 January 1943 if at all, and, in the meantime, the success of WINTERGEWITTER had to be assured by all possible means.88 Hitler released the 17th Panzer Division but not the 16th Motorized Infantry Division. The decision regarding the 17th Panzer was made somewhat easier by a growing impression that the Russians were merely simulating the offensive build-up opposite the Army Group Don left flank.89
During the next four days WINTERGEWITTER went ahead but without gaining
enough momentum to ensure an early success. On 14 December that part of the Don-Chir bridgehead east of the Don had to be evacuated. The attack out of the bridgehead would have been abandoned in any case since the one-division reinforcement Hitler had approved was by then needed in the LVII Panzer Corps sector. On the 17th and 18th, LVII Panzer Corps, increased to three divisions by the arrival of the 17th Panzer Division, became tied down in fighting around Kumsky, half way between the Aksav and Mishkova Rivers.
On the 19th LVII Panzer Corps suddenly shook itself loose and pushed to the Mishkova, thirty-five miles from the pocket. Manstein, however, informed Hitler that LVII Panzer Corps probably could not achieve contact with Sixth Army and certainly could not open a permanent corridor into the pocket. He believed the only answer was to order the army to break out, gradually pulling back its fronts on the north and in Stalingrad as it moved toward LVII Panzer Corps. That, he maintained, would, at least, save most of the troops and whatever equipment could still be moved.90 To Sixth Army he sent advance notice of the breakout order. The army's mission, he stated, would have to include an initial breakout to the Mishkova where, after contact with LVII Panzer Corps was established, truck convoys which were moving up 3,000 tons of supplies behind the corps would be sluiced through to the pocket. Subsequently Sixth Army, taking along what equipment it could, would evacuate the pocket and withdraw southwestward. The army was to get ready but not start until ordered.91
Hitler, encouraged by LVII Panzer Corps' recent success, refused to approve. Instead, he ordered the SS Panzer Grenadier Division Wiking transferred from Army Group A to Fourth Panzer Army. Sixth Army, he insisted, was to hold out until a firm contact was established and a complete, orderly withdrawal could be accomplished. In the meantime, enough supplies were to be flown in, particularly gasoline, to give the army thirty miles' mobility; Hitler had heard that the army's vehicles had fuel for no more than eighteen miles.92
On 21 December, after LVII Panzer Corps had failed to get beyond the Mishkova in two days' fighting, Generalmajor Friedrich Schulz, Chief of Staff, Army Group Don, conferred with Generalmajor Arthur Schmidt, Chief of Staff, Sixth Army, over a newly installed decimeter wave telecommunications system. After Schmidt, replying to a question forwarded from OKH, declared that the army's fuel on hand was only enough for twelve miles, Schulz turned to the question of a breakout. Permission for the breakout and evacuation, he stated, had not been received; but because of the unlikelihood of LVII Panzer Corps' getting any farther north, Manstein wanted to go ahead as soon as possible. Schmidt replied that the breakout could begin on 24 December, but he did not believe the army could continue to hold the pocket thereafter if heavy losses were incurred; if Stalingrad was to be held it would be better to fly in supplies and replacements, in which case the army could
hold out indefinitely. He and Paulus thought the chances for success would be better if the evacuation followed immediately upon the breakout, but they regarded the evacuation as an act of desperation to be avoided until it became absolutely necessary.93 The conference ended on that indeterminate note.
Manstein transmitted the results of the conference to OKH. He could give no assurance, he added, that if the army were to hold out contact could be re-established. Further substantial gains by LVII Panzer Corps were not to be expected. In effect, WINTERGEWITTER had failed.94 Later that day Hitler conferred at length with the Chiefs of Staff, OKH and OKL, but to those present "the Fuehrer seemed no longer capable of making a decision."95
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (II) * Next Chapter (IV)
1. IVOV (R), II, 424.
2. Boris S. Telpuchowski, Die sowjetische Geschichte des Grossen Vaeterlaendischen Krieges, 1941-1945 (Frankfurt a. M., 1961), p. 129.
3. MS # P-114c. Die Operationen der deutschen Heeresgruppen an der Ostfront 1941 bis 1945, Suedliches Gebiet (General der Artillerie a. D. Friedrich Wilhelm Hauck), Teil III, p. 84.
