Operation Blau: The Battle for Stalingrad and the Caucasus – Part Three: The German Offensive

The Campaign Begins in Earnest

On 28 June, Army Group South launched Operation Blau (re-designated 'Braunschweig' after the Reichel incident) and their long drive towards the Caucasus. The Germans had rushed to start the operation before the discovery of the plans relating to the campaign could be acted upon, but as it happens, Stalin still believed that the main German attack would be aimed at Moscow, and that any operation in the south was a diversion or a subsidiary operation at best. It would not be until early July that he would be forced to revise that assessment as it became increasingly clear that the operation in the south was one of significant magnitude. Bock began his attack by launching 4th Panzer Army (Hoth) towards Voronezh, a key town in lateral Soviet communications, with 2nd Army on its left flank. The Hungarian 2nd Army and 6th Army were to the south and the 6th Army started its advance two days later heading northeast towards the same target with the aim of encircling the Soviet 6th, 21st and 40th Armies between the three. Timoshenko refused to cooperate, given that his forces had already received a severe blow in the Barvenkovo Salient and he was already numerically inferior. To stand and fight would have courted disaster but on the other hand, Voronezh had to be held as its fall would imperil Soviet communications, allow the Germans to take the Bryansk Front in the rear and then potentially advance on Moscow.

Stalingrad: The Germans advance into the Caucasus
Stalingrad: The Germans advance into the Caucasus

Stavka was not to know that Moscow was off the German agenda for 1942 and so as the German forces were moving into position, Stavka rushed further reserves into the area and set up a new headquarters at Voronezh under Golikov and Vasilevsky. These forces were moved into the area just after the Germans had seized a bridgehead on the Don and were on the outskirts of the city. Army Group South diverted the XXIV Panzer Corps and three infantry divisions to deal with this threat. This created a dilemma within the German High Command who were surprised by the stubbornness with which the Soviets defended Voronezh. They did so as they feared it was the first move in a strike on Moscow but in German plans, the capture of the city was secondary to the encirclement of Timoshenko's forces as there was in fact no intention to strike north. While the 4th Panzer Army battled to take the city, a task for which they were unsuited, the Southwest Front gradually withdrew and Soviet reserves continued to arrive, so many in fact that a new formation, the Voronezh Front, was set up meaning it was dangerous for the 4th Panzer Army to withdraw, otherwise Soviet forces would be given the opportunity to counterattack. The army would not free itself until 13 July. Hitler finally lost patience and dismissed Bock, implementing the next phase of the operation which saw Army Group South split into Army Groups A and B the former to handle the drive to the Caucasus and the latter would handle the drive on the Volga. Hitler then moved his headquarters from Rastenburg to Vinnitsa in the Ukraine and issued a radical revision to the operational schedule on 23 July 1942, in Fuhrer Directive No. 45.

At this point in the campaign, the Germans seemed to have repeated the early successes of the previous summer. Even those who generally tried to keep a realistic perspective on events and bring Hitler down to earth, admitted 'it looks that way' when the Fuhrer stated on 20 July that 'the Russian is finished'. Another month would see German forces on the Volga and on the outskirts of Stalingrad and further south, were in the foothills of the Caucasus, had occupied Maikop, were poised to seize Grozny, advance on Baku and occupy the entire east coast of the Black Sea. On 21 August 1942, the German flag was raised on Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in the Caucasus Mountains. This was the point at which the Germans had most deeply penetrated the Soviet Union, bringing almost half of the population and resources under their control. During July and August, the Germans captured around 625,000 Soviet prisoners, captured or destroyed over 7,000 tanks, 6,000 artillery pieces and 400 aircraft to add to those already captured during May and June. These losses were high, but were not on the scale of 1941 and the Germans suffered significant casualties as well - almost 200,000 in August alone. The reason was simple – the Soviets, after Stavka had issued a general retreat order on 6 July 1942, were choosing to withdraw rather than stand and fight. This meant that the Germans, while occupying large swathes of territory, were not achieving their other goal of destroying enemy forces in sufficient numbers to cause the Red Army to crumble. This was the problem with operations based on deep penetration and large-scale envelopment in that they depended on the enemy preferring (or having) to stand and fight rather than trying to evade encirclement and surrender territory. However, from the German point of view, these sweeping gains were confirmation that the Red Army was weak and in full retreat and its impact upon Hitler showed itself in the strategic reorientation that started in early July and was finally encapsulated in Directive No. 45.

The original conception of Blau was that its objectives would be achieved in a phased basis, that Army Group South would destroy the Soviet forces between Yelets and Rostov, occupy the Don Basin, advance to and then secure the Volga and then advance south in to the Causasus. On 9 July, Army Group South was prematurely split into Army Groups A and B and a few days later, Bock who was to have commanded Army Group A was dismissed and replaced by Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List. Bock had wanted to deal with Vatutin's Voronezh Front before moving southeast and had proposed to use 2nd Army (Weichs) and elements of 6th Army (Paulus) to do so. This of course made operational sense especially since Bock had had personal experience in the previous summer of the delays and frustrations inherent in leaving large formations of Soviet troops intact on a flank. Had Bock been allowed to do what he wanted to, then the course of the entire campaign in the south may well have been different, as might the course of the war. He was however, dismissed after a dispute with the Fuhrer. In addition, Fuhrer Directive No. 43 ordered Manstein and the majority of the 11th Army northwards where its experience in siege operations would be of benefit to Army Group North who was still besieging Leningrad. 4th Panzer Army was directed to join Army Group A and assist 1st Panzer Army's attack towards Rostov. Directive No. 45 now tasked Army Group A with destroying Soviet forces in front of Rostov, moving south and occupying the entire eastern coast of the Black Sea and taking control of the oil producing area around Maikop, Grozny and Baku in an operation codenamed Edelweiss. Army Group B, now reduced to 6th Army and the Axis satellite armies would advance on Stalingrad, take it and occupy the narrow land corridor between the Don and Volga Rivers. As it turned out, the redirection of 4th Panzer Army proved to be of little benefit to Army Group A as Kleist's forces didn't need any help as South Front was already withdrawing over the river. Hoth's panzers closed an almost empty pocket and found that Kleist's forces were already crossing undefended bridges.

