Stalingrad Strategic Defensive Operation

The 'Stalingrad Strategic Defensive Operation' was the Soviet opposition to the German 'Fischreiher' attempt to take Stalingrad (17 July/18 November 1942).

As part of the 'Blau' series of strategic offensives in the summer of 1942 for control of the southern part of the western USSR and the Caucasus, Germany and its allies fought the USSR for control of Stalingrad on the Volga river in the southern Russia. Characterised in its later fierce close-quarter combat and direct assaults on civilians in air raids, the Battle of Stalingrad was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, with an estimated casualty total of some two million persons. After their eventual defeat at Stalingrad in February 1943, the Germans had to withdraw considerable strength from other theatres of war to replace their losses.

The German offensive against Stalingrad began in August 1942, using General Friedrich Paulus’s 6th Army and part of Generaloberst Hermann Hoth’s 4th Panzerarmee of Generalfeldmarschall Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs’s Heeresgruppe 'B'. The offensive was supported by intense bombing that reduced much of the Stalingrad to rubble, and ultimately degenerated into house-to-house combat as each side poured reinforcements into the urban battlefield into which Stalingrad had been turned. By the middle of November, the Germans had pushed the Soviet defenders back at great cost into narrow zones along the western bank of the Volga river.

On 19 November, the Soviets launched 'Uran' (otherwise as the first element of the 'Stalingrad Strategic Offensive Operation'). This was a two-pronged attack targeting the weaker Romanian and Hungarian armies protecting the 6th Army's flanks. These flanks were overrun and the 6th Army was cut off and surrounded in the Stalingrad area. Adolf Hitler was determined to hold the city at all costs and forbade the 6th Army from attempting to make any effort to break out of the encirclement as, Hitler had decided, the trapped German forces could be supplied by air, hold out until relieved and then become part of a renewed strategic offensive. At the beginning of February 1943, the Axis forces in Stalingrad, their ammunition and food exhausted, were compelled to surrender after five months, one week and three days of fighting.

By the spring of 1942, despite the failure of 'Barbarossa' to achieve the decisive defeat of the USSR in a single campaign, the Germans had seized huge areas pf the western USSR, including Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Baltic republics. Elsewhere, the war had been progressing well: the U-boat offensive in the Atlantic had been very successful and Generaloberst Erwin Rommel had just captured Tobruk. In the east, the Germans had stabilised a front extending to the south from Leningrad to Rostov-na-Donu: while this Eastern Front was strategically straight, it nonetheless included a number of salients and re-entrants, most of them of a minor nature. Hitler was confident that his forces could still destroy the Soviet armies despite the heavy losses of his own forces in the campaign to the west of Moscow in winter of 1941/42, because Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s (from 19 December 1941 Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge’s) Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' had been unable to engage more than 35% of its infantry, leaving the other 65% to be rested and re-equipped. Neither Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe 'Nord' nor Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt’s (from 1 December 1941 Generalfeldmarschall Walter von Reichenau’s and from 15 January 1942 Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s) Heeresgruppe 'Süd' had come under severe pressure during the winter. Iosif Stalin, the Soviet leader, was now expecting the main thrust of the German summer offensive to fall on Moscow once more.

After their initial operations had proved nicely successful, the Germans felt that 'Blau', their major campaign of the summer of 1942, would be directed not against Moscow but against the southern parts of the USSR. The Germans' initial strategic objectives in the region around Stalingrad were to destroy the industrial capacity of the city and to block the Volga river to traffic connecting the Caucasian and Caspian Sea area with the central USSR. The Germans had severed the pipeline from the oil fields when they captured Rostov-na-Donu on 23 July, and the subsequent seizure of Stalingrad would make the delivery of Lend-Lease supplies via the 'Persian corridor' significantly more difficult.

On 19 July, Hitler had issued his Führerweisung Nr 33, by which two Panzergruppen were removed from Heeresgruppe 'Mitte', thereby depriving it of the armour which it would have needed for any renewed offensive against Moscow, and four days later modified this with the Führerweisung Nr 33a. In this, the German leader rewrote the operational objectives for the 1942 campaign, greatly expanding them to include the occupation of the city of Stalingrad. By this time each side had started to attach propaganda value to the city, which bore the name of the Soviet leader. Hitler proclaimed that after Stalingrad’s capture, its male citizens were to be killed and all women and children were to be deported because its population was 'thoroughly communistic' and 'especially dangerous'. It was assumed that the fall of Stalingrad would also firmly secure the northern and western flanks of the German armies as they advanced into the Caucasus with the aim of securing its strategic petroleum resources for German exploitation. The expansion of objectives was a significant factor in Germany’s ultimate failure at Stalingrad, and resulted largely from German overconfidence on the one hand and underestimation of the Soviet reserves on the other.