4. AOK 6, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch Nr. 13, 21 Jul 42, AOK 6 23948/1 file.
5. Der Fuehrer, OKW, WFSt, Op. Nr. 551288/42, Weisung Nr. 45, 23.7.42, in OKM, Weisungen OKW (Fuehrer), OCMH files.
6. MS # P-114c (Hauck), Teil III, p. 103.
7. IVOV (R), II, 429.
8. AOK 6, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch Nr. 13, 31 Jul-5 Aug 42, AOK 6 23948/1 file.
9. Ibid., 7-16 Aug 42.
10. IVOV (R), II, 431.
11. Ibid., II, 436; AOK 6, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch Nr. 13, 21-25 Aug 43, AOK 6 23948/1 file.
12. Ibid., 26-28 Aug 42.
13. MS # P-114c (Hauck), Teil III, p. 217.
14. IVOV (R), II, 438.
15. MS # P-114c (Hauck), Teil III, p. 229.
16. I.R. 71 (mot.), Ia, Gefechtsbericht des III/71, vom 11.9.42, 20.9.42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/5, file.
17. Vasili I. Chuikov, The Battle for Stalingrad (New York, 1964), p. 120.
18. AOK 6, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch Nr. 13, 21-26 Sep 42, AOK 6 23948/1 file.
19. IVOV (R), II, pp. 442-44.
20. Pz. AOK 4, Ia, Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, III. Teil, 30 Sep 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
21. Ibid., 1 Oct 42.
22. AOK 6, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch Nr. 13, 20 Sep-4 Oct 42, AOK 6 23948/1 file.
23. Ibid., 4 Oct 42.
24. Domarus, ed., Hitler Reden und Proclamationen, 1932-45, II, 1914.
25. AOK 6, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 6-17 Oct 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
26. IVOV (R), II, 444-45.
27. AOK 6, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 23, 31 Oct 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
28. Chuikov, Battle for Stalingrad, p. 206; IVOV (R), II, 448.
29. AOK 6, Fuehrungsabteilung Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 17 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file.
30. OKH, GenStdH, Fremde Heere Ost (I) Nr. 2492/42, Gedanken zur Weiterentwicklung der Feindlage im Herbst und Winter, 29.8.42, H 3/190 file.
31. Gen. Kdo. LIX A. K., Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 4, 14 Oct 42, LIX A.K. 30145/1 file.
32. OKH, GenStdH, Fremde Heere Ost, Kurze Beurteilung der Feindlage vom 13.10.42; Kurze Beurteilung der Feindlage vom 15.10.42. Both in H 3/199 file.
33. OKH, GenStdH, Fremde Heere Ost, Kurze Beurteilung der Feindlage vom 26.10., 27.10., 28.10. und 31.10.42, H 3/199 file.
34. AOK 9, Kriegstagebuch, Fuehrungsabteilung, Berichtszeit 1.7-31.12.42, Band II, 30 Oct 42, AOK 9 31624/2 file.
35. MS # C-065a, Aufzeichnungen ueber die Lagevortraege und Besprechungen im Fuehrerhauptquartier vom 12. August 1942 bis zum 17. Maerz 1943 (Helmuth Greiner), pp. 84-85.
36. Ibid., p. 93.
37. OKH, GenStdH, Fremde Heere Ost, Kurze Beurteilung der Feindlage vom 4.11., 8.11., und 10.11.42, H 3/199 file.
38. OKH, GenStdH, Fremde Heere Ost (I), Beurteilung der Feindlage vor Heeresgruppe Mitte, 6.11.42, H 3/185 file.
39. OKH, GenStdH, Fremde Heere Ost, Kurze Beurteilung der Feindlage vom 12.11.42, H 3/199 file.
40. Pz. AOK 4, Ia, Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 8, 9 Nov 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
41. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. III, Pruef Nr. 88455, Lage H. Gr. B, Stand 19.17. Abends, H. Gr. B Lagekarten file.
42. Soviet rifle divisions were authorized about 10,000 men each; tank corps (comparable to U.S. Army armored divisions), 10,500 men and 189 medium and heavy tanks; cavalry corps, 19,000 men and approximately 100 armored vehicles.
