So it’s 1941 and – as Germany – you’ve been punching anyone and everyone within reach for the last three years. Life is good, and despite the fact that you are being led by a complete and utter idiot, your forces are pretty much rolling over everything. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Last year you kicked the Limeys out of France (mental note: talk to Göring about how he bloody well let them off the beaches), France has been under your jackboot since then, and for the LOLs you’ve been dropping an ungodly amount of explosives on any spot in England where people like to hang out. Some say that’s not cool, but – hey – they started it. Or maybe we did, technically, but whatever, we’re destined to rule the world.
So with the Brits held down on their little island, pretty much everyone else subdued, and those cowardly Americans not daring to enter the war, what else is there to do?
Wait, what’s there over to the east? Ooooooh, Russia.
Now you’d think that if someone – oooh, say, Hitler himself –happened to write a book back in ’25 about how his people were going to steal your land and take your shit, that you’d kinda be waiting for this to happen. You’d also think that if that very same book said something along the lines of “look, we’ll work with those Slavic bastards if we have to, but it won’t be for long, ‘cos I’m ‘avin’ all of that for me own” that you’d be very, very wary about getting into any form of cooperative agreement with Germany. Especially if you were Stalin.
Hitler did write those things when he threw together the rambling musings of a mad-man called “Mein Kampf,” but despite outright saying “I’m going to play buddy, buddy, and then I’m going to shank them in the neck and steal their stuff,” no one really believed him.
I mean, sure, he might attack: probably through the Baltic states, snag Leningrad via the sea, and such, but there’s no way in hell that he’d be so freaking dense to actually want any more. I mean, Napoleon tried that shit only a hundred years prior, and look how that turned out (spoiler: not very well), so there’s no chance that Hitler would try that shit all over again.
This dude had other ideas.
No, not that dude … this guy:
Back in 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union sign a “we promise not to kick you when you’re not looking” pact, and the two of them proceed to divide up Poland like it’s a slice of cake. To all intents and purposes they’re kinda buddies, and while you could argue that point, the difference wouldn’t exactly be evident to you as Germany punched you in the nose while the Soviets broke your legs. Heck, the very pact that kept them from duffing up each other, also agreed on how they were going to share other countries, so at this stage of the game they’re kinda the bullies on the playground.
It’s also sounding a bit like part of the book written back in 1925, isn’t it? “Work with the Soviets if I have to, but I’ll fuck them in the ear afterwards …”
The following year and both countries enter into a trade pact and Germany invited the Soviets into their new Axis Gang. It looked like Russia and Germany were just going to share up the rest of the world. Oh, and Japan and Italy, sorry guys, not forgetting about you. Little fellas.
But let’s face facts here: you’ve got someone that outright wrote about invading your shit and stealing your megahertz on one side, and on the other side you’ve got a brutal dictator who doubtlessly had his own plans for world domination. To say that things were uneasy between these nations would be putting it mildly.
And as if to drive the point home, in June of 1940 Hitler said to one of his generals “finally with my hands freed in the west, I can concentrate on my important real task: the showdown with Bolshevism.”
Ding: You have earned the Steam Achievement “Back-stabbing little bastard.”
So a little plan called Operation Barbarossa was drawn up, and in hindsight more thought was put into the name than the actual plan itself.
Hitler: What’s the plan called?
Mook: Barbarossa! After Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire.
Hitler: This is good, and?
Mook: Also the leader of the Third Crusade back in the 12th century.
Hitler: I think I just jizzed a little. How will this plan work?
Mook: Easy peasey lemon squeezey. Just like we destroyed the French, we’re going to destroy these guys. The soldiers are tough, sure, but they’re led by idiots. I give it 6-8 weeks, TOPS, and they’ll be under our fist.
Hitler: BRILLIANT! It sounds like an airtight plan. What about their industrial capacity?
Mook: Nothing to worry about; they’re a primitive, backward Asiatic country, a colossus with feet of clay.
Hitler: Ooh, I like that line. I might use that.
Mook 2: But there are potential economic hazards if we invade …
Hitler: What? Nah, I don’t think so.
