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Rokossovsky and Voronov appealed to Paulus to surrender on 8 January, which seemed logical for both armies, given the Germans’ complete lack of strength and supplies. Over 200 Ju-52 transports would be needed daily to deliver the goods, when in reality only 80 might be available. Then there was the dire issue of wounded Germans. In other campaigns a wound might be considered a blessing, earning a soldier a ticket home or at least away from the front. In Stalingrad, there was no "million dollar wound" because there was no ticket home. Even if there were, a wounded man probably wouldn’t even make it to the plane, considering all medical supplies had run out--there was no anesthetic except for frostbite. Those who packed into the airfields, hoping to escape on the last planes, tried to climb aboard but ended up being shot by their own comrades. Many legitimately wounded soldiers were evacuated, but any suspicion of a self-inflicted wound was grounds for execution without trial. Many Germans didn’t wait for gangrene, the weather, or their own men to kill them--they did it themselves.

As suicides became more and more prevalent, Paulus actually had to send a direct order to his men about how "dishonorable" it was. Either way, the Germans didn’t have to wait long for the end--the nail in the coffin for the 6th Army came on 10 January. The Soviets attacked from the west and were held up briefly, but within a week they were at full speed. Hitler promoted Paulus to Field Marshal, because no German Marshal had ever been captured, but it was too late. The entire 6th Army had been enveloped by the Soviets, and the last German airfield at Gumrak was captured on 23 January. Exactly one week later Paulus was captured and the 6th Army surrendered. One group from the 11th Corps resisted in a tractor factory under General Karl Stuker, and would not give up even after running out of weapons, and ended up using bayonets and broken machinery in some of the worst fighting in the entire war. The hand-to-hand combat was fierce, but at 9 in the morning on 2 February they were overrun by the Soviets.

In the end, 91,000 Germans were taken prisoner and sent to POW camps in Siberia, a fate worse than death because of the inhumane treatment by the Soviets. Out of those 91,000, and only 5,000 of those would live to return to Germany. The Germans also had 150,000 killed while the Soviets had 600,000 killed, captured or wounded. Since the start of Barbarossa, over 1 million Germans had met their deaths in the Russian campaign and they never recovered from it. This was considered by many to be the turning point in WWII, since the German war machine had been broken, although certainly not destroyed. Hitler was upset and threatened to court-martial Paulus, but as a POW it was useless. Instead he began to learn from his defeats and realized if he was to win the war, he would have to change his wartime policies. The Germans were defeated at Stalingrad due to several factors, each of which was not enough to defeat them alone, but combined they turned the peaceful Volga city into a nightmare. First of all, the Germans were far too confident in themselves and in spite of their severe losses the previous year in Moscow, thought they could handle the Red Army. One of the reasons they thought this was because Paulus gave Hitler terribly inaccurate statistics on Soviet numbers, so it was thought that they did not have enough reserves for a counterattack. This led to hasty decisions.

Whether out of frustration, underestimation of their enemy, or simply poor leadership, the Germans were tactically deficient throughout the whole campaign. They failed to adapt to the Soviet Stalingrad-style of defense, and used their men as battering rams to snap the Soviet lines like twigs. Instead of using a scalpel, they used a meat cleaver. The Germans had also stretched their resources to the limit, and fighting on such a large front with poor supply lines became a recipe for disaster. This was compounded by the fact that they put weak Romanian divisions to guard their flanks, along with help from the Italians, who were quickly defeated by the Soviets. The Germans were quickly surrounded, further cutting them off from the few supplies that reached them. This was a major problem because both the Germans and Soviets had amassed great numbers of troops near Stalingrad, so it became a test of strength, which led to horrific fighting. Stalingrad became a symbol of dominance for the Germans, resistance for the Soviets, and neither side wanted to look weak by giving in.

The most solvable German problem was the unstable leadership involved, especially with Paulus, who never should have been in command. He was a staff officer and had neither the strategic vision nor the tactical savvy to win a campaign like Stalingrad. Hitler was in complete shock when he heard that Paulus had surrendered, not because of the loss of the 6th Army, but that Paulus himself was captured. He simply could not understand why Paulus chose surrender over suicide. In a meeting with his commanders he growled, "When the nerves break down, there is nothing left but to admit that one can’t handle the situation, and to shoot oneself…I can't have any respect for a soldier who is afraid of that and prefers to go into captivity. It hurts me so much because the heroism of so many soldiers is nullified by one single characterless weakling." After this defeat, Hitler demanded a new victory from Manstein and Guderian, but both felt that a defensive strategy was best, much to Hitler's dismay.

