Feb 2nd: Paulus Surrenders,Operation Uranus [Stalingrad Pocket II]
On 19 Nov 1942, the Soviet offensive, Operation Uranus, was launched, overseen by Marshal Georgi Zhukov and tactically led by General Nikolai Vatutin. The Soviet 1st Guards Army, the 5th Tank Army, and the 21st Army shattered the northern flank, manned by the Romanian 3rd Army, on the first day. Silesian soldier of the German Sixth Army Joachim Wieder recalled the fighting:
“The 19th of November will live in my memory as a day of black disaster. At the break of dawn on this gloomy, foggy day in the late autumn, during which lashing snowstorms were soon to appear,… “
Russians attacked like lightning from the north and the following day from the east, pressing our entire Sixth Army into an iron vice.
On 20 Nov, two additional Soviet armies joined in on the attack. By 21 Nov, the third day of the offensive, the Soviets had already surrounded Stalingrad along with 290,000 Axis troops inside. Hitler’s advisors immediately suggested the troops trapped within to break out and form a new line at the western bank of the Don River, but Hitler refused, while chief of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring promised that his aircraft would be able to deliver all the supplies the 270,000 to 300,000 men needed to continue the fighting.
Göring had failed to recognize that the German 6th Army in Stalingrad required 800 tons of supplies each day, and available aircraft in the area only had the capacity of 117.5 tons. This deficiency, coupled with bad weather, and the increasing Soviet Air Force threat, meant that only an average of 94 tons of supplies were actually delivered per day.
On 23 Dec, the Soviet 24th Tank Corps under Major General Vasily Mikhaylovich Badanov captured the airfield at Tatsinskaya, forcing the German aircraft located there to relocate to Salsk, which was 200 miles from Stalingrad and made the resupply mission even more difficult.
By mid-Jan 1943, Salsk was abandoned after a closer airfield at Zverevo near Shakhty was established, but Soviet forces repeatedly attacked this new location, disrupting flight schedules and damaging or even destroying aircraft.
Between 24 Nov 1942 and 31 Jan 1943, the German Luftwaffe lost 296 Ju 52 aircraft, 169 He 111 aircraft, 42 Ju 86 aircraft, 9 Fw 200 aircraft, 5 He 177 aircraft, and 1 Ju 290 aircraft while attempting to supply the troops in Stalingrad. Trapped in Stalingrad, men of the German 6th Army began to suffer from the effects of starvation.
On 19 Dec, the Russian troops declared victory in Stalingrad. This was rather premature, as heavy fighting would continue.
On 12 Dec, the German Army Group Don was formed under Erich von Manstein. When this new unit reached Stalingrad on 21 Dec, Manstein asked Paulus to break out, but Paulus refused, citing Hitler’s prior orders for him to hold the city. At the end of Dec 1942, Paulus sent a message to Berlin detailing the dire situation, but Hitler did not change his mind.
As the weather became colder, the Volga River froze over, and the Soviets were now able to supply the small Soviet contingent in the city with trucks. On 16 Dec, the Soviet forces launched Operation Little Saturn in an attempt to cut off the entire German Army Group South by securing the Don River; the attempt was not successful, but it greatly disrupted German operations in the Caucasus region, for example forcing Army Group South (A) to pull back to within 250 kilometers from Stalingrad to consolidate German positions in the area.
On 8 Jan 1943, Soviet Lieutenant General Konstantin Rokossovsky demanded Paulus to surrender, which was rejected. “Capitulation is impossible. The 6th Army will do its historic duty at Stalingrad until the last man”, Hitler ordered. “Stand fast, not a step back”. German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel agreed with Hitler’s order, noting that a withdraw only by a few miles would result in a near complete loss of all heavy equipment, and without the heavy weapons the troops withdrawn would be vulnerable to the Soviet counterattack that would undoubtedly take place immediately afterwards.
On 10 Jan 1943, a Soviet offensive cut the German garrison in Stalingrad into two. A new phase of street fighting began, and it was now the Soviets who advanced steadily but were surprised by the ferocity of the defenders who had no choice but to fight until the end.
On 16, 22, and 25 Jan, Pitomnik, Stalingradskaja flight school, and Gumrak airfields in Stalingrad were captured by the Soviet forces, respectively. This meant that German aircraft were no longer able to land in Stalingrad to deliver supplies, thus the only supplies coming in were limited to the small amounts that could be paradropped to German positions.
On 31 Jan, Hitler promoted Paulus to the rank of field marshal on the basis that no German field marshal had ever surrendered to the enemy in history. Despite Paulus’ prior determination to obey Hitler’s orders, he finally broke down on 2 Feb and surrendered.
By this time, there were only 91,000 men left, meaning that about 200,000 were killed in action or simply died of starvation in the past two months. 3,000 of those who surrendered were Romanians; 22 officers with general ranks were among the prisoners of war. At his command post at a department store building, Paulus surrendered to General Mikhail Shumilov of the Soviet 64th Army.
Fighting ceased about two days after. Hitler was furious, noting that Paulus “could have freed himself from all sorrow and ascended into eternity and national immortality, but he prefers to go to Moscow.”
During this battle, the Axis forces suffered an estimated 850,000 casualties, half of which were German; some estimates ran much higher, with the greatest being the Soviet official report which noted that 1,500,000 Axis personnel were killed in this battle, though that number was generally regarded as a gross over-estimation.
The Soviet Union suffered 1,129,619 military (which included 478,741 killed or missing) and about 40,000 civilian casualties. The 40,000 figure included only civilians within Stalingrad city; there were also significant civilian casualties in the suburbs that could not be determined.