Overview - Background - Leaders, Forces and Plan - German Offensive - Soviet Offensive
The Opposing Commanders
General der Panzertruppen Friedrich Paulus (1890-1957) commanded the ill-fated 6th Army on the suggestion of Generalfeldmarschall Walter von Reichenau. An excellent staff ofﬁcer, Paulus suffered the fate of being promoted beyond his experience and capabilities, due to his loyalty and unquestioning attitude to the Fuhrer. Born in Breitenau on 23 September 1890, he joined the army in 1910 and was commissioned as a Leutnant in the 3rd Baden Infantry Regiment. During the First World War, he served as the adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, was on the staff of the 2nd Prussian Jager Regiment and in 1917 was assigned to the operations staff of the Alpine Corps. After the war, Paulus remained in the Army and served as a tactics instructor to the 5th Infantry Division in 1930. He was promoted to Oberstleutnant in 1934 and had reached the rank of Generalmajor by the outbreak of war in 1939. He served under Reichenau as Chief of Staff to the 10th Army and became Deputy Chief of the General Staff. After taking command of the 6th Army in January 1942, Paulus had to defend against General Timoshenko's spring offensive but alongside Kleist's 1st Panzer Army, managed to counterattack and destroy three Soviet armies (killing or capturing over 250,000 Soviet troops). During the summer, Paulus advanced cautiously towards Stalingrad as his movement was restricted by fuel shortages but when he reached the city, was drawn into an urban battle of attrition. The army was surrounded by the Soviet counteroffensive of November 1942 and eventually surrendered in February 1943 after Paulus had been promoted to Generalfeldmarschall. Unlike Seydlitz-Kurzbach, Paulus did not initially cooperate with the Soviets but after hearing that his friends Erich Hoepner and Erwin von Witzleben had been executed after the July Plot, he agreed to join the League of German Officers and make broadcasts calling for German officers and troops to surrender, desert or disobey orders. This resulted in the imprisonment of his family under Hitler's orders. He appeared as a witness for the Soviet Prosecution at the Nuremburg Trials in 1946 but was not released until 1953, his wife dying in Baden-Baden in 1949. He settled in Dresden working for the East German Police but died on 1st February 1957.
General der Pioniere Erwin Jaenecke (1890-1960) was born on the 22 April 1890 in Freren, entered army service in March 1911 and went to the Hanovarian War Academy. He had been promoted to Leutnant by the beginning of the First World War, serving with distinction in the 10th Pioneer Battalion, as well as serving as an Ordnance Ofﬁcer on the staff of the 19th Infantry Division and as a General Staff Officer with the 26th Reserve Division. He stayed in the Reichswehr after the war, gradually rising up the ranks to become an Oberst by March 1936, serving in a variety of command and staff positions, including Course Director at the War Academy. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was Quartermaster General of the 2nd Army, followed in 1940 by the 9th Army. He was promoted to Generalleutnant on 1 November 1941 and took command of 389th Infantry Division on 1 February 1942. He was made a General der Pioniere on 1 November 1942 and given command of the IV Corps. He was badly wounded just before the end of the battle for Stalingrad and airlifted out on 21 January 1943. After recovering, he was given command of first, LXXXII Corps and then the 17th Army, where he tried to hold the Crimen Peninsula against overwhelming odds. Hitler refused to countenance a withdrawal until the last moment and because of that, a mere fraction of the German and Rumanian troops that held the Crimea managed to escape. Jaenecke was made a scapegoat and retired. After the war, he was held in Soviet captivity until 1955 and died on 3 July 1960 in Cologne.
GeneralLeutnant Hans Hube (1890-1944) was born on 29 October 1890 in Naumberg. He enrolled as an ofﬁcer cadet in the 26th Infantry Regiment in 1910 and was a platoon commander at the outbreak of the First World War. Soon promoted to Battalion Adjutant, he was seriously wounded at Fontenay where he lost his left arm. He was soon back on duty however and served in a variety of frontline and staff postings for the remainder of the war. During the interwar years, his determination meant that he eventually rose to Oberstleutnant and command of the Infantry School at Döberitz where he wrote a two-volume work on infantry tactics. During the French campaign he was promoted to Generalmajor in command of the 16th Infantry Division, which was converted to a Panzer Division, taking part in Operation Barbarossa as part of Panzergruppe Kleist. Hube was awarded the Knight‘s Cross for his division's performance, to which was added the oak leaves for his part in helping to smash two Soviet armies around Kiev. Hube, who had commanded XIV Panzer Corps during the Caucasus campaign, was flown out of the Stalingrad pocket and given command of the newly reforming XIV Panzer Corps, which was then sent to Sicily while Hube was promoted to General der Panzertruppen. He made the Allies pay dearly for their advance across the island and successfully withdrew his forces across the straits into Italy. He was again transferred east to command 1st Panzer Army and successfully it broke out westwards to link up with 4th Panzer Army after it had been surrounded by Koniev's 2nd Ukrainian Front. He was promoted to Generaloberst and personally awarded the diamonds by Hitler on 20 April 1944 at the Obersalzberg. He was badly injured the next day when his aircraft crashed on the way back to Berlin and he died soon after.
Generaloberst Freiherr (Baron) Wolfram von Richthofen (1895-1945) was a cousin of the famous First World War ﬁghter ace, Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the ‘Red Baron’ and was himself a fighter ace during the Great War. After the war he worked in engineering and then rejoined the Army in 1923, serving for a time as a military attaché in Rome. After transferring to the Luftwaffe in 1933, von Richthofen worked in the Air Ministry and in 1936 became an assistant to the head of the Technical Department. He brieﬂy commanded the ‘Kondor’ Legion in Spain where, along with the campaigns in Poland, the Low Countries and France, he helped to perfect the tactical use of close support aircraft, particularly the Ju-87 Stuka and while sometimes critical of the Army, he never let it impede his performance. Göring rated him as one of his best operational commanders, alongside Kesselring. During the campaign he commanded Luftflotte IV which tried desperately to ferry supplies to the beleaguered 6th Army, despite his trying to make it clear that there were simply not enough transport assets available to move the kind of tonnages that were needed. He was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall on 17 February 1943 and was transferred back to the Mediterranean Theatre from the Eastern Front. He was retired on medical grounds in November 1944 and died of a brain tumour on 12 July 1945 whilst in captivity.
