|The Beginning of the End|
The Red Army strikes back on November 19, 1942. The German army is badly overextended and their troops are exhausted. Every available German soldier has been thrown into Stalingradís cauldron of combat. The Soviets plan a pincer movement. Marshal Zhukov moves his Soviet armies south of the city for a drive west to encircle the Germans.
By not committing reinforcements and resources to the Battle of Stalingrad, the Soviets have amassed 500,000 infantrymen and massive artillery batteries. More than 1,000 attack planes are poised to strike. And there are 900 new T-34 tanks to spearhead attacks and harass the retreating Germans.
On November 23, forces from the north pincer launch a surprise attack. The encirclement of the Germans attacking Stalingrad is complete. The Soviets believe they have trapped 85,000 Germans; the real number is closer to 300,000. The Soviet plan is to turn on the Germans and destroy them; Marshal Zhukov supports the plan because he realizes there are not enough resources available to continue the offensive.
Hitler orders Manstein to Army Group A headquarters. Manstein has orders to relieve the troops at Stalingrad. These orders are hollow; his troops are either casualties, captured, or trapped in Stalingrad. Even if he is able to assemble Army Group Don (named after the River Don) as ordered, Manstein is not sure he can accomplish his mission; there are more than 1,000 antitank guns between his headquarters and Stalingrad. Any attempt to assist in a breakout will leave Army Group Don open to another Soviet encirclement.
Despite all this, Hitler orders Paulus to hold out; Goering has promised that the Luftwaffe can keep the encircled troops supplied. It is a promise soon broken. The Luftwaffe has too few planes and too few airfields; almost 500 of their aircraft are shot down trying to fly in supplies. Over the next few weeks, Manstein assembles what forces he can while the Soviets constrict the perimeter around Stalingrad.
On December 12, Manstein launches his attack toward Stalingrad with 13 divisions. The Soviets counter by shattering the Italian Eighth Army. The threat Manstein has feared is fast becoming a reality. By December 19, Manstein orders Paulus to attempt a breakout immediately; Paulus refuses. Army Group Donís progress is grinding to a halt. Two days later, Manstein appeals to Hitler to change Paulusís mind; Hitler cites Paulusís report that he has insufficient fuel for a breakout. Finally, on December 23, the relieving force is stopped at the Myshkova River; the troops in Stalingrad can hear the fighting, but it will come no closer.
By Christmas 1942, Mansteinís forces are in full retreat and the Red Army is advancing. In the Caucasus, it is the same story; the Germans are retreating before the Red Army. The Red Armyís advance on all fronts continues into the new year.
While the other Soviet armies advance, those around Stalingrad continue their siege of the city - and the encircled German Sixth Army. On January 8, 1943, the Soviets demand surrender; Paulus ignores their demand. Two days later the Soviets attack. The Germans have more troops, but the Soviet troops are better fed, clothed, and supplied. Preceded by a heavy artillery barrage, the Soviet attack pushes the Germans back.
By January 21, the Soviets recapture both airfields in Stalingrad; the Germans are completely cut off. Four days later, the Soviet forces attacking the city meet in the middle of Stalingrad. Only two pockets of German resistance remain. On January 31, Paulus surrenders the southern pocket; the northern pocket surrenders on February 2. All across the Eastern Front, those German units not cut off or encircled are retreating. The tide of Operation Barbarossa now begins to ebb.
Approximately 280,000 Germans are encircled at Stalingrad. About 40,000 are evacuated, most of them seriously wounded. Another 90,000 are taken prisoner. Only 5,000 survive to return home, the last in 1955. The remaining Germans, about 150,000, are dead or missing. The Soviets report removing 147,000 German and 47,000 Soviet bodies for burial. The defeat enrages Hitler, saddens the German populace, and heartens the Soviet Union and the Allies.