Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Old Pics

Old Pics Archive has posted antique photographs of the Battle of Stalingrad and the aftermath.  Sad to see the piles of dead bodies.  Some KIA, others frozen to death in their sleep.  Or so weak from starvation that they died of other complications.  Some of the bodies seem to be as malnourished and emaciated as concentration camp survivors.

 6th Army Commander, Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, is shown in several of the pics.  Was he a "von" Paulus?  I never did understand all the nobility titles in any of Europe's countries.   But I did read on wiki that before taking over 6th Army he had never commanded a unit larger than a battalion.  He had however, as a member of the General Staff, helped to draft the plan for Operation Barbarossa.

The Soviet 62nd Army Commander, General Vasily Chuikov, is shown in photo #17.  He was nicknamed <i>'The Stone"</i> for his defense of the city.   I believe he was never given much credit by western historians.  Of course he had a lot of help outside the city from the other armies of the Don Front.  But his stubborn defense of the city itself was critical in allowing Operation Uranus to roll up the Romanian and Hungarian Armies protecting Paulus's flanks.  Chuikov invented the tactic of 'hugging-the-enemy' to negate their firepower advantage.  That same tactic, renamed 'grab-them-by-the-belt' was used a quarter century later against Americans by Generals Tran Van Tra and Vo Nguyen Giap.



  1. Mike,
    didn't khruschev make his bones in this battle?

  2. Ranger Jim –

    My understanding was Nikita got that reputation from the fictional movie ’Enemy at the Gates”, a sorry flic IMHO except for the lovely Rachel Weisz as the lady sniper.

    Kruschev was only a political commissar at that time. That used to be an extremely powerful position from the birth of the Red Army up until 1941. The commissars had equal authority with military commanders, and could overrule tactical decisions based on ideology. But that all changed in 41 when disaster struck. Stalin, or the General Staff or maybe both in conjunction (?), realized that although political control of strategy was fine at the top level, it was detrimental and even destructive at the tactical & operational levels.
    So I believe his duties at the Battle of Stalingrad were to oversee political education, morale, adherence to regulations, and checking on troop readiness. He was not part of the 62nd Army, but was at a higher level working for the Stalingrad Front so those responsibilities were for a group of six armies only one of which, the 62nd was in Stalingrad itself. Chuikov’s memoirs only mention Kruschev briefly.
    I’m no expert on Nikita but did read a bio on him years ago. I believe he made his bones much earlier. In the early 30s, he ramrodded Stalin’s beloved Moscow Subway project, killing many of the sandhog workers thru accidents to meet schedule. After that in the Ukraine during the purges he exceeded the quotas set by Stalin. He ramrodded the collectivization of farms and the deportation of kulaks to the Gulag. Kruschev’s time as the Red Prince in Kiev is one of reasons some Ukrainians sided with the Nazis in WW2 and perhaps is one of the roots of the bitterness there today.

  3. Kruschev was responsible for the fiasco at Kharkov where a quarter million men were lost. He should have been shot. See David Glantz's book "Kharkov 1942".

    1. Greg -

      Thanks for the tip on the book. A few years back I read Glantz on the siege of Leningrad. I'll put his Kharkov book on the top of my reading list.

    2. Not having read the Glanz book I guess my question would be "why Kruschev?" My understanding is that the primary goof was Stalin's, in insisting in attacking when his armies hadn't really recovered from the beatings of 1941, and Timoshenko, whose preparations were so clumsy that he might as well have sent a signal to the German troops opposing him that they were coming to visit. Kruschev was part of Timoshenko's staff, so he was as much to blame as anyone, but I'm not sure that I'd single him out MORE than anyone involved...

  4. It's worth noting, mike, that the other feature of the operations around Stalingrad was the formal requiem for the suite of tactical methods we refer to as "blitzkrieg".

    The Soviets had started to figure out how to bog down the German armored breakthrough forces late in '41; mines - LOTS of mines - multiple layers of antitank defenses, and better antitank weaponry (including better tanks for counterattack...).

    Don't get me wrong; the Nazis could still break through and "pocket" Soviet formations when the achieved tactical surprise. But the great days of the Stuka and the panzer were passing, and it was the Soviets that figured out how to beat them...

  5. I believe you are right on about the mines. But regardless, blitzkrieg does not work well in urban combat. And regarding better antitank weaponry, I understood the Soviets used 37mm antiaircraft guns with non-armor piercing flak rounds to meet the panzers that were on their way into Stalingrad.

