In the early months of 1942, the mighty German war machine's main objective was to drive the Soviet forces out of the Southern Steppes and the Caucasus region. Reasons for this is that Axis forces could have direct access to the Middle East, and be able to have the military capability for a final annihilating sweep Northward behind Soviet lines to Moscow. Also this region holds an abundant supply of natural mineral wealth, especially oil, a key ingredient for Germany's war machine.
On April 5, 1942, Hitler ordered Army Group A and B to sweep east to Stalingrad, south to Astrakan, Grozny, and to the Caspian Sea. This huge military offensive was called Operation Blue. The Soviet forces began to be very alarmed by the heavy build up of German forces in the southern sector of the Soviet Union. They new that the capture of Stalingrad would be catastrophic for there ability to withstand the German army. Soviet forces would be completely cut off from their own oil supply. Unfortunately, Stalin refused to shift forces away from Moscow, fearing that the city would be vulnerable for German attacks. As a result, the German army captured Rostov and other key cities in the Crimean region. They were now poised to take Stalingrad.
On July 1942, the odds were heavily on the side of the Axis forces. Stalin still was being very stubborn in refusing to shift forces away from Moscow. He kept the bulk of his forces north to protect Moscow from attack. As a result, 250,000 troops from Germany, Hungry, and Italy poured into the outskirts of Stalingrad. Army Group B moved across the Don River north of the city. Soviet resistance were folding, collapsing, and retreating across the entire Southern Front. The German 6th Army, commanded by Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus broke through the soviet lines and began to enter the city from the west. At the mean time, Stalin realizing the importance of the situation moved the 64th and the 62nd Armies to take positions eight miles from Stalingrad. Soviet forces were able to hold off the German advance for the time being.
On August 19, Friedrich Paulus commander of the German 6th army mounted the first assault on Stalingrad, with the support of the 4th Panzer army. The attack proved disastrous for the Red Army. By August 23, German forces had reached the Volga River north of Stalingrad. Stalin was growing very weary about the situation, he ordered Marshall Zhukov to command Soviet forces at the Southern front. He worked frantically to stabilize German assaults on the beleaguered city.
Throughout the months of September and October, Bitter fighting raged in Stalingrad. The fighting was now street by street and house by house. The Soviet Red Army fought and died for every inch of the city. As a result, the fiercest fighting of the war was taken place. The 62nd Army, commanded by General Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov was holding on by a thin thread. The Germans had taken 80% of the city and were pushing the Red Army to the Volga River. Nevertheless, the 62nd Army held the German advance in Stalingrad.
During this time, Marshall Zhukov and General Vasilevsky devised a brilliant plan called Operation Uranus. They saw that German flanks were protected by weak Axis powers, which the Red Army could over power. The Red Army secretly began to mobilize one million troops, 14,000 heavy guns, 979 tanks, and 1,350 aircraft to attack German flanks. On November 19, Soviet forces from the Southwestern Front and Don Front attacked Romanian, Italian , and Hungarian positions. The front collapsed as fast moving soviet troops began encircling German Army Group B from the North and South. This created a panic among the German soldiers, trying frantically to get out of the encirclement. Within four days, the two Soviet armies met 60 miles west of Stalingrad. The German 6th and 4th Panzer armies were completely surrounded, a total of 330,000 men. The Armies tried to break out but failed. The only alternative was to have supplies airlifted from German held territory into Stalingrad.
In the months of December and January, the German 6th Army fought a desperate contest against Soviet forces. Hitler ordered
that the German Armies may not surrender, they must fight to the bitter end. Most of the soldiers followed Hitler's orders and
fought heroically to the death. Finally, with no food and supplies, the situation for the Germans looked bleak. The Army was on
the verge of starvation. Field Marshall Paulus had no choice but to surrender what was left of the 6th Army and 4th Panzer
Army. The Casualties in the battle of Stalingrad were catastrophic for both sides. The Germans lost 147,000 men and 91,000
were taken prisoner. The Red Army paid a huge price for victory, some half million men were killed in the battle. The battle of
Stalingrad showed to the world that the mighty German war machine was vulnerable. It gave overwhelming confidence and
strength to the Red Army. Also, the battle became the turning point on the Eastern Front. The Red Army began to slowly push
the invaders out of the Soviet Union.
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