The Soviets were quick to appreciate their critical situation once the German offensive had started, and ordered everyone who could hold a rifle into the fight.

Heeresgruppe 'Süd' was selected for the planned 'Blau' campaign, which was to drive at high speed through the steppe regions of the southern USSR into the Caucasus to capture its economically and militarily vital oil fields. The offensive was to include Paulus’s 6th Army, Generaloberst Richard Ruoff’s 17th Army, Hoth’s 4th Panzerarmee and Generaloberst Ewald von Kleist’s 1st Panzerarmee. Heeresgruppe 'Süd' had overrun Ukraine in the summer and autumn of 1941, and the Germans expected that this same formation, which was now poised in the eastern part of Ukraine, to secure victory in the offensive which it was to spearhead.

Hitler now intervened once more, ordering that Heeresgruppe 'Süd' be disestablished and its forces divided into two new formations. The more southerly of these was List’s Heeresgruppe 'A', which was created on 7 July and was to continue advancing to the south-east toward the Caucasus as planned with the 17th Army and 1st Panzerarmee. The more northerly of the two was von Bock’s (from 13 July von Weichs’s) Heeresgruppe 'B', which was created on 9 July and drive to the east toward the Volga river and Stalingrad with Paulus’s 6th Army and Hoth’s 4th Panzerarmee.

The start of 'Blau' had initially been planned for a time late in May 1942, but was then delayed as a number of German and Romanian formations which were to be committed in 'Blau' were still besieging Sevastopol on the western end of the Crimean peninsula. Delays in ending the siege therefore pushed the start date for 'Blau' back several times, and Sevastopol did not fall until 2 July.

The German 'Fridericus I' offensive against the 'Izyum bulge' pinched out this Soviet salient in the the 2nd Battle of Kharkov, and resulted in the envelopment of a large Soviet force between 17 May and 29 May. Similarly, the 'Wilhelm' offensive fell on Volchansk during 13 June, and 'Fridericus II' attacked Kupyansk on 22 June.

The 'Blau' campaign finally began as what was still Heeresgruppe 'Süd' began its attack into the southern USSR on 28 June, and at first progressed well. Soviet forces offered little resistance in the vast and essentially empty steppes and started falling back to the east. The several Soviet attempts to re-establish a cohesive defensive line failed when German forces outflanked them. Two major pockets were formed and destroyed: the first, to the north-east of Kharkov, ended on 2 July, and the second, around Millerovo near Rostov-na-Donu, followed one week later. Meanwhile, Vezérezredes Gusztáv Jány’s Hungarian 2nd Army and the 4th Panzerarmee had launched an assault on Voronezh, capturing the city on 5 July.

The 6th Army's initial advance was so successful that Hitler intervened and ordered the 4th Panzerarmee to join Heeresgruppe 'Süd' (Heeresgruppe 'A') to the south. A massive traffic jam resulted when the 4th Panzerarmee and the 1st Panzerarmee choked the few available roads, stopping both in their tracks while the mess of thousands of vehicles was untangled. The delay is thought to have delayed the German advance by at least one week. With the advance now slowed, Hitler changed his mind and reassigned the 4th Panzerarmee back to the attack on Stalingrad.

By the end of July, the Germans had pushed the Soviets back across the Don river. At this point, the Don and Volga rivers are only 40 miles (65 km) apart, and the Germans left their main supply depots to the west of the Don river as a result of a decision which was to have important repercussions later in the course of the battle. The Germans began using the armies of their Italian, Hungarian and Romanian allies to guard their northern flank, so making more German formations available for commitment to the spearhead. Italian actions were sometimes mentioned in German communiqués, but the Italian forces of Generale d’Armata Giovanni Messe’s Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia (soon Generale d’Armata Italo Garibaldi’s Armata Italiana in Russia or 8a Armata were generally held in low regard by the Germans, and were accused of possessing little in the way of morale and fighting capability: in reality, the Italian divisions fought comparatively well. The Italians were forced to retreat only after a massive armoured attack in which German reinforcements apparently failed to arrive in time.

