Military History Battle of Stalingrad
by
Reina Pennington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0020

Introduction

The battle of Stalingrad was part of the strategic conflict that occurred in the southwestern Soviet Union in 1942–1943. One of the largest and longest battles in history, it encompassed both maneuver and static warfare, steppe and urban fighting, and summer and winter conditions. It began with Operation Blau (Blue), the German summer offensive in 1942, aimed at capturing the oilfields in the Caucasus region, and it ended with massive Soviet counteroffensives in November, culminating in the surrender of the German 6th Army in February 1943. Casualty figures range from 1 to 2 million civilian and military deaths. These events were a turning point in the war—some say, the turning point. After Stalingrad, Germany never regained the strategic initiative. Stalingrad (now called Volgograd) was not, in fact, Germany’s primary objective when it first planned Operation Blau, but a secondary objective designed to protect the flank of the forces engaged in the Caucasus and to prevent Soviet reinforcements. It achieved primary importance, largely because of the symbolism of its name, by the late summer of 1942. After a fighting retreat across the steppe from the Don River to the Volga, the Red Army made a stand at Stalingrad, as directed by Stalin’s Order No. 227, often referred to as “Not a Step Back.” The German attack on the city began in late August with massive Luftwaffe bombing, turning the buildings and extensive industrial facilities to rubble. Fighting degenerated into urban warfare, with the Red Army desperately holding its bridgeheads and the Wehrmacht equally desperately trying to take control of the entire city. The 62nd Army was sent just enough reinforcement to prevent a collapse, while the Soviets channeled their main effort into building forces for the counteroffensive. Operation Uranus, launched on 19 November 1942, was a major success, easily blowing through the Axis forces on the German flanks and leaving the 6th Army encircled and trapped. Subsequent Soviet operations reduced the “ring” and forced the surrender of an entire German army, and its field marshal commander, for the first time in history. The battle of Stalingrad has achieved mythic proportions, eclipsing the massive operations that preceded it (Operation Blue) and those that ended it (operations Uranus and Saturn). Popular histories in particular have tended to focus on the dramatic urban warfare phase, neglecting the much larger operations that occurred before and after. Many of the best works are available only in Russian or German.

World War II Histories

The battle of Stalingrad cannot be understood outside the broader context of World War II, so a necessary first step in research is to read two or three good general histories of the war, especially the war on the Eastern Front. Erickson 1984 is the foundation on which all other works in English are built, and this and its companion volume Erickson 1983 (see General Overviews) are must-reads for anyone researching this topic in depth. Bellamy 2007 is the best overall history of the war and an excellent introduction to the war on the Eastern Front in broad context. Overy 1997 should be read for its analysis. Mawdsley 2007 is the best source, with a stronger military focus especially at the strategic level, and focuses solely on the Eastern Front, as does Glantz and House 1995, the best single volume that emphasizes details of military operations at the operational level. Dunn 1994 is the best source for understanding the wartime transformation of the Red Army in economic and institutional contexts. The essays in Stone 2010 bring fresh perspectives based on recent research to a variety of war-related topics. Boog 2001 presents the best of recent German scholarship.

  • Bellamy, Chris. Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

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    Excellent survey of the war as a whole, with an emphasis on military aspects and a more extensive discussion of the first two years than of the latter half of the war. Incorporates recently available Russian sources and fresh interpretations; useful for researchers at all levels.

  • Boog, Horst. Germany and the Second World War. Vol. 6, The Global War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    Justifiably called “monumental,” this series, edited by the Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt (Research Institute for Military History), is the best to date on its topic. This volume includes coverage of Stalingrad. Extensive citations and maps.

  • Dunn, Walter S. Hitler’s Nemesis: The Red Army, 1930–1945. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994.

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    Essential economic and institutional history. Excellent coverage of the immediate prewar reforms, details on Red Army rifle divisions, tank and artillery forces and their increasing emphasis at the expense of infantry, and the Red Army’s replacement system. Argues, controversially, that after 1943, Stalin no longer needed a second front to defeat Germany.

  • Erickson, John. The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s War with Germany. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1984.

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    Continued in The Road to Berlin: Continuing the History of Stalin’s War with Germany (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1983). This classic set continues to offer much to readers willing to delve deeply into Soviet military operations. Erickson set the standard for astute analysis of Soviet sources and accurate and balanced description of Soviet military activities. The preface is a guide to using sources that every researcher should read. Best for graduate students and above.

  • Glantz, David M., and Jonathan M. House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.

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    The best overview of military operations. A single, accessible book, focusing on the transformation of the Red Army from a “stumbling colossus” to a strategically savvy, well-organized, and combat-capable force. Excellent appendix on archival sources, and no serious researcher should fail at least to skim the extensive, substantive notes.

  • Mawdsley, Evan. Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941–1945. London: Hodder Arnold, 2007.

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    A broader overview than Glantz and House 1995, incorporating diplomatic and economic aspects of the war, and adding material from another decade’s worth of Soviet archival materials. Accessible and nicely structured to keep readers on track. A glossary, chronology, and other supporting appendices are useful. More appreciative of Zhukov’s abilities than is Glantz.

  • Overy, Richard. Russia’s War. New York: Penguin, 1997.

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    Although not based on Russian sources, Overy’s work is a masterpiece of objectivity, insight, and brevity. Focuses on key historiographical issues, the brutality of the war, and effects on civilian populations. Overy emphasizes the continued use of terror and repression by the Soviet state.

  • Stone, David R., ed. The Soviet Union at War, 1941–1945. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2010.

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    New collection of essays, including Mark Harrison on industry and the economy; Reina Pennington on women’s roles, both military and civilian; and several essays focused on effects on civilians, nationalities, and the rural population. Many essays refer to Stalingrad.

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