One battle during the WWII can be rightly called decisive – the Battle of Stalingrad. This was one battle on the European theater that probably changed the world. If the Nazi Germany won this battle, we would have been a part of a very different world or perhaps, we would have never existed. So, let us learn 40 interesting facts about Battle of Stalingrad, which was one of the bloodiest battles in WWII.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Stalingrad: 1-5
1. The Battle of Stalingrad was a result of Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union without any declaration of war. The German offensive operation was known as Operation Barbarossa.
2. The battle started months later after Operation Barbarossa was started on 22nd June, 1941. The Battle of Stalingrad started on 23rd August, 1942.
3. The battle is well-known for several reasons and one of them being, the street-level fights. The close quarter combats took place on streets and buildings.
4. The 4th Panzer Army and the 6th Army of the German forces were given the task of capturing Stalingrad with air support from Luftwaffe. The constant bombings by Luftwaffe reduced the city into rubble.
5. The initial German offensive and invasion of Stalingrad started with 270,000 German military personnel, 500 tanks, 3,000 artillery pieces and 600 aircrafts. The number of aircrafts gradually rose to 1,600 by mid-September. The Soviet defense included 187,000 military personnel, 400 tanks, 2,200 artillery pieces and 300 aircraft.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Stalingrad: 6-10
6. On November 19, 1942, the Soviets launched a counter-offensive by the name Operation Uranus. When the counter-offensive move of the Soviets started, the strength of Axis forces (Germany and allies) increased to approximately 1,040,000 military personnel that included Nazi Germans, Romanians, Italians and Hungarians. The number of artillery pieces for Axis Power increased to 10,250 but the number of aircrafts fell to 732 of which only 402 were operational. On the other hand, the Soviet power increased to 1,143,000 military personnel, 894 tanks, 13,451 artillery pieces and 1,115 aircrafts.
7. The Battle of Stalingrad was an example of complete disregard for civilian safety. Nearly 40,000 Soviet civilians lost their lives during this battle. Nearly 1,120,000 Soviet armed forces were killed, wounded or missing. On the German side, 850,000 military personnel were killed, wounded or missing. 91,000 German forces eventually surrendered against Hitler’s will of ‘stand to the last man and fight to the last bullet.’
8. The continuous bombing of the city killed thousands and thousands and the air became hot and filled with stinking smell of dead and decaying corpses.
9. The battle was so fierce that firefights literally took place at every ruin found in the city. From destroyed basements, houses, factories and staircases to even the sewers, which is precisely why the Germans named this battle as Rattenkrieg or Rat War. Floor-by-floor close-quarter firefights took place in tall building destroyed by German air raids. Soviets and Germans were found in alternate floors of these building shooting each other through the holes on the floor!
10. Mamayev Kurgan, a hill located above the city was the site of bitter firefight. The fight was absolutely merciless and the stronghold position on the hill actually changed hands several times (precisely 14 times) between Germans and Soviets. Shellfire and metal fragments churned the hillside soil to such an extent that every square meter of the soil contained 500 to 1,250 metal splinters. The entire hill remain black throughout the winters (during the battle) because snow was completely melted by bombings and fire. The spring that followed also saw black soil because grass failed to grow.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Stalingrad: 11-15
11. Another site of firefight during the Battle of Stalingrad that is worth mentioning was Pavlov’s House named after Sergeant Yakov Pavlov. It was a 4 storied building overlooking a 300-meter square from river bank. The German maps named the building as Festung or Fortress because a small platoon under Pavlov’s command fortified it with minefields around the house. The windows were defended using machine guns. Pavlov and his men defended the building for two months straight without any reinforcements. The most memorable part of this episode of Stalingrad was that Pavlov and his men had to often run out of the building to kick down the wall of corpses that formed after firefights with German soldiers. They had to do this to ensure that the Germans could not use the corpses as cover.
12. Just like Hitler, even Stalin issued an order for Red Army and the citizens of Stalingrad. It is known as Order No. 227. The order actually stated – ‘Not a Step Back!’
13. The deeds of Soviet women were equally heroic as those of the Soviet men. As a matter of fact, the Soviet defense during the Battle of Stalingrad consisted of many women who were machine gunners, scouts and mortar operators. They were even telephone and wireless operators apart from being medical staff. These women also fought under heavy German fire and often suffered heavy casualties.
