"Not a step back!" -Order No. 227, Josef Stalin
At the onset of 1942. Germany's army was paying the price for its stalled invasion of the Soviet Union. After more than five months of almost continuous success, the German armored columns were stopped just short of Moscow. A massive Soviet counter-attack in December 1941 inflicted the first major defeat suffered by Ado( fHitler's army since World War Two began in September of 1939. German soldiers spent that winter trying to survive in the bitter cold and snow.
When the spring thaw came. Hitler s' generals presented him with a new plan to conquer the Soviet Union named Case Blue. After the massive losses suffered in 1941 and the winter of 1941/42, the German army in the East could only attack in one area: southern Russia. However, in 1942 operations did not go as well for the German forces. By early July Hitler decided to divide the attacking forces into two army groups. One was ordered to move south and secure the rich oil resources in the Caucasus while the second group provided a defensive line along the Volga River. In securing the banks of the Volga, this second army group would initiate the one of most decisive conflicts of the Eastern Front, the Battle of Stalingrad.
The assault on Stalingrad began on August 23rd when the German Fourth Air Fleet dropped 1,000 tons of bombs on the city. In one day Stalingrad underwent a horrible transformation. Its buildings crumbled into ruins and most of its wooden structures burned to a charred wasteland. An announcement across the city had warned citizens of the impending air assault, but many dismissed the announcement as a drill. It was not until the sounds al-aircraft engines and anti-aircraft shelling that the general populace filly realized the gravity of the situation. Thousands of civilians fell victim to the unprecedented air assault. Soviet morale and resolve was badly shaken by the continuous retreats and constant battering from German panzers and aircraft.
Soviet leaders needed a tough officer to manage the 62nd Army in its defense of Stalingrad. Vasily Chuikov was that man. During his briefing, Chuikov was told that the Germans were determined to take the city at any price but there could he no Soviet surrender. Chuikov was asked how he interpreted his task. He answered, "We will defend the city or die in the attempt."
Immediately after Chuikov arrived, he learned that soldiers were deserting to the eastern side of the Volga River away from the city Chuikov mandated that all crossings should he secured and anyone attempting to cross the Volga was to be executed. Additional4v. any Soviet officers that attempted to surrender to German forces were also to be executed. Stalin's city would be turned into a graveyard for both sides.
Friedrich Paulus, commander of the German Sixth Army, told Hitler that he estimated he could take the city after 10 days of fighting followed by 14 days of regrouping. But as the Germans penetrated the city on September 13, fresh Soviet reinforcements. including elite Guards divisions counterattacked fiercely.
From the ruins of the city, the Soviets stubbornly resisted despite the German army's technical and tactical advantages. Paulus hoped to secure Mamayey Kagan, a large man-made Tartar burial mound in the center of Stalingrad that could provide artillery observers an ideal view of the river and city The Soviet 95th Rifle Division was virtually destroyed defending the Kurgan hill. hut it exacted a fearful toll from the German attackers.
Chuikov developed new tactics to mitigate German advantages, including the German overwhelming superiority in the air. Chuikov ordered his men to"hug" the enemy - stay at close quarters with German front line units so that the enemy could not use his air support and artillery without risk to their own men.
As the battle ground on through September and October; it became called "Verdun on the Volga" after the incredibly bloody 11-month long battle in the First World War: To the average German soldier fighting in Stalingrad. it became "Rattenkrieg" or War of the Rats. German soldiers feared the growing number of effective Soviet snipers. (the Germans called sharpshooters), and Germans were often ambushed by Soviet defenders who suddenly appeared from the city:s rubble. Soviet soldiers retook buildings using counter-attacking units armed completely with submachineguns, or snuck through German lines using the sewer system underneath Stalingrad.
Chuikov ordered his men to hold at all costs, for his orders made it clear that "there t'as no land beyond the Volga." In two months of fighting, the 62nd Army was destroyed, but it still clung to a narrow slice of Stalingrad along the Volga River; and it had worn clown nearly a dozen German divisions - thereby _fatally weakening the German Sixth Army.
Winter drew near in November and the storing of supplies became important. However; Chuikov realized that less and less ammunition was being sent to his 62nd Arnzy. He knew that this meant that a counter-attack against the Germans — a counterattack on a scale unknown to him at the time — was being planned. Paulus was also planning one. final assault. If Chuikov could only hold the city for a little while longer....