43. [General Staff of the Red Army], Sbornik Materialov po Izucheniyu Opyta Voyny, Nomer 6, Apr-May 43.
44. Soviet mechanized corps were authorized strengths of 16,000 men and 186 tanks. Some of the tank and mechanized corps could have come from the First and Fourth Tank Armies. Fourth Tank Army no longer appeared in the order of battle in the Stalingrad area after September. First Tank Army disappeared after the encirclement west of Kalach where it was badly mauled if not, as the Germans claimed, destroyed.
45. IVOV (R), III, 20.
46. Ibid., p. 26.
47. Sbornik Nomer 6.
48. See also Obkdo. d. H. Gr. B, Ia Nr. 4316/42, Erfahrungen ueber Feindverhalten beim russ. Grossangriff am 19.11.42, 27.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/36 file.
49. Sbornik Nomer 6.
50. Pz. AOK 4, Ia, Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, III. Teil, 20 Nov 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
51. On 26 November XXXXVIII Panzer Corps crossed to the west bank of the Chir with 6,000 of General Lascar's troops which it had rescued from an encirclement. Hitler, who persisted in believing that the corps was strong enough to have stopped Fifth Tank Army, ordered the commanding general, Generalleutnant Ferdinand Heim, back to Germany, where he was stripped of his rank and jailed without trial. Released in August 1943, still without having been tried, he was restored to rank a year later and appointed to command the Boulogne Fortress.
52. AOK 6, Ia, Kriegstagebuch Nr. 14, 19 Nov 42, AOK 6 33224/2 file; AOK 6, Ia, Angaben ueber Vorgaenge seit dem 20.11.42, in Unterlagen Festung Stalingrad, 21.11.-21.12.42, AOK 6 75107/6 file; Sbornik Nomer 6.
53. In late October, Headquarters, Rumanian Fourth Army, bringing with it the VII Corps and three divisions, had arrived to take command on the Fourth Panzer right flank.
54. Pz. AOK, Ia, Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, III. Teil, 21, 22 Nov 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file; Sbornik Nomer 6.
55. A graphic, semifictionalized account is given in Heinrich Gerlach, Die Verratene Armee (Munich, 1959).
56. Fritz Erich von Manstein, Aus Einem Soldatenleben (Bonn, 1958), p. 318.
57. See Goerlitz, Paulus and Stalingrad; Heinz Schroeter, Stalingrad (New York, 1958).
58. Hillgruber, ed., Kriegstagebuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht, Band II1, p. 12.
59. H. Gr. B, Ia, an AOK 6, Fuehrerentscheid, 21.11.42, AOK 6 75107/6 file.
60. OKH, GenStdH, Op, Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 420947/42, an H. Gr. B, 22.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file.
61. Schroeter, Stalingrad, p. 80. IVOV (R), III, 40-49.
62. AOK 6, Ia, KR-Funkspruch an H. Gr. B, 22.11. 42, 1900 Uhr, in Unterlagen Festung Stalingrad, Nov 42, AOK 6 75107/3 file.
63. Paulus, Funkspruch an OKH, Nachrichtlich H. Gr. B, 23.11.42, 2130 Uhr; AOK 6 75107/6 file.
64. On 24 November Hitler demanded a report on the LI Corps' withdrawal and forbade any further measures contrary to Operations Order 1. Weichs attempted to gloss over the matter by explaining that the troops had been taken back to prepared positions in order to gain a division for other employment; but Hitler was not convinced and, suspicious of Paulus, gave Seydlitz, of whose action he apparently was not aware, command of the entire north front, making him personally responsible for holding that side of the pocket. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 420964/42, an 6 Armee, H. Gr. B, H. Gr. Don, 24.11.42; OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 134/42; H. Gr. B, AOK 6, 24.11.42 (all in AOK 6 75107/6 file); H. Gr. B, Ia, Nr. 4242/42; H. Gr. Don, 24.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file.
65. Ob. Kdo. H. Gr. Don, Ia, Nr. 4580/42, an OKH, Op. Abt., 24.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file.
66. OKH, GenStdH, an AOK 6, 24.11.42, in Unterlagen Festung Stalingrad, Nov 42, AOK 6 75107/3 file.
At the same time Hitler declared Stalingrad a fortress, a designation of no particular military significance under the circumstances other than as emphasizing his determination to stay there at all costs.
