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The Defenders of Stalingrad


Pictured: Military Council of the 62nd Army (Chuikov, Gurov, Lebedev, Vasiliev) Stalingrad Front, December 1942.


In mid-September 1942, the most difficult and bloody stage of the Battle of Stalingrad began with defensive battles on the streets of the city. The struggles for the legendary Pavlov's House, the Krasny Oktyabr Tractor Plant, Barrikady factory, and other facilities dragged on for many weeks. Both the Soviet troops and the Wehrmacht suffered heavy losses in the assaults and street battles of the defensive period—up to 700 thousand casualties on each side. Street fighting began on 13 September 1942 and continued until November 19, when the Red Army launched a counteroffensive as part of Operation Uranus.


Before the German assault on the city, the Battle of Stalingrad began on 17 July 1942, dozens of kilometers from the city. In the first week of the offensive, the Germans had already reached the Don River and were confidently advancing towards Stalingrad. A critical situation developed for the Soviet troops. On 28 July 1942, the People's Commissar of Defense of the USSR Joseph Stalin issued Order No. 227: "On measures to strengthen discipline and order in the Red Army and prohibit unauthorized withdrawal from combat positions," which received the name "Not a step back!" amongst the troops. According to the Order, an unauthorized retreat was equated with desertion, which was followed by the most severe punishment, up to and including execution.


The German offensive slowed down, and yet by mid-September they entered the city. However, the stalwart defenders of Stalingrad held on stubbornly. On 12 September, the defense of Stalingrad was entrusted to the 62nd Army, which was transferred under the command of Lieutenant-General Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov. Serving with Chuikov were Chief of Staff Major-General Nikolay Krylov and Commissar Major-General Kuzma Gurov, and the three leaders worked seamlessly in administrating the 62nd Army. With Chuikov's leadership and Krylov's valuable knowledge gained by experience in the defense of Odessa and Sevastopol, the Soviets were able to turn every building into a fortress against the Nazis.

By 13 September, the Germans had concentrated six infantry, three tank, and two motorized divisions in the immediate vicinity of the city. Until 18 September, there were fierce street battles in the central and southern parts of the city. Many buildings changed hands several times. Particularly fierce battles were fought for the railway station. During the day on 17 September, the station changed hands four times. German losses included eight burnt tanks and about 100 casualties.


One of the strongholds, the importance of which was mentioned by the Commander of the 62nd Army, General Chuikov, was the legendary "Pavlov's House." A 4-story residential building located on 9 January Square, later renamed Lenin Square, served as the location where a group of fighters headed by Sergeant Yakov Pavlov heroically held the defense for 58 days. The brick building had an strategic advantage—it made it possible to control the surrounding area.


The German units were bogged down in street battles in Stalingrad. They could not advance, and a large enemy grouping was pinned down by battles, which facilitated the situation in other areas of the battle. The defense here was so strong that the enemy did not manage to reach the Volga.


The most furious assault followed on 14 October. The Germans managed to split the 62nd Army into two sections, take over the Stalingrad Tractor Plant, and break through to the Volga River. The fresh forces of the 138th Division under Colonel Ivan Lyudnikov managed to stop the breakthrough, forming a stronghold on what is known as "Lyudnikov's Island." On 19 October, the newly formed Don Front under the command of Lieutenant-General Konstantin Rokossovsky launched a counteroffensive from the area north of the city.


On 11 November, Paulus's 6th Army made a last desperate attempt to push the Soviet troops into the Volga. The Germans managed to capture a half-kilometer section of the coast near the Barrikady plant. This was the last success of the Nazis near Stalingrad. Defensive battles, including street battles, continued in Stalingrad until November 18. The next day, Soviet troops switched from defense to offense. Already on 23 November, in the area of ​​the city of Kalach, the encirclement around the 6th Army of Paulus closed.


The date of 18 November 1942 in historiography is considered the day of the end of the first period of the Great Patriotic War, which began on 22 June 1941. In military-strategic terms, the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 is divided into three periods, in each of which two or three campaigns were carried out, and several operations were carried out during the campaigns. According to the scale of hostilities, operations were divided into strategic, front-line and army, and according to the nature of hostilities—into offensive and defensive.


The first, defensive stage included three campaigns: summer-autumn 1941, winter 1941-1942 and summer-autumn 1942. During the first period, more than thirty major strategic and front-line operations, mostly defensive ones, were carried out. The first period of the Great Patriotic War included: the strategic defense of the Soviet Armed Forces after a surprise attack by fascist Germany, the defeat of enemy troops near Moscow, the failure of the fascist coalition to crush the USSR in a blitzkrieg, the successful defense of Stalingrad.


The second period of the Great Patriotic War lasted from 19 November 1942 until the end of 1943. It is characterized by a radical turning point in hostilities. Soviet troops launched a counteroffensive near Stalingrad and drove the enemy back from the Volga. In the summer of 1943, the Red Army, won a decisive and important victory in the Battle of Kursk, which completed a radical turning point in the course of the Great Patriotic War. Having defeated the enemy near Kursk, the Soviet troops continued their offensive until the end of 1943.


The third period of the Great Patriotic War—liberation—lasted from the beginning of 1944 until 9 May 1945. Since January 1944, the expulsion of the enemy from the territory of the USSR begins. The absolute superiority of forces on the side of the Soviet Union in terms of equipment, weapons and the number of troops ensured the successful conduct of several major military operations. The third and last period of the Great Patriotic War ended with the capitulation of Nazi Germany and the end of hostilities.


*Special thanks to History of Russia (https://vk.com/club209200655) for blog post content.

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