What was the Battle of Stalingrad?
One of the most important battles fought during the Second War World took place in the Russian city of Stalingrad (today, Volgograd), then belonging to Unity Soviet. A Battle of Stalingrad took place from July 17, 1942 to February 2, 1943 and was a milestone in the direct confrontation between Germans and Soviets in the front Eastern European. But why is this battle considered so important? And what was the end result of it? That’s what we’ll see next.
Rupture between Germans and Soviets
To understand what gave rise to the Battle of Stalingrad, we need to remember that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the famous Covenant German–Soviet of non-aggression, on August 23, 1939, a few days before the start of World War II. This pact assured the Germans of the invasion of Poland and the incursion of troops into other countries, without the USSR becoming involved in the conflict.
However, this agreement would sooner or later be broken, and the break occurred in 1941 with the Operation Barbarossa – a coordinated attack by the German Armed Forces against the USSR. The Operation Barbarossa attacks aimed to completely dominate Soviet territory, as had happened with Poland, but Hitler and his officers were unable to complete their strategic siege and the operation was left in half.
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Then, in the subsequent two years, 1942 and 1943, the battles fought in Eastern Europe between the Germans and the Soviets were consequences of the initial attempt at domination by the Nazis. The Battle of Stalingrad was the most emblematic of them.
Development of the battle
The city of Stalingrad was situated in the Caucasus region, on the banks of the Volga River, and was strategically important, as it was at the center of the river and railway routes for Caucasian oil and iron ore raw materials. Dominating Stalingrad meant for the Nazis controlling a significant part of the USSR’s basic industry, in addition to strangling the country, leaving Moscow isolated. Therefore, a large part of the German force was directed to Stalingrad. The attack was carried out by General Pauluscommander of the German VI Army.
Painting depicting the Battle of Stalingrad.
The maneuvers began on July 17, 1942, but massive attacks began on August 21, when the infantry and tank division managed to cross the Don River and head towards the Volga and Stalingrad, as narrated historian Antony Beevor:
At dawn on 21 August, the infantry of the 51st Corps crossed the Don in assault boats. A bridgehead was captured, pontoon bridges were built across the river, and the following afternoon Lieutenant Colonel Hans Hube’s 16th Panzer Division began to advance. Shortly before first light on August 23, Hube’s panzer vanguard battalion, commanded by Colonel Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz, advanced toward the rising sun and Stalingrad, situated just 40 miles to the east. The Don steppe, an expanse of charred grass, was hard as stone.
When the platoons arrived in Stalingrad, the commanders still had air support from 1,200 planes. The attack of August 23 was one of the heaviest of the Second World War, certainly the most concentrated of the front Eastern. A thousand tons of incendiary bombs were dropped on Stalingrad. 40 thousand civilians died in the first two days of the attack alone, civilians who were unaware of the invasion plan, as Beevor highlights:
The city’s inhabitants would never forget that Sunday, August 23, 1942. Oblivious to the approaching German forces, civilians lounged in the sun in the center of a city that stretched more than 30 kilometers along the curve of the west bank of the Volga. In the streets, loudspeakers broadcast warnings of air raids, but only when anti-aircraft batteries began firing did people run for cover.
Resistance to the German attack was initially under the command of general Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 62nd Army. Preventing the fall of Stalingrad was one of Germany’s top priorities. Josef Stalin, and its defense had to be uncompromising, even with hungry and unequipped fighters. One of Stalin’s cruelest measures towards the Red Army occurred in this context. It was about Order No. 227which authorized the summary shooting of any combatant who “showed fear or hesitation.”
The clashes dragged on over the next three months, with successive German attacks, but directions changed from November onwards with the arrival of winter. In the final two months of 1942, German troops no longer had the same firepower and tenacity as August. Furthermore, the winter in the East had already hampered the efforts of Operation Barbarossa the previous year. The solution was to redefine the strategy and retreat, but Hitler forced General Paulus and his subordinates to remain at their posts.
At the same time, troops from Chuikov began to receive reinforcements from the general Zukovwhich had under its control the armies of Vatuin, Rokossovsky It is Yeremenko. Between the 19th and 23rd of November, the Soviet counteroffensive began, which, with the “help” of winter, put an end to the German attack. The battle officially ended on February 2 of the following year.
BEEVOR, Antony. The Second World War. Trans. Cristina Cavalcanti. Editora Record: Rio de Janeiro, 2015. p. 381.
Ibid. P. 382.
By Cláudio Fernandes