Sixth Army Isolated
By the end of the 1942 summer campaign the southern flank of the Eastern Front was split in two. Army Groups A and B stood almost back to back nearly four hundred miles apart, the one facing south along the high ridge of the Caucasus, the other northeast along the west bank of the Don. The whole Army Group B front on the Don had one function--to protect the forces to the south, at first Sixth Army and Army Group A, later also Army Group Don. That mission, not crucial as long as the offensive kept rolling, had fallen chiefly to the allied armies. In mid-December Hungarian Second Army and Italian Eighth Army still held the 200-mile front on the Don south of Voronezh. Their future performance was predictable: of the three allied armies the Rumanians had been considered the best.
A glance at the map reveals how vulnerable Army Groups Don and A were; they dangled like puppets on strings at the ends of the few railroads that reached into the steppe east of the Don and Donets. (Map 5) The critical points on those lines were the river crossings. Everything east of the Dnepr Bend depended on the bridges at Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhye. The distance from Dnepropetrovsk to the Russian line at Novaya Kalitva in the center of the Italian Eighth Army sector was 250 miles, while from Dnepropetrovsk to the Army Group Don front on the Chir River the distance was 330 miles and to the left flank of Army Group A, 580 miles. But the Russians did not need to strike that far west. On the left flank of Army Group Don they were within 80 miles of the three Donets crossings: Voroshilovgrad, Kamensk, and Belokalitvenskaya. A 150-mile march from the left flank of Army Group Don would take them to Rostov. Both Army Group A and Fourth Panzer Army were entirely dependent on the railroad through Rostov. The Army Group A left flank was 350 miles and the Fourth Panzer Army right flank 220 miles from Rostov. Although the Stavka was not yet so self-confident as to set about trying to bag two army groups in a single sweep, geography, the state of the German forces, and Hitler's generalship were encouraging such an attempt.
Southwest Front Renews the Offensive
In late November, when it could be seen that the Germans would attempt to relieve Stalingrad, the Stavka gave Southwest Front the mission of creating a massive diversion by attacking southwest and west against the Italian Eighth and Rumanian Third Army fronts from Novaya Kalitva south to the mouth of the Chir. Zhukov planned and co-ordinated the operation as
A Double Thrust at Rostov
16 December 1942-19 January 1943
representative of the Stavka, leaving Stalingrad to Vasilevskiy.1 The offensive was to go deep--to the lower Kalitva, the Donets, and the Derkul. When the planning began Southwest Front had the First Guards and Fifth Tank Armies. Subsequently First Guards Army was enlarged, then split--its right flank becoming Third Guards Army--and Voronezh Front's Sixth Army was attached.
In December, when the front around the Stalingrad pocket had stabilized, the Russians began to get nervous. The almost simultaneous failure of the Fifth Tank Army--Fifth Shock Army offensive on the lower Chir and the beginning of WINTERGEWITTER south of Stalingrad increased the nervousness, briefly at least, to a near case of jitters. Southwest Front's offensive, conceived as an embellishment, began to look like a salvage operation. Under orders, Vatutin changed the main direction from southwest to southeast and reduced the projected depth of the advance by half.2
On 16 December the Russians began to move again. Soviet Sixth Army broke through the Italian line east of Novaya Kalitva, sweeping an Italian corps out of its path. In the succeeding days Vatutin committed the First and Third Guards Armies to extend the breakthrough downstream along the Don. On the 10th the Celere and Sforzesca Divisions on the Italian Eighth Army right flank collapsed, carrying with them two Rumanian divisions on the left flank of Army Group Don. In four days the Russians had ripped open a 100-mile hole and were driving south behind Army Group Don toward Millerovo and the Donets crossings.3
For the Germans, the first problem was somehow to screen the deep northern flank of Army Group Don. The OKH transferred a corps headquarters, commanded by General der Artillerie Maximilian Fretter-Pico, from Army Group North to take over the right flank of Army Group B as the Armeeabteilung Fretter-Pico.4 It gave the Armeeabteilung one fresh infantry division, the headquarters and elements of the 3d Mountain Division, and remnants of a weak German corps that had attempted to backstop the Italians. Fretter-Pico's mission was to protect the Donets bridges east of Voroshilovgrad and at Kamensk, establish a line away from the river, and tie in with Army Group Don.