However, the Red Army too had its own problems. Public morale had been badly affected by the reverses during May, June and July and was highly critical of the lack of leadership apparent in the south and contrasted this with the stout defenders of both Leningrad and Moscow. This caused tensions between the commanders on the spot and those sent down from Stavka which lasted for many years.after the war, as, had Timoshenko been allowed to halt his May offensive and withdraw his forces when he first asked permission, the Southwest Front would have been in a much better position to withstand the German attack. The real culprits of the piece were Stalin and Stavka, something the southern commanders knew but the majority of the armed forces and the public did not. All they could see was that the precious industrial capacity, carefully built-up during years of sacrifice in the recent past was being handed over to the Germans. Stavka was however, able to start moving reserves into the area but as they had been kept in the centre to protect Moscow, they did not start moving until early July and the Soviets kept them behind the Don bend and Timoshenko's retreating forces. To have committed them piecemeal would have helped slow the German advance but run the risk of them being destroyed as they were committed. Having them shielded behind the frontline and a major geographical obstacle meant they went relatively undetected by the Germans. This confirmed the German belief that the Soviets had no operational reserves to speak of and their subsequent actions based on this belief were to prove catastrophic. Directive No. 45 meant that Blau would now be eclipsed (at least partially) by Edelweiss and the two strategic objectives that were once to be achieved in sequence would now be pursued simultaneously. The Germans were not strong enough to achieve both at the same time and it is doubtful if they could have achieved their objectives in the Caucasus (at least quickly) short of a complete Soviet collapse as distance, logistics and terrain were against them. They may however have taken Stalingrad quickly had they concentrated on taking that before moving on to the Caucasus. As it was, the 6th Army, especially with 4th Panzer Army having been diverted south to help 1st Panzer Army, was neither strong enough nor quick enough to get to the city before the Soviets had time to build up their defences and start moving in reinforcements.

Rostov (the 'Gateway to the Caucasus') was recaptured on 24 July 1942, having been in German hands in November 1941. General Alfred Jodl noted that 'the-fate-of the Caucasus will be decided at Stalingrad.' On 1 August, 4th Panzer Army, having just started to get their vehicles across the Don were re-assigned back to Army Group B and tasked with taking Stalingrad from the south, with a single division moving south to maintain contact with 1st Panzer Army. Too much time had been wasted and too much momentum lost for 4th Panzer Army to make a difference to 6th Army's progress but its redeployment signified that Stalingrad had begun to capture the German imagination. Stalingrad was the pivot on which the whole defence line for continuing Edelweiss hinged - to commit two armies to its capture would mean there would be no going back. Regardless of the arguments for or against capturing the city as opposed to just bringing it under fire and controlling the Volga, politically and psychologically, its capture became vital and a failure to do so would have consequences for both the Axis and the Allies in terms of alliance politics and morale. This Hitler understood better than his generals. Meanwhile, by early July, the Soviets had begun to realise the seriousness of the German offensive and the growing importance of defending Stalingrad. On 12 July, Stalin ordered the creation of the Stalingrad Front, a force of some thirty-eight divisions (over half were under-strength though) consisting of three reserve armies - 62nd, 63rd and 64th. This was initially commanded by Timoshenko but despite conducting the retreat from the Don with considerable skill, he was a member of the older generation of officers and command was quickly passed to Gordov and finally to Yeremenko.

On 19 July, Stalingrad itself was put on an immediate war footing. On 28 July, Stalin issued Order No. 227, the famous 'Not One Step Back' order, one that was read to the armed forces and one that required officers to sign a declaration that they had read it. It was a declaration setting out the dire situation facing the USSR and calling on the armed forces to do its patriotic duty and defend the Motherland. It was a call for a controlled, disciplined retreat and for a last defence centred around Stalingrad. Its effects on the armed forces seem to have been mixed but in general it was received with enthusiasm and was inspirational to many - similar to Churchill's 'Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat' speech in May 1940 when Britain was under threat. The order did contain a number of provisions for harsh disciplinary measures should soldiers be found to have retreated unnecessarily, deserted or even 'wavered', including the formation of punishment battalions. These were seen as necessary due to the crisis conditions facing the USSR and that many of the formations being used in its defence had only hurriedly been raised and trained.

Such measures went hand-in-hand with intense 'hate' propaganda aimed at demonising the opposition and bolstering the population's will to resist. This had been going on since the early days of the invasion and continued into the current campaign as the Nazi philosophy regarding the Untermensch (subhuman) reached its peak in the east with every report, photograph and newspaper article exhorting the racial inferiority of the enemy. The SS publishing house even brought out a magazine with photographs showing the despicable nature of the eastern foe. Of course, such an attitude was conceived to help grant an unrestricted license to ill-treat and exploit the members of this 'subhuman' race as and when their captors were inclined to do so. The Nazis were quick to find legal justifications as well. The Soviet Union was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention so there was no obligation to apply even these minimum standards of treatment to Soviet Prisoners of War. To facilitate the processing of these prisoners, the Wehrmacht set up a special department, Allgemeines Wehrmachtsamt (AWA) under General Reinecke, responsible for the prisoners outside the immediate area of operations. Apart from the general mistreatment, they effectively sentenced many of them to death that were captured during the winter battles by simply stripping them of their greatcoats and astrakhan hats. Many others died of starvation, not because the Germans couldn't feed them but because they wouldn't, while others succumbed to diseases and epidemics due to the terrible conditions in which they were kept. Recorded deaths in PoW Camps totalled 1,981,000 while another 1,308,000 came under the categories of 'Exterminations'; 'Not Accounted For'; and 'Deaths and Disappearances in Transit'. It must be remembered though that this figure does not include the very large but completely unquantifiable number of prisoners who were simply killed on the spot as they surrendered, hence the increasing hatred and barbarism found in the Eastern Front campaign.

The final strand of Soviet mobilisation was the increasing nationalisation and professionalisation of the armed forces. After Barbarossa, Stalin moved to exert greater party control over the armed forces but as the Battle for Stalingrad took shape, party-army relations took a different turn and the official press was filled with articles exhorting the importance of professionalism, leadership ability and technical skill rather than ideological dogma. Officers suddenly assumed a huge importance in the defence of the Motherland and special decorations were introduced just for officers, including the orders of Kutuzov, Nevsky and Suvorov. Later, distinctive new uniforms were introduced for officers that included epaulettes and gold braid (supposedly imported from Britain). Next in this process was the abolition of the institution of the commissars, which was a system of dual decision making in the armed forces where the commissars exercised both political and military control over command decisions. Henceforth, officers would take command decisions alone, and the commissars would advise on military matters and concentrate on political affairs among the troops. This professionalisation of relations extended to the strategic level with General Alexander M Vasilevsky being appointed Chief of the General Staff on 26 June and Zhukov, the saviour of Leningrad and Moscow being appointed Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces on 26 August. Stalin was more and more relying on their judgement in military affairs and increasingly ready to defer to that judgement. The three were the core architects of the Soviet victory at Stalingrad and an important ingredient in that success was the cohesion, stability and steadfastness of this core group, made possible by Stalin's recognition for the need to professionalize the conduct of the war effort.

