In February 1943, the German army surrendered at Stalingrad

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Last updated: November 8, 2019

The defeat at Stalingrad was down to an assortment of factors; no one factor was wholly responsible for the defeat, as is the complexity of history. A number of these factors were, however, down to Hitler either directly or indirectly.

One factor was the fact that Hitler was very vague in his directions to the generals; this was problematic as it caused confusion and co-ordination problems between the generals. They had to decide for themselves where to attack, and were given three simple steps to follow: attacking armies, capturing resources and then capturing cities.The idea behind this was to prevent the armies getting bogged down in cities too early. Hitler’s vague directions were a relatively minor factor, although led to the generals’ battle plans not collaborating efficiently with each other.

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Other factors stemming from Hitler include overconfidence; due to victories in 1941, Hitler, and the rest of Germany, became all but complacent. When the Russians had retreated, the Germans assumed that this meant they were defeated, which was far from the truth.Hitler, instead of telling his troops to stay wary, as the Russians were still a dangerous foe, encouraged complacency; he boasted about the Wehrmacht’s triumph over the Red Army, bragging of German superiority. This created a victorious attitude, which meant the soldiers assumed they had practically won already; this made them unprepared mentally for the might and resistance of the Russians at Stalingrad. Also, he had assumed that a direct assault on the city would be easy; the outdated German maps didn’t show the steep banks of the river valley, which gave the Russians ‘steps’ of defence.Hitler’s attitude was a rather important factor, as it had an impact on overconfidence, already present within the Wehrmacht, leading to surprise at Stalingrad; the soldiers weren’t expecting heavy resistance from the army they grossly underestimated.

Underestimation of the Russians meant that Hitler didn’t think twice about diverting Hoth’s army, the 4th tank army, from the assault on Stalingrad with Von Paulus’s army, the 6th army. The 6th army moved to Stalingrad alone, and the 4th tank army headed towards the Caucuses to capture oil.The idea was that the oil fields in the Caucuses would be captured, whilst the capture of Stalingrad would cut the Caucuses off from Russia. The problem with splitting the forces was that Hitler was undermining a key element of Blitzkrieg, the tank divisions which should have accompanied the 6th army. This meant that the infantry were unsupported, making assaulting structures much harder.

Another element of Blitzkrieg that was lost was the concentration of forces, as Hitler had done the opposite and dispersed his forces; instead of heading for one with both armies, and then securing the other, he tried to capture both simultaneously.This was problematic, as the 6th army was not strong enough alone to capture Stalingrad, and the 4th tank army was never able to fully secure the oil before they were sent to try and rescue the 6th. Hitler’s interference in this case was really quite a significant factor, meant that he secured neither the Caucuses nor Stalingrad, as he diverted the tank army from the troops, so they were unable to focus their power.

Power struggles within the generals were encouraged by Hitler, who believed strongly in competition.His support for such rivalry was exacerbated by the fact he had already fired his Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C), leaving the position available to anyone who sufficiently impressed Hitler. This meant that the generals were more concerned with impressing Hitler, making battles look decisive and dramatic, than considering in depth tactical details such as minimising casualties. It also meant that a series of short-term factors took place, due to Hitler’s attitude towards his generals, such as the commander of the Luftwaffe, Goering.

Goering bombed Stalingrad, keen to demonstrate the might of the Luftwaffe to Hitler. While this was a very ostentatious gesture, it actually did more harm to the German assault than good; Stalingrad became a fortress rife with ambush points for Russians to hide in and the roads were blocked. This slowed down the attack, and removed the potential of a mechanised assault, as the rubble would first have to be cleared. This was caused primarily by the encouragement of competition by Hitler.

Hitler’s three-step plan, of going for armies, resources and then cities, was not a priority for the generals; they were far more concerned with impressing their fi?? hrer by having cities to their name than capturing resources. This meant armies were tied down in urban combat, something they were not adept at, when they should have first gone for resources. Hitler encouraged this behaviour, undermining the rules he had personally set up to avoid getting bogged down in cities. This was unwise as he was contradicting his own advice.Advice given realistically, as opposed to simply telling Hitler that everything he’s doing is perfect, was disregarded due to Hitler’s attitude; when Zeitslev, a great logistician, told Hitler that, with the resources at hand, Stalingrad was an ‘impossible’ battle, Hitler’s response was to dismiss Zeitslev on the spot, and he preferred instead to listen to people who would tell him that it would undoubtedly be a success. Success for the Russians was made more straightforward by the factors above related to Hitler encouraging competition.

Goering bombed Stalingrad, blocking off roads slowing down troops and removing the possibility of a tank attack. Another factor is the fact that generals prioritised cities, defying the three-step plan, which they should logically have followed, to avoid being held up in cities. Also, Hitler preferred to ignore advice given reasonably such as Zeitslev’s, and listen to the generals who, to gain favour, told Hitler that Stalingrad would be easy for Von Paulus.

Von Paulus, when he was all but surrounded and short on supplies, could have feasibly retreated back to the German lines. Hitler, due to his stubbornness and pride, would not let Von Paulus move away from the River Volga. His attitude was ‘I won’t leave the Volga! I won’t go back from the Volga! ‘; instead, he preferred to pull Hoth, along with Mannstein, from the Caucuses to try and break through the Russian lines to bring supplies to Von Paulus.

They were unable to break through the sheer mass of Russian troops, and Von Paulus’s chance of escape had passed.Goering attempted to re-supply Von Paulus by air, however the harsh conditions, Russian anti-air batteries, lack of space in the planes and a receding German front meant that this soon became impossible; lack of supplies meant Von Paulus ended up surrendering, when he and his army could have retreated safely at an earlier time, had Hitler been prepared to allow him to. Hitler’s interference here was a very significant factor; it ultimately led to the loss of the 6th Army when he could have let Von Paulus make a tactical withdrawal.This can also be attributed, in small part, to the competition between generals, as Hoth and Mannstein wanted the glory of saving Von Paulus, and Goering wished to demonstrate the versatility of the Luftwaffe, and make it seem to be the superior armed force of the time. Time, the main idea of Blitzkrieg, was disregarded by Hitler; he said ‘time is not important’, however this was incorrect for various reasons.

As has already been mentioned, this meant that the Blitzkrieg tactic was no longer being effectively implemented.Also, it gave the Russians more time to mobilise armies and continue producing equipment. Hitler’s early vengeance campaign against Yugoslavia had already lost him many valuable weeks, which gave the Germans a disadvantage; they had the winter fast approaching, and it was getting progressively worse. His lack of appreciation of the importance of time also added to the idea of complacency; the slow pace of the assault led to a more casual, laid-back attitude.Hitler’s personal over-confidence, detailed above, contributed to this idea of a slow pace, as Hitler assumed he had virtually already won. Here, Hitler’s relaxed attitude was moderately important factor, as it led to Blitzkrieg being undermined, giving the Russians time to prepare a counter-attack while the Germans struggled to cope with winter.

The campaign against Yugoslavia wasted vital weeks, meaning that the Germans had less time in Russia before winter, due to this frankly unnecessary campaign, on which Hitler insisted.Hitler, while many factors can be attributed to him, was clearly not the sole cause of defeat at Stalingrad. There were many other factors, including Zhukov’s tactics which exploited German weaknesses; Zhukov surrounded Von Paulus’s army with a fresh force who were not weary like the 6th army, and effectively created a secure perimeter around them.

The reason for these extra troops, 6 extra armies, was that they were reserved for a Japanese attack that never came.The idea was for the Russians to wear the Von Paulus and his army down until they surrendered or starved; this was, in effect, a siege. To further cut down German supply lines, Russian troops forced the German line back, which at certain points was defended by German allies; these were weaker and an easier target for Russian forces. This weakness in the line can be partially attributed to Hitler, however he didn’t really have any choice; the line was overstretched and he had no other available troops with which to hold it.Due to weaknesses in this broad front, the line was pushed back, leaving German-controlled airfields further away; the Luftwaffe planes could carry even fewer supplies to the 6th army, making the situation worse, as Zhukov had intended. This factor is important, as Zhukov was able to seize the initiative, isolating Von Paulus and reducing the amount supplies the Luftwaffe could provide by increasing the distance between the airfields and the army.

Armies in Russia were far more used to fighting in their country and, more importantly, were fighting for their country.The Germans were fighting a war to gain Lebensraum, living space, for Germany but weren’t passionate about it; the Russians were fighting to defend their own homeland; they knew if they lost the war, they would lose everything to the Germans. This patriotism meant that many Russians were prepared to fight to the last; 40 Russians were able to hold the Grain Elevator against the Wehrmacht for 6 days before it finally fell. This patriotism also led to Russian partisan groups forming behind the German supplies, using guerrilla style tactics.They were able to disrupt German communications, supplies and logistics; small groups of German troops from the front had to be recalled to attempt to deal with them.

Overall, patriotism was a key factor in Russian success; the Russians fought ardently against the Germans, with partisans behind the lines using guerrilla warfare to disrupt the Germans. The Germans were inept at urban warfare, house-to-house fighting, in comparison with the Russians who were adept it at.The Germans hadn’t been trained for urban combat, whereas the Russians had some experience in it, and were fighting in a more familiar environment, a Russian city; the layout of the city would be far for familiar to the Russians than the Germans. This factor is a very important one for the German defeat at Stalingrad, as they lost many troops fighting in urban situations. It also contributed to the extraordinary defence of the grain elevator, outlines above, in addition to the patriotism of the Russians.The Russian winter was a key element in Russian victory, for several reasons. For one, the Germans fought a lot worse in the winter as they were not used to coping with it, and nor was their equipment; -40i?? C was cold enough to freeze the diesel in their vehicles, and their weapons jammed as they were not designed for such temperatures.

For the Russians, the winter was a fact of life they were accustomed to coping with; they were prepared for it, and their equipment was designed to operate under such conditions.New equipment, including 450 new T34 medium tanks, was designed to deal with the arctic conditions. Even though some of the older equipment was not efficient in the cold, the Russians had developed crude methods of keeping equipment working, such as lighting fires under tanks for brief periods of time. Goering’s air re-supply was made a lot more difficult by the blizzard conditions, as it was hard for planes to stay in the air, and they often couldn’t maintain straight courses. This led, ultimately, to less supplies getting through to the isolated, freezing 6th army.The speed element of Blitzkrieg, essentially the whole point of it, hence ‘lighting-war’, was hindered by the winter conditions, as armies can’t move quickly in snow. It is worthy of note that they had to fight in the winter partially due to Hitler’s war in Yugoslavia, as they had to postpone the invasion of Russia.

As a factor, winter is an extremely important one indeed; it gave the Russians the advantage of experience and suitable equipment, slowed the Germans and made the re-supply of the 6th army even more difficult.Difficulties arose for the German supply situation, in particular food, due largely to the Russian ‘scorched earth’ policy. Stalin had ordered retreating armies to basically destroy and burn everything during retreat, leaving nothing but ‘scorched earth’ in their wake.

This, even at the beginning of the war, had caused problems for the Germans; they had hoped they would be able to ‘live off the land’, reducing the supplies needed, but this was clearly not possible. This meant that the Germans needed far more supplies than they had planned for.The winter worsened this problem, as the troops needed even more supplies to survive the conditions. This factor, although often overlooked, is still quite an important one; it meant that the German army was even wearier, that Goering’s air re-supply needed to carry more supplies than it would otherwise have had to, and that the supply situation in general was worsened, demoralising the German army. The German army was stretched across an immense front in Russia, which meant it was a very thin line. German allies, such as Rumania and Italy, had to support them as there were simply not enough Germans.This overstretch meant that the line was very weak in places, especially where the German allies were; they were even less motivated than the Germans and were often quick to yield to the Russian counter-attack led by Zhukov.

This was demoralising to the rest of the line, as it was a defeat. The overstretch also meant that supply lines were stretched, having to supply such a broad front. This weak front also contributed to the lack of supplies to the 6th army, as it meant that German territory, thus airfields, was moving further away.This factor is a very important one, as it led to further supply problems, demoralisation, allowed Zhukov to counter-attack and meant that Germany lost territory. It can be vaguely attributed to Hitler’s over-ambition; if he had listened to Zeitslev’s advice, he could have pulled out of Stalingrad, consolidated his forces for a strong defensive line and built up forces while the winter passed before attempting another attack. In conclusion, Hitler’s interference was the main reason for defeat at Stalingrad.

His vague directions caused confusion between generals, however this was a minor factor. He also encouraged complacency and expected an easy fight. This led to his lack of care for the timescale, and is quite a major factor. His separation of Von Paulus’s 6th army and Hoth’s 4th tank army was also a fatal blunder, as he needed a more concentrated force for the assault. His encouragement of competition meant that the generals’ priorities were more superficial than tactical; they wanted to impress Hitler, so were looking for the battles that looked impressive, not ones with strategic importance.This in itself is a key factor as it led to several things: Goering, looking to impress Hitler, bombed Stalingrad which made it harder for the Germans to move through, and a fortress full of ambushes for the Russians to defend; generals disregarded the three-stage attack plan, prioritising cities instead as they were more impressive; Hitler had only one person talking realistically, Zeitslev, who advised him against assaulting Stalingrad. Hitler dismissed him, preferring to listen to those who would agree with anything he said to increase their chance of promotion.

These factors are all significant in the defeat at Stalingrad. Von Paulus was not allowed to retreat due to Hitler’s stubbornness and pride. He could have withdrawn, but Hitler favoured those who told him they could save Von Paulus, such as Hoth and Mannstein; they withdrew from the Caucuses in a failed attempt to break through to Von Paulus. This factor is crucial, as Hitler could have cut his losses by withdrawing and preparing for another assault.Hitler’s disregard for time meant that not only was the whole concept of Blitzkrieg undermined, but winter set in also; his petty war in Yugoslavia lost valuable weeks in which they could have attacked Russia.

The second most important long-term factor is, in my opinion, the winter. This factor comes second to Hitler’s interference, as the war could have been over before winter had he not gone to war with Yugoslavia, and had he kept his forces together for a co-ordinated assault. Winter caused various problems.

It gave the Russians the advantage of experience and appropriate equipment, slowed the Germans and worsened the re-supply of the armies, the 6th in particular. Another important factor was the German overstretch; it meant that the supply lines were stretched thin, and that indirectly, due to Zhukov, the aerial supply route to the 6th army was increasing as the line collapsed. This also led to German demoralisation, as they were losing ground. Zhukov’s strategy was also an important factor, because this meant Von Paulus and his army were isolated, and that their re-supplies became less and less as the German line crumpled.

This was very demoralising, and led eventually to Von Paulus’s surrender. This situation (opportunity for Zhukov), however, only arose due to a combination of various factors. The Russian patriotism was a major factor, as it meant that the Russians would fight to the last, and that dedicated groups of partisans disrupted the Germans behind the lines. The Russian scorched earth policy was also significant, as it created a need for more German supplies, and the German army was demoralised as the situation was not as planned; they were trained to ‘live off the land’.The fact that the Russians were proficient at urban warfare meant that they held the advantage in the city itself, even when they couldn’t march German numbers Hitler’s interference led to many factors, as outlined above. The view can be taken that winter was the most important factor, as it causes and contributes to many other factors, though personally I feel Hitler’s interference may have caused winter to become a factor; if his war in Yugoslavia hadn’t taken place, and if he had tried to speed the war up, he may have secured a line east of the Caucuses before winter.

His failure to recognise the danger of the approaching winter was very important, as he had not equipped his troops for the winter. Of course, due to the complexity of events, Stalingrad was not lost by one factor; it was a mixture of factors causing defeat; in my opinion, Hitler’s interference was the most important one, as it caused many other important factors.There are different views about the past due to this complexity, and a certain bias is involved; at the time the Germans were passing off the defeat as nothing more than a sequence of unfortunate consequences, whereas the Russians were proclaiming the bravery of their soldiers. It is hard to gain an accurate, unbiased account of the past; however, in my opinion, based on all available evidence, the main reason for defeat at Stalingrad was Hitler’s interference, both direct and indirect.

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