14. 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment was composed entirely of Soviet women. Most of these women were very young mostly just out of high school. This regiment requires a special mention because they fiercely intercepted the 16th Panzer Division of Nazi Germany on 23rd August, 1942. This Panzer Division was given the task of destroying Stalingrad Tractor Factory and attacked from the northern quarter and 1077th Regiment was the only defensive line with no exposure to tank warfare. They did their best, improvised and dropped the anti-aircraft guns to the lowest possible elevation. They used these guns to destroy 14 aircraft, 3 infantry battalions, 15 infantry vehicles and 83 tanks in two days of fierce fighting before they were eventually run over by the Germans who were surprised to find bodies of only young women!
15. The Battle of Stalingrad like many other battles during the WWII was known for its snipers. The most popular of them were Vasily Zaytsev who was but a farm boy from Ural Mountains and used to hunt wolf and deer along with his grandfather. Zaytsev, who volunteered to be in the fight, became of the most feared snipers for the Germans. Vasily was known for weird improvisations. He attached Mosin-Nagant scope of anti-tank guns and took out enemies hiding behind the walls with the 20mm rounds. There were no anti-material rifles back in those days! Vasily Zaytsev registered 225 confirmed kills.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Stalingrad: 16-20
16. Zaytsev even opened a sniper training school during the battle and trained 28 people who together with Vasily killed nearly 3000 Germans including many high-ranking officers. He eventually died in 1991 at the age of 76, just 10 days prior to dissolution of Soviet Union.
17. Not just the ground level troops but even some of leading generals of both Red Army and the Axis Power took heavy casualties during the Battle of Stalingrad. Red Army’s General Vasily Chuikov developed a weird eczema induced by stress to such an extent that he had both his hands completely bandaged. General Paulus from the 6th Army of the German forces developed a tic in his eye that eventually took hold of entire left side of his face.
18. After Operation Uranus was launched by the Red Army on 19th November 1942, the Red Army managed to make a very precise pincer move and trapped 230,000 German forces inside Stalingrad. Hitler insisted on ‘No Retreat’ and decided to provide supplies to his army through air. That was a disaster because the trapped army needed 800 tons of daily supply to stay functional but the maximum that the Luftwaffe could drop was 117 pounds considering that none of the planes were shot down by the Soviet. Reality was even bitter because many of the aircrafts were actually shot down and the daily maximum ration that could be supplied was 94 tons. The supplies were unsuitable because whatever was dropped included 20 tons Vodka and summer clothes. These clothes were no match for the chilled and bitter Russian winters.
19. If one could think of a word that defines something worse than ‘terrible’, it would have perfectly painted the living conditions in Stalingrad during the battle. Any new soldier who was sent to Stalingrad had a life-expectancy of 1 day and generals or other high-ranking officials had a life-expectancy of 3 days.
20. Cannibalism became common and widespread. Their protein intake came from rats. Civilians and soldiers picked dead horses and scraped off the meat as their food.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Stalingrad: 21-25
21. Initially when the Soviets were on the back foot, they had to deal with limited supply and the dead comrades were stripped off their uniforms so that they could be used by new draftees.
22. Later during the battle became so bitter that Germans were found fighting from the kitchen and the Soviets from the adjacent living rooms. Germans actually brought 10,000 horse as a source of food and all 10,000 of those horses were slaughtered. The Red Army was accustomed but the Axis forces had to deal with bitter cold when the temperature dropped to minus 30 degrees Celsius. Hitler did order a breakout but that came too late. Many of the German soldiers were killed by hunger or Soviet fire while many others froze to death.
23. Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist, a German Field Marshall later said that Stalingrad was not the main aim. They only reason the Germans wanted to capture the city was that its capture would allow the Germans to create a bottle neck between Don and Volga, allowing them to block Soviet forces from flanking the Germans from the east.
24. The Battle of Stalingrad started with heavy bombing by Luftlotte 4. The Luftlotte 4 was in 1942, the world’s most powerful single air formation. The air raid dropped 1,000 tons of bombs on Stalingrad.
25. As mentioned earlier, civilian safety was completely ignored and Stalin actually prevented civilian evacuation. His argument was that the presence of civilians will encourage the Red Army to Stalingrad more furiously.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Stalingrad: 26-30
26. Any civilian strong enough was actually put to work. This included both children and women who were asked to build trenches and fortifications to prevent the advance of the Axis forces.
