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Author Topic: DEATH OF THE SIXTH ARMY - 1943: THE SURRENDER AT STALINGRAD  (Read 28 times)
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PzLdr
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« on: February 02, 2018, 10:21:15 am »

It had been the largest formation in the German Order of Battle. It had won battle laurels in the West in 1940, and in the Soviet Union in earlier operations in Operation Barbarossa in 1941. It was one of the key units in the execution of the German counter-offensive in the Spring of 1942, and in operation 'Blue'. It had been the assaulting force that attacked Stalingrad in August, 1942. and now, surrounded, without food, medical supplies, and almost out of ammunition, its commander, the newly promoted Field Marshal, Friedrich von Paulus, surrendered its remnants to the Soviets.

Paulus had succeeded to command of the sixth Army after Field Marshal von Reichnau had died. It was a poor choice, enabled in part, by Paulus having been Chief of Staff  of that Army.

Friedrich von Paulus's career in the German Army had been largely one of a staff officer. Unlike most members of the general Staff, Paulus had spent most of his time in staff assignments [most General Staff officers rotated between the General Staff, unit assignments as staff officers, and command assignments]. Not Paulus.

As a staff officer, Paulus had run the operations section of the German General Staff  earlier in the war. He had participated in the latter stages of planning BARBAROSS. He had acted as the Chief of the General Staff, Col. Gen. Halder's agent [read 'spy']in 1941 in north Africa, when Halder was trying to rein Rommel in. Now he commanded the largest army in Germany in a very complicated operation on the southern steppes of the Soviet Union.

BLUE's strategic target was the Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus, Maikop, Grozny and Baku. However, a year into the war in the east, the Germans not only lacked the forces to attack on the whole front, as they had in 1941, they lacked the forces to attack across the whole southern Soviet Union.

So BLUE was a series of cascading offensives, starting around Voronezh, and moving progressively southeast, and then joining, beyond Rostov on the Don, and swinging southeast again, into the Caucasus.  As part of that plan, it was envisaged that German forces would hold the northern flank and shoulder of the drive on the oil fields along the lower reaches of the Volga River - in the vicinity of Stalingrad.

At first things went fairly well. Stalin started by cooperating with the Germans, and launching an offensive in the Kursk-Kharkov area. The attack went in between Sixth and First Panzer Army. So the Germans let the Soviets push west, and then cut across their rear and encircled them.

But then the commander of Army Group south, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, decided to capture, rather than bypass, Voronezh. He accomplished his goal, but delayed the timetable. So by the time the Germans were ready to close on the Volga, it was August.

The attack on Stalingrad started with a horrendous Luftwaffe attack. the city was largely reduced to rubble, a distinct advantage to the Soviet defenders, in what would become known to the Germans as the "Rattenkrieg", the 'War of the Rats', fought from room to room, floor to floor, sewer to sewer. And now, Hitler helped Stalin. He ordered Fourth Panzer Army, which he previously sent to assist First Panzer Army [creating massive traffic jams, and slowing down the timetable even more], to join Paulus at Stalingrad [the Germans had known since 1939 at Warsaw that armor was marginally useful in urban areas], and robbing first Panzer Army of the mechanized support it now needed.

The Soviets fed reinforcements into Stalingrad in numbers just large enough to prevent the Germans from taking the city. And then, in November, they struck.

When Paulus had approached Stalingrad, his army had descended from the higher west bank of a river at the Kalach bridgehead. The Soviets now, serially, attacked the northern shoulder of the Axis lines [manned by Hungarians, Romanians and Italians, leavened by smaller German units, and then the south shoulder [mostly Romanians], and met at Kalach, encircling the Axis forces.

Hitler ordered Paulus to stay where he was, when Paulus asked permission to withdraw. Paulus stayed, and the Russian noose tightened. Despite Hermann Goering's boasts, the Luftwaffe proved unable to re-supply the "Kessel", or 'Cauldron, and by the end of January, a relief force having failed to break through, Paulus was at the end of his rope.

Hitler promoted Paulus to field Marshal, a thinly veiled suggestion to Paulus to fight to the death, and then kill himself  [No German Field Marshal had ever surrendered]. Paulus took the promotion, but not the suggestion.

Paulus surrendered at least 96,000 men [Sixth Army had started the campaign with some 325,000 effectives], and the number may have been higher. Paulus himself, with his generals were whisked away to Moscow, where eventually, Paulus made propaganda recordings for the Soviets.

After the war Paulus was released t live out his life in East Germany. Most of his fellow generals had open contempt for him [It didn't help that Rommel, the object of Paulus' spying, had, in a similar situation at El alamein, had disoberyed Hitler's order and saved his army].

And Sixth Army [and parts of Fourth Panzer Army]? Of the 96,000 or more prisoners who marched into surrender from the rubble of Stalingrad, some 5,000 returned alive to Germany in 1955.   
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