Generaloberst Hermann Hoth (1891-1971) commanded the 4th Panzer Army during the campaign. Born in Neuruppen on 12 April 1891, the son of an Army medical ofﬁcer, he joined the Army in 1904 and served during the First World War in a variety of staff positions and as a battalion commander in the 342nd lnfantry Regiment. After the war he remained in the Reichswehr and eventually rose to take command of the 18th lnfantry Division at Liegnitz in 1935 as a Generalmajor. In 1938 he was promoted to Generalleutnant and took command of the XV Corps, a formation which he commanded as a General der lnfanterie during the campaign for France and the Low Countries. He was promoted to Generaloberst and during Operation Barbarossa he led Panzergruppe 3 which helped to encircle hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops in the Vyazma - Bryansk pocket. He commanded 17th Army for a period of time but was given command of the 4th Panzer Army in May 1942. After Stalingrad, he took part in the battles for Kharkov and Kursk but was made a scapegoat for some of Hitler's bad decisions and was retired in December 1943. He died on 26 January 1971.
Generaloberst Ewald von Kleist (1881-1954) was born on 8 August 1881 in Brauenfels. The son of a schoolteacher, his family had however, strong military traditions and he joined the artillery in 1900 as an officer cadet. He went to the War Academy and was posted to the cavalry, joining the 1st Liebhusaren Regiment and was soon promoted to Rittmeister (Captain). He served with distinction during the First World War and after the war taught at the Cavalry School in Hanover. By 1932 he had been promoted to the rank of Generalmajor (being in command of the 2nd Cavalry Division at Breslau) although more followed – he was again promoted in 1933 to Generalleutnant and in 1936 to General der Kavallerie. Retired in February 1938 has part of the purges, he was recalled to duty and commanded XXll Corps during the Polish campaign and a Panzergruppe during the campaign in France, which he led through the Ardennes Forest, to the English Channel and to the Spanish border. He received the Knight's Cross and a promotion to Generaloberst. He then led his Panzergruppe into the Balkans to take part in the Yugoslav campaign. This was followed by Barbarossa where his Panzergruppe became part of Army Group South and was upgraded to 1st Panzer Army, taking part in the surrounding of Kiev, the taking of Rostov and halting Timoshenko's spring offensive, after which he received his Oakleaves. After the Caucasus campaign he was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall and conducted a brilliant withdrawal back to the Dnieper and maintained a defence of the Kuban bridgehead. He was not allowed to withdraw his forces in the Crimea and they were eventually cut off, but this allowed General Wohler to withdraw behind the Dniester River. For this he was sacked after being given his Swords to the Knight's Cross by Hitler. He spent the rest of the war in retirement but had to evacuate his family to Bavaria due to the advancing Soviets. He was captured by the US 26th Infantry Division and after spending time in Britain as a PoW was extradited to Yugoslavia and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment (for unspecified war crimes), but then moved to the Soviet Union where he was sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged war crimes. He died on 16 October 1954 at Vladimir PoW Camp, near Moscow.
Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein (1887-1973) was actually born Erich von Lewinski on 24 November 1887 in Berlin but was brought up and adopted by an aunt and uncle, General Georg von Manstein and later took the name. He served as a page in the Imperial Court and spent six years in the Cadet Corps, before joining the Army in 1906, joining the 3rd Foot Guard Regiment. He had reached the rank of Oberleutnant by the time the First World War had broken out and served in a variety of staff posts, after being badly wounded in November 1914. He remained in the Army after the war and by 1937 had reached the rank of Generalmajor but was assigned the command of the 18th Infantry Division in Silesia after the purges of February 1938. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was Chief of Staff to von Rundstedt‘s Army Group South but quickly came to prominence with the idea about attacking through the Ardennes to circumvent the Maginot Line. Hitler eventually adopted the plan and he was given command of the XXXVlll Corps during the campaign. He was awarded the Knight's Cross and promoted to General der lnfanterie, commanding LVI Panzer Corps at the start of Operation Barbarossa. He was then given command of the 11th Army in late 1941 and eventually managed to capture the fortress at Sebastopol in July 1942, for which he was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall. He led the counteroffensive by Army Group Don to relieve the 6th Army at Stalingrad and managed to get within thirty miles of the city but was forced back. With the Soviets now on the offensive he conducted a series of brilliant defensive battles at Krasnograd, Kharkov and Belgorod. He continually argued with Hitler over strategy however and was finally dismissed in March 1944, never having another command. He was charged with war crimes before a British court in 1949 and was sentenced to eighteen years imprisonment. His defence was paid for by a group of British Officers who disagreed with the decision. He only served three years due to medical reasons. He died on 11 June 1973 after writing two books.
Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock (1880-1945) was born in December 1880 in Kustrin, the son of a Prussian army officer who had been ennobled for bravery by Kaiser Wilhelm I during the Franco-Prussian War. He became an officer cadet and passed out as a Leutnant in the 5th Regiment of Foot Guards. He was promoted to Hauptmann in 1912 and was on the General Staff in the First World War. During the interwar years he remained in the Army, gradually moving up the ranks, taking command of a regiment (as an Oberst), then a division (as a Generalmajor), finally becoming a corps commander (as a Generaloberst) in 1935. He commanded the German forces that occupied Austria in 1938 and played a role in the invasion of Czechoslovakia. He replaced von Rundstedt as an Army Group commander leading Army Group North to victory in the Polish Campaign and Army Group B during the fighting for France and the Low Countries. He was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall and commanded Army Group Centre during Operation Barbarossa. He had to take sick leave for a stomach complaint but was back again in January 1942 to lead Army Group South but was retired by Hitler in July due to a number of disagreements. He took no more part in the war and he and his wife were killed by a low flying aircraft while travelling by car in North Germany in May 1945.