On 25 July the Germans faced stiff resistance in the form of a Soviet bridgehead across the Don river to the west of Kalach.

The Germans had seized their own bridgeheads across the Don river on 20 August, the success of Generalleutnant Rolf Wuthmann’s 295th Division and Generalleutnant Carl Rodenburg’s 76th Division The 6th Army was now only a short distance from Stalingrad. The 4th Panzerarmee, which had been ordered to the south on 13 July to block the Soviet retreat, had turned back to the north once more to help take the city from the south.

To the south, Heeresgruppe 'A' was pushing far into the Caucasus, but its progress slowed as its supply lines became ever more extended. In strategic and operational terms, the two German army groups were too far apart to support one another.

After the reality of the German plans became clear in July 1942, Stalin appointed General Polkovnik Andrei I. Eremenko as commander of the South-East Front on 1 August. Eremenko and Commissar Nikita S. Khrushchev were now tasked with planning the defence of Stalingrad. Beyond the Volga river on the eastern boundary of Stalingrad, additional Soviet units were formed into General Leytenant Vasili I. Chuikov’s 62nd Army on 11 September. Tasked with holding the city regardless of the cost, Chuikov proclaimed that 'We will defend the city or die in the attempt.'

During the defence of Stalingrad, the Soviets deployed five armies in and around the city: these were General Leytenant Dmitri I. Ryabyshev’s 28th Army, General Major Nikolai I. Trufanov’s 51st Army, General Major Fyedor I. Tolbukhin’s 57th Army, Chuikov’s 62nd Army and General Major Mikhail S. Shumilov’s 64th Army. Air support was entrusted to General Major Timofei T. Khryukin’s 8th Air Army. Another additional nine armies used in the encirclement of the 6th Army after 'Uran' were the 24th Army, 65th Army, 66th Army and 16th Air Army from the north as part of the Don Front’s offensive, and the 1st Guards Army, 5th Tank Army, 21st Army, 2nd Air Army and 17th Air Army from the south as part of the South-West Front’s offensive.

The German advance on Stalingrad lasted from 24 July to 18 November. Four hard-fought battles, known collectively as the 'Kotluban Operation', in the area to the north-west of Stalingrad and in which the Soviets made their greatest stand, had in fact decided the fate of the 6th Army even before the first Germans set foot in the city itself, and were a significant if little known decisive point in World War II. Beginning late in August and continuing into October, the Soviets committed between two and four armies in hastily co-ordinated and poorly controlled attacks against the German forces' northern flank. This fighting cost the Soviets more than 200,000 casualties but nonetheless served to slow the pace of the German assault.

On 23 August the 6th Army reached the outskirts of Stalingrad in pursuit of the 62nd Army and 64th Army, which had fallen back into the city. The Soviets had received enough warning of the German advance to extricate grain, cattle and railway rolling stock across the Volga river and thus out of harm’s immediate way, but Stalin refused to evacuate the 400,000 civilians trapped in Stalingrad. Thus the city had been stripped of food even before the arrival of the Germans, leaving the civilian population and, to an extent, the defending troops short of food. Before the Germans reached the city proper, moreover, German air attacks had effectively brought to a halt the movement of all shipping across as well as up and down the Volga river, which was vital for the delivery of supplies into the city. Between 25 and 31 July, the Soviets lost 32 ships sunk and another nine crippled.

The battle for Stalingrad began with the heavy bombing of the city by Generaloberst Wolfram Freiherr 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 in 48 hours, a tonnage greater than that dropped on London at the height of the 'Blitz'. The exact number of civilians killed is unknown but probably very high. Around 40,000 civilians were taken to Germany as slave workers, some fled during battle and a small number were evacuated by the Soviets, but by February 1943 there were only something between 10,000 and 60,000 civilians still alive in Stalingrad. Much of the city was smashed to rubble, although some factories continued production while workers joined in the fighting. The Stalingrad Tractor Factory continued to turn out T-34 tanks up to the moment German troops burst into the plant. The Croat 369th Reinforced Infantry Regiment was the only non-German unit selected by the Germans to enter Stalingrad during the assault, and this fought as part of the operations. It fought as part of Generalleutnant Werner Sanne’s 100th Jägerdivision.