On 23 December Manstein informed Hitler that the breakthrough on the army group left flank required an immediate shift of at least one division, perhaps two, from LVII Panzer Corps. That would mean relinquishing the idea of relieving Sixth Army soon and necessitate long-term air supply for the army. The army needed
550 tons of supplies a day; but von Richthofen, commanding Fourth Air Force, believed 200 tons a day was the most that could be delivered. If, as it appeared, air supply could not be guaranteed, Manstein saw a breakout as the only solution despite the risk. He pointed out that the appearance of Soviet reinforcements along the Mishkova meant the Russians would soon also be able to go over to the offensive there, a situation which was extremely dangerous since Fourth Panzer Army was relying on Rumanian troops to cover its flanks.5
Hitler's decision, in fact no decision at all, came in the early hours of the following morning. He authorized the transfer of "elements" of LVII Panzer Corps to the army group left flank to protect at Morozovsk and Tatsinskaya the air bases which were essential for Sixth Army's air supply. But the LVII Panzer Corps main force was to stay on the Mishkova until the advance toward Stalingrad could be resumed. As if it would make all the difference, he informed Manstein that one battalion of Tiger tanks being sent by railroad to the army group would that day cross into Russia near Brest-Litovsk.6
The Last Chance for Sixth Army
A month is a long time to an encircled army. Its moral and physical sustenance reduced to the thinnest streams, it begins to wither. The entire organism is affected, most dramatically and dismayingly the men themselves. In 1941 the Germans had noticed and then forgotten that large numbers of Russians captured in the great encirclements died suddenly without detectable symptoms. In December, the same sort of deaths began to be reported in the Stalingrad pocket. A pathologist flown in to perform autopsies in secret discovered that undernourishment, exhaustion, and exposure had caused the complete loss of fatty tissue, changes in the internal organs and the bone marrow and, as the apparent cause of death, a shrinking of the heart except for the right ventricle, which was greatly enlarged. Such heart damage, in normal medical practice, had been regarded as a condition that chiefly affected the aged; among the soldiers of Sixth Army at Stalingrad, as the days passed, it was observed to be common in both the dead and the living.7 In the Stalingrad pocket death was no novelty. Sixth Army lost 28,000 men between 22 November and 23 December.
On 18 December the army reported a ration strength of 246,000, including 13,000 Rumanians, 19,300 Russian auxiliaries, and 6,000 wounded; but that was far from representing its effective combat strength. Already in mid-October the army had reported that it was reduced to a front-line infantry strength of 56,500. Service troops were converted to infantry, but experience showed that even under the exceptional conditions of an encirclement, such conversions were neither easy to accomplish nor especially worthwhile in terms of combat effectiveness.8
At the end of the first month, the hard
winter had not yet set in. The temperature lingered close to freezing--some days above, some below. Cold days were apt to be clear and only occasionally snowy or windy. Warmer days brought clouds, fog, light rain, snow, and, always when there were two or three such days in succession, mud. Not as extreme as it might have been, the weather, nevertheless, was not easily borne by soldiers who were inadequately sheltered and clothed and were living on slender rations of bread, soup, and occasional horse meat.9 The instability of the weather also seriously affected the air supply. In the early winter, particularly, continental and maritime air masses met over the region of the lower Don and Volga, producing not only frequent and rapid changes in the weather but great variations within relatively short distances. Consequently, when the skies over the air bases at Tatsinskaya and Morozovsk were clear the Stalingrad pocket was sometimes buried in fog.
The relief attempt had failed. That another could be made or that the army could survive until then were both daily becoming more doubtful. On the afternoon of 23 December, Manstein called for a teletype conference with Paulus. He asked Paulus to consider whether, if no other course remained open, the breakout (which by then was assumed automatically to include the evacuation) could be executed provided limited quantities of motor fuel and rations were flown in during the next few days. Paulus replied that the breakout had become more difficult because the Russians had strengthened their line, but if it had to be, it was better done right away than later. Then he asked, "Do you empower me to begin the preparations? Once begun they cannot be reversed."
Manstein replied, "That authority I cannot give today. I am hoping for a decision tomorrow. The essential point is do you consider the army capable of forcing its way through to Hoth if supplies for a longer period cannot be assured?" Paulus answered, "In that case, there is nothing else to be done." He thought the army would need six days to get ready and an added 300,000 gallons of motor fuel plus 500 tons of rations.10
Within the hour Manstein dispatched a situation estimate to Hitler in which he outlined three possibilities: (1) leave the army where it was and assure a daily air supply of at least 500 tons; (2) order Paulus to break out, taking the risk that the army might not get through; (3) transfer immediately the 16th Motorized Infantry Division and two panzer divisions from First Panzer Army (Army Group A) to enable Fourth Panzer Army to resume the advance toward Stalingrad.11 Again Hitler could not make up his mind and, in lieu of a decision, the next day countered with a series of questions. Was a breakout actually possible, and would it succeed? When could it start? How long could Paulus stay in the pocket, given the current level of supplies or, perhaps "somewhat" increased air supply? When could the relief operation be resumed if Manstein were given both the SS Panzer Grenadier Division Wiking and the 7th Panzer Division? Did Manstein think the Russians would soon be
stopped by supply and fuel shortages? Would Manstein "welcome" being given command of Army Group A as well as Don in light of the fact "that the further developments could lead to momentous decisions?"12 (Hitler had relinquished personal command of Army Group A on 22 November and turned over command to Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist.)