Mook 2: I have a report here that clearly demonstrates …
Hermann Göring: I have the economic angle all sorted out, buddy.
Göring: Take Russia, starve everyone, now you have an agricultural surplus for Germany. Done. Piece of cake.
Hitler: I knew I liked you for a reason.
Mook 2: Should we … um … give our troops warm clothing at least?
Hitler: AHAHAHHAHAHAHA, what for? They’ll be back in just a few weeks! Göring, let’s go play Risk.
And with that 3.2 million Germans were moved to the Soviet border, together with 500,000 Axis soldiers. And any way you slice those sorts of numbers, that’s one helluva lot of men. But Stalin was pretty much convinced that an attack from Germany wouldn’t happen yet, ‘cos … “we just signed a pact only two years ago, dude!” Plus Germany was still at war with England, so it would be ludicrous to then open up another front in the east as well. Only a douche-nozzle would pull that sort of move.
On 22nd of June 1941 the Germans poured across 750 miles of Russian prime real-esate. Army Group North would kick their way through the Baltics, and would arm wrestle Leningrad into submission. Army Group Center were to race to Smolensk, then Moscow itself; ahhh, a jewel among jewels. And Army group South (they weren’t exactly super inventive here guys, it’s not my fault, I would have come up with much cooler names) would kick the nuts of the Ukraine, pop over to the Volga and would steal all the oil. Dead simple, nothing could go wrong.
Except almost immediately there were surprises. While the Soviet equipment at the time wasn’t “all that,” they’d been ramping up on volume for a few years now. And if the Russkies do one thing well, it’s: VOLUME. The Germans ran straight smack bang into almost 13,000 tanks and close to that in aircraft, outnumbering the Germans 3-1. The only saving grace for Germany was the fact the equipment in the west was largely obsolete, aircraft didn’t have radios - and those that did transmissions were not encrypted - the entire force had not been fully deployed, what had been deployed was being reorganized, and – to top it all – Stalin had killed off most of his top generals, leaving in their place young guys with no experience and little training.
So while the Germans certainly ran into a wall, by and large they were able to head-butt their way through it. On day ONE Hitler is already boasting “before three months have passed, we shall witness a collapse of Russia, the like of which has never been seen in history.”
I’m not quite sure why people hex themselves like that.
Still the numbers were staggering: the Soviets lost 2,000 aircraft (Germany 35), within three days it was twice that number. Within a week there were 600,000 defeated soviet soldiers, and to the north their mechanized divisions were down to 10% of their operational strength. I’d say they got FUCKED, but Franz Halder handles it much more graciously than I; Franz, take it away:
“It is thus probably no overstatement to say that the Russian Campaign has been won in the space of two weeks.”
Mission FUCKING Accomplished! OORAH! *chestbump*
But all was not well in Sauerkraut land. The Germans had clearly underestimated the size of Soviet forces, and there was a marked difference between the strategic ideology between Hitler and his commanders. For the most part the commanders were all about surrounding an enemy, bringing the hurt, a winning blow so big that the bounders are inclined to capitulate, then go drink some wine, smoke a cigar, and negotiate terms like gentlemen. This made Moscow a grand prize: surround it, pummel it into submission, and surely the Russkies would throw in the towel!
But Hitler didn’t agree with that; partly because he was a meddling freaking fool, and partly because his generals were thinking old-school, and we needed to get all 20th Century here! Blitzkrieg and shit, fools! You have to REP-RE-SENT. Hitler was all about denying the enemy resources and raw materials, and then starving them of industrial production; this made Leningrad, Khakow, Rostov-on-Don, and the Crimea the prime targets in his eyes. And he was boss, so he got to win that particular argument.
Catch is you’ve now spread your forces out and you’re asking your generals to fight in a way that they don’t want to fight. The attack line was way thinner than it should be - and what the generals were used to - and this left them vulnerable to a counter-attack. But pfft! to that, ‘cos we’re winning this thing in time for breakfast! Smoke me a kipper, skipper!
