Since the start of Barbarossa, Stalin has sought an opportunity to launch a counteroffensive against the Germans. When the winter weather stalls the German push on Moscow, Stalin has his opportunity.
As the German offensive against Moscow grinds to a halt, Stalin, against advice from his top advisors, orders offenses on all fronts. Marshal Georgi Zhukov maintains that Soviet resources are insufficient for such diverse operations; he predicts the Red Army will be unable to follow up on any early successes, but within a week Soviet forces are attacking the Germans. Throughout January the Red Army pushes the Germans back.
In response to the Red Armyís offensive and requests from his commanders to withdraw to better defensive positions, Hitler has removed the top three army commanders in the East - Leeb, Bock, and Rundstedt. Many other commanders have been removed - all because they requested withdrawals of their troops. Hitler now dominates German military planning and decision making, a position he will maintain until the end of the war. Hitler does issue an order that helps stem the Soviet offensive: All units are to stand their ground. Even though many units are forced to fall back, German resistance stiffens.
By March the German high command estimates that the German army has suffered 1,500,000 casualties in Barbarossa, and more than 250,000 in the first 12 weeks of 1942. The Germans are able to make up some of the loss; in April, 51 divisions from Italy, Rumania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Spain arrive on the Eastern Front.
In preparation for the summer offensive - code-named Operation Blue - the Germans reorganize their forces in the south. Army Group South is divided into Army Groups A and B. Army Group A is to capture Rostov-on-Don and drive southeast to Baku on the Caspian Sea. The prize: oilfields that can supply most of Germanyís petroleum needs. Army Group B is to protect Army Group Aís flank.
The offensive begins in early July. Early success leads Hitler to change the plan on July 13; Army Group Bís objective is now to capture Stalingrad. Hitler again meddles in the offensive on July 17, shifting panzer units to Army Group A.
The Germans continue to push toward Stalingrad. By the end of August, the Germans are within 16 miles of the city. By mid-September, the Germans establish a 30-mile front surrounding the city. But there is a change in command for the Soviets; Gen. Vasili Chuikov takes command of the Sixty-Second Army and orders a close-quarters style of fighting that stymies the Germans. His character is also a factor; he is firm and abrasive, but he exudes confidence that the Red Army will prevail. There is a change in the German command as well: On September 9, Hitler takes personal command of Army Group A.
On October 4, the Germans begin what they hope is the final drive on Stalingrad. The Soviets counter by attempting to lure German advances into prearranged killing zones. The Luftwaffe flies thousands of sorties, dive bombing and strafing targets throughout the city.
On October 14, Hitler suspends all offensive operations on the Eastern Front except at Stalingrad and along the River Terek in the Caucasus. By October 18, the Red Army has fought the Germans to a standstill, and they have done so with a minimum commitment of reinforcements. The lack of reinforcements is deliberate; the Russians are hoarding resources for a counterattack at Stalingrad. On October 22, the first snow of the season falls there.
German intelligence reports a buildup of Soviet units north of Stalingrad. General Friedrich Paulus, commander of the German Sixth Army, orders what turns out to be the final German attacks on Stalingrad. Over the next six days the city reverberates with the sounds of fighting. Casualties are heavy on both sides. Despite new German tactics, the Soviets are able to splinter the attacks; some German units push to the Volga while others are stopped cold. The Germans cannot maintain central control and the battle degenerates into a series of unconnected firefights. The Red Armyís small-unit tactics prevail.
The Beginning of the End