Thursday, February 08, 2018

Stalingrad anniversary

February 2 marked the 75th anniversary of the fall of Stalingrad. This was a big event in Russia, of course, with President Putin flying over to Volgograd (as the city is now named) to commemorate the event. But we heard nothing of this epochal event in India, partly, I guess, on account of the media's preoccupation with trivia.

Stalingrad was, perhaps, the decisive turning point of World War II. It showed that the Wehrmacht, the Germany army, was not invincible and that Hitler's opening an Eastern front could pave the way for his defeat. Following Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht lost the initiative and was mostly on the defensive on the Soviet front.

In Stalingrad, the elite Sixth Army of the Wehrmacht came to be decimated. Of around 300,000 soldiers in the city, 100,000 were captured and only around 9,000 made it back after the end of the war, the majority perishing as prisoners of war.

Much has been written about Hitler's conduct of operations in Stalingrad, whether he was right to take the city in the first place, whether the Sixth Army should have hung on after it was encircled by Soviet troops and so on.

Well, Hitler's plan was to seize the oil riches of the Caucus south of Stalingrad. The city was a key junction and supply point and hence needed to be held in order to safeguard the armies that had ventured south.

Hitler's strategy was right but it came unstuck because he had underestimated the strength of the Soviet Union. Hitler thought that once his armies tore into the Soviet Union, the government and its army would simply collapse. This did not happen. Stalin was able to throw endless numbers of troops at the Germans and Soviet industrial capacity was far greater than German intelligence had supposed.
These fundamentals could not be altered and were bound to assert themselves no matter what particular tactics Hitler followed in respect of operations in Stalingrad. The whole controversy about Hitler's ignoring the advice of his professional generals and allowing the Sixth Army to perish is  secondary to the fundamentals.

Russia Today has an interesting article on the subject.

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