This video was made possible by our supporters on Patreon. If you want to join the community and help us reach our next goal, consider making a pledge. The average lifespan of a soldier in Stalingrad was just 24 hours. The battle for the city that bore Stalin’s name was one of the longest and most arduous of the Second World War. It is for that reason that most historians regard the battle as a turning point in the war. I’m Griffin Johnson, the Armchair Historian, and today, in addition to telling you about the battle itself, I’ll be providing the personal accounts of both Russian and German soldiers in an effort to tell you the story of Stalingrad. But first, today’s video is sponsored by Skillshare. I know; it’s like we’re official now! Skillshare is a quickly expanding online learning community that boasts a wide array of classes on topics like design, photography, entrepreneurship, and far more. Signing up on Skillshare is free, but a premium membership provides full access to over 20,000 classes taught by experts. The premium membership still makes Skillshare more affordable than most learning platforms out there. An annual subscription costs you less than $10/month. Stay until the end of the video for more information and an exclusive offer from the Skillshare team. It’s November 1941. The Wehrmacht is just miles away from the Russian capital but is halted due to extreme weather conditions. The German infantry is plagued with frostbite while the tanks are running short on fuel, not that it matters because their engines won’t even start; it’s -4 deg F (-20 deg C). Meanwhile, in Moscow, a secret meeting is taking place, headed by Stalin himself, who refuses to leave the city and proclaims that “Moscow will be defended to the last.” At this meeting the top Soviet military brass is gathered to discuss the Red Army’s next course of action. Amid an atmosphere of panic and uncertainty, Semyon Timoshenko, the People’s Commissar of Defense, takes the podium. Timoshenko boldly proclaims: Hitler acknowledged the scarcity of oil himself, reportedly saying: Thus the decision was made by Hitler and his senior staff to divert the German Army Group South to secure both the Volga and the Caucasus. The plan would be called Case Blue (Fall Blau) and was meant to be a second blitzkrieg to break the stalemate of the Eastern Front. It called for the assembling of 1,300,000 men and 1,500 aircraft. The men that made up Army Group South were split into two detachments: Army Group A, which would swing around the city of Stalingrad, secure the oil fields at Baku, and then converge on Stalingrad from the south; and Army Group B, which was made up of the German 6th Army, the 4th Panzer Army, and their Romanian and Italian allies, would march directly towards Stalingrad, the major Soviet industrial city. The Soviets had other plans. The oil fields of Maikop and Elista, which were on the way to Baku, were both set aflame by the Red Army. Grozny, meanwhile, also enroute to Baku, was destroyed by the German Air Force, or Luftwaffe, instead of being captured, due to the fierce Russian resistance and strained German supply lines. This meant that Army Group B would be taking on Stalingrad alone and would face severe logistical problems. Hitler’s oil crisis persisted, but the Battle for Stalingrad was only just beginning. The German Army Group B, spearheaded by the 6th Army under General Paulus, met resistance from the Soviets near the Don River. It took nearly a month for the 6th Army to assert control over the area that lay west of Stalingrad. The campaign was already shaping up to be slightly more costly for the Germans than expected. However,
morale among the troops remained high as they waited for a victory and dreamt of either returning home or settling in Russian lands after the war ended. Wilhelm Hoffmann, a soldier at the time of the battle, wrote in his diary the following: If you haven’t already, I suggest taking a look at my video which goes through the majority of Wilhelm’s diary in Stalingrad. With the German advance delayed, Soviet military officials in Stalingrad, headed by Chuikov, had time to prepare for the desperate onslaught that was materializing. As Catherine Merridale relates it in her book: Citizens of Stalingrad would be forced to stay and face the battle ahead. There would be no retreat. The first direct attack on Stalingrad began on August 23rd. 600 planes of the Luftwaffe flew over the city and relentlessly carpet-bombed its inhabitants. The German planes left decimation in their wake: 40,000 Russians, mainly civilians, were killed, and much of the city was reduced to rubble. Max Hastings, in his book describes the aftermath with