General der Artillerie Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach (1888-1976) commanded LI Corps during the Battle for Stalingrad. He was born in Hamburg-Eppendorf on 22 August 1888 and was related to General Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, a cavalry commander under Frederick the Great. He joined the Army and after attending the War Academy at Hanover, was commissioned a Leutnant in the 36th (2nd West Prussian) Field Artillery Regiment in 1910. During the First World War he was badly wounded at the Battle of Gumbinnen and after recovering, fought at the Somme, Passchendaele, St Quentin and in Ludendorff's spring offensive of 1918. He stayed in the Army after the war (having reached Hauptmann). He worked in the Reichswehr Ministry from 1929 until 1933 where he was promoted to Major. After the outbreak of the Second World War, he was promoted to Generalmajor and took command of the 12th infantry Division at Mecklenberg. The division took part in the Battle for France, but remained on occupation duty in both France and the Netherlands until it was transferred east to take part in Operation Barbarossa. The division performed well and Seydlitz-Kurzbach was awarded his Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross earned in France, and was promoted to Generalleutnant. He was next involved in the relief of the Demyansk Pocket and was promoted to General der Artillerie in June 1942 after taking command of Ll Corps. As Stalingrad gradually drew in the 6th Army, Seydlitz-Kurzbach saw a major trap in the making and warned Paulus to withdraw from the costly battle, advice that was ignored. He was captured at Stalingrad on 31 January 1943. Disillusioned and suffering mental instability over the debacle at Stalingrad, he and a number of other German officers formed the League of German Officers, a military equivalent to the National Free Germany Committee. The League was intended to help persuade German officers and troops that were surrounded to surrender, but it was a failure. He was sentenced to death by a military tribunal on 26 April 1944 and his wife was persuaded to divorce him for the sake of their own safety. After being kept in various prison camps and going through a show trial (presumably as a punishment for the failure of the League) in 1950 was finally released and returned to Germany in October 1955, together with about 2,000 other German soldiers captured at Stalingrad and was reunited with his family. The death sentence was overturned in 1956 and he lived in obscure retirement until his death on 28 April 1976.
Generaloberst Freiherr Maximilien von Weichs (1881-1954) was born in Dessau on 12 November 1881. He joined the 2nd Bavarian Heavy Cavalry Regiment as a Fahnenjunker in July 1900, was commissioned Leutnant in March 1902 and attended the War Academy in 1910. Hewas with the Bavarian Cavalry Division with the rank of Rittmeister (Captain) when the First World War broke out and held several General Staff appointments throughout the conﬂict. Selected as one of the officers to stay on in the Reichswehr after the war, he became a staff officer at the Infantry School in 1927. He reached the rank of Oberst in 1930 and in 1933, was promoted to Generalmajor and given command of the 3rd Cavalry Division at Weimar, which became the 1st Panzer Division in 1935. He was promoted to Generalleutnant in April 1935 and then to General der Kavallerie in October 1936. He was retired with fifteen other senior officers during the purges of 1938 but was recalled to duty for the Polish Campaign where he commanded Xlll Corps, followed by the 2nd Army during the Battle for France and the Low Countries. Promoted to Generaloberst and given the Knight's Cross in July 1940, he commanded the German forces invading northern Yugoslavia in April 1941. 2nd Army then participated in Operation Barbarossa in June, as part of Army Group Centre. He fell ill in November and did not return to duty until January 1942, during which time 2nd Army had become part of Army Group South. He was given command of Army Group B when Army Group South was divided in two. He signalled his concern over the large number of non-German Axis formations in Army Group B and as 6th Army concentrated on Stalingrad, with their ability to protect the ﬂanks. The Soviet counteroffensive of November 1942 tore right through the Axis troops on the flanks and von Weichs was refused permission to withdraw the 6th Army. Most of the remaining forces were gradually transferred to Army Group Don or Army Group Centre and he was made a Generalfeldmarschall in February 1943. After being moved into the Fuhrer Reserve in July 1943, he was quickly returned to duty as Commander-in-Chief, Southeast and in command of Army Group F. He had to contend with growing partisan activity and the Italian defection, and with the break- up of the Axis in late 1944, he successfully withdrew all remaining German troops from the Balkans. He was finally retired in March 1945 and spent a short time as a PoW, appearing at the international War Crimes Tribunal but was released due to poor health. He died in Burg Rosberg (near Bonn) on 27 September 1954.
General Georgi K. Zhukov (1896-1974) was conscripted into the Imperial Russian Army in 1915 but joined the Red Army in 1918 and the Communist Party in 1919. By 1938 he had risen to the post of Deputy Commander, Byelorussian Military District and was sent to repel the Japanese incursion into Mongolia. He was then promoted to full General and given the command of the Kiev Special Military District, followed by Chief of the General Staff and a Deputy Minister of Defence. Given command of the Leningrad Front) he stopped the German advance at the gates of the city, after which he coordinated the defence of Moscow, the Battle for Stalingrad and went on to play a key role in the Battle for Kursk. He was promoted to a Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1943 and commanded the 1st Ukrainian Front in early 1944, and led Operation Bagration in June. He commanded 1st Byelorussian Front during the drive across Poland and the assault on Berlin. After the war he remained as Commander, Group of Soviet Forces Germany until March 1946 and commanded the Odessa and Ural Military Districts after a short period as a Deputy Minister of Defence. lt is rumoured that Zhukov (along with Koniev) played a role in the arrest of Lavrentiy Beria (Head of the NKVD) and supported Krushchev during his attempted removal in June 1957. He had had however, significant disagreements with Krushchev over defence policy and was removed from office later that year. He returned to favour after Krushchev was deposed by Brezhnev and Kosygin but not to power and died in 1974.
General Alexandr M. Vasilevsky (1895-1977) had served in the Russian Army during the First World War and joined the Red Army in 1919. After becoming a regimental commander, he joined the General Staff in 1940 and became head of its Operational Directorate (War Planning). In June 1942 he was appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff and a Deputy Minister of Defence (also known as People's Commissar) but had an influential involvement with the counteroffensive at Stalingrad, coordinated the movements of several fronts during the Battle for Kursk and was actually wounded during the ﬁghting around Sebastopol. He was promoted to Marshal in 1943 and awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union twice (July 1944 and May 1945). After the war in Europe had ended, he became Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Forces in the Far East, controlling three Fronts during the invasion of Manchuria in the ﬁnal days of the Second World War. After the war, he remained Chief of the General Staff and then was Defence Minister between 1949 and 1953. He lost influence after Krushchev came to power and was pensioned off. He died in 1977.