Mussolini may have been dillusional about a great number of things, but he was wise enough to understand that the war with the Soviets was suicide, and on 16 December he met with Hitler to seek peace on the eastern front. Hitler would hear nothing of it, and in turn treated the Italians no better than any of his other conquered people. In January 1943 Mussolini was aware of the Italians’ hatred for him and purged his government cabinet of dissenters. Chief of staff Marshal Cavellero was replaced with General Vittorio Ambrosio, and on 5 February he fired his son-in-law foreign minister Ciano, among other cabinet members. On 5 March the industrial workers went on strike, but the militia settled it by April. Italy was ready to cleanse itself of Mussolini’s self-polluting government.

In the early 1943 the Axis sought to head west to Algeria and seize American supply depots and airfields. On 13 February they attacked, surrounding the 2500 American soldiers trapped on 2 hills. A rescue battalion of tanks was sent to one hill, but were wiped out by the Germans. The Americans then realized their only hope was to break out and tried to sneak their way past the German forces, but were identified and captured. The other hill had better luck, as 300 escaped, but the other 600 became casualties of war. Again the Americans withdrew, even more demoralized. Rommel then wanted to hit Tebessa’s supply and communication base, and launched an attack on 19 February, which was temporary halted by getting stuck in a ravine. The next day they broke out and began pummeling Allied resistance, but when they saw them reinforcing they took a defensive stance. Rommel’s army was dangerously low on supplies but was so close to victory in Tunisia. Reluctantly he had to move southeast, but was greeted instead by a familiar foe--the British 8th Army. The two met up on 6 March near Medenine, and the British pulverized Rommel with armor-piercing rounds. After losing 52 tanks, Rommel finally quit his 2 year campaign in North Africa.

Three days later Rommel flew back to Germany and begged Hitler to completely pull out of Africa and concentrate on Europe. Hitler refused and banned him from the African campaign, replacing him with General Jürgen von Arnim. Just as Rommel left, the brash and bold US General George Patton arrived, beginning his advance on the remaining Axis forces on 16 March. 4 days later US rangers came upon a group of Italian troops and took most of them prisoner, killing the resisters. On 23 March the Axis Panzer divisions tried to hit Allied positions, but came across a minefield, making them temporarily retreat. When they resumed attacking, they were totally ineffective, demonstrating how essential Rommel’s mind was to victory. The last week in March the Americans hit the Axis from the west while the British attacked from the east, but the Axis refused to give up. They retreated in early April towards the coast, but they continued to fight. Eventually they retreated to the coast of the Mediterranean, signaling their inevitable defeat. On 20 April, the US 1st Army began its final advance on the weary Afrika Korps.

In late February, Stalin increased his push for partisan warfare against the Germans. On 10 March the Germans responded by assaulting Kharkov, inflicting heavy punishments on Soviet forces, but 2 days later the Red Army liberated Vyazma. After suffering so many defeats, Hitler’s confidence was shaken and he began exterminating any anti-Nazi movements. The spring thaw made any of his advances impossible, and on 18 March the Americans bombed a German sub base. The subs still hurt Allied convoys so the British created "Operation Enclose," which began to sink any subs in sight in the Bay of Biscay. Germany tried to bounce back by taking Belgorod on 19 March, but 3 days later they were in critical retreat in the central USSR. Needing to have some kind of military action, they increased the hunting down and killing of Jews in April, as well as the deportation of slave labor to Germany. Millions were imprisoned but only thousands lived to tell about it. By May the German naval operations were in shambles because of heavy U-Boat losses and Admiral Dönitz was forced to withdraw his fleet from the North Atlantic. By this time the Swedes renounced their permission for German troops to move across Sweden, since they were only using them to reinforce Scandinavia. The Germans did not pursue the issue because they had far greater troubles on the eastern front. Sweden had become a haven for hundreds of thousands of European refugees, especially from Scandinavia and the Baltics, and were even given jobs. Over 100,000 Jews were saved here by people like Raoul Wallenberg, who created fake passports for them. Unfortunately, Wallenberg was later imprisoned by the Soviets, who saw him as a threat. In Italy, Mussolini tried again to convince Hitler to make peace with the Soviets, but Hitler refused because he thought he would be victorious in the Kursk campaign and conned Mussolini into staying in the war once more. Mussolini continued to fire his cabinet, and told the country that Italy would be victorious in the desert.

