In A Nutshell
In 1942 and 1943, the Wehrmacht’s Sixth Army was trapped in the city of Stalingrad. The survival of this army was the key to the Reich’s survival on the Eastern Front. It was up to the Luftwaffe to airdrop supplies for the army. Not only did the Luftwaffe not deliver anywhere near the amount needed, but they delivered some ludicrously wrong supplies, including cellophane grenade covers, fish food, ground pepper, and a massive condom shipment.
The Whole Bushel
Stalingrad was widely regarded as one of the battles that might potentially secure a Nazi victory on the Eastern Front in World War II. If it succeeded, the Third Reich would have access to the Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus Mountains and have considerably hurt the ability of their enemy to keep their war machine going. In August 1942, the Germans’ 6th Army had reached and begun their conquest of the city. Over the course of the next month, they conquered 90 percent of the city, but a key Soviet foothold remained trapped in the city. The Soviets’ only way to get supplies was in crossing the enormous Volga River. It truly looked like a Nazi victory was assured.
But ultimately, Stalingrad would become a trap for the 6th Army even as they took it, for at points on the Volga to the north and south, Soviet armies attacked and eventually linked up, trapping hundreds of thousands of Nazi soldiers inside the city. On top of that, the cruel Russian winter was fast approaching.
For any reasonable hope of breaking out, the 6th Army had to rely on being supplied by the Luftwaffe. There was a precedent—100,000 Nazi troops had been trapped for 72 days early in 1942 by the Moscow winter offensive that saved the Soviet Union in an area called the Demyansk Pocket. The fact that there were more than 600,000 troops in Stalingrad merely meant they’d need six times as many missions, which Goering assured Hitler they would be able to do.
While there was no doubt that the Luftwaffe pilots gave it their all flying over Soviet airspace and artillery (they lost 500 planes in the effort), management bungled the effort rather spectacularly. The air command refused to let the army tell it what supplies it should be delivering, and so instead of the usual food, ammunition, and fuel, some ridiculous things were delivered. One of the more normal was a case of fine bottled wine, although the bottles had frozen and exploded in the cold. Other drops included ground pepper, fish meal, and summer clothing. But the most bewildering thing had to be the shipment on November 19, when a whole lot of condoms were dropped. Perhaps it was a cosmic message about how doomed the trapped soldiers were. Ultimately, the failed supply efforts doomed the 6th Army, and it surrendered to the Soviets in February 1943. From there, the ultimate defeat of the Third Reich was only a matter of time.