World War II: Battle of Stalingrad

Battle of Stalingrad

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The Battle of Stalingrad was fought from July 17, 1942 to February 2, 1943, during World War II (1939-1945). It was a key battle on the Eastern Front. Advancing into the Soviet Union, the Germans opened the battle in July 1942. After over six months of fighting at Stalingrad, the German Sixth Army was encircled and captured. This Soviet victory was a turning point on the Eastern Front.

Soviet Union

  • Marshal Georgy Zhukov
  • Lieutenant General Vasily Chuikov
  • Colonel General Aleksandr Vasilevsky
  • 187,000 men, rising to over 1,100,000 men


  • General (later Field Marshal) Friedrich Paulus
  • Field Marshal Erich von Manstein
  • Colonel General Wolfram von Richthofen
  • 270,000 men, rising to over 1,000,000 men


Having been stopped at the gates of Moscow, Adolf Hitler began contemplating offensive plans for 1942. Lacking the manpower to remain on the offensive all along the Eastern Front, he decided to focus German efforts in the south with the goal of taking the oil fields. Codenamed Operation Blue, this new offensive began on June 28, 1942, and caught the Soviets, who thought the Germans would renew their efforts around Moscow, by surprise. Advancing, the Germans were delayed by heavy fighting in Voronezh, which allowed the Soviets to bring reinforcements south.

Angered by a perceived lack of progress, Hitler divided Army Group South into two separate units, Army Group A and Army Group B. Possessing the majority of the armor, Army Group A was tasked with capturing the oil fields, while Army Group B was ordered to take Stalingrad to protect the German flank. A key Soviet transportation hub on the Volga River, Stalingrad also possessed propaganda value as it was named after the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Driving towards Stalingrad, the German advance was led by General Friedrich Paulus' 6th Army with General Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army supporting to the south.

Preparing the Defenses

When the German objective became clear, Stalin appointed General Andrey Yeryomenko to command the Southeastern (later Stalingrad) Front. Arriving on the scene, he directed Lieutenant General Vasiliy Chuikov's 62nd Army to defend the city. Stripping the city of supplies, the Soviets prepared for urban fighting by fortifying many of Stalingrad's buildings to create strong points. Though some of Stalingrad's population left, Stalin directed that civilians remain, as he believed the army would fight harder for a "living city." The city's factories continued to operate, including one producing T-34 tanks.

The Battle Begins

With German ground forces nearing, General Wolfram von Richthofen's Luftflotte 4 quickly gained air superiority over Stalingrad and began reducing the city to rubble, inflicting thousands of civilian casualties in the process. Pushing west, Army Group B reached the Volga north of Stalingrad in late August and by September 1 had arrived at the river south of the city. As a result, Soviet forces in Stalingrad could only be reinforced and re-supplied by crossing the Volga, often while enduring German air and artillery attack. Delayed by rough terrain and Soviet resistance, 6th Army did not arrive until early September.

On September 13, Paulus and 6th Army began pushing into the city. This was supported by 4th Panzer Army which attacked Stalingrad's southern suburbs. Driving forward, they sought to capture the heights of Mamayev Kurgan and reach the main landing area along the river. Engaged in bitter fighting, the Soviets fought desperately for the hill and the No. 1 Railroad Station. Receiving reinforcements from Yeryomenko, Chuikov battled to hold the city. Understanding the German superiority in aircraft and artillery, he ordered his men to stay closely engaged with the enemy to negate this advantage or risk friendly fire.

Fighting Among the Ruins

Over the next several weeks, German and Soviet forces engaged in savage street fighting in attempts to take control of the city. At one point, the average life expectancy of a Soviet soldier in Stalingrad was less than one day. As fighting raged in the ruins of the city, the Germans met heavy resistance from a variety of fortified buildings and near a large grain silo. In late September, Paulus began a series of attacks against the city's northern factory district. Brutal combat soon engulfed the area around the Red October, Dzerzhinsky Tractor, and Barrikady factories as the Germans sought to reach the river.

Despite their dogged defense, the Soviets were slowly pushed back until the Germans controlled 90% of the city by the end of October. In the process, 6th and 4th Panzer Armies sustained massive losses. In order to maintain pressure on the Soviets in Stalingrad, the Germans narrowed the two armies' front and brought in Italian and Romanian troops to guard their flanks. In addition, some air assets were transferred from the battle to counter the Operation Torch landings in North Africa. Seeking to end the battle, Paulus launched a final assault against the factory district on November 11 which had some success.

Soviets Strike Back

While the grinding fighting was taking place in Stalingrad, Stalin dispatched General Georgy Zhukov south to begin building up forces for a counterattack. Working with General Aleksandr Vasilevsky, he massed troops on steppes to the north and south of Stalingrad. On November 19, the Soviets launched Operation Uranus, which saw three armies cross the Don River and crash through the Romanian Third Army. South of Stalingrad, two Soviet armies attacked on November 20, shattering the Romanian Fourth Army. With Axis forces collapsing, Soviet troops raced around Stalingrad in a massive double envelopment.

Uniting at Kalach on November 23, the Soviet forces successfully encircled 6th Army trapping around 250,000 Axis troops. To support the offensive, attacks were conducted elsewhere along the Eastern Front to prevent the Germans from sending reinforcements to Stalingrad. Though the German high command wished to order Paulus to conduct a breakout, Hitler refused and was convinced by Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring that 6th Army could be supplied by air. This ultimately proved impossible and conditions for Paulus' men began to deteriorate.

While Soviet forces pushed east, others began tightening the ring around Paulus in Stalingrad. Heavy fighting began as the Germans were forced into an increasingly smaller area. On December 12, Field Marshall Erich von Manstein launched Operation Winter Storm but was unable to break through to the beleaguered 6th Army. Responding with another counter-offensive on December 16 (Operation Little Saturn), the Soviets began driving the Germans back on a wide front effectively ending German hopes for relieving Stalingrad. In the city, Paulus' men resisted tenaciously but soon faced ammunition shortages. With the situation desperate, Paulus asked Hitler for permission to surrender but was refused.

On January 30, Hitler promoted Paulus to field marshal. As no German field marshal had ever been captured, he expected him to fight to the end or commit suicide. The next day, Paulus was captured when the Soviets overran his headquarters. On February 2, 1943, the final pocket of German resistance surrendered, ending over five months of fighting.

Aftermath of Stalingrad

Soviet losses in the Stalingrad area during the battle numbered around 478,741 killed and 650,878 wounded. In addition, as many as 40,000 civilians were killed. Axis losses are estimated at 650,000-750,000 killed and wounded as well as 91,000 captured. Of those captured, fewer than 6,000 survived to return to Germany. This was a turning point of the war on the Eastern Front. The weeks after Stalingrad saw the Red Army launch eight winter offensives across the Don River basin. These helped further compel Army Group A to withdraw from the Caucasus and ended the threat to the oil fields.


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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Battle of Stalingrad." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War II: Battle of Stalingrad. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Battle of Stalingrad." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).