What was the significance of the Battle of Stalingrad?

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David P Share
May 2, 2016


It was seen as one of the major turning points in World War 2.


The German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 (Operation Barbarossa) after initial success, had slowed down by 1942. The Germans were trying to push forward on a front which stretched thousands of kilometres from Leningrad to Stalingrad. They also had a very precarious supply line which again stretched several thousand kilometres from Germany.

Hitler became obsessed by Stalingrad as it bore the name of his great enemy Stalin. Against the advice of his generals he split and thus weakened his forces in Army Group South with the 6th army led by Von Paulus ordered to take Stalingrad.

By the end of 1942 over 90% of the city was in German hands but the Soviets crucially controlled part of the bank on the Volga so could get supplies across.

Von Paulus asked for permission to retreat but Hitler refused. He said they would be relieved for example by the Luftwaffe and by an army led by Von Mannstein who would break through.

Both attempts failed and Hitler continued to refuse all requests to withdraw. He made Von Paulus a Field Marshall on the assumption he would shoot himself as no German Field Marshall had ever surrendered. Von Paulus immediately surrendered in January 1943.

The significance of the battle was massive. Symbolically it was the first major catastrophe suffered by the Wehrmacht; in marked contrast to their spectacular successes in the West and in the initial stages of the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Secondly the German losses were catastrophic both in men, the entire 6th army was wiped out, and in army equipment. The Germans would advance no further and their retreat would end only in Berlin in 1945.

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