Shortly after the Germans occupied Poland, they herded the entire Jewish population into tiny areas of major cities to isolate them from the rest of the non-Jews. In the capital city of Warsaw alone they numbered 400,000 to 450,000 in a very small neighborhood, in what came to be known as the Warsaw Ghetto. Here they lived a miserable pseudo-existence, scraping together what little food they could obtain while putting up with the maltreatment of German soldiers, Polish citizens and Jewish collaborators. Although starving, poor and cold, they were tolerated until January 1942 when the Germans put forth their plan to eradicate Europe of the Jews. Later that summer in Warsaw, approximately 300,000 Jews were forcibly taken from the ghetto and put into slave labor in Treblinka, one of the major Nazi death camps. In January 1943 Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler ordered that Warsaw be completely free of the remaining 60,000 or so Jews so that the Nazis could advance their dream of a Jewish-free Poland.

Rather than submit to the German death sentence, the Jewish population took up their arms that they had been smuggling in over the last 3 years in a massive resistance movement. This was spearheaded by two main groups, the ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa), or "Jewish Combat Organization" and the ZKK (Zydowski Komitet Koordynacyjny), or "Jewish Coordinating Committee." The uprising began on 18 January as ZOB resisters opened fire on German soldiers, inflicting many casualties and startling the German forces. As they only had an occupational force and not an organized combative force, the Germans halted their deportation of Jews 3 days after fighting began. After regrouping and planning to take the Warsaw Ghetto in force, 2000 German troops, including the elite SS, moved into the Ghetto under the command of SS General Jürgen Stroop on 19 April 1943. Even with trained soldiers and the support of armored vehicles, the Jewish resisters forced each German advance back over a period of 4 days.

This caused many high-ranking German commanders to worry about the bad publicity of such an uprising spreading elsewhere, not to mention the amount of time and resources it was taking from Germany. Thus heavier weapons were sent in and the Warsaw Ghetto, approximately half a mile by 300 yards in size, was pounded from Stuka dive-bombers and artillery batteries, destroying the Jews’ strongholds and inflicting devastating casualties. As General Stroop wrote later of the account, "despite the danger of being burned alive, the Jews and bandits often preferred to return into the flames rather than risk being caught by us." On 16 May Stroop claimed victory, citing that 56,065 Jews had been captured or killed, although a number of Jews escaped through the sewers or hid in trucks and found their way to freedom. The brave deeds of the Warsaw Jews inspired other uprisings in Vilna, Cracow, Lodz and several other Polish cities and were a testament to the undying spirit of those who would rather die on their feet than be slaves to tyranny.

During the last week in April, the British weeded out any enemy resistance and the Americans moved across the hills, taking heavy casualties but emerging victorious. Since the Axis troops were starving and out of ammunition, the Allies knew they had to raid their convoys to prevent any reinforcements. In early May they panned for a huge armor blow by bombing enemy positions, then unleashing a maelstrom of artillery shells before moving in armor and troops. General Omar Bradley announced it would take a loss of 50 tanks to break through the last enemy lines of resistance--in the end the US lost 47. When they did break through, it was with such a great force that they flooded into the capital city of Tunis, completely shocking the battered Germans. They tried to resist, but Allied armor was too quick and the Axis literally ran out of ammunition and fuel, leaving them defenseless. On the 12th and 13th of May the Afrika Korps surrendered after 3 exhaustive years of fighting. In Tunisia alone they lost 40,000 men and gave up 275,000 POWs. The British had 35,000 casualties, the French had 16,000 and the Americans had 14,000, but the seemingly impossible task of removing Axis forces from North Africa had been achieved. More importantly, the Allies learned they could work effectively together as a force to vanquish the once indomitable Germans. Germany responded with a military occupation of Italy, called "Operation Alaric."

