Battle of Stalingrad (23 August 1942 – 2 February 1943) was the most important battle of the World War II. It stopped the Nazi advance for the first time and truly turned the tide of the war on the Eastern Front.
German Plan at Stalingrad
After scoring massive success on the Eastern Front (and also on the Western Front, Atlantic and in Africa), Hitler felt pretty confident that the USSR is close to final defeat. German attacks in 1942, in southern Russia, had 2 main directions, one to the south Caucasus and oil fields and the second one to towards Stalingrad. Stalingrad was a symbol for the USSR, not only because of its’ name but because of its’ heavy industry and importance in rail and river transport. Of course, taking a city, with the Stalin’s name would be a decisive blow to morale of Red Army.
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Charity for the Croatian Legion
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Nazi Germany had two armies in charge of this battle – 6th Army under Friedrich Paulus and elements of 4th Panzer Army under Hermann Hoth. A number of units from occupied and puppet states were also involved with, most notably from Italy, Romania, Hungary and the Independent State of Croatia, bringing the total number to more than 1 million at its’ peak.
Soviet Plan at Stalingrad
Until Stalingrad Red Army suffered one defeat after another with mostly retreating and trying to establish the defense line. There were smaller and larger pockets of resistance deep inside the occupied territory as well partisans operating in occupied territories using guerrilla tactics. At the start of the battle, the Germans made the biggest mistake of bombing town into ruins. That proved to curtail for the defense of the city. The ruins were a perfect terrain to eliminate the usefulness of the Luftwaffe and German armor. Soviet plan was to hold the city at any cost with just enough resources while bringing reinforcements for a counteroffensive.
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Part of the Great Fatherland’s War series – “Ни шагу назад! “ = “Not a step back!”
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While Order No. 277 (“Ни шагу назад! “ = “Not a step back!”) had been issued around a month ago (on July 28, 1942), Stalingrad was the place where it proved crucial. While it was a motivational message, in reality, you should often point guns in order to keep soldiers from feeling that battlefield. Still, it was nothing specific for this battle, the same thing will happen to Germans later. Losing the war is definitely not a nice position to be in. Still, that order helped in the stabilization of the front and cleared the way for a counteroffensive. And it also helped Soviet soldiers to feel better, no matter how weird that might sound these days. The most notable commander on the Soviet side was Georgy Zhukov.
The Battle of Stalingrad
You can’t describe this battle in a few words. This would require books, movies, and documentaries – and there is a plenty of it. So, I’ll mention only some of the most important facts here.
Pavlov’s house – was a four-story building Red Army troops managed to retake from Germans and hold, being under siege, for 60 days, until the siege was lifted. It was placed in the center of Stalingrad and was a real pain in the ass for Germans. It got its name from Sergeant Yakov Pavlov, a commander of the platoon that hold the building.
The Volgograd Tractor Plant – was the place where heavy fighting took place, but T-34 tanks were produced during the battle. Unfinished tanks that couldn’t move, were placed inside the factory with their guns firing through the holes. There were cases when workers would finish working on the tank and after that take their position in that same tank and drive themselves into battle.
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Part of the “The 50th Anniversary of Soviet Armed Forces” series – German prisoners of war
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Railway station – Fighting around Railway Station No.1. were extremely intense with station changing sides 14 times during 6 hours of one day alone.
Snipers – Turing a city into ruins made it a perfect place for sniper warfare. Red Army used snipers with great effect and the most notable of them was Vasily Zaytsev who killed 225 German soldiers and officers, including 11 snipers, in more than 1 month. He was reburied Mamayev Hill in Volgograd in 2006 and very close to his famous words “For us, there was no land beyond the Volga”. There is also a film from 2001 (“Enemy at the Gates”) with Jude Law as Vasily.
Aftermath and Consequences
After the Soviet counterattack (Operation Uranus), German 6th Army was trapped in Stalingrad. All plans to relieve the siege were unsuccessful and the Army, commanded by Friedrich Paulus, finally surrendered on February 2, 1943. Paulus became the first German Generalfeldmarschall to surrender in history. This was a decisive blow to German morale and the myth of German invincibility was finally broken. Paulus became very critical about Nazi regime and lived and worked in DDR until his death in 1957.
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The 20th Anniversary of Internationale Federation of Resistance – “Motherland” monument in Stalingrad
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Losses on both sides were extremely high. While the Red Army could recover from these losses that were not the case for the Wehrmacht. Nazi Germany lost the complete army and a lot of elite units. Many units were transferred from West to East leaving West exposed with inexperienced or older soldiers to confront Allied actions there.
Maybe the greatest reason for Nazi defeat was the fact that Hitler didn’t trust his generals and saw himself as the one who should make decisions. That resulted in many poor decisions, like not allowing Paulus to retreat from Stalingrad, many delays, and plan changes. Unlike him, Stalin changed his mind and left the war to his generals.
Continue reading: Soviet Space Dogs: Belka & Strelka
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