Mainstein answered that the breakout could begin, as reported, in six days. As to success, nobody could predict that with certainty; and, if even a moderate degree of assurance were desired, it would be necessary to transfer two more divisions from First Panzer Army. The SS Wiking Division and the 7th Panzer Division would be needed on the army group left flank when they arrived. There were no reasons for thinking the Russians would run out of supplies. As far as his also taking command of Army Group A was concerned, nobody would "welcome" it in the existing circumstances, but it was unavoidable. Even so, it appeared that for Sixth Army, and Army Groups Don and A as well, the announced "momentous decisions" would come too late. Manstein concluded, "I ask that it be considered how the battle would develop if we commanded on the other side."13
Operations Order 2
On 24 December Vatutin pushed a spearhead through to Tatsinskaya and came within artillery range of Morozovsk. That same day Second Guards Army, rushed to the Mishkova by Stalingrad Front, threw LVII Panzer Corps back to the Aksay River. To hold the air supply base for Sixth Army at Morozovsk and recapture the one at Tatsinskaya, Manstein had to take the 11th Panzer Division from the hard-pressed Fourth Panzer Army. He created the Headquarters, Armeeabteilung Hollidt, under General der Infanterie Karl Hollidt, and gave it command of the north flank. The Headquarters, Rumanian Third Army, he sent behind the Donets to reorganize the Rumanian stragglers and start building defenses downstream from Kamensk.14
To gain a respite north of Tatsinskaya-Morozovsk, Manstein had been forced to reduce Fourth Panzer Army's effective strength by a third; nevertheless, Hitler still hoped to bring up the 7th Panzer Division and the SS Panzer Grenadier Division Wiking in time to renew the advance toward Stalingrad.15 Manstein's situation report of 25 December demonstrated how slight that hope was. In a day or two, he said, the Fifty-first and the Second Guards Armies would attempt to encircle Fourth Panzer Army on the Aksay River. Nothing could be expected of Rumanian VI and VII Corps, and the two divisions of LVII Panzer Corps could muster no more than nineteen tanks between them. If Sixth Army was not to be left entirely in the lurch at Stalingrad, a panzer corps (two divisions) and an infantry division would have to be shifted from Army Group A to Fourth Panzer Army and at least one infantry
division to the Army Group Don left flank.16
The next two days proved that Manstein was by no means painting too dark a picture. On the 26th Paulus reported that casualties, cold--the temperature that day was -15° F.--and hunger had so sapped his army's strength that it could not execute the breakout and evacuation unless a supply corridor into the pocket was opened first.17 The next day Rumanian VII Corps, holding the LVII Panzer Corps flank on the east, collapsed and fell into a disorganized retreat, leaving the German corps stranded. Hoth hoped to get the panzer corps back to Kotelnikovo where it might make another temporary stand.18
On the 27th Hitler, looking for a cheap way out, ordered Army Groups Don and A to hold where they were while Army Group B, to protect the rear of Don, retook the line of the Rossosh'-Millerovo railroad. Army Group A, he told Manstein, could not spare any divisions, and Army Group Don would have to make do with the SS Wiking, the 7th Panzer Division, and the battalion of Tiger tanks. The only hint of flexibility was an order to Army Group A to begin evacuating its wounded and scout a bridgehead on the Taman Peninsula.19 Manstein protested that Fourth Panzer Army's 2 panzer divisions and the 16th Motorized Infantry Division faced a total of 43 enemy units (brigades and divisions, tank, cavalry, and mechanized corps) while First Panzer Army in a well-constructed line was opposed only by an equal number, and Seventeenth Army had to deal with no more than 24 Soviet units. He was convinced, he wrote, that events would compel a shift of forces from A to Don. The sooner the decision to do so was made the cheaper it would be in the long run.20
Hitler countered with Operations Order 2. Army Group A, holding its line on the Black Sea coast and in the Caucasus, would swing its right flank back by stages to Salsk, where it would be able to take over its own flank defense. Fourth Panzer Army, if forced to, could fall back to the line Tsymlyanskaya-Salsk. To co-ordinate those movements Manstein would assume command of Army Group A at a time to be decided by Manstein himself.21 Hitler passed over in silence Manstein's earlier contention that his taking command of both army groups would be worthwhile only if it included full operational freedom.22
The last days of the year brought another crisis. On the afternoon of 28 December Fourth Panzer Army had to rescue LVII Panzer Corps by permitting it to withdraw from Kotelnikovo to the Sal River. That opened up the south bank of the Don to Rostov and exposed the deep right flank of Armeeabteilung Hollidt. The next day the Russians pushed out of a small bridgehead they held around Potemkinskaya, and Hollidt had to shift the 11th
Panzer Division to Tsymlyanskaya, seventy miles downstream, to brake their advance. Because of the growing danger, Hitler ordered the 7th Panzer Division held at Rostov for a possible last-ditch defense of the city.23
On the 28th Manstein reported to Hitler that Fourth Panzer Army was no longer capable of holding a broad front south of the Don and that the Armeeabteilung Hollidt line could be penetrated from the north or south at any time. He intended to turn Fourth Panzer Army east south of the Sal River to protect the rear of Army Group A, taking the chance that the Russians might cut through to Rostov between the Sal and the Don. Armeeabteilung Hollidt would have to be pulled back, possibly, to a line slightly forward of the Donets, more likely to the river itself.24
