What if Germany had reached Stalingrad?

The battle for Stalingrad

Adolf Hitler then declared Stalingrad a symbol of the German will to win. At the same time, he combined with the conquest of the strategically important arms and transport center on the Volga a personal prestige success over his fiercest opponent Josef W. Stalin, whose name the city bore. A request from Paulus to be allowed to break out of the 40 by 50 kilometer cauldron in the west was therefore strictly rejected by Hitler. Rather, he trusted the meaningless announcements by the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, Hermann Göring, that he would be able to adequately supply the trapped from the air until the planned relief. In the winter of 1942/43, however, the Wehrmacht lacked the necessary capacities for relief and air supply. The 300-400 tons of supplies required daily by the 6th Army could not be delivered at any time. An attempt at relief by the Don Army Group, which had been hastily assembled under the command of Erich von Manstein - with Colonel General Hermann Hoth's tank units approaching Stalingrad within 48 kilometers - was broken off after nine days due to Soviet resistance. With his order to hold out, renewed on December 23, Hitler finally left the 6th Army to its fate.

The daily food ration of the starved inmates was two slices of bread and a little tea, and occasionally a thin soup. The first deaths from exhaustion and malnutrition occurred from mid-December. The Russian winter with below minus 40 degrees also claimed thousands of victims among the Wehrmacht soldiers who were inadequately equipped to withstand the icy temperatures. By January 18, 1943, the German troops had to give up all lines of defense and retreat completely into the urban area of ​​Stalingrad, where they were split into two partial basins. On January 30, Adolf Hitler demonstratively appointed Paulus Field Marshal General.

Since no German field marshal had ever surrendered before, the promotion was intended to motivate Paul to continue fighting with the 6th Army to the point of "hero's death". However, Paulus surrendered on January 31, 1943 with his remaining units in the southern basin. Two days later, the emaciated troops surrendered in the northern basin of the city, which was like a field of rubble. Around 150,000 German soldiers fell victim to the fighting, the cold or starvation in the cauldron. Around 91,000 men ended up in Soviet captivity, from which perhaps 6,000 survivors returned to Germany by 1956. More than 400,000 soldiers were believed to have died on the Soviet side.

The first defeat in the war against the Soviet Union, which was devastating for the Wehrmacht, changed the war situation permanently. The law of action now passed to the Red Army. The effects on the morale of the German population were more far-reaching than the military consequences. Most of the Germans, shaken by the dimensions of this defeat, recognized the turning point of the war on the Eastern Front. The attempt by the German leadership to portray the downfall of the 6th Army as a grandiose heroic epic and the declaration of the "total war" by Joseph Goebbels on February 18, 1943 did not remove the doubts that arose about the final German victory. Rather, immediately after the end of the fighting in Stalingrad, the year "1918" could be read in major German cities - painted on house walls at risk of death, as a reminder of the German defeat in the First World War.