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The Battle of Stalingrad


The turning point of the Great Patriotic War and of the Second World War in general was the Battle of Stalingrad (summer 19422 February 1943), waged deep in the Russian heartland. The suburbs of Stalingrad marked the farthest extent of the German advance into the Soviet Union. As a major industrial center, the city was an important prize in itself. In addition, German control of Stalingrad would have severed Soviet transport links with southern Russia via the Volga River, thus facilitating the conquest of the oil-rich Caucasus. It also would have opened the way to the enemys advance to the east of the Volga toward the chief munitions-producing region of the Urals.

The 200-day-long Battle of Stalingrad involved over two million men on both sides at some of its stages and was waged over a territory of 40,000 square miles. By September 1942 the Germans had reached the citys center, where they encountered stiff resistance from the Red Army. In the constant street fighting the Soviet soldiers defended each street and house and, although driven almost to the Volga, prevented the Germans from crossing the river.

On 19 November 1942 the Red Army launched a counterattack in the form of pincer movements north and south of the city, and by the twenty-third they had encircled a substantial part of the enemy troops, including the Sixth Army under Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus. The surrounded troops finally surrendered on 2 February 1943, when Paulus and the last of his remaining 91,000 troops turned themselves over to the Soviets. In the course of the Battle of Stalingrad the Wehrmacht lost a staggering 1.5 million men. The total Axis losses (Germans, Romanians, Italians, and Hungarians) at Stalingrad amounted to over one-fourth of all its troops in the Soviet-German theater of war.

The Stalingrad disaster put an end to Germanys offensive role in the Soviet Union. German forces at the Russian Front lost momentum, while the Red Army began to push the Germans back from the western portions of the Soviet Union. In the winter of 194243 the Soviets pushed the Germans more than 400 miles to the west, liberating millions of Soviet citizens and reclaiming the territories rich in coal, oil, and grain. From then on, the Red Armys offensive drive would remain unstoppable until the end of the war. Many major battles still lay ahead, but the wars outcome was no longer in doubt.

The Battle of Stalingrad proved a decisive victory that turned the tide of war and changed the global military and political balance in favor of the Allies. It was appraised as the greatest battle of the Second World War by the whole world and inspired the rise of resistance movements in the countries of Europe and Asia under Axis occupation.

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