The contrast with the German war effort could not have been greater. Hitler increasingly subordinated and dominated his senior commanders and held them in ever-greater contempt. Not only had Bock been dismissed but in September as the Caucasus campaign and the battle for Stalingrad was at their height, he dismissed first List, the commander of Army group A for not making satisfactory progress in taking the Caucasus (despite clearly not having the forces to do so, especially after the reallocation of 4th Panzer Army back to Army Group B) and then Halder, who as time progressed, had come to fear that Directive No. 45 and the following of both the capture of Stalingrad and the Caucasus simultaneously would mean German defeat. After deliberately provoking Hitler he was dismissed as the Chief of Staff for OKH and replaced by General Kurt Zeitzler. It is clear that the single most identifiable cause of the German defeat at Stalingrad was Hitler's impact on the command process, his decision to split the German effort on two divergent objectives and his willingness to continue to fight for the city even though it was becoming increasingly clear that the Soviets were drawing the Germans into a costly war of attrition. The Germans did however come very close to winning this battle and if that had happened, Hitler would have been a hero rather than a villain, not least in the eyes of the generals who queued up after the war to blame him.

The Advance on Stalingrad

By 22 July, Army Group B had reached positions close to the Don River that it hoped would provide jumping off points for the final advance on Stalingrad, while Army Group A had reached the lower Don River between Tsimlyanskaya and Rostov and was ready to embark upon Edelweiss. Army Group B was to be divided into three sub-groups and 6th Army. The northern group with two panzer, two motorised and four infantry divisions were to attack on 23 July from the Golovsky-Perelazovsky area with a view to capturing the large bridge over the Don River at Kalach behind the Soviet forces deployed west of the river. The central group, of one panzer and two infantry divisions were to attack from the Oblivskaya-Verkhne-Aksenovsky area also heading for Kalach and with the northern group, form a blocking force to the rear of the Soviet forces against which 6th Army would advance east and crush them, leaving the road to the Volga open, an opportunity to be exploited by the southern force, of one panzer, one motorised and four infantry divisions that were to cross the Don River near Tsimlyanskaya on 21 July, forming a bridgehead from which to advance on the city from the south. For this mission, Army Group B commander, Generaloberst von Weichs, had a force of about thirty divisions, although only just over half were German, with air support provided by over 1,200 aircraft. They outnumbered the Soviet forces in the Don bend about two-to-one in troops, although a more serious disparity existed in heavy weapons due to the losses the Southwest Front incurred around Kharkov, with a ratio of over two-to-one in tanks and artillery and three-to-one in aircraft with many of the Soviet aircraft being obsolete types.

On 23 July, five German divisions attacked the right wing of 62nd Army while the 64th Army was also engaged on the Tsimla River. After three days of fighting, XIV Panzer Corps broke through the Soviet lines and advanced to the Don River, outflanking 62nd Army to the north. The 1st Tank Army, deployed in reserve, tried to cut the German forces off by attacking northwards across its line of advance while 4th Tank Army tried to head-off the German attack from the north. Unfortunately, neither army had been in existence for very long and contained a heterogeneous mix of tanks and infantry that had had little time to train with one another so neither attack proved successful. Meanwhile, XXIV Panzer Corps continued to drive a wedge between 62nd and 64th Armies as it headed towards Kalach from the southwest. Gordov was ordered to strengthen his southern defences and deployed 57th Army to stop further German penetration, as well as being given 51st Army to command. This meant that Stalingrad Front's line stretched for over 400 miles and so Stavka decided to form a new front to take over the southern part of the line, the Southeast Front. 4th Panzer Army had managed to get through the traffic jams on the Don and Hoth now attacked the over-extended 51st Army on 31 July in an effort to get to Tsimlyanskaya. The German attack broke through the Soviet defences easily and while the Soviets tried to withdraw towards the Tikhoretsk-Krasnoarmeysk railway, 4th Panzer Army headed northeast, reaching Kotelnikovo by 2nd August. Further north, 62nd Army had lost most of its infantry in the German envelopment and while it would recover many of them in small groups, they had lost most of their heavy equipment and would take time to reform and re-equip, although it did gain the remnants of 1st Tank Army which had been disbanded. The great bridge at Kalach had been seized in a daring attack by German assault pioneers and the panzers could start crossing at will. In their haste to advance on the city though, the Germans left portions of the south bank of the Don in the possession of the 1st Guards and 21st Armies and with the 3rd Rumanian Army standing resolutely on the defensive, they would prove to be a costly oversight later in the battle.

The Soviet resistance encountered in the Don bend convinced Paulus that 6th Army was not strong enough to force a crossing of the river by itself, so a lull followed as he waited for Hoth's panzers to fight their way north. Gradually, the balance in numbers shifted against the Soviets as the 64th Army, which had played an important role in stiffening the 62nd Army's resistance, had to extend its left flank eastwards to cover 4th Panzer Army's approach. On 5 August, Yeremenko arrived at the new Tsaritsyn Bunker and was scheduled to take over command of the new Southeast Front four days later but had little time to organise his command as Hoth, approaching from the south, attacked the 64th Army. 6th Army having drawn itself up into position facing due east now had Richthofen's VIII Fliegerkorps, newly installed at the Morozovsk airfield complex, in support. Eventually, Hoth caved in the left flank of 64th Army and found himself within nineteen miles of the city. His penetration was only halted after Yeremenko sent down a mixed force of tanks, infantry and artillery which stopped Hoth at Abganerovo. Elsewhere, the 62nd Army managed to get itself into difficulties as a three-division counterattack faltered and became surrounded on three sides, escaping at the last minute and with heavy casualties. While the German advance had been temporarily stopped, the situation was still dire, the natural line of advance was along the very division of responsibility between the Stalingrad and Southeast Fronts, with all the difficulties that would entail in coordinating the actions of two commands with commanders of equal status, especially in the movement and allocation of reserves, which happened to be very few. Yeremenko reported the difficulty to Stavka which moved surprisingly quickly and designated him as the overall commander of both fronts with Gordov as his deputy for the Stalingrad Front and Golikov (formerly of the Bryansk Front) the deputy for the Southeast Front.