Colonel General Andrei l. Yeremenko (1892-1970) was born in Markovka (near Kharkov) to a peasant family. He was drafted into the Imperial Army in 1913, serving on the Southwest and Romanian Fronts during World War l but joined the Red Army in 1918, where he served in the legendary Budyonny Cavalry unit, after which he attended the Leningrad Cavalry School and then the Frunze Military Academy, which he graduated from in 1935. Yeremenko commanded the 6th Cavalry Corps during the invasion and partition of Poland and by 1941 was commanding the Transbaikal Military District, but was recalled by Stalin after the Germans invaded and given command of firstly, the Western Front and then the Bryansk Front. He led a counterattack which stalled the German drive on Moscow, thus helping to save the city and contributed to the defence of Stalingrad as commander of the Southeastern Front (which was renamed Stalingrad Front, then Southern Front). Command of various formations followed as did action in the Caucasus, Crimea, the Baltic and Hungary, but in May 1945 his 4th Ukrainian Front surrounded Army Group Centre in conjunction with Koniev's 1st Ukrainian Front. After the war the commanded firstly, the Carpathian Military District (1945-6), secondly the Western Siberia Military District (1946-52) and thirdly the North Caucasus Military District (1953-58). He retired in 1958 and died on 19 November 1970.
General Vassilli I. Chuikov (1900-1982) joined the Red Army in 1919 and rose through the ranks quickly, mainly due to his membership of the Communist Party. He attended the Frunze Military Academy, took part in the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, the Russo-Finish War and served as a military advisor to Chiang Kai-shek. In May 1942 he was recalled and placed in command of the 62nd Army, which defended Stalingrad against the German 6th Army. He was then promoted to command the 8th Guards Army, which he commanded for the rest of the war. Afterwards he served as Commander, Group of Soviet Forces Germany from 1949 until 1953, commanded the Kiev Military District and after having been made a Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1955 was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Ground Forces from 1960 to 1964. He also served as Chief of Civil Defence until his retirement in 1972. He died in 1982.
Fyodor l. Tolbukhin (1894-1949) commanded the 57th Army during the Battle for Stalingrad, part of Yeremenko‘s Stalingrad Front. Born into a peasant family in the province of Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow, he volunteered for the lmperial Russian Army in 1914 but joined the Red Army in 1918. He served in a number of staff positions and attended the Frunze Military Academy, graduating in 1931. He became Chief of Staff for the Transcaucasus Military District and then the Crimean Front after the German invasion. He was given command of the 57th Army from July 1942 until March 1943 and then led the Southem Front, which was renamed the 4th Ukrainian Front in October 1943. After liberating most of the Ukraine with Malinovsky's 3rd Ukrainian Front, he was then given command of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, while Petrov took over the 4th and Malinovsky took control of the 2nd. He was promoted to Marshal in September 1944. He continued the Soviet drive westwards, gradually veering south and then west to help ‘liberate’ Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary. After the war he commanded the Southern Group of Forces and then the Transcaucasus Military District. He died on 17 October 1949. He is regarded as one of the finest Soviet generals of the Second World War and was respected by his fellow commanders and his men.
Konstantin K. Rokossovsky (1896 - 1968) was a former Tsarist cavalry NCO who joined the Red Army in 1918. He was imprisoned during the purges but released in March 1940 after the Russo-Finish War on the orders of Stalin himself. He was seriously wounded during the ﬁghting around Moscow, but returned to duty in September 1942 just in time to take part in the Battle for Stalingrad, where he commanded the Stalingrad Front, quickly renamed the Don Front. After Stalingrad, the Don Front was renamed the Central Front and took part in the Battle for Kursk. He then went on to command a number of fronts until the end of the war, including the 2nd Byelorussian during the assault on Berlin. After the war he went onto hold the posts of Deputy Minister of Defence and Inspector General of the Ministry of Defence, and returned to Poland (he was Polish by birth) as Minister of National Defence between 1949 and 1956. He was responsible for the Sovietisation of the Polish Armed Forces and repressed a great deal of anti-Soviet behaviour. He returned to the USSR which restored his previous rank and honours and was appointed a Deputy Minister of Defence. He retired in 1962 and died on 3 August 1968.
Pavel l. Batov (1897-1985) was born into a peasant family in the village of Filisovo in the Rybinsk region of the Yaroslavl province. At the age of 18 he became a scout for the 3rd Infantry Regiment of the Life Guards. He joined the Red Army in 1918 and attended the Vystrel Officers School in 1926, where many future commanders were also being taught, such as Vasilevsky, Christyakov and Katukov. He became a regimental commander in 1933 and fought with the 12th International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, earning the Orders of Lenin and Red Banner. In early 1938 he
was appointed Commander of the 3rd Riﬂe Corps, which took part in the occupation of Eastern Poland and the Russo-Finnish War (where he earned another Order of Lenin). In June 1940, he was transferred to command the 9th Separate Riﬂe Corps stationed in the Crimea and in August became Assistant Commander of the 51st Army. He attempted to defend the Crimea from Army Group South but was forced to evacuate his forces and was given command of the 3rd Army in the Bryansk Front but quickly became Deputy Front Commander. Rokossovsky appreciated that Batov was wasted on staff duties and recommended that he be given an army command. He was appointed to command the 4th Tank Army in the latter stages of the battle for Stalingrad but because of its losses, was converted to a rifle army and renamed the 65th Army. Batov would command this formation until end of the war. After the war, he commanded the 7th Mechanised Army in Poland and then the 11th Army in the Baltic Military District, followed by the post of First Deputy Commander of the Group of Soviet Forces, Germany. After attending the Voroshilov General Staff Academy, he was appointed as an army commander in the Byelorussian Military District in 1951. He subsequently commanded the Carpathian and Baltic Military Districts (1955-59), as well as the Southern Group Forces in Hungary (1961-63) before being appointed as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Soviet Army and Chief of Staff of the Warsaw Pact (1963-65). He entered semi-retirement in 1965, wrote his memoirs and various treaties on military theory, dying in April 1985.