The attack renewed and pushed further east … immediately running into the Russian summer rains. The ground got muddy, the attack slowed, and the Soviets bloody well counter-attacked! The Germans ultimately defeated them, but it was clear that they were running into an enemy that didn’t know they were dead yet. Time to bring the famous Rhineland-smackdown.
The Germans kept pushing, and they slowly and yet surely got deeper and deeper into Russia. July turned to August, August turned to September. They were still attacking Moscow as late in the year as November, and at this point you have to start thinking about Napoleon all of those years before.
General Günther Blumentritt noted in his diary:
They remembered what happened to Napoleon’s Army. Most of them began to re-read Caulaincourt’s grim account of 1812. That had a weighty influence at this critical time in 1941. I can still see Von Kluge trudging through the mud from his sleeping quarters to his office and standing before the map with Caulaincourt’s book in his hand.
By December 1941, the invasion had cost the German Army over 210,000 killed and missing and 620,000 wounded in 1941. Operation Barbarossa had failed to utterly smash the Soviet forces and Moscow never fell, plus now Germany was way deeper into this than they had originally planned. Russia had a nasty habit of doing that to would be invaders.
1942 rolls by with the German army wintering things out. Hitler is probably thinking “fucking hell, what went wrong?’ but overall things had progressed well for the him: the U-Boat offensive in the Atlantic had been very successful and Rommel had just captured Tobruk (yay, Rommel!), while here on the frozen wastes of Soviet soil the front line had stabilized from Leningrad to Rostov.
Time to switch things around a little and surprise the reds. This would be the year in which the Soviets would be defeated … and the backbone of this would be: Stalingrad.
As an industrial center on the River Volga, the fall of Stalingrad would give the Germans a route to the Caspian Sea and northern Russia, it would disrupt commercial river traffic, and it just happened to be the namesake of Stalin himself; capture this and surely you’d capture the very soul of Russia itself. Oh how everything would tumble after that!
And who do you throw into lead such an important attack, why one of the architects of Operation Barbarossa, of course! Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus.
(Looks like a nice bloke.)
Described as ‘brilliantly clever, conscientious, hardworking, original and talented’ he fought his way up through the ranks, until – eventually in 1942 – he was promoted to General of the Armored Troops, commander of the Sixth Army., and ultimately charged with drop-kicking Stalingrad into the Volga. He was a GREAT planner, but not exactly known for ballsey moves.
Paulus was - however - smart, and he devised a cunning plan to get all his shit done, elbow a Russian bear to the jaw, and still make it home in time to woo the wife. Except Hitler intervened, yanked half the force away and pushed it off to the oil fields, and told Paulus to take the city with what was left. And Paulus was a soldier through and through, so he did exactly that.
In charge of Stalingrad’s defense was one Lt. Gen. Vasiliy Chuikov under Yeryomenko and Commissar Nikita Khrushchev. His plan for preventing the fall of the city? Well aside from looking like someone to shove an ice shank into your skull in a prison shower, he had on irrefutable plan: “We will defend the city or die in the attempt.”
Simple. Practical. Resolved.
Late August the Germans arrived at Stalingrad. The Russians had been prepping for their arrival. And I’m not talking about rescuing the civilians or any poncey shit like that, I’m talking about "get the grain out, save the cattle, leave the civilians behind to help in the protection of the city.” That’s city defense RUSSIAN STYLE, bitch. Fuck that they had no guns. Or food. Or training.
But Paulus demonstrated his more timid and cautious side, for while he had been quick in getting to Stalingrad, he had failed to cross the Volga and therefore completely encircle the city. So the Russians were continuously able to – try – and bring supplies and men across the river for the duration of what was to come. This would prove to be disastrous.
And then the Germans opened up with the largest single air formation the world had seen at that time: 1,000 tons of bombs were dropped in 48hrs, and instantly Stalingrad was quickly reduced to burned rubble. Must have been fun to be a civilian in this mess. Not. And just when you think it can’t get any worse - ‘cos your house is flat, yo - some asshole is shoving you into a factory to make tank parts, or is dragging your ass onto the front line with a broom handle as a weapon. Being a civilian within an arm’s reach of Stalingrad freaking SUCKED at this time.
