Of all the confrontations in World War II, the Battle of Stalingrad was the largest. Understanding what happened at this important battle will help you recognize the significance of the Battle of Stalingrad.
The battle took place when Germany and its allies sought control over this city in Southern Russia. The Germans targeted Stalingrad because of its industrial capacities and because of its proximity to the Volga River, which would allow German forces to cut off sources of trade and military deployment.
What Happened at the Battle of Stalingrad?
The battle started in August 1942, when the German forces began their attack with the 6th Army and parts of the 4th Panzer Army. The attack was supported by bombings that destroyed much of the city. Because of the city’s destruction, the nature of combat changed to urban warfare, and soldiers on either side worked to navigate their close-quarter surroundings.
Both sides in the battle pulled in heavy reinforcements, and by November of the same year, German forces succeeded in pushing Soviet defenders back along the Volga River. However, on November 19, the direction of the battle changed. Soviet forces launched an operation that involved targeting the weaker German armies protecting the flanks of the 6th Army. The force of this counterattack was underestimated, and the weaker armies were overcome.
Who Won the Battle of Stalingrad?
During the Soviet counterattack, the Soviet forces succeeded in cutting off the German 6th Army. Adolf Hitler ordered the army to remain in the city and to make no attempts at escape. Heavy fighting continued, but eventually the ammunition and supplies of the Axis forces were depleted. On February 2, 1943, what remained of the 6th Army surrendered. In spite of staggering losses, the Soviet army triumphed against the attack, marking a change in the tide of their conflict with Germany.
What Were the Fighting Conditions?
The urban setting for the battle added challenges not otherwise present in an open battlefield. It meant doing battle where territory was gained house by house in places where civilians were still present. Each side had to adjust their strategies for close-quarters combat. On top of these challenges, both sides were desperately short of supplies, which cost thousands of casualties almost weekly.
The bombing by the Axis forces had turned most of the city to rubble, but the Soviet soldiers turned the wreckage into places of defense. The time of year of the attack proved to be another benefit as the harsh Russian winter played a role in driving the remaining Axis soldiers to surrender.
How Many Casualties?
The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the deadliest battles in the history of modern warfare, leaving an estimated 850,000 Axis soldiers as dead, missing, or wounded, and claiming the lives of over a million Soviet soldiers. Many of the city’s civilians were also killed during the fight.
The significance of the Battle of Stalingrad is often noted by the staggering number of casualties and by the visible destruction done to the city. The lives of those who survived the battle dramatically changed.
Perhaps what makes this battle the most significant is how it affected families. You can search World War II records and other records from that time period to discover what role your ancestors played during this crucial time of the world’s history and what their lives may have looked like because of it. Learning about the battles our ancestors faced can make it easier for us to face our own.