General Nikolai F. Vatutin (1901-1944) commanded the Southwest Front during the battle. He was born in Chepukhino, near Valuiki, in the province of Voronezh. He joined the Red Army in 1920 and attended a command course in Poltava after which he was appointed a platoon commander in the 67th Riﬂe Regiment. He then attended the Kiev Higher Formation Military School (1924) and eventually entered the Frunze Military Academy in 1926 and again in 1934. In 1937 he received an appointment as Assistant Chief of Staff in the Kiev Special Military District and later, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff with responsibility for mobilisation and deployment. After Barabrossa, Vatutin took command of the Northern Front and delayed the German advance on Leningrad. He then served as Deputy Chief of the General Staff under Vasilevsky and was than appointed as a Stavka representative to the Bryansk Front, quickly followed by command of the Voronezh Front in July 1942. In October, Vatutin was summoned to Moscow and given command of the Southwest Front that took part in the Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad. He was placed in command of the Voronezh Front (March 1943) that took part in the Battle for Kursk. His front was renamed the 1st Ukrainian Front and took part in the advance to the Dnieper and the liberation of Kiev. During the Soviet winter offensive in the Ukraine, Vatutin, his Chief of Staff, K. Kraynyukov and a security detachment of ten men were travelling between the 13th Army HQ at Rovno and the 60th Army HQ at Slavata when they were ambushed by Ukrainian partisans. Vatutin was wounded in the leg and subsequently died of his wounds on 15 April 1944.
The Opposing Forces
Operation 'Blau' was to be undertaken by Army Group South, under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock, while Centre and North were to remain on the defensive. In 1942, the Wehrmacht was no longer in a position to be able to undertake simultaneous offensives by all three army groups. Despite receiving over 1.1 million replacements up to May 1942, the German Army still had a shortfall of around 625,000 personnel. Army Group South therefore had the priority on replacements and reinforcement formations being moved from the west and the other two army groups had their panzer forces cannibalised in order to bring Army Group South up to full strength. In early May, Generalmajor Hans von Greiffenberg, who had been Bock's Chief of Staff at Army Group Centre and was due to become Chief of Staff under Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List at Army Group A, started to assemble the army group staff at the OKH compound in Zossen, just south of Berlin. Two weeks later he took a detachment to the Army Group South headquarters at Poltava and despatched a forward element to Stalin. Until it became operational, the headquarters would go under the cover name of 'Coastal Staff, Azov' to preserve secrecy, which extended to the other major formation headquarters moving into the area.
By the eve of Operation 'Blau', Army Group South disposed of forty-five infantry, eleven panzer, four light infantry and five motorised divisions, for a total of sixty-five divisions. There were also the 8th Italian (Gariboldi), 2nd Hungarian (Jany), 3rd Romanian (Dumitrescu) and 4th Romanian (Constantinescu) Armies available to support the Wehrmacht and these totalled some twenty-five divisions. While this was technically five more than Bock had estimated he would need in the February proposal, the is divisions could not be counted as fully equivalent to a German division for a variety of reasons including equipment, training, leadership and morale. One solution to the manpower shortage had been for Berlin to secure an increase in the numbers of Axis satellite troops to complement the German forces on the Eastern Front, a solution actively sought in early 1942. By the time of the Battle for Stalingrad, Axis forces had increased to twenty-four Rumanian, ten Italian and ten Hungarian divisions serving in the East. Most of these divisions formed the Axis contingents on the Don Front that were eventually used to protect the flanks of the 6th Army but the German reliance on such large allied forces in such a vulnerable area was to have dire consequences. Even so, while not of comparable quality to German formations, they were a useful strategic asset as they released German forces to undertake mobile offensive operations but had to be reinforced with German units when facing a Soviet attack.
Army Group South was therefore, a powerful force, with over one million German and 300,000 Axis troops and would be supported from the air by Luftflotte IV under Generaloberst Wolfram von Richthofen. The panzer divisions had spaces for over 1,900 tanks but as they would be refitted at or near to the front and some were in action before the start of the campaign proper, the exact numbers of serviceable tanks were almost impossible to calculate. The panzer divisions were however, being refitted with tanks that carried long-barrelled guns (the Panzer III having the 50mm and Panzer IV having the 75mm) that could penetrate the T-34 from all angles (although in the case of the Panzer III, it would have to wait until the target was within four hundred yards). Two tanks that had been designed to be superior to any of the Soviet models, the Panzer V 'Panther and Panzer VI 'Tiger' and armed with high velocity long barrelled 75mm and 88mm guns respectively, were in the pipeline but would not be ready in time for Blau. The output of 75mm heavy antitank guns had been unexpectedly high so many of these would be deployed in the infantry formations, particularly the 2nd Army which would be holding the flank near Voronezh. The only problem was that the output of armour-piercing ammunition would not catch up until mid-summer and so the rounds per gun would have to be severely limited with only 70 to 150 rounds for antitank guns and 30 to 50 rounds for the Panzer IVs. The crews would have to be very sparing in their use of this ammunition - indeed, 2nd Army (that-was-to-secure-the-extreme-left-flank of the operation), issued instructions that the 75mm guns should only be used for head-on shots. If the T-34 showed its flanks or rear, the 50mm guns should be used.
Soon after the start of the main campaign, Army Group South would split into two separate army groups, Army Group A under Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List comprising the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies and 17th Army with around forty divisions and Army Group B under Generaloberst Maximilian von Weichs comprising the German 2nd and 6th Armies as well as the Italian, Hungarian and Rumanian armies, with around fifty divisions. A study by the OKH Organisation Branch (conducted concurrently with the broader OKW analysis of overall Wehrmacht strength) of Army Group South's readiness to conduct the summer campaign revealed that whereas in normal circumstances all the divisions of one type could be relied upon to be virtually identical in terms of combat effectiveness, the losses incurred during Barbarossa and the Soviet winter counteroffensive meant that this would no longer be true. Given that many of the divisions scheduled to take part in the operation would have to be rebuilt to some degree, they fell into one of three categories. The first category would be fifteen infantry and six panzer and motorised divisions that would be have just been transferred in or fully rebuilt behind the front. They would be at full strength and would have time to let the experienced troops rest and allow the replacements to settle in. The second category consisted of seventeen infantry divisions and ten panzer and motorised divisions who would be at full strength, but because they would be rebuilt near the front, there would not be time to rest and properly integrate the replacements. The third category would include seventeen infantry divisions (more than a quarter of the total) that would neither be rested or fully rebuilt. The formations would be 'approximately' at full strength in terms of total personnel and equipment but would be short of officers and non-commissioned officers, at least for the start of the operation.