27. The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (abbreviated NKVD) organized “Workers’ militia” who were actually civilians with no war experience. Civilians were sent to war without rifles and were asked to pick up rifles from their dead comrades.
28. Students and staff of local technical university were asked to form a unit for destroying tanks. They built tanks using leftovers they found at tractor factory. These tanks did not have gunsights and were unpainted. Waves after waves of these tanks were created and driven to the battle but were quickly destroyed by the German Panzer division.
29. By September 1, the German army reached Volga River to the northern side of Stalingrad and also to the southern side of the river Volga. The Soviets were left with only one option. They had to send their army supplies and reinforcements by crossing Volga which was under constant aerial and artillery bombing by the Germans.
30. The German military used what is known as combined-arms teams. The German forces used close cooperation between engineers, infantry, artillery, tanks, and aircrafts designed for ground attack. The Soviets on the other hand used the method known as ‘hugging the Germans’ as called by General Chuikov. They kept their front-line army as physically close as possible to German forces to ensure that German supportive fire became ineffective.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Stalingrad: 31-35
31. Gradually as the war progressed, the Soviets reverted to strategy of holding their positions for as long as possible. They installed small units comprising of 5-10 men in street corners, office building, warehouses and factories.
32. Till November, the German Luftwaffe had air superiority Soviets did not make any attempts of aerial combat during the day time. The Soviet air force was technically inferior to that of Luftwaffe. However, the Luftwaffee flew 20,000 sorties and its strength dropped from 1,600 to 950 with Kampfwaffe (the bomber aircrafts) taking the worst hit with their strength reduced to 232 from 480. By the time the Soviets launched Operation Uranus, the Soviet air force gained superiority in terms of numbers.
33. The Soviet counter-offensive was very well-planned. The Soviet generals found that Hitler had diverted his power to Stalingrad and left the north and the south flanks poorly defended by the Romanians and the Hungarians (the Axis allies).
34. The first counter-offensive move of Operation Uranus came on 19th November, 1942 when the Soviet forces moved north under General Nikolay Vatutin with the strength of 5th Tank Army, 1st Guards Army, and the 21st Army with a total of 8 tank brigades, 18 infantry divisions, 6 cavalry divisions and 2 motorized brigade and 1 anti-tank brigade and overran the Romanian 3rd Army to flank the German 6th Army from the North.
35. The next day on 20th November, 1942, the second phase of Operation Uranus started with two armies consisting of a large number of tanks, which overran the 4th Romanian Army Corp from the southern side of Stalingrad.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Stalingrad: 36-40
36. The Soviet forces from the north and south pushed towards the west to complete the ring and completely surrounded the German 6th Army inside Stalingrad. In total, 265,000 Italian, Romanian and German soldiers were trapped inside Stalingrad of which 210,000 were Germans, 40,000 were HIWIs (these were Soviet volunteers fighting for Germans) and the remaining were Italian and Romanian soldiers as well as several thousand Soviet armed forces and around 10,000 Soviet civilians who were captured as prisoners by the Germans.
37. As the Soviet forces kept consolidating their position all around Stalingrad, the German forces started Operation Winter Storm to provide supplies to the trapped soldiers using air route. Bad weather and huge anti-aircraft offensive by the Soviets destroyed a significant amount of the German air support and the resupply attempts made by the Germans were severely slimmed.
38. Eventually the Germans started starving and running out of ammunition. The trapped soldiers started defending themselves by fixing wire nets on all windows so that the Soviet grenades do not enter the building they were taking refuge in. Soviets on the other hand fixed fishing hooks to the grenades and throwing them to the windows so that the grenades stuck to the defensive nets.
39. General Paulus of trapped German 6th Army was promoted to Field Marshall. Germans had a history that no Field Marshall ever surrendered or was captured alive. Everyone either died fighting or committed suicide. Hitler gave this promotion to Paulus to make sure that the Germans trapped inside Stalingrad either die fighting or commit suicide. This never happened and eventually on 2nd February, 1943, 91,000 Axis forces (starved, tired, wounded and ill) surrendered that included 22 generals of which one was General Paulus.
40. The Battle of Stalingrad was not really fought because Hitler had any interest in Stalingrad itself. The actual targets were the oil fields of the Caucasus region. However, Stalingrad became a matter of prestige for Stalin and Hitler. It was the only Soviet city with the name of its leader and if Germans managed to capture the city, it would demoralize the Soviets.