This week in history: The Soviet victory at Stalingrad

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Feb. 7 2013 5:35 p.m. MST

By January the writing was on the wall. The Sixth Army was doomed. The Soviet forces became more daring and resourceful, and the German pocket shrank daily. From his command headquarters thousands of miles away, Hitler ordered movements for even the smallest units trapped at Stalingrad, proving once again his often catastrophic need to micromanage.

Realizing that the position of the Sixth Army was hopeless, Hitler promoted Paulus to field marshal. This was not a noble gesture to reward the commander for his service. Rather Hitler, who knew that no German field marshal in history had ever surrendered his army, hoped that Paulus would put a revolver to his head rather than wave the white flag. On Jan. 30, Paulus accepted the promotion with the following note to the Führer:

“On the tenth anniversary of your assumption of power, the Sixth Army hails its Führer. The swastika flag is still flying above Stalingrad. May our battle be an example to the present and coming generations, that they must never capitulate even in a hopeless situation, for then Germany will come out victorious.”

In his book “Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad,” historian William Craig wrote: “On the morning of February 2, all the Russian artillery concentrated on this area, and for two hours, shells rained down on the pitiful survivors of the Sixth Army. Then the barrage was over and thousands of Russian troops rushed the cellars while German machine-gunners fired their last belts of ammunition. Enraged at the fanatic resistance, the Russians pulled the prisoners out of foxholes and beat them savagely.”

Despite Hitler's implied order to commit suicide, Paulus surrendered what remained of his army to the Soviets on Feb. 2. The next day, with the guns silent, the living set about to tend to the multitudes of dead. Beevor wrote: “Some 3,500 civilians were put to work as burial parties. They stacked frozen German corpses like piles of timber on the roadside.”

Collectively both sides suffered more than a million casualties in the battle. Stalingrad proved to be a turning point in the war, however. Before Stalingrad, many believed it likely that the Germans would conquer the Soviet Union. After Stalingrad there was no way a total German military victory over the USSR was still possible.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com

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