There was little respite to be had. Conscious that Hitler had given 25 August as the deadline for the control of the city, Paulus (as the senior commander) gave orders that the attack to capture Stalingrad would begin on 23 August. Late on 22 August, Wietersheim's XIV Panzer Corps managed to open a narrow breach in the Soviet defences near Vertyachi and the next day managed to fight its way across into the northern suburbs of the city, even reaching the Volga that evening. It seemed to Paulus and Weichs that Stalingrad was within their grasp, especially as the Luftwaffe had undertaken an enormous bombing raid on the city that day which probably killed upwards of 25,000 civilians. Despite all the fighting, destruction and tragic loss of life, Stalingrad continued to function as a city, with electricity being generated, factories, continuing to produce weapons and munitions, repair yards and workshops continuing to function – this despite the majority of the population being evacuated after the Luftwaffe raids, despite Stalin's initial reluctance. With Wietersheim encamped on the Volga and the bridge at Rynok firmly within mortar range it seemed that the problem of supplying, let alone reinforcing the garrison, would be almost impossible to overcome. Seydlitz's LI Corps followed Wieterscheim into the breach and it looked as if the 62nd Army would be rolled up. The Germans however underestimated the Soviet determination to fight in front of and if necessary, in, Stalingrad. While Wieterscheim managed to keep his corridor open, he could not expand it and 62nd Army managed to withdraw along the Karpova and the railway line that ran parallel. By sheer force the 4th Panzer Army moved 64th Army back but it was obvious that there would be no orthodox panzer breakthrough.

Stalingrad: The German advance towards the city
Stalingrad: The German advance towards the city

Meanwhile, Army Group A had crossed the Don River and started advancing on the Caucasus Mountains, taking Proletarskaya on 29 July, Salsk on 31 July and Stavropol on 5 August. Kleist's 1st Panzer Army was roaming at will in the foothills of the Caucasus, having had his supply problems eased considerably with the clearing of the Crimea by Manstein's 11th Army and both his and Ruoff's supply trains were re-routed across the Kerch Peninsula into the Kuban. Maikop fell on 9 August and shortly afterwards, Pyatigorsk. Soviet resistance in the Caucasus was badly hindered by a lack of heavy weapons and tanks and wherever Kleist deployed his tanks, the Soviet infantry and cavalry were obliged to retreat. But even now, the growing demands of the fighting around Stalingrad were beginning to be felt and starving him of supplies, spares, ammunition, replacements and reinforcements. Having made a detour through Rostov, many of his vehicles were becoming increasingly unreliable as many had only been patched up after the rigours of Barbarossa and were in need of a major overhaul. In addition to this, in obeying the vaguely worded instructions in Directive No. 45, Kleist was pursuing several important objectives at once, including trying to break through to the Caspian and either occupy or destroy the oil complex at Baku, capture Tiflis, the capital of the Caucasus and support the remainder of List's Army Group A in its drive into the Caucasus and down the eastern Black Sea coast to isolate the Black Sea Fleet. As often happened, the revival and stiffening of Soviet resistance occurred at the same time as the first major breakdowns in equipment began and the need for replacements and reinforcements. As it was, all eyes were on Stalingrad.

Paulus renewed his attack on 24 and 25 August but the attack met a defence that was going to fight for every yard of ground. This constant and unyielding willingness to defend every square metre of the city as well as the sudden loss of a prize that had seemed to be within easy reach led the Germans to apply more and more force at the tip of an increasingly vulnerable front as the battle drew in the surrounding German forces leaving little in the way of reserves to back up the Axis divisions on either flank. Elements of the 21st Army attacked German positions near Serafimovich and Kletskaya but were not strong enough to penetrate, neither were counterattacks in the vicinity of Samofalovka but the 1st Guards Army attacked near Novo-Grigoryevskaya and extended its bridgehead as did the 63rd Army. To the south, 4th Panzer Army had been attempting to break through to Stalingrad but had failed to make any progress against a series of well-defended Soviet strongpoints on the high ground around Beketova and Krasnoarrneysk. Tanks and motorised infantry were quietly moved around to the southwestern part of the front, reorganised near Abganerovo and launched on 29 August against the 126th Rifle Division of 64th Army. Hoth wanted to drive a wedge into the centre of the 64th Army and then turn right into the rear of the difficult Soviet strongpoints, capturing the bank of the Volga and high ground south of the city and cut off the left wing of the 64th Army.

The attack, supported by the Luftwaffe, succeeded beyond expectations and Hoth's lead forces found themselves in the rear areas of both the 64th and 62nd Armies. A bigger prize was now suddenly possible – if 4th Panzer Army continued north instead of wheeling right then the right flank of 64th Army and perhaps the whole of 62nd Army might be trapped if 6th Army moved south to meet it. Weich reacted quickly to the situation and twice ordered 6th Army to move south to meet 4th Panzer Army. Paulus however, did not move – the Soviet counterattacks had persuaded both him and Wiederscheim that the northern sector was in a very precarious situation and that if he sent his mobile forces south, the northern sector might collapse. It wasn't until 2 September that the pressure on Paulus relaxed and he immediately sent his tanks and motorised infantry off south to make contact with Hoth. At the same time Seydlitz's infantry made contact with the forward elements of 4th Panzer Army, the only trouble was, the Soviets had withdrawn and escaped, again. Yeremenko, not realising that Hoth had originally been after the left wing of the 64th Army, had assumed that the Germans were after the right wing of 64th and the whole of 62nd and started to withdraw his forces, effectively abandoning the outer defences of Stalingrad, just as the Germans had realised the opportunity that was before them. In one sense, the German moves had paid dividends for them as now they could attack directly into the city from all directions without having to break through an outer defence line, while on the other hand, Yeremenko's counterattacks had indeed failed except for the fact that they had pinned Paulus for a few vital days, which meant that 6th Army delayed in trying to take advantage of 4th Panzer Army's breakthrough, allowing Yeremenko's main force to escape. The Germans could now directly interdict the river lifeline across which supplies and reinforcements would have to move, mainly at night, and move they must – 64th and 62nd Armies had been in continuous action since mid-July and desperately needed men and material, for the battle for the city itself was about to begin.