The Soviet high command rushed all available forces, some of them from as far as Siberia, to the eastern bank of the Volga river. The regular river ferries were quickly destroyed by the Luftwaffe, which then targeted troop barges being towed slowly across the river by tugs. Civilians, many of them women and children, were put to work digging trenches and building fortifications. A massive German air raid on 23 August caused a firestorm, killing hundreds and turning Stalingrad into a shattered landscape of rubble and burned ruins. So,e 90% of the accommodation in the Voroshilovsk area was destroyed. Soviet accounts suggest that in the period between 23 and 26 August, 955 people were killed and another 1,181 wounded in the bombing. Casualties of 40,000 were great exaggerations, and after 25 August the Soviets recorded no civilian and military casualties as a result of air raids.

The Soviet air forces were swept aside by the Luftwaffe: the Soviet air bases in the immediate area lost 201 aircraft between 23 and 31 August, and despite a reinforcement of some 100 aircraft in August, they were left with just 192 serviceable aircraft, of which 57 were fighters. Late in September the Soviets accelerated the pace of their air reinforcements into the Stalingrad area, but continued to suffer extremely heavy losses as the Luftwaffe had complete air superiority.

The burden of the initial defence of the city against air attack fell on the 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, a unit comprising mainly of young women who had volunteered but received no training for the engagement of ground targets with their high-velocity weapons. Despite this, and with no support available from other units, the anti-aircraft gunners remained with their weapons and tackled the advancing Panzer units. Generalleutnant Hans-Valentin Hube’s (from 15 September Generalleutnant Günther Angern’s) 16th Panzerdivision reportedly had to fight the 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment’s gunners on a shot-for-shot until all the latter’s 37-mm anti-aircraft guns had been destroyed or overrun. In the early stages of the battle, the NKVD internal security service organised poorly armed 'workers' militia' units similar to those who had defended what was then still Tsaritsyn against the 'White' anti-communist forces 24 years earlier. These militia units comprised civilians not directly involved in war production for immediate use in the battle, and were often sent into battle without rifles. Staff and students from the local technical university formed a 'tank destroyer' unit: they assembled tanks from leftover parts at the tractor factory, and these tanks, unpainted and without gun sights, were driven directly from the factory floor to the front line. Their guns could be aimed only at point-blank range through the bore of their gun barrels.

By the end of August, Heeresgruppe 'B' had finally reached the Volga river in the area to the north of Stalingrad. Another advance to the river in the area to the south of the city followed, while the Soviets abandoned their Rossoshka position for the inner defensive ring girdling the west of Stalingrad. The wings of the 6th Army and the 4th Panzerarmee met near Yablotchny along the Zaritza river on 2 September. By 1 September, the Soviets could reinforce and supply their forces in Stalingrad only by perilous crossings of the Volga river under constant artillery and air bombardment.

On 5 September, General Major Dmitri T. Kozlov’s 24th Army and General Leytenant Rodion Ya. Malinovsky’s 66th Army organised a massive attack against the XIV Panzerkorps. The Luftwaffe helped to halt this offensive with heavy attacks on the Soviet artillery positions and defensive lines, and the Soviets were forced to withdraw at 12.00 after only a few hours on the offence. Of the 120 tanks the Soviets had committed, 30 were lost to air attack.

Soviet operations were constantly hampered by the Luftwaffe. On 18 September, General Major Kirill S. Moskalenko’s 1st Guards Army and Kozlov’s 24th Army launched an offensive against General Walter Heitz’s VIII Corps at Kotluban. General Martin Fiebig’s VIII Fliegerkorps despatched wave after wave of Junkers Ju 87 'Stuka' dive-bombers to prevent a breakthrough and the Soviet attack was repelled. The dive-bombers claimed 41 of the 106 Soviet tanks knocked out that morning, while escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters destroyed 77 Soviet aircraft. Amid the debris of the wrecked city, the 62nd Army and the 64th Army, which included the 13th Guards Division, anchored their defence lines with strongpoints built into houses and factories.

