2 – Siege of Stalingrad (23 August 1942 – 2 February 1943)
This was arguably the single most important event in World War 2 and one of the most significant military events in history. It was a huge battle for control of the city of Stalingrad which was the Soviet center of communications in the south as well as being a major manufacturing location. As the Germans marched through Russia, Hitler ordered his 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army to take Stalingrad. What transpired was several brutal months of fighting in a siege that changed the course of the war.
The sheer scale of the conflict was something the world had seldom seen. The German commander, Freidrich Paulus, had over 1 million men at his disposal and began his offensive on 23 August 1942. The ground soldiers were supported by Luftwaffe air strikes which quickly turned Stalingrad into rubble. Although the Germans had some success and took a large proportion of the city, they could never gain control. At times, areas they took during the day were reclaimed by the Russians at night!
By 19 November, the Soviets were ready to launch a counter-offensive. Operation Uranus targeted the weak Hungarian and Romanian troops protecting the German flank. This was a decisive move as the Soviets successfully trapped the German forces in the city. The Soviet commander, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, split his 1 million man army into six forces and completely surrounded Stalingrad. Now, the 250,000-300,000 German soldiers had nowhere to go.
Hitler ordered Paulus to stand and fight to the last man and last round of ammunition. Had Hitler not issued this order, it is possible that Paulus and his army could have escaped because there was a small window of opportunity right at the beginning of the Soviet offensive. However, he was ordered to stay and the Germans had to face the Red Army and the biggest enemy of all, the Russian winter.
Slowly but surely, the starving and frozen German army were whittled down by the enemy, the weather and the lack of provisions. Eventually, Paulus had no option but to wave the white flag as his army’s supplies were virtually gone by the end of January 1943. Paulus surrendered his army in the north of the city on 31 January while General Schreck surrendered the army in the south on 2 February. There were an estimated 2 million casualties at Stalingrad; approximately 478,000 Soviets alone died during the siege.