The Assault Begins

Stalingrad: Soviet Staff Map 1941
Stalingrad: Soviet Staff Map 1941

As the 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army approached Stalingrad it looked as if the Germans would be able to take the city after a short fight. As at Moscow however, the terrain to the west of Stalingrad was dominated by small valleys, ravines and gullies and was difficult to manoeuvre across. The urban character of the city, with its enormous factories and sprawling settlements would prove a hindrance to the effective coordination of armour, artillery, air power and infantry that lay at the heart of the highly effective blitzkrieg tactics employed by the Wehrmacht. The city itself was a peculiar shape in that it was long and narrow (twenty-five miles long and five miles in depth) and stretched itself along the western bank of the Volga, which was one mile wide at this point. The Germans therefore could not use their normal tactics of envelopment and had to conduct a frontal assault on the city. The northern end of the city was dominated by the great factories: the Dzerzhinsky Tractor Factory, the Barrikady Ordnance Factory which had the Silikat Factory in front of it and the Krasny Oktyabr (Red October) Steel Plant, to the south of which lay the Lazur Chemical Plant. This formed a single interconnected fortified position that would see intense fighting over the coming months. The southern end of the city was divided from the rest by the Tsaritsa River flowing directly into the Volga from just south of the Stalingrad No. 1 Railway Station. To the south of the river lay the suburbs of Minina and Yelshanka, where Shumilov's 64th Army lay, securing the flank of the 62nd Army which was under General Lopatin. He was replaced however, on 12 September, by Vasily Chuikov. Chuikov had briefly commanded the 64th Army, an ad-hoc force that had stopped the 4th Panzer Army south of Stalingrad and had studied German tactical methods, for which he held a great deal of respect. He had however, discerned a possible weakness which would prove useful in the fighting to come. The German ability to integrate all the different elements of the modern battlefield into a cohesive whole and wield it effectively had been astonishing. However, the armour rarely moved before the air power attacked and the infantry followed the armour. In the countryside of Western Europe and on the steppes of the USSR, this was the secret to their success but such methods would be far more difficult to implement within an urban environment. Chuikov knew he had to, if not remove the Luftwaffe (for it had mastery of the skies above Stalingrad), then find some way of blunting its impact. His solution would be to have his men get as close as possible, sometimes within hand grenade range, of German positions. That way, the Luftwaffe, having their bombing accuracy already degraded, would not dare to attack for fear of hitting their own troops. This would mean that the panzers and infantry would have to battle their way forward at close quarters in an urban setting – their least favoured tactical environment. Hopefully, and even though it would be outnumbered and outgunned, 62nd Army would, despite undergoing a horrendous experience itself, still stand some chance of success. As he explained later, Chuikov wanted every German soldier in Stalingrad to be 'made to feel he lives under the muzzle of a Russian gun . . . it occurred to us therefore, that we should reduce the no-man's land as much as possible, close enough to the throw of a grenade.'

Stalingrad: The German advance towards the city
Stalingrad: The German advance towards the city

The fighting and manoeuvring around the perimeter of Stalingrad had meant that both 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army had become strung out and so it took time for them to concentrate again and prepare for an all-out assault on the city. On the eve of the assault, the Germans faced a total of nine Soviet armies along a 400-mile front under the command of the Stalingrad (Gordov) and Southeast (Yeremenko) Fronts. The Southeast Front contained the 62nd, 64th, 57th and 51st Armies with Chuikov's 62nd Army deployed in the city, having 54,000 troops, 900 artillery pieces and 100 tanks. The German 6th Army contained fifteen divisions. To the northwest sat Strecker's XI Corps with four divisions keeping an eye on the Soviet 21st Army and 4th Tank Army across the Don. To their right and immediately north of the city lay Heitz's VIII Corps with two divisions and the XIV Panzer Corps now commanded by Generalleutnant Hans Hube. To the west of the city was the LI Corps under Seydlitz-Kurzbach who was preparing to storm the city with five divisions and supported on its left flank by 60th Motorised Infantry Division from XIV Panzer Corps. Hoth's 4th Panzer Army was deployed to the south of the Tsaritsa, with four divisions (94th Infantry, 29th Motorised, 14th and 24th Panzer) facing the left flank of the 62nd Army and the remaining two divisions (297th and 371st Infantry) deployed on the far right flank facing Shumilov's 64th Army. The basic Soviet units of army, corps, division and brigade were generally smaller than their German equivalents. The 6th Army was in fact the size of a Soviet front, at around 300,000 strong, a Soviet army was similar in size to a German corps at around 60-70,000 strong and a full-strength panzer division, weighing in at around 18,000 was larger than a Soviet tank or mechanised corps at that time. A tank corps consisted of three tank brigades of around sixty tanks each, a mechanised brigade, a reconnaissance battalion, mortar battalion and artillery battalion for a total strength of 7,800 troops, about the same as a panzer regiment. A mechanised corps however, consisted of three mechanised brigades each with a tank regiment plus one or two tank brigades as well as the usual supporting arms and totalled about 13,559 troops. The final formation, a Soviet infantry division, totalled about 10,500 troops, around two-thirds the size of its German counterpart.

Stalingrad: German Advance into the City
Stalingrad: German Advance into the City

The first German assault on the city began at 06.30 on 14 September with the LI Corps attacking directly towards the city centre in a two-pronged assault. This caught Chuikov off-guard as he was planning a series of small-scale counterattacks himself but was pre-emptied by the German attack. The LI Corps was led by the 71st, 76th and 295th Infantry Divisions while south of the Tsaritsa, 4th Panzer Army attacked 64th Army with the 24th Panzer and 94th Infantry Divisions moving through the Minina suburbs and the 14th Panzer and 29th Motorised Division heading for the Volga through the Yelshanka area. This two-pronged assault revealed that the Germans were, even now, trying to use encirclement tactics with 4th Panzer driving north upon reaching the Volga while LI Corp, after occupying central Stalingrad and Mamayev Kurgan would head south and the two would meet at the central landing stage and isolate 62nd Army from its source of supply. The Germans managed to take Mamayev Kurgan and the Stalingrad-1 Railway Station and were approaching the landing stage. Chuikov had already been forced to evacuate his headquarters from Mamayev-Kurgan into the Tsaritsyn Bunker' and pleaded with Yeremenko for reinforcements. Major General Alexandr Rodimstev's 13th Guards Division was sent over, and after bitter fighting secured the landing stage. The division was attacked by elements of the German 71st and 295th Infantry Divisions but after a bloody battle lasting several days, during which the railway station changed hands some nineteen times, the German 76th Infantry Division was committed and captured the station once again and brought the landing stage under sustained fire. The 13th Guards had brought time for Chuikov to rearrange his defences and for further reinforcements to cross the river although it paid for its success. From being over 10,000 strong it had been reduced to just over 2,700.

