This was the German extension of ‘Blau II’ (otherwise 'Clausewitz' ), in accordance with the Führerweisung Nr 45, taking Generaloberst Friedrich Paulus’s 6th Army (18 German divisions in five corps, together with part of Generaloberst Hermann Hoth’s 4th Panzerarmee) across the Don river and the Don land bridge to Stalingrad on the great western bend of the Volga river (22 July/18 November 1942).
In strategic terms this was a German error of huge proportions, for whereas the task originally entrusted to Generalfeldmarschall Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs’s Heeresgruppe ‘B’, namely the establishment of a defensive front along the Don river in ‘Blau I’, had been subsidiary to the southerly offensive thrust of Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List’s Heeresgruppe ‘A’ in ‘Blau III’, it had now become a strategic offensive (‘Fischreiher’) in its own right, diverging at right angles from the drive of Heeresgruppe ‘A’, which was also increased radically in scope to become the ‘Edelweiss’ offensive into the Caucasus and thence to the Caspian Sea.
The forces controlled by Paulus for ‘Fischreiher’ were decidedly modest in terms of the task envisaged for them and, after the German intention had become clear early in July 1942, the Soviets showed their determination not to lose Stalingrad by the formation on 12 July of General Polkovnik Andrei E. Eremenko’s Stalingrad Front 1 which, with General Polkovnik Filipp I. Golikov’s Voronezh Front and General Leytenant Rodion Ya. Malinovsky’s South Front, shared the forces of General Leytenant Nikolai F. Vatutin’s disbanded South-West Front. The defence of Stalingrad thus became centred, from north to south, on General Leytenant Stepan A. Kalinin’s 66th Army, General Leytenant Vasili D. Kryuchenkin’s 4th Tank Army, Kolpakchy’s (later General Leytenant Anton I. Lopatin’s) 62nd Army, General Leytenant Kirill S. Moskalenko’s 1st Tank Army, Chuikov’s 64th Army, General Leytenant Nikolai I. Kirichenko’s 51st Army and General Leytenant Aleksandr G. Batiunia’s 57th Army within three defensive perimeters, the outermost brushing the Don river some 30 miles (50 km) or more from the city proper.
By 22 July Heeresgruppe ‘B’ had reached positions close to the Don river that it hoped would provide jumping-off points for the final advance on Stalingrad, while Heeresgruppe ‘A’ to its south had reached the lower Don river and was ready to launch ‘Edelweiss’.
For this advance Heeresgruppe ‘B’ was divided into three groups and the 6th Army. The northern group of two Panzer, two motorised infantry and four infantry divisions was to attack on 23 July from the area of Golovsky and Perelazovsky to take the major bridge over the Don river at Kalach in the region behind the Soviet forces deployed to the west of this river. The central group of one Panzer and two infantry divisions was to attack from the area of Oblivskaya, Verkhne and Aksenovsky in the direction of Kalach and, with the northern group, establish a block to the rear of the Soviet forces: the 6th Army would advance to the east and crush them, so opening way to the Volga river. This would create the opportunity for an exploitation by the southern force of one Panzer, one motorised infantry and four infantry divisions, which were to cross the Don river near Tsimlyanskaya on 21 July and establish a bridgehead from which to advance on Stalingrad from the south.
For this complex undertaking von Weichs had some 30 divisions, although only slightly more than half of these were German (the rest being Hungarian, Italian and Romanian formations), supported by more than 1,200 aircraft of Generaloberst Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen’s Luftflotte IV. Heeresgruppe ‘B’ outnumbered the Soviet forces in the Don bend by about 2/1 in men and more in heavy weapons as a result of the great losses which General Fyedor Ya. Kostenko’s (later Vatutin’s) South-West Front had suffered in the campaign near Kharkov between January and May 1942.
On 23 July, five German divisions attacked the right wing of 62nd Army, and the 64th Army was also engaged on the Tsimla river. The XIV Panzerkorps broke through the Soviet line after three days of combat and advanced to the Don river, thereby outflanking the 62nd Army to the north. Deployed in reserve, the General Leytenant Kirill S. Moskalenko’s 1st Tank Army attempted to cut off the attacking Germans by German forces by driving to the north across their axis of advance, and the 4th Tank Army attempted to head off the German assault from the north: both of these tank armies were comparatively new creations and thus contained a heterogeneous mix of tanks and infantry which had therefore possessed little opportunity for combined training, however, so neither attack was successful.
Meanwhile General Willibald Freiherr von Langermann und Erlenkamp’s XIV Panzerkorps continued driving into the junction between the 62nd and 64th Armies and separating these two formations as it advanced to the north-east in the direction of Kalach. General Leytenant Vasili N. Gordov, currently commanding the Stalingrad Front, was now instructed to bolster the southern sector of his area of responsibility and deployed General Leytenant Fyedor I. Tolbukhin’s 57th Army in an effort to halt the German penetration, and was also allocated General Nikolai I. Trufanov’s 51st Army. This meant that the Stalingrad Front’s line now extended over a distance of more than 400 miles (645 km), so the Stavka decided to form a new headquarters, the South-East Front, assume control of this southern sector.
Hoth’s 4th Panzerarmee had managed to cross the Don, and on 31 July attacked the over-extended 51st Army as it tried to reach Tsimlyanskaya. The German drive broke through without difficulty and, as the Soviet forces attempted to pull back toward the railway line linking Tikhoretsk and Krasnoarmeysk, headed to the north-east and reached Kotelnikovo by 2 August. Farther to the north, the 62nd Army had lost most of its infantry in the German envelopment: many of these men escaped in small groups, but only after abandoning most of their heavy equipment. The 62nd Army was then strengthened by the remnants of 1st Tank Army, which had been disbanded after its mauling.
With priority allocated to their seizure of Stalingrad, however, the Germans left parts of the Don’s south bank in the hands of General Leytenant Dmitri D. Lelyushenko’s 1st Guards Army and General Major Ivan M. Chistyakov’s 21st Army and, with General de armatâ Petre Dumitrescu-Clap’s Romanian 3rd Army remaining on the defensive, this was to emerge later in the campaign as a catastrophic mistake.