However, it was noticeable that in all three categories, some corners had had to be cut. The infantry divisions' supply trains would be horse-drawn and every division would have to take 1,000 of the newest and greenest recruits (eighteen and nineteen-year-old troops who had just completed their basic training). The panzer and motorised divisions would also have fewer tracked armoured personnel carriers, reaching about eighty percent of full mobility but even this would entail some use of trucks and therefore some reduction in cross-country performance. In the panzer divisions, the rifle battalions would be reduced from five to four companies. Since there was very little in reserve, much of the replacement equipment would be coming from scheduled production, which meant that current schedules could not be accelerated or production ramped up until the campaign was well underway and any unanticipated losses in the preliminary operations would not be able to be replaced. Army Group South looked at the same divisions and came to the conclusion that "owing to diverse composition, partial lack of battle experience and gaps in their outfitting, the units available for the summer operation in 1942 will not have the combat effectiveness that could be taken for granted at the beginning of the campaign in the East. The mobile units, too, will not have the flexibility, the endurance, or the penetrating power they had a year ago."
The Red Army had been effectively decapitated just before the outbreak of World War II by the Great Purge enacted by Stalin, whose paranoia sought to eliminate any potential threat to his hold on power. At least 30,000 officers were imprisoned, tortured or executed with the victims including three out of the five marshals and fourteen out of the sixteen army commanders. This catastrophe led firstly, to the Red Army just barely winning the Russo-Finish War (aka the Winter War), fought between November 1939 and March 1940, which involved the Soviets suffering some 48,000 killed and 158,000 wounded and secondly, the near-disaster at the hands of the Wehrmacht during Operation Barbarossa. By the summer of 1942, the Red Army had barely survived the Wehrmacht's onslaught and after pushing the Germans away from Moscow during the winter counteroffensive, prepared for a renewed onslaught after the initiative had once again passed to the Germans. The primary Soviet commands in the area of Blau were the Bryansk (Golikov), Southwest (Timoshenko), South (Malinovsky) and North Caucasus (Budenny) Fronts. The first three had been under the Southwestern Theatre Command but this had ceased to operate as an effective headquarters and was abolished at the start of June as Timoshenko and his staff had been fully engaged with operations by the Southwest Front during May and June. In addition, Stalin had told Timoshenko and Bagramyan that the Bryansk Front would not be part of the theatre for much longer and so was effectively under Stavka control. The four fronts had a total of seventeen field armies, with Southwest, South and Bryansk having five each while North Caucasus had just two. Each had an air army attached to it and Bryansk Front, having 5th Tank Army in reserve, gave up 61st Army to West Front on 29 June. In the first week of June, Army Group South estimated that it would have to deal with ninety-one Soviet rifle divisions, thirty-two rifle brigades, twenty cavalry divisions and forty-four tank brigades. As it happens, this wasn't too far off the mark, with the Bryansk, Southwest and South Fronts having approximately eighty-one rifle divisions, thirty-eight brigades, twelve cavalry divisions and sixty-two tank brigades with published figures of 1.7 million men and 2,300 tanks. However, the number of tanks in each brigade was approximately 60 tanks per formation, as the actual strength of the tank corps in the Bryansk Front in June 1942 was twenty-four KVs, eighty-eight T-34s and sixty-eight T-60s for a total of 180 tanks in three brigades. This would give an overall tank strength of 3,720 so the published figures presumably do not include the T-60s in each brigade.
Army Group South estimated that another thirty-six rifle divisions, sixteen rifle brigades, seven cavalry divisions and ten tank brigades were deployed in the Caucasus. The true picture appears to be seventeen rifle divisions, three rifle brigades, three cavalry divisions and three tank brigades. These figures however, do not include the available Stavka reserves, which included four reserve armies situated behind the Don to the rear of the Bryansk and Southwest Fronts, at Stalingrad, Tambov, Novokhopersk and Novosnninsky with another two behind them. Of the four fronts, the Bryansk was considered by the Soviets to be the most strategically important as its right flank, to the north and east of Orel, covered the Tula approach to Moscow, while its left flank covered the approach to Voronezh. Both Kazakov and Vasilevsky have said that of the two, the former was considered the more likely avenue of attack. This was due to both Stalin and Stavka expected the Germans to renew their attack towards Moscow, then considered still the most important Soviet target, that Army Group Centre still consisted of over seventy divisions, some of which were less than 100 miles from the city and that the Germans had instituted a deception plan to cover Operation Blau, codenamed Operation Kreml, to indicate that they were preparing another summer offensive by Army Group Centre towards the capital.
On 23 April, Stavka ordered Golikov to prepare an attack towards Orel to coincide with Timoshenko's offensive to retake Kharkov. Golikov could not get his forces ready in time and after the German counterattack had begun, had all his air support diverted south to help Timoshenko's Southwest Front. For this particular operation, Golikov had been given four rifle divisions, five tank and two cavalry corps and four tank brigades out of the Stavka reserve but after the disaster in the Barvenkovo Salient, he was tasked with preparing to counterattack in whichever direction the Germans decided to launch their summer offensive. By late June, Golikov had amassed four rifle divisions, four tank brigades, two cavalry corps and six tank corps with a total of 1,640 tanks. These consisted of 191 KVs, 650 T-34s and 799 T-60s and older models. The one problem Golikov, and indeed most other front and army commanders had, was that Stavka had activated the tank formations without giving anyone any guidance on how they might be employed. He had stationed his reserves to meet the two possible thrusts with 5th Tank Army and Vlll Cavalry Corps near Chern on the Orel-Tula road, Vll Cavalry Corps and two tank brigades just north of their position and l, XVI and IV Tank Corps placed on the left flank facing Kursk. Despite the intelligence gleaned from a crashed Luftwaffe aircraft carrying a staff officer from the 23rd Panzer Division, Major Joachim Reichel, who had been carrying the plans for the opening phase of Operation Blau and reports from air reconnaissance of an enemy build-up, Stalin ordered Golikov to prepare for an offensive towards Orel, timed for 5 July, a plan Golikov and his staff finished drafting in the early hours of 28 June. A few hours later, Operation Blau began.