On New Year's Eve Manstein told Paulus that the army group's first objective was to liberate Sixth Army, but the army would have to hold out in the pocket a while longer. Hitler, he said, had ordered Goering to increase the air supply to at least 300 tons a day.25 Whether he knew it or not, Manstein had said farewell to Sixth Army. Army Group Don would henceforth be fighting for its own life. Southwest Front's armies, having reached their original end objectives, were surging past Millerovo on the east and west toward the Donets between Voroshilovgrad and Belokalitvenskaya. Stalingrad Front, after transfer of its three armies on the south face of the Stalingrad pocket to Don Front, was renamed South Front on 1 January and given the mission of attacking toward Rostov on both sides of the Don with the Fifth Shock, Second Guards, and Fifty-first Armies.26
Ignoring Manstein's report of the 28th, Hitler, on New Year's Day, announced in a supplement to Operations Order 2 that he was going to send the Grossdeutschland Division and the SS Divisions Adolf Hitler, Das Reich, and 7th SS to relieve Stalingrad. Army Groups B and Don were to hold the most favorable positions for the jump-off. All the provisions of Operations Order No. 2 remained in effect. In it he had given permission for Hollidt to withdraw no farther than the line Morozovsk-Tsymlyanskaya.27
Even Hitler did not expect the divisions for the relief to be deployed before mid-February. To imagine that Fate and the Russians would allow that much time was the merest self-deception.
At the turn of the year, very little had been accomplished. The withdrawals Hitler approved were piecemeal; he still talked in terms of "definitive" lines and was beginning to lose himself in nebulous plans for a counteroffensive. The decision to bend back the left flank of Army Group A was a significant step, but after he had issued the order he showed no desire to see it executed quickly and, on the contrary, seemed to welcome delays.
On 2 January, in a dispatch to Zeitzler,
Manstein no longer attempted to conceal his irritation. He pointed out angrily that although it could have been seen as soon as Sixth Army was encircled that the Russians were developing a major offensive on the southern flank of the Eastern Front and might strike into the rear of Army Group A, nothing had been done until the last few days about evacuating the wounded and the heavy equipment from the Caucasus. The consequences of that neglect would be either to slow the movements of Army Group A or to force a sacrifice of large quantities of equipment. Because the OKH (Hitler) was controlling all the substantial shifts of Army Group A forces no purpose would be served by Army Group Don's taking over A. Since the OKH had ordered the divisions intended for Fourth Panzer Army, the 7th and 11th Panzer Divisions, sent elsewhere, all Army Group Don could do was to instruct Hoth to hold as long as he could keep his flanks free. Army Group A would have to speed up its withdrawal and transfer a corps to Salsk.28 Unlike some that had gone before, this communication had at least one effect: Hitler did not again mention Manstein's taking command of Army Group A.
Retreat to the Manich and the Donets
In the first week of the new year Armeeabteilung Hollidt began a hectic 90-mile retreat to the Donets. On 3 January Armeeabteilung Fretter-Pico reported that the 304th Infantry Division, which had been assigned the mission of keeping touch with Hollidt's left flank, could not be depended on. It lacked training and combat experience; panic was breaking out in the ranks.29 East of the Fretter-Pico--Hollidt boundary the Russians had massed two tank corps for an attack toward the Donets crossing at Belokalitvenskaya, and Hitler, on 4 January, had to release the 4th Panzer Division to prevent a breakthrough. On the 5th, having retreated forty miles in six days, Hollidt gave up Morozovsk, the air base closest to Stalingrad. The next day Hitler tried to call a halt "for the sake of morale and to conserve the strength of the troops"; but with the Russians probing across the Don in the south and threatening to advance down the Donets from the north Hollidt had not a chance of holding any line east of the Donets more than a few days.30
On the other side of the Don, Fourth Panzer Army ranged its two panzer divisions and the Wiking Division along the Kuberle River, which flowed into the Sal from the south. In the gap between the Don and the Sal the III Guards Tank Corps pushed downstream along the south bank of the Don and at the end of the first week of January sent reconnaissance patrols to within twenty miles of Rostov. Hitler urged Manstein to commit the Tiger tanks, which he predicted would be able to destroy a Soviet tank corps; but when the Tigers went into action for the first time they failed to live up to that expectation. They claimed to have destroyed eighteen enemy tanks, but of the twenty Tigers half were damaged. Hoth reported that the tank crews needed
more training and experience.31
When a motorized corps and guards rifle corps began making their way around Fourth Panzer Army's north flank, Hitler, on 6 January, had to permit Manstein to withdraw the 16th Motorized Infantry Division from Elista.32 Manstein warned that the division could do no more than stabilize the Fourth Panzer Army line temporarily. He again asked for a panzer corps from Army Group A and complained bitterly that everything was expected of Don while nothing was possible for A.33
In the second week of January, even though the crisis deepened, the fronts of the two southern army groups began to assume some coherence. Armeeabteilung Hollidt, shifting its panzer divisions back and forth to counter threats from the north and south, continued its march to the Donets. Hitler permitted Fourth Panzer Army to swing back to a line facing north along the Manich Canal.34 First Panzer Army, though slowed by its heavy equipment and by what Manstein, at least, considered exaggerated worries about what the Russians might do, gradually narrowed the gap between the army groups.