Fighting within the ruined city was very difficult and bloody in the extreme. An order issued by Stalin on 27 July mandated that any commander who ordered an unauthorised retreat would be taken in front of a military tribunal. Deserters and 'malingerers' were captured or executed during lulls in the fighting. During the battle the 62nd Army had the greatest number of arrests and executions: 203 men were arrested, of whom 49 were executed, while 139 were sent to penal companies and battalions.

By 12 September, when it retreated into the city, the 62nd Army had been reduced to 90 tanks, 700 mortars and just 20,000 men. The tanks remaining to it were employed as the basis for immobile strongpoints within the city.

The initial German attack on 14 September took the form of an attempted seizure of the city straight off the march. to take the city in a rush. Generalleutnant Rolf Wuthmann’s (from 16 November Generalmajor Dr Otto Korfes’s) 295th Division of General Walter von Seydlitz-Kurzbach’s LI Corps advanced on the Mamayev Kurgan hill, Generalleutnant Alexander von Hartmann’s 71st Division of he same corps attacked the central railway station and toward the central landing stage on the Volga river, while General Rudolf Veiel’s XLVIII Panzerkorps attacked in the area to the south of the Tsaritsa river.

Although thy were at first successful, the German attacks then came to a halt in the face of Soviet reinforcements brought across the Volga river. General Major Aleksandr I. Rodimtsev’s 13th Guards Division, assigned to counterattack at the Mamayev Kurgan and at Railway Station No. 1, suffered especially heavy losses: more than 30% of its men were killed in the first 24 hours, and only 320 of its original 10,000 men survived the entire battle. Both objectives were retaken by the Soviets, but on only a temporary basis. The railway station changed hands 14 times in six hours. By the following evening, the 13th Guards Division had ceased to exist as a fighting formation.

Combat raged for three days at the giant grain elevator in the south of the city. About 50 Soviet defenders, cut off from any possibility of reinforcement or resupply, held the position for five days and fought off 10 German assaults before running out of ammunition and water. Only 40y dead defenders were found, though the intensity of the fighting had persuaded the Germans that the number of men holding the silo was somewhat greater than this. The Soviets burned large amounts of grain during their retreat in order to prevent its use by the Germans. Paulus chose the grain elevator and silos as the symbol of Stalingrad for a patch he had arranged to be designed to commemorate the battle after a German victory.

German military doctrine was based on the principle of combined-arms teams and close co-operation between armour, infantry, engineers, artillery and ground-attack aircraft. Some Soviet commanders adopted the tactic of keeping their front-line positions as close to the German positions as was physically possible in a practice which Chuikov called 'hugging': this slowed the German advance, reduced the efficacy of the German advantage in supporting fire, and rendered more difficult the German use of close air support.

The Soviets gradually adopted the strategy of holding for as long as possible all the ground in the city. They therefore converted multi-floored apartment blocks, factories, warehouses, street-corner housing and office buildings into a series of well-defended strongpoints each held by between five and 10 men. When a position was lost, an immediate attempt was usually made to retake it with fresh forces, and the city’s manpower was constantly refreshed by the arrival of more men across the Volga river.

Bitter fighting raged for every ruin, street, factory, house, basement and staircase. Even the sewers were the sites of firefights. The Germans called this unseen urban warfare Rattenkrieg (rat war) and joked bitterly about capturing the kitchen but still fighting for the living room and the bedroom. Buildings had to be cleared room by room through the bombed-out debris of residential areas, office blocks, basements and apartment blocks. Some of the taller buildings, blasted into roofless shells by earlier German aerial bombardment, saw floor-by-floor combat of a close-quarter nature, with the Germans and Soviets on alternate floors, firing at each other through holes in these floors. Fighting on and around Mamayev Kurgan, a prominent hill above the city, was particularly merciless, and the position changed hands many times.

In another part of the city, a Soviet platoon under the command of a Sergeant Yakov Pavlov fortified a four-storey building, in whose basement some 10 civilians were hiding and which looked down onto a square 330 yards (300 m) from the river bank, and this became known later as 'Pavlov’s House' or, to the Germans, as the Festung (fortress). The soldiers surrounded it with mines, set up machine gun positions in the windows and breached the walls in the basement for better communications. The soldiers found about 10 civilians hiding in the basement. The soldiers were not relieved, and not significantly reinforced, for two months.