67. MS # T-9, Der Feldzug in Russland ein operativer Ueberblick (Generaloberst a. D. Gotthard Heinrici), ch. X, "Stalingrad," pp. 81-82.
68. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 420961/42, an H. Gr. B, 24.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file.
69. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 420964/42, an Herrn Generalfeldmarschall von Manstein, 26.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file.
70. MS # C-065a (Greiner), p. 116.
71. 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.
72. O.B. der AOK 6, an Generalfeldmarschall von Manstein, 26.11.42, AOK 6 75107/3 file.
73. In the German Army among all ranks disgust at the conduct of the Rumanian units was widespread; and until well into 1943 Hitler and the Army Group commands had to intervene periodically with orders forbidding open expressions of contempt. Observers who retained some objectivity concluded that the individual Rumanian was not a bad soldier, but that he was poorly trained, badly led, and miserably equipped. The Rumanians argued that they had made no secret of their capabilities. One point on which most Germans and, at least, the rank and file of the Rumanians agreed was that the Rumanian officer corps, with very few exceptions, was thoroughly incompetent, corrupt, and divided by political quarrels. Army Group B reported that in the early stages of the offensive, division and corps staffs took to their heels without bothering about their troops. VO, PKW, WPr. zum 3, rum. AOK, Bericht ueber den Zusammenbruch der 3. Rumaenischen Armee, 13.1.43, DW 39 file; Der Oberbefehlshaber der H. Gr. B, Ia Nr. 4200/42, an den Fuehrer und Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres, 26.11.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file.
74. The change had been planned before the Russian attack as a means of keeping closer control of the Rumanian units after Headquarters, Rumanian Fourth Army, assumed command.
75. Pz. AOK 4, Ia, Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 21-30 Nov. 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
76. Air Ministry (British) Pamphlet 248, Rise and Fall of the German Air Force, p. 182; MS # C-065a (Greiner), pp. 124-25.
77. Ibid., p. 117.
78. OKH, GenStdH, Gen Qu., Abt. I, Qu. 1 Nr. I/8807/42 an H Gr. Don, 26.11.42; H. Gr. Don, Einsatz Luftwaffe 29.11.42; H. Gr. Don, Einsatz der Flugzuege zur Versorgung der 6. Armee am 30.11.42. Both in H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file.
79. Ob. Kdo. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0343/42, Weisung Nr. 1 fuer Operation "WINTERGEWITTER," 1.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file.
80. AOK 6, Ia, Notizen zur Beurteilung der Lage 6. Armee 7.12.42 Vormittags, H. Gr. Don 39694/4 file; Platonov, Vtoraya Mirovaya Voyna, 1939-45, p. 391.
81. Ob. Kdo. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0356/42, an OKH, Chef d. GenStdH, 10.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/4 file.
82. AOK 6, Ia Nr. 4727/42, an H. Gr. Don. 11.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/4 file.
83. Anna 7851, Bezug: H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0341/42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b file.
84. MS # C-065a (Greiner), p. 140.
85. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. Nr. 1014/42, an H. Gr. Don, 11.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/4 file.
86. Stenogr. Dienst im F. H. Qu., Lagebesprechung vom 2.12.42, OCMH files.
87. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 16.9-31.12.42, 13 Dec 43, Pz, AOK 4 28183/1 file; [General Staff of the Red Army], Sbornik Materialov po Izucheniiu Opyta Voyny, Nomer 8, Aug-Oct 43.
88. O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 259/42, an Chef des Generalstabes, OKH, 13.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/4 file.
89. MS # C-065a (Greiner), p. 144.
90. Der Oberbefehlshaber der Heeresgruppe Don, Ia Nr. 0368/42, an Chef des Generalstabes des Heeres zur sofortigen Vorlage beim Fuehrer, 19.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/5 file.
91. Ob. Kdo. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0369/42, an 6. Armee, 19.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/5 file.
92. MS # C-065a (Greiner), p. 148.
93. FS-Gespraech Gen. Schmidt-Gen. Schulz, 21.12.42, AOK 6 75107/2 file.
94. O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0372/42, zu Fernspruch OKH, Op. Abt. Nr. 521021/43, 21.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/5 file.
95. MS # C-065a (Greiner), p. 93.