Stalingrad: 14-19 September 1942
Stalingrad: 14-19 September 1942

The fighting for Mamayev Kurgan was equally intense with the German 295th Infantry Division making an all-out attack early on, forcing Chuikov to abandon his command post and eventually occupying the hill. This was an important tactical  position as if the Germans commanded it, they would have a clear view of both flanks of 62nd Army, the movement of supplies and reinforcements from the rear and be able to bring the Volga crossings under sustained and accurate artillery fire. Chuikov ordered two infantry regiments (42nd from 13th Guards and 46th from the 112th Rifle Division) to attack and secure the hill on 17 September. After a short barrage the Soviets attacked and despite heavy casualties reached the summit but could not secure the hill. The fighting continued for the next several days with the Luftwaffe making life very difficult. However, the Soviets counterattacked north of Stalingrad with Moskalenko's 1st Guards, Kozlov's 24th and Malinovsky's 66th Armies against the German VIII and XIV Panzer Corps, drawing off Luftwaffe support. The attack failed due to heavy German opposition and poor coordination but it allowed Chuikov to bring across two brigades as reinforcements – 92nd Naval Infantry and 137th Tank. Chuikov attacked Mamayev Kurgan again, with no result. The 13th Guards lost its grip on Stalingrad-1 Railway Station as the German 71st Infantry Division renewed its assault with the aim of reaching the Volga and rolling up the 13th Guards' left flank, isolating 62nd Army and meeting up with the 76th and 295th Infantry Divisions moving southeast. Only the landing of 2000 men from Lt Col Nikolai Batyuk's 284th Siberian Division saved the day and afterwards supported Gorshny's 95th Division in an attack on Mamayev Kurgan which again failed to take it. The Siberians and 13th Guards checked the advance of the German 71st Infantry Division but were not strong enough to clear the area around the landing stage and the railway station.

Further south, the 4th Panzer Army's 14th Panzer and 29th Motorised Divisions reached the Volga and completed the isolation of 62nd Army. To their left, 24th Panzer and 94th Infantry Divisions moved through the Minina suburb, defended by the 35th Guards Division and 42nd Infantry Brigade. They were soon joined by the 92nd Naval Infantry Brigade and a ferocious fight ensued over the enormous concrete grain elevator near the banks of the Volga. This position was all that stood between the meeting of the two prongs of the 4th Panzer Army's attack and was defended by thirty naval infantry and twenty guardsmen. They drew in elements of three German divisions but eventually succumbed to overwhelming force. By 26 September, the 4th Panzer had virtually destroyed the 35th Guards Division and ground down the 92nd Naval Infantry and 42nd Infantry Brigades. The 24th Panzer Division reached the Volga and brought the landing stage under fire while the remnants of the Soviet units were evacuated across the river. The 62nd Army had survived, but the Germans had won an important tactical victory. They controlled the Volga to the south of the city over a five-mile front, held the railway station and most of Mamayev Kurgan, could bring the central landing stage under direct fire, reduced the 62nd Army to a pocket around the industrial area in the north of the city and the Luftwaffe could keep up its interdiction efforts on the river.

There were however deep misgivings, as the Germans were finally recognising the completely different type of warfare they were having to fight — one they christened Rattenkrieg (war of the rats). They struggled to come to terms with the effect that an urban environment was having on their tactical doctrine and command system – it suffocated the application of flexible manoeuvre and the integration of airpower, tanks and infantry even though the Germans still tried to implement the methods that had won them great success during the blitzkrieg. The close, congested nature of the terrain, blocked as it was by ruined buildings, rubble, cratered roads, barricades and obstacles made rapid multi-unit manoeuvre and deployment very difficult. Blitzkrieg depended on the divisional commander exercising flexible tactical command and initiative but if this was to be retained in this sort of environment, that sort of command style would have to be devolved a lot lower than divisional level, perhaps going as low as the battalion commanders. The battle for the city had devolved into hundreds of tactical encounters at the battalion, company and platoon level but senior German officers still retained their focus on the division for planning purposes and in their attempt to apply the command methods developed for use in manoeuvre warfare, robbed the German forces of the very flexibility they needed. They were after victories of a scale not attainable in Stalingrad and so with the tempo of German attacks suffering as a result, they reinforced the attritional nature of the battle, something they had hoped to avoid.

In a similar way, the heavily centralised Soviet command structure had completely failed to cope with the blitzkrieg style of warfare that the Germans had used during their summer campaigns and flexible, devolved command did not come naturally to a Soviet officer corps purged and subjugated by Stalin. The command system in Stalingrad however, had somehow managed to adapt itself to the rigours of combat in the city. Ultimately, it was the isolation of 62nd Army that helped, as at the end of the day, Chuikov was master in his own house and no other Soviet army commander before or since had the tactical freedom he had to implement his orders. He understood that close, effective and constant command and control of the battle would rarely be possible in-such-an-environment-and so dispensed with conventional organisational units and used what became known as the shock group, a force organised and equipped for a particular mission. The battlefield environment in the city Chuikov decided, would suit small groups of heavily armed infantry that could be given orders and objectives by the divisional commander. The idea was to make the 62nd Army's pursuit of its objectives as compatible as possible with the decentralised and chaotic nature of the fighting. The shock group consisted of between 50 and 100 men organised into three separate units, the storm group, the reinforcement group and the reserve group. The storm group consisted of ten men, heavily armed, which would penetrate the enemy position to form a bridgehead, accompanied by the overall commander of the shock group who would fire a rocket as soon as they were inside for the reinforcement group (of about twenty-five men) to move up, secure the immediate area against local counterattack and prepare a defence. The reserve group (of around fifty men) would be available if the first two groups ran into unexpectedly heavy resistance and to replace casualties. If a position could be held for twenty-four hours, the shock group could be relieved and the position integrated into the plan of defence for the regiment, brigade or division. Soviet tanks on the other hand did not need to undertake complex tactical manoeuvres but were used purely as defensive firepower, being buried in partially collapsed buildings. That and the Soviet artillery on the eastern bank of the Volga, frustrated 6th Army's attempts to capture the city. The battle however was far from over, as Paulus was getting ready for the next round.