    My take on reasons for Soviet victory at Stalingrad were:

    - Soviet reinforcements poured in east of the river that kept the Germans from flanking the city and surrounding it.

    - Soviet mobilization of civilians into militia, transport units, and work battalions (including women and children) building ditches, strong points and tank traps.

    - American lendlease via the Persian corridor.

    - the stubborn defense in the city by 62nd Army.

    - over-extended German supply lines.

    - Hitler diddling the Plan Blue when he divided Army Group South.

    - German over-dependence on foreign troops to protect their flanks, plus 40-50,000 Russian/Ukrainian HiWi volunteers fighting in the city itself with the 6th Army.

    - Loss of Luftflotte 4 which was withdrawn to combat the Allied landings in North Africa.

    - General Winter.

    1. IMO what won for the Soviets wasn't so much the MOUT part of Stalingrad - that DID suck the 6th Army into a pointless struggle they couldn't win - but that, as you point out, the Germans couldn't push over the Volga (or even close the ring around the city and cut off the defenders in the city itself from the rest of the Stalingrad Front. The Wiki entry notes that:

      "On July 23, Sixth Army began a pincer operation with its XIV and XXIV Panzer Corps against 62nd Army. By the end of the next day two rifle divisions of the army had been pushed aside to the north, the army's right flank had been deeply penetrated and partly encircled in the Maiorovsky region before the advance had to be slowed due to supply difficulties and Soviet resistance. Stalin ordered the half-formed tank armies into the attack against the northern pincer, which began on the 25th. While these attacks were too disjointed to achieve decisive results, by the next day German progress was halted, with Soviet tanks breaking into the rear of XIV Corps, and a 35 km gap remaining between the pincers. The rebuilding 21st Army joined the counterstroke that day as well. During the remainder of the month these actions continued to stymie the German advance and wear down their strength, and also relieve the partially-encircled Soviet force, although at considerable cost in men and vehicles."

      So I agree that the overall Soviet win had to do with the factors you mention. But the critical part of defeating the German Army - not just at Stalingrad but in the East in general - was stopping those damned armored breakthroughs. And by late 1942 the Soviets had figured it out.

  6. FDChief -

    Your quote from wiki fesses up that the Panzer Corps' advance "had to be slowed due to supply difficulties...". Plus the fact that Stalin's tank armies although only "half-formed" still had many more tanks than the two Panzer Corps available to 6th Army. And those Soviet tanks were brand new, going against German armor that needed a pause for some much needed depot level maintenance.

    IMHO German logistics failures and Soviet manpower and armor superiority were a lot more critical in stopping those armored breakthroughs than tactical countermeasures.

    Someone here said it best a long time ago: Logistics, logistics, logistics! It is much more important tactical skill or weapon superiority. Can't remember who said it. And I am probably misquoting a bit, but the essence is still there.

  7. FDChief -

    I did not mean to denigrate the Red Army. They did more than their share against Hitler.

    And yes they did develop a way to moderate the effects of blitzkrieg. General Panfilov and the 316th Rifle Division at the Battle of Moscow were the pioneers in adopting those countermeasures. The intent was not to stop a panzer blitz but to soften it. They made the best use of natural defenses, but fell back when necessary, and made the panzers pay in blood and equipment for every kilometer they gained. The forests and lack of good roads to the north and west of Moscow helped to channelize the panzer columns. Panfilov would typically stop the panzers at crossroads. When they eventually brought up superior firepower, Panfilov would fall back a kilometer or two where another ambush was already set. He equated these to steel springs or shock absorbers that cushioned the German advance and cost them days and weeks that they could not spare. This went against orders by Stalin and Zhukov who (like Hitler two to three years later) had declared no retreat. But the 316th was a factor in saving Moscow. If Pankilov had held fast, he would have been overwhelmed and possibly opened the way for an envelopment of Moscow. Rokossovsky commanding the 16th Army was Pankilov's superior during that time and perhaps he brought that tactic with him to Stalingrad when he took command of the Don Front.

    But I still maintain that logistics was the critical element at Stalingrad and afterward. Consider just close air support aircraft. Total number of German Stukas manufactured from 1936-44 was 6500. Total number of Soviet IL-2 Sturmoviks (the A-10 of its day) manufactured from 1941-45 was over 36000. That is one example only. The comparison of quantities in tanks, AT guns, ammo, trucks, etc are similar if not greater.