The Germans made slow but steady progress through the city, which was basically a long urban and industrial strip along the western bank of the Volga river. The Germans took positions individually, but were never able to capture the key crossing points along the river bank. By 27 September the Germans held the southern portion of the city, but the Soviets held its central and northern parts. Most importantly, the Soviets managed to keep in service the ferries required to bring reinforcements and supplies across from the eastern bank of the Volga river.

The Germans made extensive use of armoured vehicles, heavy artillery and warplanes to clear the city, but enjoyed only degrees of success. Toward the end of the battle, the gigantic 31.5-in (800-mm) schwerer Gustav railway gun nicknamed 'Dora' was brought into the area to strike targets with 10,579-lb (4800-kg) shells from a maximum effective range of some 42,650 yards (39000 m). The Soviets built up a large number of artillery batteries on the eastern bank of the Volga river, and these could bombard the German positions or at least provide counter-battery fire.

Snipers of each side lurked in the ruins to inflict casualties. The most famous Soviet sniper in Stalingrad was Vasili Zaytsev, with 225 confirmed kills during the battle. Targets were often soldiers bringing up food or water to forward positions, and artillery spotters were an especially prized target.

Many women fought on the Soviet side. As Chuikov acknowledged, 'Remembering the defence of Stalingrad, I cannot overlook the very important question…about the role of women in war, in the rear but also at the front. Equally with men they bore all the burdens of combat life and together with us men, they went all the way to Berlin.' At the start of the Battle of Stalingrad there were 75,000 females from the Stalingrad area who had received military or medical training, and all of whom were to serve in the battle. Women crewed a great many of the anti-aircraft batteries that fought not only the Luftwaffe but German armour. Soviet nurses not only treated wounded personnel under fire but were involved in the highly dangerous work of bringing wounded soldiers back to the hospitals under fire. Many of the Soviet radio and telephone operators were women, and these often suffered heavy casualties when the command posts in which they were working came under fire. Although women were not usually trained as infantry, many Soviet women fought as machine gunners and scouts as well as in mortar and tank crews. Women were also snipers at Stalingrad, and three air regiments were entirely female.

For both Stalin and Hitler, Stalingrad had become a matter of prestige far beyond its strategic significance. The Soviet high command moved formations and units from its strategic reserves in the Moscow area to the lower reaches of the Volga river, and transferred aircraft from the entire country to the Stalingrad region.

The strain on the military commanders on each side was immense: Paulus developed an uncontrollable tic in his eye, which eventually afflicted the left side of his face, while Chuikov experienced an outbreak of eczema that required him to have his hands completely bandaged. The troops on each side faced the constant and totally sapping strain of close-range combat.

From 27 September, much of the fighting shifted to the north into the industrial district. After a slow 10-day advance against strong Soviet resistance, von Seydlitz-Kurzbach’s LI Corps finally reached the area in front of the three giant factories of Stalingrad: the Red October Steel Factory, the Barrikady Arms Factory and Stalingrad Tractor Factory. It took the Germans a few more days to ready themselves for the most savage offensive of all, which was unleashed on 14 October with a wholly unprecedented concentration of artillery fire. Exceptionally intense shelling and bombing paved the way for the first German assault groups. The main attack was spearheaded by Generalleutnant Ferdinand Heim’s (from 1 November Generalleutnant Hans Freiherr von Falkenstein’s) 14th Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Kurt Oppenländer’s (from 1 November Generalleutnant Bernhard Steinmetz’s) 305th Division, and was directed toward the tractor factory, while another assault led by Generalleutnant Arno von Lenski’s 24th Panzerdivision attacked to the south of the great factory.

The German onslaught crushed General Major Viktor G. Zholudev’s 37th Guards Division, and in the course of the afternoon the forward assault group reached the tractor factory before arriving on the bank of the Volga river, thus splitting the 62nd Army into two parts. In response to the German breakthrough to the Volga river, the front headquarters committed three battalions from the 300th Division and Polkovnik Vasili P. Sokolov’s 45th Division, totalling more than 2,000 men, to the fighting at the Red October Factory.

Fighting raged inside the Barrikady Factory until the end of October.