The Second Assault

Stalingrad: 13 September-19 November 1942
Stalingrad: 13 September-19 November 1942

The second German assault on the city came at dawn on 27 September 1942. As September progressed, so the Germans knew that winter would soon be on the way and did not relish spending a Russian winter fighting in the ruins of Stalingrad and so with little time to lose, with the fighting in the south petering out, Paulus redeployed forces to the north to strike the industrial area of the city, concentrating his attack in two thrusts, one against the area around Mamayev Kurgan and the Red October (Krasnyy Oktobre) Steel Plant, the other striking at the Dzerzhinsky Tractor Factory where they would break through the Soviet lines, reach the Volga and turn inwards to trap the forces still to the west, who would be pinned by attacks on the Barrikady Ordnance Factory. The highly effective reconnaissance network Chuikov maintained in the city quickly detected the German redeployment and so he was able to shift some of his forces northwards to meet the threat and managed to maintain the lifeline to the eastern shore with ammunition, men and food moving westwards, while wounded, civilians and prisoners moved eastward. The lifeline consisted of Rear Admiral Rogachev's naval flotilla augmented with a large number of fishing boats and their crews. They fought an ongoing war of attrition with the Luftwaffe while they carried thousands of tonnes of food, ammunition and supplies and evacuated over 200,000 civilians. Luftwaffe opposition consisted of Luftflotte IV commanded by Generaloberst Wolfram von Richthofen which had Fliegerkorps IV under Generalleutnant Kurt Pflugbeil (which was supporting Army Group A) and Fliegerkorps VIII under Generalleutnant Martin Fiebig (which was supporting Army Group B). By this point the battle, the majority of Luftwaffe resources were being committed over Stalingrad but these, like the ground forces committed by the German Army, were not sufficient to undertake all that was being asked of them. They managed to maintain local air superiority over the city but could not undertake both close air support for the ground troops and isolate the western bank of the Volga by interdicting the Soviet naval flotillas on the river. The German's inability to isolate the west bank of the Volga from the sources of men and material to the east with either their ground forces or their air power would prove disastrous in the long run.

With an advanced warning as to the Germans' likely intentions, Chuikov moved first and attacked at 08.00 towards Mamayev Kurgan with the 284th Siberian and 95th Rifle Divisions, while the 13th Guards moved against the railway station. The attack was met with a fearsome response from Fliegerkorps VIII who pinned down 62nd Army for two hours after which the German 6th Army counterattacked using a total of eleven divisions consisting of three panzer (14th, 16th and 24th), two motorised (29th and 60th) and six infantry (71st, 79th, 94th, 100th Jager, 295th and 389th). On Chuikov's left, the 14th Panzer and 94th Infantry Divisions consolidated their hold of the southern area of the city while 24th Panzer and 29th Motorised moved northeast. The 295th Infantry once again tried to clear Mamayev Kurgan while the 76th Infantry guarded the railway station and the 71st Infantry moved behind 13th Guards towards the Red October Steel Plant in conjunction with 100th Jager. The 16th Panzer, 60th Motorised and 389th Infantry advanced towards the Tractor Factory from three directions. In intense fighting German forces advanced almost 3,000 yards and virtually destroyed two Soviet divisions (95th and 112th). Stavka, recognising that a crisis point was being reached, abolished the division of responsibility for the city between the Stalingrad (Gordov) and Southeast (Yeremenko) Fronts. Southeast Front was renamed Stalingrad Front and had sole responsibility for the city while to the north, what was left of the old Stalingrad Front became the Don Front under Rokossovsky. The fighting lasted for two days and with the arrival of fresh reinforcements (including Colonel Smekhotvorov's 193rd Rifle Division) Chuikov managed to contain the German offensive, even denying them overall control of Mamayev Kurgan. Despite making only limited gains in the north and keen to maintain offensive momentum, Paulus then switched the focus of his attacks to the Orlovka Salient which protruded into the German frontline northwest of the city. Within the salient lay the 115th Rifle Brigade and a composite battalion, all that was left of the 112th Rifle Division. It was surrounded by German units and on 29 September, Paulus committed 16th Panzer, 60th Motorised, 100th Jager and 389th Infantry to enveloping it. Meanwhile, 24th Panzer continued onwards towards the Barrikady and Red October factories. It came within a mile of the Volga and had it reached it, could have moved into the rear of the Barrikady position and held to meet the German units moving south for the assault on the Tractor Factory but it was stopped by the 193rd Rifle Division.

Chuikov's men were again reinforced, by Major General Stefan Guriev's 39th Guards Division and Major General L N Gurtiev's 308th Rifle Division. For the next few days, 6th Army kept up the attack, concentrating on the 193rd Rifle Division and applying pressure to the 284th Siberian and 13th Guards in an attempt to splinter the defence. The defence held, but only just. The 6th Army, having shifted 14th Panzer and 94th Infantry north, committed 389th Infantry and 60th Motorised in an attack towards the Tractor Factory forcing the 112th Rifle Division back, at the same time 24th Panzer forced the 308th Rifle Division to retreat back to the Silikat factory in front of the Barrikady Ordnance Factory, while the 193rd had to retreat towards the Red October. 6th Army now lined up to make a supreme effort with 14th Panzer, 100th Jager, 94th and 389th Infantry Divisions attacking towards the Tractor and Barrikady Factories. But as hard as the Germans pushed, they could not achieve a breakthrough, although they did force the Soviet 37th Guards, 193rd and 308th Rifle Divisions backwards, taking the Silicat Factory on 5 October. Another German attack was stalled by a Soviet artillery barrage and after receiving orders to counterattack, Chuikov's preparations were forestalled by an attack from the 14th Panzer Division supported by the 60th Motorised Division. They broke into the workers' settlements adjacent to the Tractor Family but a barrage from Katyusha rocket launchers halted the attack and saved the position. 62nd Army had been driven back but had failed to break and a desperate Paulus, after hearing that success at Stalingrad would earn him Chief of Staff at OKW (replacing Jodl) while Seydlitz-Kurzbach was slated as his successor to take over 6th Army, started preparing for a final offensive. He requested three infantry divisions as reinforcements but only received four specialist combat engineer battalions and would have to make do with regrouping and reorganising his existing forces. Hitler was becoming more and more obsessed with capturing the city, even though Zeitzler, who had replaced Halder, had warned that the battle should be terminated. Chuikov's men had survived the second German onslaught and now the race was on to see who would finish their preparations first, the German 6th Army who were going to launch their third desperate attempt to take the city before winter set in or the Soviet 62nd Army who were trying to rebuild their defences. The third and most critical stage of the battle was about to begin.