Between 15 and 19 January the stage was set for new decisions which, in fact, were already overdue. Armeeabteilung Fretter-Pico, after successfully extricating some 14,000 troops from an encirclement at Millerovo, went into a line behind the Donets.35 Hollidt's units likewise gained the slight protection of the frozen river. On the Manich Canal between the Don and Prolyetarskaya Fourth Panzer Army set up a strongpoint defense, and First Panzer Army extended its left flank north to tie in east of Salsk.36
Sixth Army Destroyed
By the beginning of the year Sixth Army was dying a lingering death from starvation and exhaustion. The supplies trickling in were sufficient to prolong but not to mitigate the agony. Between 1 and 23 December the amounts airlifted into the pocket had averaged 90 tons a day. In the first three weeks of January they came to 120 tons a day; but on only one day, 7 December, had the air supply reached 300 tons, the daily tonnage promised and about half the army's daily requirement.37
Nevertheless, the army was not yet completely at the Russians' mercy. The original success at Stalingrad had been the work of the Soviet armor, not the infantry; and when Fifth Tank Army and other armored elements had pulled out after the pocket was formed, the infantry had showed itself to be distinctly inferior. By January the weather, hunger, and fatigue had also taken their toll of the Russians. In fact, Sixth Army possessed some small advantages. The chief one was that the pocket enclosed nearly all of the built-up areas in and around Stalingrad; consequently, the German troops had some shelter and could
obtain wood for fuel from the demolished buildings, while the Russians had none. Secondly, the terrain, flat and treeless, but cut by deep balkas (gullies), somewhat favored the defense. Lastly, the Germans had field fortifications of their own and some the Russians had built to defend the city.
After the Russians resumed the offensive west of Stalingrad the task of reducing the pocket was left to Don Front. General Polkovnik Nikolai N. Voronov was assigned as Stavka representative.38 Don Front in early January had a strength, according to Soviet figures, of 281,000 men and 250 tanks.39 The final push, originally scheduled to begin on 6 January and take seven days, started on 10 January after Sixth Army had rejected surrender ultimatums on the two preceding days.40
The attack, it appeared, could hardly fail, since it was directed mainly against the pocket's west and south fronts, which were weak, having been improvised after the encirclement. Late on 10 January Paulus reported that after that day's fighting there was no longer any prospect of holding out until mid-February; relief would have to come much earlier; the promised quantity of supplies would have to be delivered; and replacement battalions would have to be flown in immediately.41
On 12 January the army lost Pitomnik, the better of its two airstrips. Six of the fourteen fighters based there took off under fire. Five attempted to land on the strip at Gumrak and crashed. The pilot of the sixth flew out to the west, thus ending the fighter defense over the pocket.42 In the northwest and south fronts the Russians had torn gaps which could not be closed because the army did not have enough troops or the gasoline to move them. Paulus reported on the 13th that there the artillery ammunition would run out by the end of the day and the guns were being abandoned where they stood.43
Nevertheless, from the Soviet point of view, the first phase of the final attack was a disappointment. It did not have the crushing effect initially expected, and after the first few days it lost momentum. The Soviet account blames an intelligence error which led to too low an estimate of the German strength.44 Most likely, Don Front was in almost the condition Sixth Army had been in during the previous September and October. Five of Rokossovskiy's seven armies had been in combat since midsummer. If the Soviet strength figures are accurate, the armies were at least 150,000 men understrength. Stalingrad was not coming cheap to the Russians either.