The area of Stalingrad held by the Soviets shrank steadily to a few strips of land along the western bank of the Volga river, and in November the fighting came to be concentrated around what Soviet newspapers referred to as 'Lyudnikov’s Island', a small patch of ground behind the Barrikady Factory where the remnants of Polkovnik Ivan I. Lyudnikov’s 138th Division resisted the many ferocious assaults hurled forward by the Germans, and thus became a symbol of the Soviet defence of Stalingrad.

From 5 to 12 September, Luftflotte IV flew 7,507 sorties (938 per day), and from 16 to 25 September 9,746 sorties (975 per day). Determined to crush Soviet resistance, Luftflotte IV's 'Stuka' dive-bombers flew 900 sorties against Soviet positions at the Tractor Factory on 5 October. Several Soviet regiments were destroyed, and the complete staff of the 339th Regiment was killed in an air attack during the following morning.

The Luftwaffe retained air superiority into November, and by day Soviet air activity was non-existent. However, the combination of they constant German air support activities and the Soviet surrender of the daytime skies began to affect the overall balance in the air. From 28 June to 20 September, Luftflotte IV's original strength of 1,600 aircraft, of which 1,155 were operational, fell to 950, of which only 550 were operational. The fleet’s total strength decreased by 40%, and daily sorties decreased from 1,343 to 975 per day. Soviet offensives in the central and northern sectors of the Eastern Front pinned Luftwaffe reserves and the delivery of new aircraft, reducing Luftflotte IV's percentage of aircraft on the Eastern Front from 60% on 28 June to 38% on 20 September. Hardest hit of the German air assets was the bomber force, which had left to it only 232 out of an original figure of 480. The Soviet air forces remained qualitatively inferior, but by the time of the Soviet counter-offensive, had achieved a numerical superiority.

In the middle of October, after receiving reinforcements from the Caucasian theatre, the Luftwaffe intensified its efforts against the remaining Soviet positions on the western bank of the Volga river. Luftflotte IV flew 1,250 sorties on 14 October and its dive-bombers dropped 550 tonnes of bombs as German infantry surrounded the three factories. Oberstleutnant Walter Hagen’s Sturzkampfgeschwader 1, Oberstleutnant Paul-Werner Hozzel’s StG 2 and Major Walter Enneccerus’s StG 77 had largely silenced the Soviet artillery on the eastern bank of the Volga river before turning their attention to the shipping once again trying to reinforce the narrowing Soviet pockets of resistance. As noted above, the 62nd Army had been cut in two and, as a result of the intense air attacks on its supply ferries, was receiving much less matériel support. With the Soviets forced into a strip of land only 1,100 yards (1000 m) long on the western bank of the Volga river, more than 1,208 'Stuka' missions were flown in an effort to eliminate what were seen as the last pockets of Soviet resistance.

After sustaining crippling losses over the past 18 months, the Soviet bomber force was limited to nocturnal operations. The Soviets flew 11,317 such sorties over Stalingrad and the Don river bend sector between 17 July and 19 November. These raids caused little damage and were thus of little but of nuisance value.

On 8 November, substantial parts of Luftflotte IV were withdrawn and redeployed to combat the Allied 'Torch' landings in North-West Africa. The German air arm thus found itself spread thinly across Europe, struggling to maintain its strength in the other southern sectors of the Eastern Front.

The Germans paid a high strategic price for the aircraft sent into Stalingrad: the Luftwaffe was forced to divert much of its air strength away from the 'Edelweiss' operation to take the oil-rich Caucasus, which had been Hitler’s original grand strategic objective.

The Romanian air force was also involved in the Axis air operations at Stalingrad. Starting on 23 October, Romanian pilots flew a total of 4,000 sorties, during which they destroyed 61 Soviet aircraft for the loss of 79 of its own aircraft, most of them captured on the ground when the Soviets overran the airfields on which they were based.

After three months of slow advance, the Germans had finally reached the western bank of the Volga river, capturing 90% of the ruined city of Stalingrad and splitting the remaining Soviet forces into two narrow pockets. Ice floes on the Volga river now prevented boats and tugs from supplying the Soviet defenders. Nevertheless, the fighting continued, especially on the slopes of Mamayev Kurgan and inside the factory area in the northern part of the city. From 21 August to 20 November, the 6th Army had lost 60,548 men, including 12,782 killed, 45,545 wounded and 2,221 missing.

The time was now ripe for the Soviets to strike back in the 'Stalingrad Strategic Offensive Operation', which began on 19 November.