The Third Assault

As the fighting died down after the second German assault, Hitler was. Increasingly focusing on the capture of Stalingrad to almost the complete exclusion of the original purpose of Operation Blau – the seizure of the Caucasian oil reserves. Stalin-had-understood the-city's significance-from-the-start but increasingly, the Red Army's defence of the city had taken on a global importance, one mirroring the Allies' determination to overcome the Third Reich. On 14 October 1942, the Fuhrer issued Operational Order No. 1 stopping all German operations elsewhere on the Eastern Front except at Stalingrad and in the Caucasus. Stalingrad was now the sole determination as to whether the German 1942 summer offensive would be a success. As the 6th Army prepared itself for another offensive, it was surprised by a counterattack from the 62nd Army. Chuikov had been ordered to improve his position by pushing the Germans back in order to increase the room available for tactical manoeuvre, something the 62nd Army would need if it was to meet the coming German attack. On 12 October, Major General Zholudev's 37th Guards Division along with one regiment of the 95th Rifle Division attacked the western outskirts of the Tractor Factory. It caught the Germans by surprise and pushed them back 300 yards but the attack was forcefully stopped from going any further as it became apparent what the Germans had amassed.

At 08.00, the Germans launched their attack with three infantry divisions (100th Jager, 94th and 389th Infantry), two panzer divisions (14th and 24th) and the four specialist combat engineer battalions, over 90,000 men and 300 tanks concentrated on a three-mile front with massive air support. On Chuikov's far right was the 124th Rifle Brigade on the far side of the Orlovka River while to the south lay 112th Rifle Division with its right flank anchored on the Orlovka River. To the left of the 112th was 37th Guards Rifle Division, followed by 308th Rifle deployed in Sculpture Park right in front of the Barrikady Factory with the 95th Rifle just behind them. South of them lay 193rd Rifle defending the area between the Barrikady Factory and Red October Plant, 39th Guards defending the Red October, 284th Rifle directly east of Mamayev Kurgan and finally the 13th Guards. The German attack was of a scale and intensity that had yet to be seen. The central thrust was against the 112th Rifle, 37th Guards and the right flank of the 308th Rifle. The sheer weight of numbers and firepower forced open the junction between 37th Guards and 308th Rifle with most of 14th Panzer breaking through and heading northeast while 389th Infantry and 100th Jager pinned the 37th Guards and 308th Rifle. The 112th found itself enveloped by the 14th Panzer and pinned by the 60th Motorised, while the 308th was in an equally perilous position. The Germans had surrounded the Tractor factory on three sides, broken both the 37th Guards and 112th Rifle Divisions and split the 62nd Army. Chuikov decided that he could not commit additional forces to holding the Tractor Factory as it was likely that the Germans would launch an attack from a different direction after he had weakened other areas of the front. The loss of the Tractor factory could however lead to the collapse of 62nd Army's right flank. The Germans then threw in the fresh 305th Infantry Division in their advance towards the factory, while 16th Panzer and 60th Motorised continued to attack southwards against Gorokhov's battered forces in the Spartanovka District. Everywhere the Soviet perimeter was forced backwards with the Germans gaining around 2,000 yards in some places. Many Soviet units were seriously under strength and Chuikov's only reinforcement, the 138th Siberian Division under Colonel Ivan Lyudnikov would take time to deploy.

The Germans renewed their offensive, taking the Tractor Factory and advancing southward with the 14th Panzer, 100th Jager and 305th Infantry Divisions towards the Barrikady, along with 24th Panzer and 94th Infantry in support to the south. However, the northern attack was halted by the dug-in tanks of the 84th Tank Brigade and Soviet artillery fire, while the 193rd Rifle and 13th Guards withstood the attacks by the 24th Panzer and 94th Infantry. Chuikov placed the 138th Siberian to the right of the 308th to defend the approach to the Barrrikady. Meanwhile, the 16th Panzer and 60th Motorised Divisions had cleared much of the northern suburbs with Gorokhov reduced to a small pocket. The German forces continued their relentless pressure, advancing south towards the Barrikady and overran most of the 84th Tank Brigade in the process. This advance forced Chuikov to abandon his headquarters near the Tractor Factory and move to a new site just behind the Red October Steel Plant. The Germans reached the edge of the Barrikady Factory and the Volga cutting it off from the Red October. The 193rd Rifle Division was being menaced by the German 94th Infantry which was trying to break into the Barrikady. Eventually, the combined weight of the 100th Jager, 94th and 389th Infantry told and Chuikov was forced to withdraw what was left of the 193rd and 308th Divisions before they were annihilated. Further south, the Germans began building up forces for an attack from the south towards the Red October while intending to pin Soviet forces in place. On 23 October, Paulus launched the fresh 79th Infantry Division against the Red October, supported by tanks and aircraft. A company of infantry broke into the northwest corner and engaged the defenders, being quickly followed up. The Germans also overwhelmed much of the Barrikady and although fighting would continue there for a time, it was more-or-less in German hands. Two regiments of the 45th Rifle Division reinforced Chuikov on the night on 26-27 October under the command of the 193rd Rifle. The Red October was half-occupied with the 39th Guards having been pushed back by the full weight of the 79th Infantry's attack the Germans were just 365 metres from the Volga and had the landing stages under sustained fire.

Operations by the 6th Army declined after 24 October as the weather grew noticeably colder but the army was exhausted as well, worn down after two weeks of intense, gruelling combat. They held ninety percent of the city and had the remaining pockets of Soviet territory under constant fire. They had captured the Tractor Factory, Barrikady Ordnance Factory and had occupied half of the Red October Steel Plant. The 62nd Army had been splintered and three divisions (37th Guards, 95th and 112th Rifles) had been destroyed and another two (193rd and 308th) were no longer fit for combat while the 84th Tank Brigade had ceased to exist as had the garrison in Spartanovka. They had destroyed the equivalent of seven Soviet divisions but it was not enough – the Luftwaffe's inability to isolate 62nd Army and its supporting artillery under-Major General Pozharski had denied the 6th Army its ultimate triumph. This was due to the fact that Luftflotte IV just did not have the combat strength to support both Army Group B's attack towards Stalingrad and Army Group A's attack into the Caucasus as well as interdict Soviet supplies coming into the Stalingrad region and maintain its dominance over the Red Air Force, which was gradually growing in strength. After 29 October, the fighting in the city died down except for a brief counterattack by the fully deployed 45th Rifle Division between the Barrikady and Red October. 6th Army could now only look forward to spending the winter amongst the ruins of a destroyed city but its situation was worse than many imagined – the Soviets were preparing a counterattack that would see the 6th Army die a cold death, thousands of miles from German soil.

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How to cite this article: Antill, P (30 May 2022), Operation Blau: The Battle for Stalingrad and the Caucasus – Part Three: The German Offensive, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_stalingrad_3_german_offensive.html

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