On 15 January Hitler, after repeated pleas from Paulus, appointed Generalfeldmarschall
DEVASTATION ALONG THE RAILROAD SOUTHEAST OF STALINGRAD
Erhard Milch to direct the air supply for Sixth Army, giving him authority to issue orders to all branches of the Wehrmacht.45 Hitler's order for the first time established a command powerful enough to override all other claims on planes, fuel, and ground crews and organize the air supply on the scale which had been promised for Stalingrad; but it was too late. Daylight landings in the pocket were becoming too dangerous. On the 17th, after a pilot reported German troops falling back toward Stalingrad on either side of the airstrip, Fourth Air Force for a time suspended landings at Gumrak.46 Two days later the Russians took Tatsinskaya, forcing the planes to shift to bases at Rostov and Novocherkassk, over 200 miles from the pocket.
As the Russians moved in for the kill, Paulus reported on 20 January that the "fortress" could not hold out more than a few days longer. In some sectors the defenders had all been wiped out and the Russians could march through the front at will.47 During the next night Gumrak was
lost, leaving airdrops the army's only means of supply.
The day of 22 January marked the beginning of Sixth Army's death agony. The Russians, pressing in from the southwest on a 3-mile-wide front along the railroad, broke through the outer ring of the Stalingrad city defenses at Voroponovo Station and marched east into the city with battle flags unfurled. To close the gap was impossible. Ammunition had run out on that stretch of the front and neither troops nor ammunition could be brought in from other sectors.
That night Paulus radioed Hitler via the OKH:
Rations exhausted. Over 12,000 unattended wounded in the pocket. What orders should I give to troops, who have no more ammunition and are subjected to mass attacks supported by heavy artillery fire? The quickest decision is necessary since disintegration is already starting in some places. Confidence in the leadership still exists, however.48
Surrender is out of the question.
The troops will defend themselves to the last. If possible the size of the fortress is to be reduced so that it can be held by the troops still capable of fighting.
The courage and endurance of the fortress have made it possible to establish a new front and begin preparing a counteroperation. Thereby Sixth Army has made an historic contribution to Germany's greatest struggle.49
As the front fell back from the west, the inner city, which after months of bombardment had the appearance of a landscape in Hell, became a scene of fantastic horror. Sixth Army reported 20,000 uncared-for wounded and an equal number of starving, freezing, unarmed stragglers. As many as could took shelter in the basements of the ruins where the tons of rubble overhead provided protection against the constant rain of artillery shells. There, in darkness and cold, the sick, the mad, the dead, and the dying crowded together, those who could move not daring to for fear of losing their places.50 Over the tallest of the ruins in the center of the city Sixth Army ran out the Reich battle flag "in order to fight the last battle under this symbol."51
On 26 January Sixty-second Army captured Mamai Hill, and tanks of Twenty-first Army linked up from the west to split the pocket in two. XI Corps formed a perimeter anchored on the tractor works on the northern edge of Stalingrad while Sixth Army headquarters, and LI, VIII, and XIV Panzer Corps dug in around and northwest of Railroad Station I. IV Panzer Corps, which had been holding the south front, was destroyed on that day by a Russian push across the Zaritsa River from the south.52 A day earlier Sixth Army had asked the Air Force to drop only food, ammunition was not needed--there were too few guns.53
The end was clearly at hand. On 28 January Sixth Army stopped issuing rations to the wounded in order to preserve the strength of the fighting troops. That day
the main theme of the midnight situation conference at the Fuehrer headquarters was Hitler's desire to have Sixth Army reconstituted quickly, using as many survivors of the original army as could be found.54
By 29 January the south pocket was split, leaving army headquarters in a small enclave in the south and the remnants of LI and VIII Corps in the north. XIV Panzer Corps ceased to exist on that day. During the night ten small groups departed in a forlorn attempt to make their way west across almost 200 miles of enemy territory. By the following night, LI and VII Corps had been pushed into a small area around the engineer barracks, where they surrendered the following morning. The headquarters staff, Sixth Army, and survivors of the 194th Grenadier Regiment still held a 300-yard perimeter around the Red Square.55
At 0615 on the morning of 31 January the radio operator at army headquarters in the basement of the Univermag on Red Square sent the following message: "Russians are at the door. We are preparing to destroy [the radio equipment]." An hour later the last transmission from Sixth Army came through: "We are destroying [the equipment]."56 Paulus, failing to appreciate all the implications of his promotion to generalfeldmarschall the day before, became the first German officer of that rank ever to be taken prisoner. Hitler's comment: "Paulus did an aboutface on the threshold of immortality."57
In the north pocket around the tractor works, the 33,000 men of XI Corps, under General der Infanterie Karl Strecker, held out another forty-eight hours. On 1 February Hitler called on the corps to fight to the last man, saying "Every day, every hour that is won benefits the rest of the front decisively."58 At 0840 the next day Army Group Don received the last message from the north pocket:
XI Corps, with its six divisions, has done its duty to the last.
Long live the Fuehrer!
Long live Germany!