The determination if not the efficacy of the Soviet resistance in the Don river bend now persuaded Paulus that his 6th Army lacked the strength to force a crossing of the river by itself, so there followed a lull as he waited for Hoth’s Panzer formations to fight their way to the north. Gradually, the balance in numbers shifted against the Soviets as the 64th Army, which had played an important role in bolstering the 62nd Army’s resistance, was compelled to extend its left flank farther to the east in an effort to cover the approach of the 4th Panzerarmee.
On 5 August, Eremenko arrived at the newly completed Stalingrad command bunker, from which he assumed command of the new South-East Front four days later, but was afforded little time to organise his command. Approaching from the south, the 4th Panzerarmee attacked the 64th Army just as the 6th Army had aligned itself to face due east with General Martin Fiebig’s VIII Fliegerkorps, newly based on the airfields of the the Morozovsk complex, in support. Eventually, the 4th Panzerarmee drove in the left flank of 64th Army and found himself within 19 miles (30 km) of Stalingrad. The 4th Panzerarmee’s penetration was halted only by Eremenko’s despatch of mixed tank, infantry and artillery force that checked Hoth at Abganerovo.
Despite the fact that the German advance had been stopped, if only on a temporary basis, the Soviet situation was still acutely dangerous. The Germans’ natural axis of advance took them straight into the junction of the Stalingrad Front and South-East Front, which greatly increased the difficulties of co-ordinating the operations, especially in the allocation and movement of two commands led by generals of equal seniority. Eremenko reported this problem to the Stavka, which moved, with surprising speed, to designate Eremenko as the overall commander of both fronts with Gordov and Golikov as his deputies for the Stalingrad Front and South-East Front respectively.
The Germans came up against the Soviet first line of defence on 17 August, and were thereafter embroiled in an increasingly harsh attritional campaign.
Yet the Soviets had little opportunity to re-establish themselves. Conscious of the fact that Adolf Hitler had fixed 25 August as the deadline for the capture of Stalingrad, Paulus ordered the attack on Stalingrad to start on 23 August. Late on 22 August, therefore, Wietersheim’s XIV Panzerkorps drove a narrow breach into the Soviet defences near Vertyachy, and on the following day fought its way into Stalingrad’s northern suburbs to reach the western bank of the Volga river during the evening of the same day.
It appeared to Paulus and von Weichs that Stalingrad was within their grasp. With von Wietersheim’s corps on the Volga and the bridge at Rynok within mortar range, it seemed that the problem which the Soviets faced in supplying, let alone reinforcing, the garrison, would be almost impossible to overcome.
General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach’s LI Corps followed the XIV Panzerkorps into this break in the Soviet line, and it now seemed probable that the 62nd Army might well be rolled up. However, events were soon to reveal the fact that the Germans had seriously underestimated the Soviet determination to fight in front of Stalingrad and, if necessary, within the city itself. While von Wietersheim managed to keep open the German corridor to the Volga river, he could not expand this corridor and the 62nd Army was able to pull back along the Karpovka river and the railway line which ran parallel with it.
in the west General Wilibald Freiherr von Langermann und Erlenkamp’s XXIV Panzerkorps and General Rudolf Veiel’s XLVIII Panzerkorps of the 4th Panzerarmee pushed slowly forward to breach the second defence line on 31 August and the third line on 12 September.
In the southern approaches to Stalingrad the 4th Panzerarmee drove back the 64th Army, but it was clear that there would be no breakthrough.
Some 25 miles (40 km) long from north to south and 5 miles (8 km) wide from west to east, the urban and industrial city of Stalingrad was bordered on its eastern side by the Volga river, more than 1 mile (1.6 km) wide at this point, and on the other side of this major water barrier additional Soviet units were deployed. The forces holding Stalingrad were the 62nd Army, commanded from 11 September by Chuikov, and 64th Army, commanded after Chuikov’s reassignment by General Leytenant Mikhail S. Shumilov, in the north and south of the city respectively. As the 62nd Army came into being and assumed the defence of the more important northern part of Stalingrad with its great industrial facilities, the Soviet situation was extremely dangerous, and the 62nd Army was ordered to hold the city at all and any costs.
The Soviets had enough time to ship almost all of the city’s grain, cattle and rolling stock, as well as large numbers of civilians across the Volga. This so-called ‘harvest victory’ left the city notably short of food even before the start of the German attack. Production continued in some of the factories in the north of the city, particularly that producing the excellent T-34 medium tank.
Before the German ground forces reached the city, their supporting air forces had rendered the Volga river, which was wholly vital for the movement of supplies, weapon, equipment and reinforcements into the city, essentially unusable to all but the smallest Soviet vessels: between 25 and 31 July German air attack sank 32 ships and severely damaged another nine.
The battle for the city of Stalingrad began with the heavy bombing of von Richthofen’s Luftflotte IV, which in the summer and autumn of 1942 was the single most powerful air formation in the world. Some 1,000 tons of bombs were dropped, and this started the process in which Stalingrad was steadily reduced to rubble, although some of the larger factories survived as working entities and continued production while workers joined in the fighting and weapons were delivered straight into the front line.
Under the urgings of Iosif Stalin, the Soviet dictator, the Stavka pressed ahead with all speed to pour troops and weapons, some of these from areas as far distant as Siberia, into the holding areas on the Volga river’s eastern bank. With all the regular ferries destroyed by the Luftwaffe, movement across the river was limited to smaller vessels and troop barges towed slowly across the river by tugs: all of these were targeted by German aircraft, most especially Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers, and the safest time to cross the river was therefore the night. Although large numbers of civilians were evacuated to the east across the Volga, many others nevertheless remained in Stalingrad to work in the factories and to labour in large numbers, women and children as well as men, on the construction of fortifications and trenches.
A major German air attack on 23 August led to a firestorm that killed many and furthered the process of reducing Stalingrad to rubble and ash. Two days later the the Soviets ceased to record civilian and military casualties resulting from air attacks. General Major Timofei T. Khryukin’s 8th Air Army, specifically tasked with support of the South-West Front, was largely destroyed by German air power at this time, having to be rebuilt before it could make a useful contribution to the defence of Stalingrad later in the campaign. The 8th Air Army’s units in the Stalingrad area lost 201 aircraft between 23 and 31 August, was reinforced with only 100 aircraft in August, and could field a mere 192 serviceable aircraft including 57 fighters. The Soviets increased the tempo of aircraft deliveries to the Stalingrad area from a time late in September, but continued to suffer appalling losses as its aircraft types, while steadily improving, were still inferior to those of the Germans, and were flown by pilots and crews without the vast operational experience typical of their German opponents. Thus Luftflotte IV had complete air superiority.