The Opposing Plans
With the failure of Barbarossa, at the beginning of 1942 Germany found herself at war with not only the USSR, who, despite the damage inflicted on it the previous year, still had the largest army in the world, but also with Great Britain, who had the largest empire in the world and the United States, the greatest economic power in the world. Hitler knew that this was a coalition that Germany did not have the manpower or economic resources to defeat in a prolonged war and that the nature of the war had changed fundamentally. It was vital therefore that in the coming year, Germany either win the war in the east outright or deal the Soviet Union such a devastating blow and gain a substantial proportion of her agricultural, mineral and industrial assets that it would be several years before she might recover, during which Germany would be able to meet the Western Allies head on. Despite the tremendous victories the Wehrmacht had achieved in 1941, the cost of the campaign had weighed heavily, with Germany suffering around 1 million casualties, losing over 100,000 motor vehicles and 180,000 draught animals, and having only thirteen percent of the combat divisions on the Eastern Front at full strength. It was obvious that the Wehrmacht could not repeat the broad front offensive it had undertaken in Barbarossa. The solution was to concentrate its combat power on a single front.
Hitler's attention focused on the southern USSR as this contained objectives that would help both in the short and long-term prosecution of the war. The Transcaucasus contained oilfields and production facilities around Maikop, Grozny and Baku that accounted for some ninety percent of Soviet oil production. Seizing these objectives would not only deny them to the Soviets but bolster Germany's access to the vital resource. With the prospect of having to fight a long war, Hitler increasingly worried about the entry of the United States and the Western Allies plans to seek a return to continental Europe. This would open a second major front and spell Germany's doom and so the issue had to be decided in the east before that could happen. A drive into the Caucasus would not only accomplish German control of the oilfields, it would cut a major supply route from the West to the USSR forcing it to divert through Kazakhstan but also lead to German control of the mineral-rich Donets Basin and the fertile lands surrounding the Donets and Kuban Rivers. In Führer Directive No. 41 of 5 April 1942, Hitler laid out how this was to be accomplished. The target for the new offensive would be the Soviet forces in the south and the Soviet oilfields in the southern Caucasus. Whatever they might have thought privately, publicly, few German generals (with the exception of Halder) questioned the designation of oil as the main objective for the 1942 summer offensive or at least offered no realistic alternative. Their main concern however, was the destruction of the Red Army. Like the plan for Barbarossa (Directive 21), Directive 41 was a statement of German strategy, rather than a detailed campaign plan and covered just the first three phases of operations that saw the destruction of the Red Army south of the Don River through a series of encirclements.
At this point, Stalingrad was a secondary objective to the capture of the Caucasus oilfields and the destruction of the Red Army in the south. Operation 'Blau' as it was conceived was to have four stages. The first stage would see a powerful drive eastward from the area around Kursk by the 4th Panzer and 2nd Armies under von Weichs. The second stage would see the 6th Army advance to reach the banks of the Don River in the vicinity of Voronezh and encircle the Red Army to the west of the river. The third stage would see 4th Panzer Army moving southeast following the Don to trap and eliminate those Red Army formations that had been driven east by the 17th Army advancing east from Rostov. German forces would then cut the Volga River north of Stalingrad and then receive orders for the fourth stage, the Caucasus campaign, the objectives being Maikop, Grozny and a rapid advance down the Volga south of Stalingrad to Baku. As a prelude to Operation Blau, Army Group South was to undertake some preparatory movements to secure jumping off points, including the elimination of the Soviet forces remaining in the Crimea and that of the Barvenkovo salient, in an operation codenamed 'Fridericus'. As Army Group South continued its preparations however, Marshal Timoshenko launched an attack that played right into their hands.
It seemed however, that German planning for the 1942 offensive bore some ominous similarities to that of Barbarossa the year before. In the initial attack upon the Soviet Union, the Germans fielded over three million men looking for a strategic military victory in a single campaign but because of the lack of a sufficiently detailed campaign plan, squandered time and resources in tactical encounters (brilliantly executed though they were) that contributed little to the overall goal of winning the war in the east in a single blow. While it is questionable as to whether the Germans ever really had the means to achieve their ends in 1941, it was even more questionable now. The Germans just managed to hold their lines together during the Soviet winter counteroffensive but now with fewer troops, Hitler envisaged the conquest and occupation of another massive area. Additionally, the roads leading south to the Caucasus would be inferior to even the poor roads found in the western USSR and the Germans were for the moment, still heavily dependent on movement and supply over the road network as the railways consisted only of a few single lines running east and south. The 1942 campaign would be continually hindered by the problem of supply. Also, as in Barbarossa during August 1941, the objective of the campaign was to acquire the resources to fight a long war in the west but this in effect undermined the German chances of winning the war in the east quickly. If it was to have succeeded, the Wehrmacht should have gone for an objective that would have achieved this – either the destruction of the Red Army or capturing Moscow. Even if the Wehrmacht had executed its campaign perfectly and achieved the objectives set out for Operation 'Blau', the Soviets would have suffered a massive blow, but given there were oilfields near the Ural Mountains and to the east of the Caspian Sea, and the will of the Soviets to continue the fight, it is doubtful whether this would have achieved the complete defeat of the Soviet Union.
The chief priority for the USSR at the beginning of 1942 was to take advantage of its new strategic alliance with the UK and the United States and to repair its shattered war economy. Amazingly, the Soviets had managed to move around 1,500 of its most vital war industries, in the face of the German advance, to locations near the Ural Mountains and in the eastern Soviet Union. These industries however, would have to be unloaded and put back together before any new production could be undertaken. It was glaringly obvious that the devastated Red Army would need to be retrained and re-equipped under new commanders if it was to even hold its own against the Wehrmacht, let alone consider taking the offensive and liberating those lands under German control. The Red Army had substantial manpower reserves but they were not infinite and could not cope with further losses and defeats on the scale of 1941. Strategy was planned by the Soviet High Command (otherwise known as the Stavka) but Stalin played an overarching, dictatorial role – once his mind was made up, that was that. Not even Zhukov could change it. On 5 January 1942 following the successful defence of Moscow, Zhukov was summoned to a meeting at Stavka during which future operations were being discussed. Stalin put forward a plan for a general offensive from Leningrad to the Black Sea. Aware that while Army Group Centre had been given a bruising, Army Groups North and South were still relatively unaffected and that the Wehrmacht remained a strong and capable enemy. Zhukov argued for the offensive to be limited to one front, directed at Army Group Centre that was still off-balance and in disarray, but Stalin's mind was made up. The offensive was launched a few days later and while it achieved some local successes, it was not strong enough to breakthrough at any point. The Red Army was therefore left much weaker to face the German summer offensive and the shaky morale of the Wehrmacht was restored as it fought its first major defensive action.