In the Stalingrad pocket the Germans lost somewhat over 200,000 men. The exact total was apparently never determined. During the fighting 30,000 wounded were flown out. The latest Soviet figures, which are substantially lower than those originally given but still apparently high, set the German casualties at 147,200 killed and wounded and over 91,000 captured, the latter including 24 generals and 2,500 officers of lesser rank.60 The Soviet Union has not made public its own losses. If the casualties of the VIII Cavalry Corps and III Cavalry Corps, 36 percent and 45 percent in the period 19 November to 2 December 1942, are representative, the Soviet losses must also have been substantial. An impression of what the final conquest of the pocket cost can be deduced from Don
WRECKED GERMAN EQUIPMENT ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF STALINGRAD
Front's ammunition expenditure between 10 January and 2 February 1943: 911,000 artillery rounds of all calibers up to 152-mm., 990,000 mortar shells, and 24,000,000 machine gun and rifle rounds.61
As Hitler frequently stated, Sixth Army performed a valuable service by tying down several hundred thousand Russian troops; on the other hand, it is possible to imagine a much less catastrophic development of the 1942-43 winter battles on the German southern flank in Russia had the army been permitted to withdraw its twenty divisions from Stalingrad in time. Nor was the magnitude of the defeat in any way lessened by the fact that it resulted more from Hitler's errors than from Soviet military skill. Historically, Stalingrad, along with Guadalcanal and the North African invasion, marks the start of the Axis' recession on all fronts in World War II.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (III) * Next Chapter (V)
1. The Soviet official history, which plays down Zhukov's role throughout but makes a particular effort to do so in connection with Stalingrad, states that Stalin on 27 November instructed Vasilevskiy to devote his full attention to Stalingrad and, as to the Southwest Front's offensive, said, "Let Vatutin and Kuznetsov [General Leytenant V. I. Kuznetsov, Commanding General, First Guards Army] handle it alone." (IVOV (R), III, 43.) It is inconceivable that Stalin at this stage would have casually entrusted so important an operation to a front and an army commander.
2. Sbornik Nomer 8.
3. Kriegstagebuch des deutschen Generals beim ital. AOK 8 v. 11.7.42-31.1.43, 15-20 Dec. 42, AOK 8 36188/1 file; H. Gr. Don, Ia Lage H. Gr. Don, 19.-21.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/16 file; H. Gr. Don, Ic/AO Nr. 276/42, an OKH, Fr. Heere Ost, 22.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/5 file.
4. In the German practice an Armeeabteilung, literally an army detachment, was a temporary command controlling two or more corps without the full staff and appurtenances of an army headquarters.
5. O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0374/42, an Chef des GenStdH, 22.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/5 file.
6. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 421026/42, an Generalfeldmarschall von Manstein, 23.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/5 file.
7. Hans Dibold, Arzt in Stalingrad (Salzburg, 1949), p. 18.
8. Helmut Arntz, Die Wende des Krieges in Stalingrad, manuscript apparently written late in the war from official German records. Schroeter, Stalingrad, p. 208.
9. MS # P-114c (Hauck), Teil IV, Tabelle Xa.
10. FS-Gespraech, Gen. Feldmarschall von Manstein an Gen. Obst. von Paulus, 23.12.42, AOK 6 75107/5 file.
11. Manstein, an Chef Gen. Stab, Antwort auf heutige Anfrage, 23.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/5 file.
12. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. Nr. 421030/42, an H. Gr. Don, 24.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/5 file.
13. O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0376/42, in Chef des GenStdH, 24.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
14. H. Gr. Don, Ia, Lage H. Gr. Don, 22.-27.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/16 file; H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 415/42. Heeresgruppenbefehl fuer Neugliederung der Befehlsverhaeltnisse, 26.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
15. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. 421030/42, an H. Gr. Don, 24.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
16. O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 378/42, an Chef d. GenStdH, 25.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
17. AOK 6, Ia Nr. 6010/42, an O.B. H. Gr. Don, 26.12.43, H. Gr. Don, 39694/6 file.
18. Pz. AOK 4, Ia Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 27 Dec 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file.
19. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 421033/42, an den O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, 27.12.42; OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. Nr. 321034/42, Weisung fuer die weitere Kampffuehrung, 27.12.42. Both in H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
20. O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0384/42, an Chef des GenStdH., 27.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
21. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. Nr. 421042/42, Operationsbefehl Nr. 2, 28.72.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
22. O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia, Nr. 0376/42, an Chef des Generalstabes des Generalstabes zu Fernspruch vom 24.72.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
23. Pz. AOK 4, Ia, Kriegstagebuch Nr. 5, Teil III, 28-31 Dec 42, Pz. AOK 4 28183/1 file; H. Gr. Don, Ia, Lage H. Gr. Don, 28.-31.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/16 file; OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 1959/42, Einzelanordnungen des Fuehrers Nr. 79, 30.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
24. O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0394/42, an OKH, Chef des Generalstabes, 31.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
25. O.B. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0396/42, an AOK 6, 31.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
26. Platonov, Vtoraya Mirovaya Voyna, 1939-45, p. 397.
27. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 421052/42, Ergaenzung zum Operationsbefehl Nr. 2, 1.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
28. O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0399/42, an Chef des Generalstabes des Heeres, 2.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/6 file.