Oh you’re a student? Get your ass into this factory, make tanks from scrap parts, then go and attack the enemy! No sights? FUCK YOU! LOOK DOWN THE BARREL YOU WASTE OF BEAR SHIT!
And you’re complaining about your iPhone being bendy. #firstworldproblems.
And while the Russians were throwing women into the fray, the Germans have reached the Volga on both the northern and southern ends of the city, reducing soviet reinforcements and resupplies to a perilous rafting experience while under withering bombardment. Imagine: Enemy at the Gates, but this is real shit. It was fuuuucked.
“Desperate” isn’t the phrase to describe the street-to-street, wall-to-wall, rubble-climbing, sniper-dodging hell that Stalingrad became.
Approaching this place, [Stalingrad], soldiers used to say: “We are entering hell.” And after spending one or two days here, they say: “No, this isn’t hell, this is ten times worse than hell.”
The Soviets stood firm. They stood more than firm. Passed down from Stalin himself: there was no land east of the Volga for these defenders, there was no retreat, there was no stepping backwards. And just to ensure that everyone got the point, 14,000 soldiers were executed as a full-on “you hearing me now?”
Bitter fighting raged for every ruin, street, factory, house, basement, sewer, and staircase. Forces from both sides would capture a kitchen, only to have to still fight over the living room, or capture the ground floor, only to have the enemy defecate all kinds of death from the floor above. However bad you think it was, it was so much worse.
And in this mess snipers on both sides abounded. Having a rest? SNIPER BULLET TO THE HEAD! Taking a quick pee? HOW ABOUT A BULLET TO THE FACE.
Anywhere and everywhere there was death, and it never, ever stopped.
Come the 5th of October and the Germans were determined to finally break Soviet resistance, I mean - fuck man - winter is coming AGAIN. They flew 2,000 sorties and dropped 550 tons of bombs, while simultaneously the infantry pushed in from all sides. The Russians were reduced to less than a mile of land along the Volga, and against this the Germans threw 1,208 Stuka missions. And Stuka’s are the fucking BOMB. (That’s an unintended pun).
And finally … finally … the Germans reached the Volga. They cut the surviving Russian resistance in half and now held 90% of the city.
“We did it!” exclaimed Werner, sipping dirt from his canteen, “yaaayy!”
And somewhere out on the river an ice flow drifted past. Winter was coming.
And here’s the amazing bit: in all of their efforts being thrown at the city, the Axis forces hadn’t consolidated their position; their flanks were thinly spread out, and they’d never eliminated the bridgeheads on the eastern side of the Volga. And in hindsight this is amazing; I mean, they truly didn’t plan on any form of counter attack.
Hm, intact bridgeheads, insecure flanks, and a non-existent rear defense, I wonder where this is going.
The Soviets decided it was time to punch back, Ruskie style. And when I say “punch back” I mean “take advantage of these nice little bridgeheads, and throw 18 infantry divisions, 8 tank brigades, 2 motorized brigades, 6 cavalry divisions, and 1 anti-tank brigade across the river against the German flanks (who had the misfortunate of hearing the enemy building up and having senior staff refuse all requests for reinforcements).”
Let’s just say the Russians unleashed a world of jaw-breaking hurt, because while Germany was fucking about with Stalingrad, the Soviet industrial complex to the east was churning shit out. And it churned out A LOT.
So now you’re a guy standing on the northern flank of Stalingrad; you’re cold, miserable, hungry, low on supplies, and on the 19th of November 1942 the Red Fucking Army is mauling your balls you like a rabid pitbull on crack. No preparations had been made to the German rear for this type of event, and – not surprisingly perhaps – the reaction from the Germans was one of utter chaos.
The very next day another counter-attack to the south of the city crushed the Romanian defenders.
And on the third day both offenses joined up at the town of Kalach and drank vodka; they had just surrounded 300,000 Axis troops. Three days. Three days to surround a third of a million enemy troops. Yeah, this was going to end well for the Germans.
Somewhere back in Berlin Hitler is throwing a wobbly.
