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Why Did Germany Lose The Battle of Stalingrad?

Why Did Germany Lose The Battle of Stalingrad?

World War 2
Soviet soldiers running through trenches in the ruins of Stalingrad

Stalingrad was one of the largest & deadliest battles in human history. One that acted as a turning point for World War 2 and stopped Hitler’s momentum. 

During the Battle of Stalingrad, (According to various estimates), the Soviet Union lost between 750,000 and 1.1 million soldiers during the battle, while the Germans lost between 330,000 and 400,000 soldiers. In addition to military personnel, the battle also resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, as the city of Stalingrad was heavily bombed and shelled during the fighting.

Georgi Zelma Stalingrad, 1943 [Russian Soldiers standing near corpses]

This represented a significant loss for the German military and was a major turning point in the war. 

At its peak, the Soviet military had over 11 million soldiers, while the German military had around 5 million soldiers.

Furthermore the Soviets had a much deeper well of reserve troops and were not fighting major conflicts on multiple fronts as the Germans were. In addition the Soviet Army had ample supplies of oil vs the Germans who needed to conserve fuel at all times.  

But, the Germans simply lacked the supply lines to finish off Stalingrad. 

The German military launched the major offensive Barbarossa against the Soviet Union in the summer of 1942. 

The goal of the offensive was to capture the city of Stalingrad, which was a major industrial center and transportation hub, and to push on to the oil fields of the Caucasus region. 

Soviets preparing to ward off a German assault in Stalingrad’s suburbs
The Germans were initially successful in their advance and by September 1942, they had encircled the city and begun a brutal street-by-street fight for control.

The fighting was indeed brutal and intense, with both sides suffering heavy casualties due to the intensity of the fighting, which was often hand-to-hand and took place in close quarters, such as buildings and streets. This made it difficult for either side to gain a clear advantage and resulted in high casualties on both sides. In addition both sides were utilizing heavy artillery and air power. As a result, the city of Stalingrad became heavily bombed and shelled during the battle. Which caused widespread destruction and starvation of the citizens inhabiting the city but also the German troops. Lastly, both the German and Soviet armies were not prepared for the extreme cold. And many soldiers died from exposure or frostbite.

Then in November 1942, the Soviets launched a counteroffensive that encircled and trapped the German forces in the city. All of a sudden the German lack of supplies became the primary issue.

A Ju 52 approaching Stalingrad
The German army faced serious logistical challenges in trying to resupply its troops in the city.

Which led to shortages of food and medical supplies for the German Sixth Army. The Army’s generals hadn’t wanted to push so far into Russia, but Hitler cajoled them to go as deep as possible. But when winter came the supply lines were snapped and the once sharp edge of the German sword, the Luftwaffe found themselves in the role of transport and supplies. Bombers were reconfigured to become transport planes. However they were already running missions to help out Rommel’s troops in Africa.

So despite hundreds of planes dedicated to restocking the troops at Stalingrad estimates point to around 10-15% of the needed supplies that actually arrived. And they managed to lose nearly 500 planes during the failed resupply. However they did manage to evacuate about 25,000 troops. 

German soldiers of the 24th Panzer Division in action during the fighting for the southern station of Stalingrad.

Dr. Heinrich Potthoff, a senior medical officer with Luftflotte 4, wrote of the experience:

“These were apocalyptic conditions. The possibility of providing sufficient help from the outside was minimal.”

The German commander Friedrich Paulus was committed to the operation and said this:

“What would become of the war if our army in the Caucasus were also surrounded? That danger is real. But as long as we keep on fighting, the Red Army has to remain here. They need these forces for a big offensive against Army Group ‘A’ in the Caucasus and along the still-unstable front from Voronesh to the Black Sea. We must hold them here to the last so that the eastern front can be stabilized. Only if that happens is there a chance of the war going well for Germany.”
Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus surrenders to the Soviets at the 64th Army HQ, 31 January 1943

On the other hand the Soviet Union was able to use its superior transportation network to keep its troops supplied. There was starvation on the Russian side. But nothing compared to the German troops.

The Germans eventually suffered a terrible defeat for a few additional reasons as well.

German Overconfidence

The German military was confident in its ability to defeat the Soviet Union and underestimated the strength and determination of the Soviet defenders. This overconfidence led them to underestimate the resources and manpower that would be required to take and hold the city.

Poor Planning

The German military made several strategic errors in its planning and execution of the battle. For example, they failed to adequately consider the impact of the harsh Russian winter on their troops and equipment, and they did not adequately reinforce the city after initially capturing it.

The Soviet Resistance
Commander-in-chief of the Don Front The Stalingrad Master General Konstantin Rokossovsky

The Soviet Union became determined to hold the city of Stalingrad at all costs. As a result, its soldiers fought with incredible tenacity and bravery. The Soviet Union also had the advantage of fighting on its own soil, which allowed it to mobilize its resources more effectively and to use local knowledge to its advantage.

In conclusion the eventual defeat of Sixth Army became seen by the German public not only as a devastating military defeat, but moreover as an act of betrayal and abandonment.

As a result the loss had a devastating effect on the German nation’s war morale. 
A Soviet soldier marches a German soldier into captivity. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-E0406-0022-011 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

This would be the first time a Prussian or German army found themselves encircled and destroyed since the Napoleonic era of 1806. 

Of around 364,000 German soldiers who approached Stalingrad at the height during the summer of 1942. Amazingly only some 91,000 starving and sick surviving soldiers limped into Soviet captivity in the final three days of the battle.

The German army eventually suffered full defeat in February 1943.

German soldiers as prisoners of war. In the background is the heavily fought-over Stalingrad grain elevator.

World War 2