Even so, the relocation of Soviet industry in 1941 was now starting to yield dividends as the new factories at sites to the east of the Ural mountain range came on stream, and Soviet aircraft production reached 15,800 machines in the second half of 1942 in a process of steady acceleration.
On the ground, the Soviets at first relied largely on workers’ militias, whose personnel were mostly workers not directly involved in war production. For a short time, tanks continued to be produced and then manned by volunteer crews of factory workers. They were driven directly from the factory floor to the front line, often without paint or even gun sights.
As noted above, by the end of August formations of von Weichs’s Heeresgruppe ‘B’ had finally reached the bank of the Volga river in the area to the north of Stalingrad, and another advance to the river had followed in the area to the south of the city. By 1 September, therefore, the Soviets could reinforce and supply their forces in Stalingrad only by means of river crossings rendered ever more dangerous by the efforts of the German warplanes and artillery.
On 5 September General Leytenant Ivan V. Galanin’s 24th Army and General Major A S. Zhadov’s 66th Army of General Polkovnik Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s Don Front, the South-West Front’s neighbour upstream of Stalingrad, launched a major attack against von Wietersheim’s (from 15 September Generalleutnant [from 1 October General] Hans Hube’s) XIV Panzerkorps, which was the spearhead of the advance by the 6th Army to the south-east across the land corridor (land bridge) between the Don and Volga rivers. The Luftwaffe helped signally in the defeat of this Soviet counterattack, and the two Soviet armies had to pull back at 12.00 after just a few hours, and lost to air attack 30 of the 120 tanks with which they had started their attack.
This was ever the story as the Soviets attempted to halt the 6th Army’s progress to Stalingrad. On 18 September, for example, when General Leytenant Dmitri D. Lelyushenko’s 1st Guards Army of Vatutin’s South-West Front (upstream of the Don Front) and the 24th Army attacked General Walter Heitz’s VIII Corps of the 6th Army at Kotluban, Generalleutnant Martin Fiebig’s VIII Fliegerkorps (the other component of Luftflotte IV with Generalleutnant Kurt Pflugbeil’s IV Fliegerkorps) launched waves of Ju 87 dive-bombers to prevent a Soviet breakthrough, and the two armies’ effort was defeated: the Ju 87 warplanes claimed 41 of the 106 Soviet tanks knocked out that morning, while escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters destroyed 77 Soviet aircraft. Even so, as it continued to push forward to Stalingrad, the 6th Army was already starting to suffer heavy losses.
Meanwhile, in the increasingly wrecked city the 62nd Army (eventually 13 infantry divisions, one naval infantry brigade, five special brigades and two tank brigades) and General Leytenant Mikhail S. Shumilov’s 64th Army (eventually five infantry divisions, one naval infantry brigade, four special brigades and two tank brigades), in the north and south of the city respectively, started to complete their defensive lines with large numbers of strongpoints built into houses and factories.
The German military thinking of the time was based on the use of combined-arms teams and a very close co-operation between armour, infantry, artillery, engineers and ground-attack aircraft. To counter this, the Soviet commanders in Stalingrad developed the tactic of keeping their front line as close to that of the Germans as was physically possible (‘hugging’ the Germans, as Chuikov described it), for this made it necessary for the German armour and infantry either to fight on their own or to risk suffering ‘friendly fire’ casualties from their own supporting artillery and tactical warplanes. The Soviet tactic therefore removed the artillery and air advantages which the Germans would otherwise have been able to exploit. The Soviets also decided that he best defence available to them was fixing their defence lines in a host of buildings which commanded important streets and squares. The Soviets therefore converted multi-storey apartment blocks, factories, warehouses, street corner residences and office buildings into strongholds protected by barbed wire and mines and containing machine guns, anti-tank rifles, mortars, snipers and small units (up to 10 men) of sub-machine gunners and grenadiers physically and psychologically prepared for house-to-house combat in an urban scenario.
Altogether farther to the south, meanwhile, the forces of List’s Heeresgruppe ‘A’ had crossed the Don river and begun to advance toward the Caucasus mountains, taking Proletarskaya on 29 July, Salsk on 31 July and Stavropol on 5 August. Generaloberst Ewald on Kleist’s 1st Panzerarmee was meeting almost no opposition in the foothills of the Caucasus in ‘Edelweiss’ after its supply problems had been eased by the completion of the German clearance of Crimea by Generaloberst Erich von Manstein’s 11th Army in ‘Störfang’, allowing the lines of communication for the 1st Panzerarmee and Generaloberst Richard Ruoff’s 17th Army to be re-routed through Crimea and across the Strait of Kerch straight into the Kuban region. The Germans took Maykop on 9 August and Pyatigorsk soon after this.
Despite the presence there of the oilfields vital to the survival of the USSR, the Soviet defence of the Caucasus region was rendered very difficult by lack of heavy weapons and tanks, so the Soviet infantry and cavalry formations were compelled to retreat wherever the German armour roamed. Ominously for the Germans, though, the pace of their advance was being affected for the worse as supplies of men and equipment were diverted, in part at least, to satisfy the voracious appetite of the forces committed to the seizure of Stalingrad. Moreover, the motor transport and armour allocated to Heeresgruppe ‘A’ had to reach the theatre via a long detour through Rostov-na-Donu and, after having received little more than a service after their gruelling service in ‘Barbarossa’, were becoming increasingly affected by the types of mechanical problems that demanded a complete overhaul. Moreover, as he sought to comply with the imprecise instructions laid out in the Führerweisung Nr 45, von Kleist was attempting the simultaneous achievement of several objectives including a breakthrough to the Caspian Sea and the seizure or, failing that, the destruction of the oil complexes at Maykop, Grozny and Baku, the capture of the Caucasus’s main city of Tiflis, and the support of the rest of Heeresgruppe ‘A’ as it drove deeper into the Caucasus and along the eastern seaboard of the Black Sea to take ports such as Sukhumi and Batumi and thereby isolate the Black Sea Fleet.
