11152793668?profile=RESIZE_180x180ABOVE: “Soviet soldiers attack”. Soviet soldiers on the attack, Stalingrad. Source: Wikipedia. Attribution: Russian International News Agency (RIA) Novosti archive, image #44732 / Zelma / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

The Battle of Stalingrad was a turning point in World War II, pitting the armies of Nazi Germany and its allies against the Soviet Union. It has become one of the most studied and remembered battles in history due to its significance in deciding the war in Europe. It began on 17 July 1942 and lasted until 2 February 1943 and caused an estimated 1.8 million casualties on both sides. 80% of all German casualties during World War II occurred on the Eastern Front, marking Soviet victory on the Eastern Front pivotal in defeating Nazi Germany in Europe.

To put the Soviet contribution towards allied victory in modern perspective, historian and author Iain MacGregor writes in The Lighthouse of Stalingrad: The Hidden Truth at the Heart of the Greatest Battle of World War II, that:

"Across the old Soviet Union, and specifically Putin's Russia today, the victory in the city named after the old dictator represents the turning point in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45. The sacrifices made, the casualties suffered in the war, and the victory gained in its most famous battle define modern Russia. The United States of America suffered 419,000 killed in action after it entered the war, at the end of 1941. The United Kingdom sustained a higher figure of 451,000 dead. The Soviets suffered more than 27,000,000 dead. From the fall of Crete in may 1941 to the invasion of Italy in September 1943, the Red Army was the only force engaged in battle with the bulk of German forces on European soil. Putin's own elder brother perished in the siege of Leningrad. and his father was severely wounded in 1942 defending the city [Stalingrad]. Putin has a deep, personal connection with and a passion for the conflict, which extends to the war's greatest battle and the Red Army's finest victory." (MacGregor 2022, 11)

The German forces led by Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus were advancing towards Leningrad when they were diverted south to Stalingrad to try and take control of the city’s strategic oil resources. Soviet General Zhukov ordered an immediate defense of Stalingrad, which was located near important waterways and railroads that connected Russia to Caucasus oil fields. The length of the battle came as a surprise for both sides since initially it was expected to be a quick victory for the Germans. But what ensued instead was a five month long fight for control over Stalingrad that lasted from August 23rd until November 19th, when Paulus surrendered his entire army.

10664903676?profile=RESIZE_710xThe battle began with an operation by Nazi Germany's 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army to capture the industrial city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd), which served as a major economic center and transportation hub along the Volga River. The Nazi forces were opposed by Soviet troops led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov who had determined that taking Stalingrad was essential in order to stop further German advances into Soviet territory. It was also seen as a point of national pride since Stalin had named the city after himself. The initial German attack saw them able to make some gains as they advanced into Stalingrad, but their advance soon ground to a halt as Stalin ordered his troops not to retreat an inch without permission from Moscow (Stalin’s famous speech where he declared “Not one step back!”). This successfully halted the German advance and marked the beginning of months-long street fighting where neither side could gain any ground or decisive advantage over one another.

AT RIGHT: Volgograd (then Stalingrad), Russia - 8 March 2020: Memorial complex "Heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad" on the Mamayev Kurgan (Hill) and the statue "The Motherland Calls." Source: War History Network license. Click to enlarge.

By late October 1942, Hitler’s forces had completely surrounded Stalingrad and began their relentless assault on it with heavy artillery fire and air raids. Despite numerous attempts at breaking through Soviet defense lines, they were ultimately unsuccessful; meanwhile, a large part of downtown Stalingrad was reduced to rubble as a result of German bombardment. In November, Soviet forces launched a series of counterattacks that managed to cut off supply routes for German troops leading to severe shortages in food and medical supplies that caused thousands upon thousands to become ill or die from starvation or lack of proper medical attention – creating a devastating blow for Nazi morale.

This stalemate finally ended when General Vasily Chuikov was placed in command of the encircled 62nd Army with orders from Stalin to hold out at all costs, effectively cutting off any chance for relief or reinforcement for either side. The siege dragged on for weeks with high casualties on both sides as they fought over houses, streets and factories that had become battlegrounds amidst terrible winter conditions brought about by snowfall coupled with below freezing temperatures that would freeze rivers around Stalingrad solid enough for soldiers to walk across them.

By early January 1943 the weakened German forces were surrounded within pockets inside Stalingrad while suffering from starvation and dwindling supplies leading up to Paulus' surrender on February 2nd, 1943 – ending one of history’s bloodiest battles ever fought with more than 1 million dead or wounded combined between both sides including 100 thousand German prisoners taken by Russians alone. The victory at Stalingrad marked a crucial turning point in World War II as it shifted momentum away from Nazi Germany towards eventual Allied victory in Europe; turning back Hitler’s last major offensive against Soviets on the Eastern Front while opening up the possibility of an Allied invasion at Normandy. 



Beevor, Antony. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. London: Penguin, 1998.

Craig, William J. Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad. New York: Konecky & Konecky, 1973.

Erickson, John. The Road To Stalingrad: Stalin's War With Germany. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.

Glantz, David M., and Jonathan M. House. Stalingrad. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2017.

Hellbeck, Jochen. Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich. New York: Public Affairs, 2015.

Jones, Michael K. Stalingrad: How the Red Army Triumphed. Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2007.

MacGregor, Iain. The Lighthouse of Stalingrad: The Hidden Truth at the Heart of the Greatest Battle of World War II. Scribner, 2022.


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