haunting detail: The Soviet forces took up positions in the central and northern parts of Stalingrad. As the German 6th Army encircled the city, a Russian soldier named Anton Dragan documented what life was like for him as a lieutenant of the Red Army: Every inch of the city was disputed as the Germans were forced to make their way through the city house by house, stairwell by stairwell. The Russians were told to practically hug the German advance to render German aircraft and artillery support useless. The Luftwaffe maintained air superiority and continued carpet-bombing, killing Russians and Germans alike and preventing boats from bringing shipments of supplies to alleviate the defenders. It is in the midst of this scene of chaos that we return to Dragan, who describes the dire state of the Soviets’ position: During this retreat to the inner city, the Soviets were aided by artillery that was tactically positioned on the Volga’s eastern bank. The growing feeling of frustration on the German side is aptly captured by Hoffmann’s entry on 22 September 1942: And on the Soviet side, Chuikov, the commander of the 62nd Army, who maintained rigid discipline, shed light on a more desperate state of affairs: Chuikov writes on another occasion: “Everyone saw a man in flames leap out of his trench, run right up to a German tank, and smash a bottle against the grille of the engine hatch. A second later, an enormous sheet of flame and smoke engulfed both the tank and the hero who had destroyed it. Acts like this prompted the Germans to express disbelief, even in the air. A Luftwaffe pilot who had rained fire from the skies said: As the infamous Russian winter set in, the tide of battle turned. The Russians put Operation Uranus into action, planned by the Chief of the General Staff, Georgy Zhukov, and executed by a Polish-Soviet officer, Konstantin Rokossovsky. Their goal was to encircle the 6th Army and relieve Stalingrad’s determined defenders. The operation began on 19 November 1942 and involved more than a million Red Army soldiers. Only three days after the operation had begun, the 6th Army was completely encircled and trapped in the city that they had besieged. Hitler did not consider retreat an option, and he gave orders for the Germans to hold their ground. The Soviets also gained air superiority by producing large numbers of aircraft and positioning anti-aircraft guns that prevented the Luftwaffe from being able to airdrop supplies and evacuate men. One of the more notable Soviet aircraft Was the Il-2, a ground attacker which would pick up the nickname “Flying Tank.” If you’re interested in learning more about this aircraft, check out the video by my friend Tiberiu over on the YouTube channel Wartime History. This put an end to any hope of Axis victory. Now it was only a matter of time before the Soviets overwhelmed the German forces. Under General Paulus, the 6th Army and its allies held out until January before finally giving in. Although Paulus did not agree with Hitler’s orders and considered defying them, he did not attempt to break out, largely for fear of leaving other elements of the Wehrmacht in the clutches of the Red Army. When the Soviets finally overran the Germans and drove them out of their dugouts, It seemed to some that the battle had been “the same nightmare for everyone.” However: Although many historians attribute the German failure at Stalingrad solely to poor logistics and planning, the Soviets’ unwavering defense of the city was also a crucial factor in determining the outcome of the battle which would shape the rest of the war. In accordance with order #227, made famous for its line, “not one step back,” the Red Army had withstood the German onslaught. From that point on, the Soviets would remain on a near-constant offensive, pushing the Germans back to Berlin by 1945. Now back to our sponsor, Skillshare. I personally have been using my membership to browse classes like Online Business Crash Course by value Academy and Learn a Language the Easy Way by Philippa Gillström. If you’re interested in checking out Skillshare, the link in the description below grants the first 500 people two months of a premium membership for free. So click that link now to get your free two months. Thanks for watching. I’d like to thank my General Staff on Patreon: Jake Hart, John Graham, James Thompson, Derek Below, Azarde, Jim Talbott, Dmitry Stillermann, Jeff Antolak, GJ, Ben Natividad, Joe Crispin, Emmanuel Kang, and everyone else listed onscreen. I’d also like to thank those working on the Armchair History team for making this video possible. Thanks again, and I’ll see you next time with a video on the Second Sino-Japanese war.