But, catastrophically, all German attention was focused on Stalingrad. The 6th Army had renewed its attack on 24/25 August, but run into a Soviet defence that was prepared to fight and die for every yard of ground. This constant and unyielding preparedness to defend every tiny area of the city combined with the shock of suddenly losing a prize that had appeared to be ready for easy picking persuaded the Germans to pour ever larger numbers of men and weapons into the tip of their Stalingrad salient, leaving the defence of the salient’s vulnerable shoulders to poorly equipped allied forces along the eastern bank of the Don river to the north-west of Stalingrad and along the western bank of the Volga river to the south of the same city.
Elements of the 21st Army attacked the German positions near Serafimovich and Kletskaya on the Don river, but lacked the strength to break though, and the same applied to Soviet counterattacks in the area of Samofalovka. However, the attack of the 1st Guards Army near Novo-Grigoryevskaya enlarged its bridgehead, as did that of the 63rd Army.
To the south, the 4th Panzerarmee had been attempting to break through to Stalingrad, but could make no progress through a series of strongly defended Soviet strongpoints in the area to the south of the city. German armoured and motorised infantry units were quietly moved around to the south-western part of the front and reorganised near Abganerovo before launching an attack on 29 August against the 126th Division of the 64th Army. Hoth intended to drive a wedge into the centre of the 64th Army and then wheel right into the rear of the difficult Soviet strongpoints, which would allow his forces to take Volga river’s western bank and the higher ground to the south of the city, and also cut off the 64th Army’s left wing. With good air support, the attack proved very successful and Hoth’s forces found themselves in the rear areas of both the 64th Army and its northern neighbour, the 62nd Army. This opened the possibility of a still greater success if the 4th Panzerarmee continued to drive to the north rather than wheel to the east, and the 6th Army advanced to the south to meet it: the right flank of the 64th Army and perhaps the whole of the 62nd Army might be trapped.
von Weichs fully appreciated this fact, and twice ordered Paulus to move the 6th Army to the south in order to effect a junction with the 4th Panzerarmee. Paulus did not move, however, as Soviet counterattacks had persuaded both him and von Wietersheim that the northern sector was insecure and might collapse if any sizeable elements of their mobile forces were diverted south. Thus it was only on 2 September, after the Soviet pressure on the northern sector had eased, that Paulus despatched armoured and motorised infantry forces south to establish contact with Hoth. At the same time von Seydlitz-Kurzbach’s infantry made contact with the forward elements of the 4th Panzerarmee. By this time, however, the Soviets had departed after Eremenko, not realising that Hoth had originally been intent on the destruction of the 64th Army’s left wing, had come to believe that the Germans were seeking to encompass the destruction of the 64th Army’s right wing and the 62nd Army, and therefore ordered the withdrawal of his forces from the area. Eremenko thus abandoned Stalingrad’s outer defences just as the Germans realised the nature of the opportunity before them. Even so, the Germans had received a dividend as they now had the opportunity to attack directly into Stalingrad from the north, west and south without the need to break through an outer defence line.
Eremenko’s counterattacks had failed, for the most part, but had nonetheless managed to pin the 6th Army for a few vital days, thereby preventing the junction of the 6th Army and the 4th Panzerarmee, in the process giving Eremenko’s forces the time they needed to effect their escape.
The Germans could now directly interdict the traffic on the Volga river, the night-time lifeline by which reinforcements and supplies reached the 62nd Army and 64th Army in Stalingrad proper, and could also use artillery fire and air-laid mines to prevent all shipping movement up and down the river, which was the only major channel by which oil from the Caucasus could be delivered into the main body of the USSR.
The scene was thus set for the Battle of Stalingrad. As the 6th Army and 4th Panzerarmee had approached Stalingrad, it had seemed that the German forces would probably be able to enter and take Stalingrad straight off the march against only minimal resistance. As they had already discovered in similar circumstances during their ‘Taifun’ (i) offensive to take Moscow before the end of 1941, however, the Germans now found that the terrain to the west of Stalingrad presented major manoeuvre difficulties. The nature of the city, with its enormous industrial areas and sprawling settlements, proved a hindrance to the effective co-ordination of armour, artillery, infantry and air power that was the core of the Blitzkrieg tactics which the Germans had hitherto used in the USSR to so notable an effect.
The shape and location of Stalingrad meant that the Germans were denied the use their normal tactics of envelopment, and therefore had to make a frontal assault on the city. The city’s northern end was dominated by the great industrial facilities of the Dzerzhinsky Traktornogo Zavoda (tractor factory), the Barrikady Boepripasov Zavod (ordnance factory) with the Silikat factory in front of it, and the Krasny Oktyabr Stalelityeinyi Zavod (Red October steel factory), to the south of which lay the Lazur Khimicheskii Zavod (chemical factory). These had been turned into a single interconnected fortified position that would see intense and extraordinary vicious and bloody combat during the coming months. The southern end of the city was divided from the rest by the Tsaritsa river, which flows directly into the Volga river just to the south of the Stalingrad No. 1 Railway Station. To the south of the Tsaritsa river were the suburbs comprising, from north to south, Minina, Yelshanka and Kuporosnoye, which were held by Shumilov’s 64th Army and secured the left flank of the 62nd Army under Lopatin, replaced on 12 September by Chuikov who, as commander of the 64th Army, had stopped the 4th Panzerarmee in the area to the south of Stalingrad.
Chuikov had studied German tactical methods, which he greatly respected, but was largely responsible for the assessment that while such methods were certainly applicable to operations in open terrain they were not effective in an urban environment: this led to the ‘hugging’ concept that prevented the Germans from making effective use of their air and artillery power to pave the way for and then provide direct support for armour and infantry against Soviet units in very close proximity to their opponents. Thus Chuikov’s 62nd Army, even while outnumbered and outgunned, could hold in own and then prevail.
The operations which had brought the 6th Army and General Rudolf Veiel’s XLVIII Panzerkorps of the 4th Panzerarmee into the outskirts of Stalingrad had led to considerable disorganisation within these two German armies' formations, so it took some time for them to concentrate again and prepare for the assault on the city proper.
