The Battle of Stalingrad is considered one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, with the estimated death toll between one and two million soldiers, civilians, and laborers between both the Soviets and the Axis (Germans, Romanians, Italians, and Hungarians). According to the Encyclopedia of Britannica, preparations for the battle began when Hitler decided in late August of 1942 to order the Fourth Panzer Army to turn Northeastward towards Stalingrad and merge with the Sixth Army. Hitler wanted to capture Stalingrad because it would cut off Soviet transport links with Southern Russia, allow Hitler to secure the region’s economic resources, and allow him to maneuver his armies Northward to conquer the rest of the Caucasus, a mountain system that lies between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
How Did The Soviets Respond to the German Advance?
In response to Hitler’s summer offensive, the Soviets put up the Stalingrad Front, which was comprised of the Sixty-second, Sixty-third, Sixty-fourth Armies as well as the Eighth Air Army and the Twenty-first Army all of which belong as sub-sections of the Soviet Union’s Red Army. Accompanying the armies was Stalin’s order that no one would take a step back from defending the city and that there would be no evacuation of any civilians including women or children as he believed that the armies would fight harder against the German forces if they knew they were defending a city full of residents. In August of 1942, the Germans were able to penetrate into the northern suburbs of the city, where they forced back the Sixty-second army into Stalingrad proper. By the time mid-September came around, the Soviets had been pushed back and occupied a small nine-mile long strip along the Volga River, which was only two-three miles wide. Unrelenting combat ensued, where concentrated fighting took place and key points like individual buildings, streets, and blocks changed hands countless times. If you were a Red Army soldier during this time, living conditions were so horrendous and the fighting so fierce that your life expectancy rate dropped down to twenty-four hours.
What Were The Living Conditions Like in Stalingrad?
Due to how quickly the German Armies pressed on Stalingrad, the Soviets ended up on the back foot and huge losses were incurred by the Red Army during those early summer months of battle. Some of the hardships endured by the Red Army included holding down the bitter floor to floor combat engagements with Germans within individual buildings, an inability to get to food sources and a poor supply chain meant that the Soviets had to slaughter and strip horses of meat, eat rats, and sometimes resort to cannibalism. In addition to the poor food supply and close quarter combat, the winter months closed in fast with minus 30-degree weather, meaning that those who were too weak to fight or find shelter would freeze to death. All of these hardships is what contributed to the life expectancy of a soldier being 24 hours or less during the Battle of Stalingrad.
What Was The Turning Point That Allowed the Soviets To Win?
In November 1942, the Soviets launched a counteroffensive against the Germans in a two-pronged attack. It caught the Germans by surprise as they didn’t believe that the Soviets were capable of such an attack due to how heavily cornered and depleted their army was. The attack was done as two spearheads, with the Red Army attacking the weaker flanks of the German troops instead of hitting the Sixth and Fourth Panzer Armies. These flanks were weakly defended, vulnerably exposed on the steppes surrounding the city, and were undersupplied and unmotivated. The attacks penetrated into the flanks deeply and swiftly, linking up and encircling the two German armies. Although the German forces wanted to retreat and join the main German forces to the West of the city, Hitler told them to stand and fight. By the time mid-December came around, Hitler ordered a special army to rescue the encircled forces but told the surrounded forces to stay put which is what sealed the battle in the Soviets favor.