But up pops Field Marshal Erich von Manstein and he says “I got this, bro, no sweat. Tell the 6th Army to stay put and not try to break out, I’ll bust in – all superman-like – and together we’ll shank these bastards like they’ve never been shanked before. *gangsign*”
Göring chimes with a “yeah dog, we’ve got this shit. I’ll get my Luftwaffe homeboys to bring all the supplies the 6th needs, they’ll barely notice that they’re surrounded.”
Now forget for a moment that Göring had failed to bring in much needed supplies for pretty much the entire attack on Stalingrad, or that it was quickly heading into winter, for some bizarre reason Hitler was appeased. The 6th were told to stay put.
The 6th Army needed 750 tons of supplies … every day. The Luftwaffe could – at best – bring in 107. I’m no professional mathematician, but I’m going to take “that’s a bit of a shortfall, for 600 please, Bob.” Göring was a lying sack of shit. Manstein however realized that this “air bridge” of supplies was going to be an impossibility, and he advised that the 6th be allowed to leave Stalingrad; “I know we’ll lose face and all, man, but we gotta get dem boys outta Dodge!”
Hitler said “No.”
And added “Fuck off.”
The Luftwaffe drafted in a few bombers to help … and promptly delivered 85 tons of supplies a day. 85. Hm … Göring, that’s just a tad short there, buddy. Their best day was 262 tons, and that’s a third of what was needed. The 6th Army was … what’s the scientific term? … hmmm … SCREWED.
To make matters worse, the German airfields and supply bases kept getting a severe dose of the “I have a Soviet man stabbing me in the face, please tell him to get off.” Winter weather conditions, technical failures, heavy Soviet anti-aircraft fire, bears chewing your fuselage, and fighter interceptions eventually led to the loss of 488 German aircraft and a 1,000 experienced bomber crew. The shit happening out here on the east was severely fucking with Germany’s ability to just stay in the war.
The 6th Army were now starving.
Hitler declares the area “Fortress Stalingrad.” I.e. You’re going nowhere, and that frozen turf over in some frozen foreign country: that’s where you will die.
And this is when Manstein appears on the scene *taaaa-daaaah* He pummeled his way to within 30 miles of the stricken 6th Army, and shouted out “come at me bro! I got you!”
But Paulus did not move. Paulus had his orders, and Paulus was going to follow them, Paulus was staying put.
It would be the following January when the final airfields providing air supplies would be lost, and with them all hope for the 6th.
In a bloody twist of fate, the 6th started to fight for their survival in Stalingrad, and it was they who were pushed to the banks of the Volga. Oh Irony, you little temptress, you.
The Russians sent in some hope in the form of an offer to Paulus: if he surrendered within 24 hours, he would receive a guarantee of safety for all prisoners, medical care for the sick and wounded, prisoners would be allowed to keep their personal belongings, “normal” food rations, and repatriation to any country they wished after the war; but Paulus—ordered not to surrender by Hitler—did not respond.
Paulus though was feeling the pinch. He wasn’t a mad warrior willing to throw himself on a sword here, Paulus was merely obeying orders. So he asked Hitler for permission to surrender, and Hitler- being a Grade-A Asshole - said “No.”
Then he turned to Goebbels and said some shit like “these guys going down here? Great fucking story for the history books.”
Just a few days later and it was the anniversary of Hitler coming to power, and he “gifts” unto Paulus the rank of Generalfeldmarschall, except he included the - dick - note of “hey, lol, you’ll never guess what, but no Generalfeldmarschall has ever surrendered in German history. So, yeah, either win - LOL - or … just do yourself in. The history books will be FUCKING AWESOME. *guitar riff*”
The next day the Germans surrendered.
Let’s just say 5,000 eventually got home. 5,000. The rest? Yeah, I’ll let your imagination do the work.
As for Paulus … he became a vocal critic of the Nazi regime while in Soviet captivity, and he said a lot of bad shit at the Nuremberg Trials. He died within a few months, in Dresden, on 1st February 1957, 14 years after the surrender at Stalingrad. As part of his last will and testament, his body was transported to Baden, West Germany, to be buried next to his wife, who had died eight years earlier in 1949, not having seen her husband since his departure for the Eastern Front in the summer of 1942.
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