On the eve of their first assault, which started on 14 September, the Germans faced nine Soviet armies along the 400-mile (645-km) front under the command of the Stalingrad Front and South-East Front, the latter comprising the 62nd Army, 64th Army, 57th Army and 51st Army. The greater German weight was to fall on Chuikov’s 62nd Army, which had in Stalingrad 54,000 troops, 100 armoured vehicles and 900 pieces of artillery. The 6th Army had 15 divisions: to the north-west was General Karl Strecker’s XI Corps (four infantry divisions) guarding against any attempt at an intervention by the 21st Army and 4th Tank Army across the Don; to the XI Corps’ right and immediately to the north of the city was Heitz’s VIII Corps (two infantry divisions) and Hube’s XIV Panzerkorps (one Panzer and two motorised infantry divisions, one of the latter detached); to the west of the city was von Seydlitz-Kurzbach’s LI Corps, which was readying itself to storm eastward into the city with five divisions (from an eventual total of two Panzer, one Jäger and six infantry divisions) and supported on its left flank by Generalleutnant Otto Kohlermann’s (from November Generalmajor Hans-Adolf von Arensdorff’s) 60th Division [mot.] of Veiel’s XIV Panzerkorps. A formation of the 6th Army which was not directly committed as such was General Erwin Jaenecke’s IV Corps (one motorised infantry and two infantry divisions).
The 4th Panzerarmee was deployed to the south of the Tsaritsa, with four divisions (Generalleutnant Georg Pfeiffer’s 94th Division, Generalleutnant Walter Krause’s 14th Division [mot.], Generalmajor Walter von Boltenstern’s [from 20 September Generalmajor Max Fremerey’s and from 25 September Generalmajor Hans-Georg Leyser’s] 29th Division [mot.], and Generalleutnant Bruno Ritter von Hauenschild’s [from 12 September Generalleutnant Arno von Lenski’s] 24th Panzerdivision) of Veiel’s (from 1 November Generalleutnant Ferdinand Hein’s) XLVIII Panzerkorps facing the left flank of the 62nd Army and the remaining two divisions (Generalleutnant Max Pfeffer’s 297th Division and Generalleutnant Hermann Niehoff’s 371st Division) on the far right flank facing the 64th Army.
It is worth noting at this stage that the basic Soviet formations (army, corps, division and brigade) were generally smaller than their German equivalents. With about 300,000 men, the 6th Army was in fact the size of a Soviet front. A Soviet army was similar in size to a German corps, and a full-strength Panzer division, with about 18,000 men, was larger than a Soviet tank or mechanised corps. This last had three tank brigades of around 60 tanks each, one mechanised brigade, one reconnaissance battalion, one mortar battalion and one artillery battalion for a total strength of 7,800 men, which was about the manpower strength of one Panzer regiment. A mechanised corps comprised three mechanised brigades, each with one tank regiment, one or two tank brigades and the normal supporting arms for a total of some 13,550 men. The Soviet infantry division had some 10,500 men and was thus about two-thirds the size of its German counterpart.
The first German assault on Stalingrad started at 06.30 on 14 September, when the LI Corps struck directly to the east in the direction of the city centre in a two-pronged assault. This caught Chuikov off guard as he was planning a series of small-scale attacks to unbalance the Germans. The LI Corps was led by Generalleutnant Alexander von Hartmann’s 71st Division, Generalleutnant Richard Graf von Schwerin’s 79th Division and Generalmajor Otto Korfes’s 295th Division while, to the south of the Tsaritsa, the 4th Panzerarmee attacked the 64th Army with the 24th Panzerdivision and 94th Division, which advanced through Minina, and Generalmajor Ferdinand Heim’s (from 1 October Oberst Hans Freiherr von Falkenstein’s, from 1 November Generalmajor Johannes Baessler’s and from 26 November Oberst Martin Lattmann’s) 14th Panzerdivision and 29th Division (mot.) heading for the Volga river through Yelshanka.
This double assault revealed that the Germans were still intent on the encirclement tactics that had served them so well under to this time: the 14th Panzerdivision was to turn to the north after reaching the western bank of the Volga river and, after occupying central Stalingrad and the Mamayev Kurgan hill, the LI Corps was to move to the south, the two arms of the pincer to meet at the city’s central landing stage and thus isolate the 62nd Army from its source of supply on the river’s eastern bank.
The Germans managed to take Mamayev Kurgan and the Stalingrad No. 1 Railway Station, and approached the landing stage, persuading Chuikov to urge Eremenko to send him reinforcements. As a result the 13th Guards Division was despatched across the river and, after bitter fighting, secured the landing stage. The division was attacked by elements of the 71st Division and 295th Division and, in the course of a sanguinary battle lasting several days during which the railway station changed hands 19 times, the Germans committed Generalleutnant Carl Rodenburg’s 76th Division and finally secured the station. Nonetheless, the agony of the 13th Guards Division, which suffered a 75% casualty rate, had bought the time Chuikov required to rearrange his defences and for further reinforcements to be despatched across the river.
The fighting for Mamayev Kurgan was equally intense. The 295th Division made an early attack, forcing Chuikov to abandon his command post on the hill, and eventually occupied this low but dominating position. This was an important tactical position that offered the Germans a clear view of both of the 62nd Army’s flanks and the movement of supplies and reinforcements from the rear, and also allowed them to bring the Volga river crossings under sustained and accurate artillery fire. Chuikov ordered two infantry regiments to retake the hill on 17 September. The Soviet infantry attacked after a short artillery bombardment and, despite heavy casualties, reached the summit but could not secure the hill. The fighting continued for several days in which one of the key features was the large number of close support sorties flown by the Luftwaffe.
However, the Soviets counterattacked in the area to the north of Stalingrad with the 1st Guards, 24th and 66th Armies against the VIII Corps and XIV Panzerkorps, which had the effect of drawing off part of the Luftwaffe’s support effort. The attack failed as a result of strong German opposition and poor Soviet co-ordination, but nonetheless allowed Chuikov to bring across reinforcements in the form of the 92nd Naval Brigade and 137th Tank Brigade.
Chuikov committed another attack in an effort to retake Mamayev Kurgan, but again this failed. The 13th Guards Division lost its hold on the Stalingrad No. 1 Railway Station as the 71st Division renewed its assault with the aim of reaching the Volga river and rolling up the 13th Guards Division’s left flank, isolating 62nd Army and linking with with the 76th Division and 295th Division as these advanced from the north-west. Only the landing of 2,000 Siberians of the 284th Division saved the day for the Soviets, the combination of the 284th Division and 13th Guards Division serving to check the advance of the 71st Division but lacking the strength to clear the area around the landing stage and the railway station.