29. A. Abt. Fretter-Pico, Ia, Kriegstagebuch, 18.12.42-2.2.43 3 Jan 43, A. Abt. Fretter-Pico 31783/1 file.
30. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. Nr. 171/43, an H. Gr. Don, 6.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/7 file.
31. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. Nr. 233/43, an O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, 6.1.43; Pz. AOK 4, Ia, Erfolgsmeldung Tiger-Panzer, 7.1.43. Both in H. Gr. Don 39694/7 file.
32. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. Nr. 249/43, an H. Gr. Don, 6.1.43, H. Gr. Don file.
33. O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 0402/13, an Chef GenStdH, 7.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/7 file.
34. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 430028/43, an H. Gr. Don, 10.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/7 file.
35. A. Abt. Fretter-Pico, Ia, Kriegstagebuch, 18.12.42-2.2.43, 14-18 Jan 43, A. Abt. Fretter-Pico 31783/1 file.
36. H. Gr. Don, Ia, Lage H. Gr. Don, 15.-19.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/17 file.
37. Tageseinsatz der Luftlotte 4, 1.-23.12.42, H. Gr. Don 39694/3b-5 file.
38. Don Front commanded Twenty-first, Twenty-fourth, Fifty-seventh, Sixty-second, Sixty-fourth, Sixty-fifth, and Sixty-sixth Armies.
39. Sbornik Nomer 6 states that in January 1943 Sixth Army had a numerical superiority in artillery (6,200 guns to 3,770), machine guns (13,700 to 7,300), tanks (1,800 to 250), and motor vehicles (18,000 to 9,400). It admits that these figures include pieces of equipment possibly knocked out long before the final battles and some the Germans might not have been able to use far lack of fuel or ammunition. Sixth Army in early December reported a strength of about 100 tanks; probably by January many, if not most of these, were damaged, destroyed, or unserviceable for lack of parts and fuel.
40. Sbornik Nomer 6.
41. AOK 6, Ia, an H. Gr. Don O.B., 10.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/7 file.
42. Schroeter, Stalingrad, p. 166.
43. Ob. Kdo. H. Gr. Don, Ia Nr. 412/43, an OKH, Chef des Generalstabes, 13.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/8 file.
44. Sbornik Nomer 6.
45. Der Fuehrer, OKW, WFSt, Nr. 00284/43, 15.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/8 file.
46. Fernspruch von Luftflotte 4, Ia, 17.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/8 file.
47. OKH, GenStdH, Chef des GenStdH, Nr. 38/43, an O.B. d. H. Gr. Don, 20.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/8 file.
48. O.B. AOK 6, an Gen. Zeitzler zur Weitergabe an den Fuehrer and H. Gr. Don, 22.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/9 file.
49. H. Gr. Don, Ia, Abschrift von Funkspruch an 6. Armee. Zur Vorlage an Herrn Generalfeldmarschall von Manstein, 22.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/9 file.
50. H. Gr. Don, Ia, Tagesmeldung, 24.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/9 file.
51. H. Gr. Don, Ia, Morgenmeldung, 25.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/9 file.
52. AOK 6, Ia, an H. Gr. Don ueber OKH, 26.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/9 file.
53. AOK 6, Chef, an H. Gr. Don, 25.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/9 file.
54. AOK 6, Ia, an H. Gr. Don ueber OKH, 28.1.43, and AOK 6, Ia, an H. Gr. Don, 30.1.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/10 file; Greiner, Die oberste Wehrmachtfuehrung, 1939-45, p. 69.
55. AOK 6, Ia, an H. Gr. Don, 29.1.43; AOK 6, an H. Gr. Don 30.1.43. Both in H. Gr. Don 39694/9 file.
56. AOK 6, Ia, an H. Gr. Don, 31.1.43, 0615, AOK 6, Ia, an H. Gr. Don, 31.1.43, 0714. Both in H. Gr. Don 39694/10 file.
57. Arntz, Die Wende des Krieges in Stalingrad.
58. OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt. (I S/B) Nr. 1433/43, an Gen. Kdo. XI A.K., 1.2.43, H. Gr. Don 39694/10 file.
59. XI A.K., an H. Gr. Don, Ia, 2.2.43, 0840, AOK 6 75107/1 file.
60. IVOV (R), III, 62.
61. [General Staff of the Red Army], Sbornik Materialov po Izucheniyu Opyta Voyny, Nomer 9, 1944.