This book looks at the most significant part of the long Stalingrad campaign, from the Soviet counterattacks that cut off the German Sixth Army to the final surrender of the German 6th Army in the ruins of the city early in 1943.
After an introduction that gets us to the point where the Soviets were about to attack, we look at the senior commanders involved. On the Soviet side this was a complex picture, as three different fronts each with their own senior commanders were involved, supported by Stavka representatives. On the Germans side things are less complex, although we do get one Romanian general, a reminder of the role of their allies.
The section on the opposing forces shows that the Soviets had a large, but not overwhelming numerical advantage, but certainly not one that guaranteed a victory. The Opposing Plans section gives the first indication of why the Soviets were able to achieve what they did – earlier attacks on the German flanks close to Stalingrad, so this time they decided to attack further away from the city, in quiet sectors. On the German side there was some expectation of further Soviet flank attacks, but not of two at the same time, nor that they would take place some way from Stalingrad. As a result the Germans failed to create sizable reserves, and continued to focus on the fight for Stalingrad, instead of preparing to deal with any possible Soviet offensive.
When we move onto the actual Soviet attack the advantages of the two pronged attack becomes clear. The Germans were just reacting to the attack in the north when the Soviets attacked in the south. In both cases the German reaction was somewhat sluggish, and the Soviets were able to cut off an entire German army for the first time in the war. After this initial success the obvious think for the Germans to do was to attempt to break out of the trap, and it was Hitler’s refusal to all Paulus to do this that would turn a defeat into a disaster. On the Soviet side we see that they assumed a breakout would soon be attempted, and focused on attempting to shrink the new pocket. However the fighting around the pocket soon settled into a stalemate, and our focus moves onto the fighting on the western side of the Soviet corridor. Here we look at Soviet attempts to expand the gap between the two German forces, on von Manstein’s counterattack, Operation Winter Storm, the failed attempt to break the siege, and on the second major Soviet attack, Operation Little Saturn.
After this we turn back to the battle of the Stalingrad Pocket itself, which falls into two rough halves. In December 1942 there was still a chance of rescue, and the pocket remained largely intact, so a significant area remained under German control. By January 1943 it was clear that rescue wasn’t coming and the pocket began to collapse. However even here large areas west of the city remained in German hands, so the image of the 6th Army huddling in the ruins of the city isn’t entirely true, at least not until the final week or so. The Germans were still able to inflict significant loses on the Soviets, but began to run out of ammo for their artillery and lost more and more of their armour. At the very end the Germans were forced back into the ruins and split into two pockets, the reverse of the Soviet position at the height of German success.
One minor quibble is that much is made of the terribly small number of German soldiers who surrendered at Stalingrad and survived to return home. Only around 6,000 of the 91,000 prisoners taken at Stalingrad were released after Stalin’s death. However this was an unusually high casualty rate – in most cases Germans who fell into Soviet hands were far more likely to survive than Soviets who fell into German hands, but in this case most of the surrendering Germans were already weakened by the long weeks of the siege.
This is a good account of the most significant part of the long Stalingrad campaign, covering a great deal of material in its 96 pages – from the initial Soviet attacks on the flanks to the final collapse in Stalingrad – but manages to pack a great deal of detail into that space.
Origins of the Campaign
Author: Robert Forczyk