Farther to the south, the 4th Panzerarmee’s 14th Panzerdivision and 29th Division (mot.) reached the Volga river and thus completed the isolation of 62nd Army. To their left, 24th Panzerdivision and 94th Division advanced through Minina, the suburb defended by the 35th Guards Division and 42nd Brigade, which were soon joined by the 92nd Naval Brigade. This set the scene for a very severe fight for the great concrete grain elevator complex near the river bank. This position was all that stood between the meeting of the two prongs of the 4th Panzerarmee’s attack, and was held by 20 guards and 30 naval infantrymen. The battle drew in elements of three German divisions, but eventually the Germans’ overwhelming strength prevailed. By 26 September the 4th Panzerarmee had effectively destroyed the 35th Guards Division and also inflicted severe losses on the 92nd Naval Brigade and 42nd Brigade.
The 24th Panzerdivision reached the Volga river and brought the landing stage under fire as 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 inasmuch as they now controlled the Volga river to the south of the city along a 5-mile (8-km) front.
The Germans also held the Stalingrad No. 1 Railway Station and most of Mamayev Kurgan. They could bring the central landing stage under direct fire and had reduced the 62nd Army to a pocket around the industrial area in the north of the city.
During this entire period the Luftwaffe successfully maintained its interdiction of Soviet river traffic.
What did become clear, however, was the increasingly great German concern about the nature of the war in which they were now involved. This was the so-called Rattenkrieg (war of the rats) in which the Germans found it difficult to adapt themselves, their tactical thinking and their command arrangements to warfare in an urban environment in which their well-proved and hitherto successful Blitzkrieg concepts were no longer valid: the Rattenkrieg made manoeuvre impossible and prevented the effective integration of infantry, armour and air power. The close nature of the terrain, congested and constrained by shattered buildings, rubble, cratered roads and open spaces, barricades and obstacles, rendered very difficult if not downright impossible any type of manoeuvre operation at anything over the level of the very smallest unit. Inevitably the tempo of Germans operations slowed, and a concomitant effect was therefore the emergence of an increasingly attritional nature in the fighting.
The problems were not all on the German side, however. The Soviets’ centralised command structure had already proved wholly incapable of coping with Blitzkrieg warfare, which demanded rapid decisions and movements, yet the type of flexible and devolved command that were now clearly demanded did not come naturally to a Soviet officer corps purged and subjugated by Stalin in the years immediately before the start of World War II.
Even so, the fighting in Stalingrad forced the gradual adaptation of the Soviet command system to suit the nature of the urban combat which was now waged in the city. Oddly enough, perhaps, one of the key factors in this process was the very isolation of 62nd Army, for Chuikov was effectively immune from constraints from above and could therefore develop and implement his own tactical thinking and tactical methods. Chuikov now understood that the Soviet practice of tight command and constant control was scarcely if ever feasible in the Stalingrad arena, and thus replaced units of the conventional type with what became known as the shock group, which was a force of between 50 and 100 men organised and equipped for a particular mission. This revealed that Chuikov had learned that the urban battlefield was best served by small but heavily armed groups of infantry who could be given realisable objectives by a commander no higher than the divisional level and then be given the freedom to achieve this objective in the manner that the bet suited the tactical situation.
Thus the 62nd Army’s objectives and tactics came to be wholly compatible with the decentralised and indeed almost chaotic nature of the fighting. Within this basic concept, Soviet armour was different from its German counterpart in being freed from the necessity to undertake complex tactical manoeuvres, and was used instead to provide defensive firepower, the tanks often being buried in partially collapsed buildings. These tank emplacements and the artillery firing from the Volga river’s eastern bank defeated the 6th Army’s attempts to capture the city.
The first German onslaught ended on 26 September, but Paulus had already planned and was about to launch the 6th Army’s second attack. This began at daybreak on 27 September. Starting so soon after the end of the first attack, this reflected the Germans’ appreciation, as September moved toward its end, that winter was not far distant. With only a short window of opportunity available before the prospect of a grim winter campaign in shattered Stalingrad became a reality, and with the fighting in the southern part of the city coming to an end, Paulus switched his attention once more to the northern part of Stalingrad and redeployed his forces for an assault on the industrial area. This was to take the form of two thrusts, one directed against the area around Mamayev Kurgan and the Krasny Oktyabr steel plant, and the other striking at the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory. The two thrusts were to break through the Soviet lines, reach the Volga river and then turn inward to trap the Soviet forces still to their west, which would be pinned by attacks on the Barrikady ordnance factory.
Chuikov had created an effective reconnaissance network within the city, and this soon detected the German redeployment. Chuikov was therefore offered the opportunity to move some of his forces to the north in order to meet the revised threat, and at the same time kept open the lifeline to the eastern bank of the Volga river, allowing reinforcements, ammunition and food to be delivered to the west, and wounded, civilians and prisoners to be evacuated to the east. This cross-river lifeline was the responsibility of Kontr Admiral Dmitri D. Rogachev’s naval flotilla swelled in numbers and lift capacity by a sizeable force civilian-manned fishing boats.
These riverine elements fought a constant war of attrition with the warplanes of von Richthofen’s Luftflotte IV. This comprised Pflugbeil’s IV Fliegerkorps notionally supporting Heeresgruppe ‘A’ and Fiebig’s VIII Fliegerkorps supporting Heeresgruppe ‘B’, though most of Luftflotte IV’s resources had in fact been committed over Stalingrad by this time. What was becoming undeniable, however, was that the air strength of Luftflotte IV over Stalingrad was becoming as inadequate as the ground strength of the 6th Army: neither was large or strong enough to complete the task with which it was faced. While Luftflotte IV was thus able to maintain air superiority over the city, it could not undertake both the provision of close air support for the ground troops and the isolation of the Soviet forces on the western bank of the Volga river by an effective interdiction of the Soviet riverine forces. This inability of the Germans, by land and air, to isolate the western bank of the Volga river from the sources of men and matériel on the eastern bank was to become a decisive factor in the outcome of the entire campaign.