Kursk is a city in Russia 225 miles south of Moscow. Hitler realized Italy would soon be invaded, and then France not long after, meaning he could not send valuable troops from the east front to 2 other fronts. He knew he had to win a great victory over the Red Army in 1 decisive battle to ease his troubles there. He had admired the German victory at Izyum in spring of 1942 when they encircled the Red Army, and wanted to repeat that at Kursk. The front had bulged out past Kursk into German territory, and the plan was for the 9th Army to push from the north and meet with the 4th Panzer Army and surround Kursk. Field Marshal von Kluge would oversee Colonel Model’s 9th Army with 800 tanks, along with Field Marshal von Manstein and support from the Luftwaffe. General Hoth and his 1200 strong Panzer force would move north, with 7 infantry divisions to do the rest, with equal support from the Luftwaffe. If the Soviets pushed out from the bulge in 2 directions, they could gain significant territory quickly, so the time to act was soon. In what was to be called "Operation Citadel," the Germans took their 50 Wehrmacht and SS divisions, 2000 tanks, 1800 aircraft, and 1000 guns and put them up against the Red Army.

Unfortunately for the Germans, the Soviets were more than aware of the German offensive. The American OSS had spies in Switzerland reporting to Moscow (called "The Lucy Ring"), a double-agent in the German high command, as well as a soldier defector, who even gave the date and time of the attack. With all their information, the Soviets set up 8 anti-tank lines armed with hundreds of thousands of mines, 20,000 guns, 6,000 anti-tank guns and 1000 rocket launchers. The Soviet plan was to let the Germans wear themselves out, then counter-attack with their 75 divisions, 3500 tanks and 3000 new aircraft all under the brilliant Marshal Zhukov. The northern sector was defended by General Rokossovsky, the south was defended by General Nikolai Voronezh, and General Ivan Koniev was in the rear reserve with 1500 tanks. The Soviets were also wise to the old German armor attack in a narrow column, so the Germans created a new tighter formation called panzerkeile, to defend against Soviet attack. This was a wedge grouping with the heavier tanks (Tigers and Ferdinands) in the front, medium tanks (Panthers and PzKw IVs) in the middle and the weaker tanks (PzKw III and support vehicles) at the very rear. The sole purpose of this design was to penetrate enemy lines and hold their positions long enough for sufficient reinforcements to arrive to secure the area.

Even so, before the Germans attacked the Soviets began shelling German positions, bewildering the Wehrmacht, since Hitler expected to explode through the Red Army. This would have been an impossible feat, and 2 days after the attack began on 5 July the Germans had only made it 7 miles into enemy territory. Miraculously, Hoth’s Panzers did break through enemy lines, scaring Stalin enough to call in the reserves, but as it turned out the Soviet T-34 tanks were more than a match for the panzers. Actually, the new German Panther tanks were superior weapons, but they were useless without close infantry support, which was often the case in Kursk. By 9 July the southern German divisions had only reached 20 miles and suffered heavy casualties. 3 days later Zhukov began his own offensive north of Kursk with his overwhelming forces. On 13 July the battle culminated in the greatest armored conflict in history, involving 1500 tanks. The Germans fought for hours without rest in intense heat under apocalyptic conditions, with tanks firing point blank at each other. Soon the ground became a blackened carpet of scorched earth and the acrid stench of burning grass, machinery and flesh filled the air. Germans would later call their ride into battle Todesritt, or Death Ride.

The panzerkeile was an utter catastrophe because the Soviets simply divided the infantry and armor and picked off the weaker tanks. With no infantry or medium tank support, the heavy Tiger and Ferdinand tanks were caught out in the open and eventually wiped out. Both sides lost hundreds of tanks, and Hitler thought it would be best to move his troops from the dead end in Kursk to Italy, but von Manstein promised him victory. Hitler finally canceled Citadel on 25 July because of heavy losses, along with Allied forces landing in the Italian sector. Interestingly, for once Hitler was never 100% behind this offensive as evident by his rapid desire for withdrawal, and much of the blame lies with the High Command for the disaster. One German commander who was bitterly opposed to Citadel was General von Mellenthin, the head of the 56th Panzer Korps. His scathing comments of the operation were felt by all those who particpated: "The German Army threw away all its advantages in mobile war and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing...the German High Command could think of nothing better to do than fling our magnificent panzers against the strongest fortress in the world." In the end, Germany lost 100,000 men, 1000 tanks and 1000 aircraft. The Soviets, on the other hand, were at their best in combat and put Germany on the defensive for the rest of the war. Germany also lost some manpower in July of 1943 when a disenchanted Franco recalled his Spanish Blue Division and wanted to become fully neutral. He dismissed German agents in Spain, but kept good relations with Germany by continuing to make supplies for them.

Late 1943


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