The outcome of World War II assessment

Battle of Stalingrad […] why the course of Germany and WWII turned in the battle. The Battle of Stalingrad was a turning point for the German Army and for the outcome of World War II. Stalingrad and the battles that took place around the city were pivotal for the Germans and their eventual takeover of Europe.

The Germans and Russians fought the Battle of Stalingrad from August 1942 until February 1943 in several areas around the city of Stalingrad, in Western Russia. Initially, it was Hitler’s idea to destroy the Russian Army and their resistance to German forces, with the ultimate goal the isolation and eventual capture of Moscow, capital of Russia and soul of the Russian people. The two armies fought much of the battle during the bitter Russian winter, which was nearly as deadly as the battles themselves. Why was Stalingrad so important, and why was its outcome so decisive?


In 1941, the city of Stalingrad was an up-and-coming port and industrial city along the Volga River of nearly half a million people.

Industry was the focus of the city, and factories manufactured a variety of machinery from steel produced in the area. A historian who witnessed the battle writes, “Its northern suburbs were the site of the Dzerzhinsky tractor plant, largest in the Soviet Union, the Red October Metal Works, and other great factories, each with its workers’ settlement.”

Even more important, beyond Stalingrad, there was literally nothing but the Russian steppes. If Germany could take control of the city, Russia would be cut in two, and communications between the South and the center of the country would virtually disappear.

In addition, the city would give the Germans access to Russian areas rich in oil, which they needed to continue their relentless march across Europe. Thus, the city was important economically and politically to Russia, and to take it would cripple much of the Russian ability to manufacture much needed machinery necessary to the war and the Russian people’s survival. This was one of the reasons the Russians held on so tightly to the city. Their behavior baffled the Germans, who really expected a quick and easy victory at Stalingrad.


Before Hitler decided to invade and conquer Russia, the war in Europe had been decidedly in Germany’s favor. In fact, to many, Hitler’s armies seemed nearly unstoppable. On August 22, the battle began. Immediately, Stalin understood the graveness of the situation, and ordered his men to hold Stalingrad “at all costs.”

On August 23, the Germans showed they meant business when they attacked with over 2000 airborne sorties over the city. The German attacks leveled oil storage tanks along the river and destroyed at least 20 ships in the Volga. 300,000 residents quit the city, and on August 27, the Russians declared a state of siege.

The Germans saw an easy victory before them, and by September 13, they began to storm the city. However, they found Russian pockets of resistance everywhere, and they could not break through to take the Volga. They had superior strength in both tanks and planes, and it seemed as if this superiority would carry them through the battle to victory. Certainly, the first few days of the campaign seemed to prove this. One historian writes, “The Germans pummeled the 62nd army day and night. Sometimes the Soviets had to repulse as many as 10 attacks in a day. They were fighting not only for factory workshops but also over the debris of buildings.”

When the Germans failed to take Stalingrad by late September, Hitler began a series of moves that ultimately cost him the battle and the war. He fired General Franz Halder as head of the German General Staff and ordered General Kurt Zeitzler to take over the fight. Ultimately, he would place Colonel-General Friedrich Paulus and his Sixth Army in a leadership role, and his indecisiveness about leadership helped undermine the effectiveness of the Army and its’ goals.

Hitler also sent General Jodi, one of his personal favorites, to the Caucasus region of Russia, which the Germans held, to try to distract some of the Russian Army from Stalingrad. However, Hitler’s strategy did not work, as Jodi quickly saw that the Germans were overextended in the Caucasus, and could not hope to hold all the territory if they escalated the fighting.

In October, the German made a concerted effort to overtake and control the city that failed, and by November, the German troops were clearly exhausted. They held much of the western area of Stalingrad, but could only hold their ground, rather than take over more decisive areas of the city. Hitler had many opportunities to pull his Army out of the area and order a retreat, yet he refused to do so – condemning millions of men to death or imprisonment.

On November 19, the German Army faced a major setback when Russian troops “surged” through Romanian lines northwest of the city, while creating other attacks north of the city that guaranteed their positions could not be flanked by the Germans.