Knowing the Germans' probable intentions, Chuikov decided to attempt a pre-emptive assault and attacked at 06.00 on 27 September toward Mamayev Kurgan with the 95th and 284th Divisions, and against the Stalingrad No. 1 Railway Station with the 13th Guards Division. The two attacks drew a major response from the VIII Fliegerkorps, which pinned down the 62nd Army for two hours.
Immediately after this the 6th Army began its own assault with 11 divisions 2. On the German right, the 14th Panzerdivision and 94th Division strengthened the German hold on the city’s southern area as the 24th Panzerdivision and 29th Division (mot.) advanced to the north-east. Yet again the 295th Division attempted to clear Mamayev Kurgan, while the 76th Division guarded the Stalingrad No. 1 Railway Station and the 71st Division and 100th Jägerdivision moved behind the 13th Guards Division toward the Krasny Oktyabr steel factory. The 16th Panzerdivision, 60th Division (mot.) and 389th Division advanced toward the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory on three axes. There was severe fighting as the German formations advanced nearly 3,000 yards (2750 m) and almost destroyed the 95th and 112th Divisions.
Deciding that a crisis point was imminent, the Stavka now removed the division of responsibility for the city’s defence between the Gordov’s Stalingrad Front and Eremenko’s South-East Front. The latter was renamed the Stalingrad Front and was allocated 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 reinforcements including 193rd Rifle Division, Chuikov managed not only to contain the German offensive but also to prevent them from taking complete control of Mamayev Kurgan.
Paulus then refused the attack on the Orlovka salient projecting into the German line to the north-west of the city. The Soviets held this salient with the 115th Brigade and a composite battalion, all that was left of the 112th Division. The salient was surrounded by German units, and on 29 September Paulus committed 16th Panzerdivision, 60th Division (mot.), 100th Jägerdivision and 389th Division to its elimination.
Meanwhile, the 24th Panzerdivision pressed on doggedly toward the Barrikady and Krasny Oktyabr factories, and reached a point no more than 1 mile (1.6 km) from the Volga river. Had it managed to reach the river, the division could have moved into the rear of the Barrikady position and supplemented the German forces driving to the south for the assault on the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory. However, the 24th Panzerdivision was halted by the 193rd Division.
It was at this point that the 62nd Army received fresh reinforcements in the form of the 39th Guards Division and 308th Division.
During the next days the 6th Army maintained its attack, concentrating on the 193rd Division but nonetheless pressuring the 13th Guards Division and 284th Division in an effort to divide the Soviet defences. These managed to hold, but only by the narrowest of margins. After moving the 14th Panzerdivision and 94th Division to the north, the 6th Army committed 389th Division and 60th Division (mot.) in an attack toward the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory, in the process driving back the 112th Division. At the same time the weight of the 24th Panzerdivision’s attack forced the 308th Division to fall back to the Silikat factory in front of the Barrikady ordnance factory, while the 193rd Division was similarly compelled to yield ground and retreat toward the Krasny Oktyabr factory.
The 6th Army now began its supreme effort. The 14th Panzerdivision, 100th Jägerdivision, 94th Division and 389th Division attacked toward the Dzerzhinsky and Barrikady factories, but despite their hardest endeavours these formations just could not achieve any breakthrough despite the fact that they did manage to force the 37th Guards Division, 193rd Division and 308th Division to fall back, and took the Silikat factory on 5 October. Another German attack was stalled by a Soviet artillery bombardment, but Chuikov’s plan for a counterattack was forestalled by an attack by the 14th Panzerdivision supported by the 60th Division (mot.). The Germans broke into the workers’ settlements next to the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory, but there an area-saturating barrage of Katyusha unguided artillery rockets halted them and preserved the Soviet position.
Yet again the 62nd Army had been driven back but had not broken. After learning that success at Stalingrad would lead to a posting as successor to Generaloberst Alfred Jodl as the chief-of-staff of the Oberkommando des Heeres, Paulus immediately started to develop the plans for what he hoped, and expected to be, a final offensive. Paulus asked for a reinforcement of three infantry divisions, but received instead just four specialist combat engineer battalions.
Hitler was becoming more and more obsessed with capturing the city, even though General Kurt Zeitzler, who on 24 September replaced Generaloberst Franz Halder as chief-of-staff of the Oberkommando des Heeres, said that the battle could not be won and that the campaign to take Stalingrad should therefore be terminated forthwith.
The 62nd Army had now weathered the German second attack, and each side now sought frantically to bolster its strength, the 6th Army for its third attempt to take the city and the 62nd Army to rebuild its defensive capability.
As the the fighting tailed off in the last stages of the second German attack, Hitler’s mind was focused on Stalingrad to almost the complete exclusion of the original purpose of ‘Blau III’, the seizure of the Caucasian oil fields. On 14 October Hitler issued an order halting German operations everywhere on the Eastern Front except Stalingrad and the Caucasus. It was clear that in Hitler’s mind success or failure at Stalingrad was now the sole determinant of whether the German 1942 summer offensive should be deemed as success or failure.
As the 6th Army girded itself for this third attack, it was surprised by a counterattack delivered by the 62nd Army. Chuikov had been ordered to improve his position by pushing the Germans back and thereby increasing the area he had available to facilitate the type of tactical manoeuvre his army would need to defeat the Germans’ inevitable next attack. On 12 October, therefore, the 37th Guards Division and one regiment of the 95th Division attacked the western outskirts of the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory. The attack took the Germans by tactical and operational surprise, and drove them back 300 yards (275 m), but was then halted by the forces the Germans were assembling in the area for their own attack.
At 08.00 the Germans launched their own attack with the 14th Panzerdivision, 24th Panzerdivision, 100th Jägerdivision, 94th Division, 389th Division and the four recently arrived combat engineer battalions, a total of some 300 armoured vehicles and more than 90,000 men concentrated on a 3-mile (4.8-km) front and provided with with massive air support.
Chuikov’s extreme right, on the northern side of the Orlovka river, comprised the 124th Brigade, while on the river’s southern side was the 112th Division with its right flank anchored on the Orlovka river. To the left of this latter division was the 37th Guards Division, followed by 308th Division in the Sculpture Park in front of the Barrikady factory with the 95th Division just behind it. Farther to the south were the 193rd Division defending the area between the Barrikady and Krasny Oktyabr factories, the 39th Guards Division holding the Krasny Oktyabr factory, the 284th Division directly to the east of Mamayev Kurgan, and the 13th Guards Division.