At the end of March 1942, Stavka met to discuss strategy in relation to the coming summer campaign. Zhukov and the Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Gen Vasilevsky, advocated a defensive posture. Stalin however, insisted on carrying out a series of localised offensives to affect the relief of the besieged cities of Leningrad in the north and Sebastopol in the Crimea, along with Marshal Timoshenko's proposal for a major attack aimed at recapturing Kharkov, out of what was known as the 'Barvenkovo' salient, formed during the failed January offensive, which lay to the southeast. Kharkov was the fourth biggest city in the Soviet Union and a major road and rail junction and would be the scene of several battles during the campaign on the Eastern Front. The offensive was to be conducted mainly by the Southwest Front (Timoshenko), with elements from the South Front (Malinovsky) providing support. The offensive would take the form of a pincer movement, with the Soviet 6th Army under Gen Lt A M Gorodnyanskov forming the southern pincer, while a force under Gen Maj L V Bobkin moved towards Krasnograd to provide flank protection. In the area of Volchansk, the Soviet 28th Army under Gen Lt D I Ryabishev with the adjacent 21st (Gen Lt V N Gordov) and 38th (Gen Lt S Moskalenko) Armies would form the northern pincer. The two pincers would meet west of Kharkov and trap the German 6th Army. The 57th (Gen Lt K P Podlas) and 9th (Gen Maj M Kharitonov) Armies from the Southern Front would protect the southern flank of the operation. While not hugely imaginative, its fatal flaw would be that it would commence just before the Germans were to begin Operation Fridericus, an attack aimed at eliminating the Barvenkovo salient.
The Opening Shots
Before Operation Blau could be put in effect, the Wehrmacht had two preliminary operations to carry out. The first was the reduction of the Soviet stronghold around the city of Sevastopol and the occupation of the Crimea (Operation Stoerfang) by von Manstein's 11th Army and the second, was the reduction of the Barvenkovo Salient just south of Kharkov (Operation Fridericus), both of which would provide jumping off points for the Wehrmacht's offensive into the Caucasus. As Generalfeldmarschal Fedor von Bock began to concentrate the 6th and 1st Panzer Armies against the northern and southern faces of the salient, Marshal S K Timoshenko launched his offensive out of the salient, intending to retake Kharkov with a pincer movement by the 28th Army in the north and the 6th and 38th Armies in the south. These were supported by the 21st Army in the far north and the 9th and 57th Armies on the southern face of the salient. Although the northern pincer quickly ran into trouble, encountering the concentrated might of the 6th Army, the southern pincer did very well, indeed rather too well. Timoshenko's main thrust seemed to be punching into thin air. The answer came on 17 May when probing patrols sent out to establish where the German forces were on the southern flank, came back with prisoners from the 1st Panzer Army. Timoshenko realised that his armies were rolling straight into imminent danger, he contacted Stavka in order to seek permission to slow the offensive down and reorganise his forces to meet the new threat from the south. Permission was refused – Kharkov had to be retaken.
The offensive however, had not been without its effect of throwing the German plan off the rails. It was obvious to Bock that a two-pronged Fridericus was now impossible as the 6th Army's 44th Infantry Division (a Vienniese division of the former Austrian Army) was holding the northern pincer near Balakleya under immense Soviet pressure. Bock therefore decided on a modified Fridericus with an attack coming from the south consisting of the 1st Panzer Army and some infantry support from the 17th Army. The counterattack began on 19 May and by 22 May, 14th Panzer Division had reached the south bank of the Donets at Bayrak opposite the 44th Infantry Division. The pocket had closed and the majority of Timoshenko's assault force had been trapped inside. Some twenty-nine Soviet divisions had been shattered, three armies (6th, 9th and 57th) had ceased to exist and four senior Soviet commanders, Kostenko, Bobkin, Podlas and Gorodnyanskov lay dead. The Soviets suffered some 280,000 casualties and lost over 650 tanks and 5,000 guns. A respectable tally for a mopping-up operation but the main German offensive was still waiting to start.
The Soviets had clearly underestimated their enemy in that Stalin and the Stavka believed they had come close to precipitating a German collapse on the Eastern Front and that enemy forces, reserves and resources were stretched to the limit and any major enemy action would be directed at Moscow. This was due to firstly, Stalin believing that a decisive battle would be fought in front of Moscow, which was deemed to be the most important Soviet target; secondly, that substantial German-forces remained in the central region (around seventy divisions), many of whom were only 100 miles from Moscow; and thirdly, the-impact of the German deception campaign codenamed Kreml that was designed to make the Soviets believe that extensive preparations were underway for an attack on the capital and that Operation Blau was merely a secondary-operation. The Soviets learned some important lessons however, including the wisdom of staying on the strategic defensive and of retreating before a major offensive rather than trying to hold ground.
Meanwhile on 8 May, Manstein had begun the final operation to clear the Crimea, Operation Stoerfang. Manstein initially struck eastwards towards Kerch, defended by the Crimean Front. Poor defensive positioning and command and control meant that in less than a week, Soviet forces were streaming eastwards and the 11th Army was fighting in the outskirts of Kerch itself. Over the next few days, a beachhead evacuation was attempted but Manstein battered the remnants of the Crimean Front with massed artillery and drove off the vessels of the Black Sea Fleet who were attempting to transfer the troops over to the Taman Peninsula. The Crimean Front lost over 176,000 men, 350 tanks and 3,500 guns (some twenty-one divisions) in the chaos and confusion. Manstein then turned his attention to the Soviet fortress at Sevastopol. At dawn on 7 June, the 11th Army, supported by Rumanian forces, began their final attack which lasted for twenty-seven days. Each Soviet position had to be ferociously bombarded and then closely assaulted in order to eliminate Soviet resistance with the giant emplacements such as Fort Stalin and Maksim Gorkii receiving special attention from giant howitzers being systematically destroyed one-by-one. As the Germans closed in, the supply line maintained by the Black Sea Fleet gave way and as the defences eventually caved in, the senior commanders were evacuated by submarine, the city finally falling on 4 July. Tens of thousands of Soviet troops had been killed and another 95,000 taken prisoner but the Germans had suffered around 75,000 casualties themselves in close quarter urban fighting that would prove to be a foretaste of what was to come at Stalingrad.