Already, the Germans were getting a taste of the weather to come. One historian states, “In his memoirs, Zeitzler cited the following reasons for German defeat on this day: the snowstorm, the -20 [degrees] C. biting frost, and the ‘crowds of fleeing Romanians’ who impeded the activity of Reserve Tank Corps X.”

The Germans were forced to dig in and hold on through the upcoming Russian winter, and this was a major setback to Hitler and his plans for European and ultimately world domination.


After the November 19 setback, Hitler also ordered his troops not to retreat. They formed a circular defense and Hitler dubbed them the “troops of the Stalingrad fortress,” which sounded good to the people at home, but really signified they were surrounded by Russians. The weather conditions continued to worsen, and German troops were literally digging in during freezing temperatures and continuing snowstorms. The German fortress spread some 40 kilometers, and a vast number of soldiers. Historian Poroskov continues, “the encircled group of German forces consisted of 20 German divisions and two Romanian armies totaling 330,000 soldiers. Of these, 100,000 were later taken prisoner. The remainder died of combat, famine or cold.”

Hitler knew the encamped men needed supplies, but the weather kept any planes from making at least half of the promised drops. In December, the Russians made overtures to the Germans to surrender, but Hitler refused to discuss defeat with the Russians, or allow his generals to meet with the other side. Hitler continued to spout propaganda to the German people, while privately admitting he felt the Sixth Army and Stalingrad were lost.

By the end of January, the Russians had successfully cut the German Army into two sections. Another historian notes, “General Paulus and his Sixth Army, comprising 200,000 fighting men and some 70,000 non-combatants, were cut off.” And two-thirds of the German Army surrendered to the Red Army. The Battle of Stalingrad officially ended on February 2. Over 2 million people fought in the battle, and the Germans killed, wounded, or taken prisoner added up to 1.5 million.

The Germans, who had never expected defeat, were dealt a crushing blow, and Hitler could never fully admit defeat in the region, or in his own mind. Both sides suffered massive losses of life, and both sides were seen as brave fighters who would not give up until the bitter end.


The Russian Army held on to Stalingrad for a variety of reasons, from patriotism and determination to the threat of death by their own government. After the Red Army gave up ground to Germany in the West, Russian leader Josef Stalin formed the “penalty (or shtrafniye) battalions,” formed of leaders and men who had shown cowardice in the previous fighting. The men knew they would be executed if they showed cowardice, and that their families were facing reprisals at home because of their behavior.

One historian notes, “As a result, the members of these shtrafniye battalions really had nothing to lose (but their lives) and soon became the Germans’ worst nightmare.”

Stalin’s “cowards” turned into some of the bravest fighters in the Russian ranks, and helped hold Stalingrad for six long months. The Germans anticipated an easy victory, and as the battle dragged on, the men grew more hungry and desperate. The temperatures were freezing or far below, and snow fell constantly. The men were tired, and without hope, and they received no encouragement or rescue from their Fuehrer.

One little known fact of the battle is the capture of so many German generals during and after the battle, and their eventual work with Russia against the Nazis. One historian notes, “The support these military leaders gave to the Russian-led crusade against the Nazis, although sometimes indirect, was of enormous significance to the re-education movement among the German war prisoners.”

The Russians began a concerted campaign to “reeducate” German soldiers. The Nazi administration, including Hitler, had used brainwashing techniques to gain control of Germany and its army. The Russians used similar tactics to reeducate the Nazi soldiers, and their crushing defeat at Stalingrad helped degrade them enough to listen, especially when their commanders were involved.

Later, these POWs would return to Germany and spread another form of brainwashing, their conversion to Communism, which was drilled into them at the reeducation schools in Russia.

In fact, many were instrumental in breaking up Berlin into two separate areas, one Communist, one free.


Much of the defeat at Stalingrad can be blamed directly on Hitler and his obsession with control. When his initial strike into Russia failed in 1941, he removed many of his high-ranking generals, and took over the role of commander-in-chief of his army. He replaced his more seasoned generals with a group of “yes-men” who where more compliant to his wishes.

