16. Surprise Soviet Tank Raid Seals the Fate of Germans in Stalingrad
On Christmas Eve, December 24th, 1942, at the height of the Battle of Stalingrad, a surprise Red Army tank raid sealed the fate of the Germans in that city. That was the Tatsinskaya Raid – also known as the “Christmas Raid” – which sought to destroy the Tatsinskaya airfield, from which the Germans were frantically airlifting supplies to their besieged 6th Army in Stalingrad. The airfield and its planes were the surrounded Germans’ sole lifeline, so destroying it and its irreplaceable Ju 52 transport planes would drive the final nail in the 6th Army’s coffin.
Conducted by the 24th Tank Corps, the raid hit the airfield from three sides and caught the Germans by surprise. T-34 tanks clattered down the tarmac, machine gunning and shelling buildings and equipment, and destroying the precious planes – some of them still in crates on railway cars. When the attacking tanks ran low on ammunition, they simply rammed the airplanes, smashing through their aluminum frames and crushing them and their engines beneath tons of armor. German pilots and crews, desperately racing to their planes in an attempt to get them airborne and away to safety, were gunned down or run down and mangled beneath the T-34s’ treads.
The raiders were eventually cutoff, encircled, and sustained heavy losses. The 24th Tank Corps was all but wiped out, lost most of its tanks, and had to be reconstituted. It was still a Soviet strategic victory, however: the attackers claimed 300 planes destroyed, while the Germans admitted to losing 72 irreplaceable Ju 52 transports. Whatever the number, the destruction of the airfield and the loss of the transport planes and their trained pilots, crews, and maintenance personnel, doomed the 6th Army in Stalingrad. Its supply situation, already dire when Luftwaffe transports had been operating at full capacity, became impossible after the destruction of so many Ju 52s and their base of operations.
Aerial resupply was virtually cutoff, and German resistance in Stalingrad began to crumble. The last survivors were forced to capitulate a month later, in the greatest German defeat of the war until then. The Germans were forced on the strategic defensive, while the Soviets began a strategic offensive that culminated in Berlin two years later. The reconstituted 24th Tank Corps, renamed the 2nd Tatsinskaya Guards Tank Corps, was in on the kill, and took part in the final Berlin Offensive.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading