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Stalingrad 1942 - 43 (3) Catastrophe: the Death of 6th Army

ISBN Number:
978-1-4728-4273-2
Published:
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Publisher:
Osprey Publishing
Retail Price:
$24.00
Reviewed By:
Joseph McDaniel

Stalingrad 1942 - 43 (3)

Catastrophe: the Death of 6th Army

The Battle of Stalingrad (23 August 1942 – 2 February 1943) was a major battle on the Eastern Front of World War II where Germany and its allies unsuccessfully fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in Southern Russia. The battle was marked by fierce close-quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians in air raids, with the battle epitomizing urban warfare. The Battle of Stalingrad was the deadliest battle to take place during the Second World War and is one of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, with an estimated 2 million total casualties. Today, the Battle of Stalingrad is universally regarded as the turning point in the European Theater of war, as it forced the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (German High Command) to withdraw considerable military forces from other areas in occupied Europe to replace German losses on the Eastern Front. The victory at Stalingrad energized the Red Army and shifted the balance of power in the favor of the Soviets.

Stalingrad was strategically important to both sides as a major industrial and transport hub on the Volga River. Whoever controlled Stalingrad would have access to the oil fields of the Caucasus and would gain control of the Volga. Germany, already operating on dwindling fuel supplies, focused its efforts on moving deeper into Soviet territory and taking the oil fields at any cost. On 4 August, the Germans launched an offensive by using the 6th Army and elements of the 4th Panzer Army. The attack was supported by intense Luftwaffe bombing that reduced much of the city to rubble. The battle degenerated into house-to-house fighting as both sides poured reinforcements into the city. By mid-November, the Germans, at great cost, had pushed the Soviet defenders back into narrow zones along the west bank of the river.

On 19 November, the Red Army launched Operation Uranus, a two-pronged attack targeting the Romanian armies protecting the 6th Army's flanks. The Axis 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 a breakout; instead, attempts were made to supply it by air and to break the encirclement from the outside. The Soviets were successful in denying the Germans the ability to resupply through the air which strained the German forces to their breaking point. Nevertheless, the German forces were determined to continue their advance and heavy fighting continued for another two months. On 2 February 1943, the German 6th Army, having exhausted their ammunition and food, finally capitulated after over five months of fighting, making it the first of Hitler's field armies to surrender during World War II. (Excerpt from Wikipedia article on Stalingrad  battle, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stalingrad)

This is the third book in the Stalingrad trilogy by Robert Forczyk, illustrated by Steve Noon. Mr. Forczyk is a prolific author, having been author or co-author on at least 34 Osprey publications covering WW II battles at sea, in the air, and ground warfare, mostly on the Eastern Front.

About the book: This is Osprey Campaign publication number 385, and covers the Soviet counter-offensive from November 1942 to February 1943. The book is 94 pages long, with around 55 black and white photos, about 10 color photos, six full page color maps depicting force dispositions and unit movements, three two-page color maps of specific phases of the battle, and three two-page illustrations of specific incidents during the battle. This is a very text-heavy book with in-depth coverage of unit dispositions, attacks, retreats, defensive movements, logistics, reinforcements or lack of and the impact on the battle, as well as descriptions of both Hitler and Stalin's influence on the battle.

The first section, Origins of the Campaign, gives a brief background on Operation Blau, the German advances to Stalingrad and the Caucasus oilfields, and Soviet efforts to hold Stalingrad, the fighting in the city itself and failed Soviet counter-offensives against the German left flank.

The one-page Chronology is helpful by providing the dates of significant events. This is followed by brief descriptions of the Opposing Commanders, starting with the four main Soviet generals. Although brief, the descriptions of the generals' backgrounds and experiences leading up to their roles at Stalingrad show that there were competent commanders on the Soviet side. Next are similar descriptions of the primary Axis generals, three German and one Romanian. Based on Mr. Forcyzk's descriptions, it was very bad luck for the Germans that not only Paulus but also the Heeresgruppe B commander, Generaloberst von Weichs, were in positions of command during the Battle of Stalingrad, as both proved to be the wrong choice to command.

The lead paragraph on the Soviet forces in this chapter, Opposing Forces, certainly helps explain the ultimate defeat of the German forces at Stalingrad. The section discusses the following forces: Infantry, Armor, Artillery Support, Air Support. The Axis part of this chapter stresses the numerical weakness of the Axis forces, covers the Romanian forces briefly, then moves on to German Infantry, Armor, and the Luftwaffe. I was most interested in the armor numbers - the Soviets had 1,550 tanks, which included 239 KV-1s, 71 T-34s, "some KV-8 flamethrower tanks", and 599 light tanks, such as the T-60 and T-70, while the Germans had "just over 400 operational tanks and assault guns", such as the StuG III, Panzer IV Ausf. G with the long KwK L/40, and Panzer III Ausf. L with the long KwK L/60. The Romanians had two armored battalions equipped with Czech-made R-2 light tanks, which were obsolete and no match for Soviet armor.

Opposing Plans chapter gives credit to General-polkovnik Eremenko for bringing up the idea of a broad envelopment of the German 6 Army, instead of General Zhukov, who claimed credit in his memoirs. In fact, Zhukov apparently was not impressed with Eremenko's plan and ordered attacks to continue in the Kotluban sector, resulting in repeated defeats. The Soviet General Staff developed Operations Uranus and Saturn. Operation Uranus was planned as a double envelopment, with formations attacking in a single echelon. If Uranus succeeded, then Operation Saturn was intended to exploit the disarray before the Axis could establish a new front. The Germans, meanwhile, realizing that Operation Blau had not succeeded in capturing Stalingrad or the Caucasus oilfields, that winter was approaching, and that the Soviets had numerical superiority in all sectors of the Eastern Front, began planning for defensive operations against expected Soviet counter-offensives.

The Campaign chapter is the meat of the book - about 60 pages, and broken down into several sub-sections.

Operation Uranus, 19-23 November 1942, with an accompanying map, describes the artillery bombardment on the Romanian Third Army positions, followed up by tank-infantry attacks which slammed into the Romanian positions. Despite being poorly equipped and understrength, the Romanian troops held out for over five hours before the numerically superior Red Army forces broke through in the center. The Romanians continued to resist in different areas with some Luftwaffe and German armor support. I found it fascinating to read about Hitler's interference, Paulus' indifference, Soviet commanders ignoring orders to bypass resistance and instead engaging in battle, and the audacity of small unit commanders on both sides exploiting opportunities to attack or counter-attack.

The initial German reaction, 24-28 November 1942

The Battle of the Chir River, 30 November-15 December 1942

Wintergewitter, 12-29 December 1942

Little Saturn, 16-28 December 1942

Stalingrad Kesselschlacht, 1-31 December 1942

Operation Ring and the End of 6.Armee, 1 January - 2 February 1943

Operation Uranus, Stalingrad Front, 20-22 November 1942

Capture of the Bridge at Kalach, 0830 hours, 22 November 1942

The Analysis chapter provides numbers for both sides' casualties, prisoners taken, tanks and aircraft destroyed, as well as how many divisions were destroyed during the six month Stalingrad campaign - quite sobering. I remember a TV show about the battle in which the Soviets broadcasted a clock ticking, with an accompanying message along the lines of "Every seven seconds, a German soldier dies in Russia. Stalingrad is a mass grave". According to this book, 644,000 Axis troops were killed, missing, or captured. The German Army did learn a lesson from Stalingrad for future battles, when German units were encircled, they knew that they had to fight their way out as soon as possible instead of fighting to the end, regardless of what Hitler said. Although the Red Army triumphed at Stalingrad, it was a Pyrrhic victory costing them 1,219,619 casualties, including 478,741 dead or missing. The Red Army had learned much from previous battles in which they had failed, and used those lessons to develop successful attack plans against 6.Armee. This victory did much for Red Army morale and confidence, and also lead to Stalin accepting that Red Army commanders needed more operational flexibility and less micro-management. Although it took another year for the Red Army to solve the twin problems of logistics and intelligence failures, once they did, the Germans were unable to stop the Red Army from achieving victory in Berlin and ending the war.

The chapter, The Battlefield Today, briefly discusses memorials and monuments at key sites related to Operation Uranus and the final surrender of 6.Armee.

Further Reading is a list of primary and secondary sources. This is followed by a two page Index, which I always find very useful in this type of book.

Pros: This is an excellent book on the final months of one of the more important battles of WW II, chock full of statistics, unit dispositions and their fates, short biographies of key commanders, descriptions of battles, explanations of the battle plans, what went right or wrong, and why. This is an amazing resource for the military historian and wargame enthusiast alike. It would definitely be worthwhile obtaining the first two volumes of the trilogy.

Cons: This is not a modeling resource since the majority of the photos are small, wartime black and white that do not show a great deal of detail; however, there are some  ideas for vignettes or dioramas.

Highly Recommended for anyone interested in the Battle of Stalingrad.

Thanks goes out to Osprey Publishing for this review publication.

Reviewed by Joseph "Mac" McDaniel

 

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