In fact, when Hitler dismissed General Halder, a resistance movement that hoped to assassinate the Fuehrer grew and gained momentum. ” Hitler’s inability to take Stalingrad bolstered the morale of the Russian Army while creating a sense of doom in the German Army. It also began to undermine Hitler’s power and domination of his own men and might. Many accounts of the battle were censored in the German press, and the German people did not get the full truth of what happened at Stalingrad until after the war was over, and uncensored reports began to be published in Germany.

Hitler was a cruel and despotic man whose quest for domination clouded his judgment. Stalingrad brought out the worst in the man and the leader, and showed his underbelly to the world, and to his own staff. Many of the German fighters captured as POWs turned against him during their stay in Russia, and many of his own people began to turn against him, too. Historians agree Stalingrad was the turning point against Germany in the war, but even more, it was a turning point for the German people, too. Hitler’s popularity would never rise to what it was when Germany was victorious, and ultimately, unable to face another defeat, Hitler would commit suicide – unable to face the eventual defeat of his country and his ideals.


The Battle of Stalingrad was so important because it illustrated the German Army’s weaknesses, and proved the “invincible” Panzers could indeed be beaten and broken. It also illustrated Hitler’s weakness as a military leader.

Perhaps if he would have entrusted leadership to his generals, the battle might have taken a different turn, and the war might have ultimately ended differently. Historians agree that Stalingrad indicated the full brutality and irrationality of Hitler and his obsession with world domination. It showed the world how little he cared for human life, even the lives of his own troops. One historian states, “The catastrophe of Stalingrad exposed for all to see the inhumanity and irresponsibility of the Nazi regime toward its own people in the pursuit of its megalomaniacal and criminal aims.”

Hitler saw the battle as another in the continuing trend of German victories in Europe, and it seemed almost inconceivable to him that his vast divisions could be wiped out by the Red Army. The morale in Germany fell dramatically after the defeat, and the government officially decreed three full days of mourning for those lost in the battle.

However, perhaps the most important affect of the loss was the beginning of a questioning of Hitler’s motives inside his own country. Some of his staff began to wonder about his stability, and the German people faced defeat in their minds for the first time.

The Nazi regime lost some of its’ sparkle with the defeat of Stalingrad, and Hitler’s refusal to accept defeat or to remove the troops before the worst of the winter. Stalingrad was a decisive victory for the Russians and a crushing and demoralizing defeat for the Germans, and ultimately for Hitler’s despotic regime.


When the fighting was over, most of Stalingrad lay in total ruin. As one historian states, “Not much was now left of this city which had once housed nearly half a million people.”

Today, the city formerly known as Stalingrad is called Volgograd. It is a teeming industrial port city, with nearly 1 million people.

After the war, it was one of the first cities Russia began to rebuild. It is still remembered as a significant turning point in the tide of World War II. In 1967, the Soviet government constructed a massive statute outside the city to commemorate the bravery of the Russian fighters who repulsed the Germans. Built atop Mamayev Mound, which was a key point throughout the battle, the 72-meter high monument depicts a Soviet woman clutching a sword and uttering a battle cry for freedom. Even today, millions of Soviets visit the monument each year to pay tribute to the Russian Red Army fighters and their ultimate sacrifice.

The Mound monument has evolved into a complex called “Mamayev Kurgan,” with several buildings and monuments commemorating the battle for Stalingrad.

The Russian people have not forgotten the sacrifice their relatives made to save their country from fascism, and they visit the monument today to remember and say “thank you.” Volgograd residents are especially proud that their monument to Mother Russia is the tallest freestanding monument in the world.

In conclusion, Stalingrad was a turning point for many reasons. When the Russian Red Army repulsed the Germans, Hitler refused to admit defeat, and the course of the war changed forever. The world began to see Hitler for what he really was, and many of his own people began to realize just what a despot he was. When Hitler committed troops to Stalingrad, and began his series of miscalculations with his fighting forces, he signed his own death warrant, and the death warrant of Germany, too. Stalingrad was a deadly battle, but a decisive one, and Europe’s history could have been far different if the Germans had taken the city.


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