The German attack was of a greater scale and intensity than anything which had preceded it. The central thrust was directed against the 112th Division, 37th Guards Division and right flank of the 308th Division. The the combination of the Germans’ concentration of numbers and firepower drove a wedge into the junction between the 37th Guards Division and 308th Division, allowing most of 14th Panzerdivision to break through and move to the north-east while the 389th Division and 100thJagerdivision pinned the flanks of the Soviet defence and prevented an immediate counterattack. The 112th Division was soon taken on each flank by the 14th Panzerdivision and pinned frontally by the 60th Division (mot.), and the 308th Division also found itself in an equally dangerous situation. The Germans had surrounded three sides of the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory, broken the 37th Guards Division and 112th Division, and split the 62nd Army.
Chuikov decided that he could not commit additional forces to holding the tractor factory, for it seemed probable that the Germans would launch an attack from a different direction if he weakened other areas of the 62nd Army’s front. The loss of the tractor factory could, however, lead to the collapse of 62nd Army’s right flank.
The Germans now committed the fresh 305th Division in their advance toward the tractor factory, while the 16th Panzerdivision and 60th Division (mot.) continued their attack to the south against Polkovnik Gorokhov’s battered 124th Brigade in the Spartanovka district. Right round their perimeter the Soviets were driven back, and in some places the Germans advanced 2,000 yards (1830 m). By this time most Soviet units were drastically under strength, and it would take time for Chuikov to deploy his only reinforcement, the 138th Division from Siberia. The Germans renewed their attack, taking the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory and advancing to the south with the 14th Panzerdivision, 100th Jägerdivision and 305th Division toward the Barrikady factory, while the 24th Panzerdivision and 94th Division provided support in the south.
However, the northern attack was finally slowed and then halted by the fire of artillery and the dug-in tanks of the 84th Tank Brigade, while the 193rd Division and 13th Guards Division withstood the attacks of the 24th Panzerdivision and 94th Division. Chuikov deployed the 138th Division to the right of the 308th Division to defend the approach to the Barrikady factory. Meanwhile the 16th Panzerdivision and 60th Division (mot.) had cleared much of the northern suburbs, in the process compressing Gorokhov’s force into a small pocket. The Germans continued their relentless pressure, maintaining their advance to the south in the direction of the Barrikady factory, and overran most of the 84th Tank Brigade in the process. This advance forced Chuikov to abandon his headquarters near the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory and to move to a new location just behind the Krasny Oktyabr steel factory. The Germans reached the edge of the Barrikady ordnance factory and the Volga river, cutting it off from the Krasny Oktyabr factory.
The 193rd Division was now threatened by the 94th Division, which was attempting to break into the Barrikady factory. Eventually, the combined weight of the 100th Jägerdivision, 94th Division and 389th Division compelled forced Chuikov to withdraw what was left of the 193rd Division and 308th Division before they were annihilated.
Farther to the south, the Germans began to concentrate forces for an attack to the north toward the Krasny Oktyabr factory while pinning the Soviet forces in place. On 23 October, Paulus launched the fresh 79th Division against the Krasny Oktyabr factory with armoured and air support. An infantry company broke into the factory’s north-western corner and was quickly reinforced as it tackled the defenders. The Germans also overwhelmed the defence of much of the Barrikady factory, and though fighting there continue for a time the factory was effectively in German hands.
Two regiments of the 45th Division arrived to reinforce the 62nd Army during the night of 26/27 October under the command of the 193rd Division. The Krasny Oktyabr factory was half-occupied by the Germans, the 39th Guards Division having been driven back by the full weight of the 79th Division. The Germans were now a mere 400 yards (365 m) from the Volga river and had the landing stages under sustained fire.
However, the pace and weight of the 6th Army’s operations declined after 24 October as the weather started to turn notably colder. The army was also close to the point of exhaustion after two weeks of intensive and costly combat. The Germans held 90% of the city and had the remaining pockets of Soviet territory under constant fire. They had captured the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory and the Barrikady ordnance factory, and had occupied half of the Krasny Oktyabr steel factory. In the process the Germans had splintered the 62nd Army, destroying the 37th Guards Division, 95th Division, 112th Division, 84th Tank Brigade and garrison of Spartanovka, and leaving the 193rd Division and 308th Division incapable of further combat. The Germans had therefore destroyed the equivalent of seven Soviet divisions, but this was not enough.
The Luftwaffe’s inability to isolate the 62nd Army and its supporting artillery had denied the 6th Army its victory. This failure of German air power resulted from the fact, noted above, that Luftflotte IV lacked the combat strength to provide simultaneous support the offensive of Heeresgruppe ‘B’ toward Stalingrad and that of Heeresgruppe ‘A’ into the Caucasus, and also to interdict the flow of Soviet supplies coming into the Stalingrad region, and to retain air superiority over the Soviet air force, which was growing slowly but steadily not only in strength but also in overall capability.
With the end of the Germans’ third attack on 29 October, the fighting in Stalingrad died away except for a brief counterattack by the fully deployed 45th Division between the Barrikady and Krasny Oktyabr factories.
The last German effort to take Stalingrad was ‘Hubertus’ (ii) on 10/18 November, when specially trained and equipped assault pioneer teams made a last but unavailing attempt to take the city’s industrial area. With the failure of ‘Hubertus’ (ii), the 6th Army could now look forward only to a winter in the ruins of Stalingrad. In fact the position of the 6th Army was altogether worse than many imagined, for the Soviets were preparing the great ‘Uran’ counter-offensive that would isolate the 6th Army from the rest of Heeresgruppe ‘B’: with its lines of communication with the rest of Heeresgruppe ‘B’ cut by the surprise ‘Uran’ pincer offensive of General Leytenant Nikolai F. Vatutin’s South-West Front and General Leytenant Andrei I. Eremenko’s Stalingrad Front, whose forces met in the German rear on the Karpovka river between Kalach and Sovetsky on 23 November, the 6th Army was driven onto the strategic defensive.