On This Day | 02 Feb 1943: Defeat at Stalingrad and Field Marshal Paulus’s Surrender

German POWs at Stalingrad 1943
German POWs at Stalingrad, 1943 | Source: English Wikipedia. Scan from the book “Battle of Stalingrad: Russia’s Great Patriotic War”, by I.M. Baxter & Ronald Volstad, Concord ,2004

2 February 1945: On this day in history, one of the most consequential battles of the Second World War – the Battle of Stalingrad – ends with the total defeat of Axis Forces. 6th Army Commander Friedrich Paulus surrenders and goes into Soviet custody, becoming the first German Field Marshal to be captured alive.

The battle had begun over five months before as part of the ‘Case Blue’ Summer offensives. The 6th Army was tasked with capturing Stalingrad and guarding the flanks of the army group invading the Caucasus oil fields. The city’s invasion began on the 23rd of August with a ruthless carpet bombing, turning the battlefield into flaming wreckage of twisted steel and listing concrete. When the 6th Army moved in, they were slowed to a crawl by bitter house-to-house resistance as the Soviets paid for time in their blood.

Friedrich Paulus after his surrender at Stalingrad.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-F0316-0204-005 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The battle would turn decisively when the Soviets launched a massive counterattack on the 19th of November. Through driving snow, they burst through the Romanian and Hungarian troops guarding the 6th army’s flanks and sealed them within Stalingrad. In response, Hitler ordered supplies to be airdropped into the city, but logistical difficulties led to a chronic lack of supplies, ammunition, and food.

Commander of the 6th Army, Friedrich Paulus had seen multiple reports of the building Soviet Armies at his flanks but had refused to believe their validity. Despite his soldiers running out of position in Stalingrad, he refused to debate Hitler’s orders or forcefully push for a breakout from the city.

With neither victory nor escape possible, Hitler expected Paulus to commit suicide. To harden his resolve, on 30th January, Hitler promoted him to Field Marshal, telling him that no one of this rank had ever been captured in German History. Ultimately Paulus’ Catholicism would not let him contemplate suicide, and he surrendered the next day. His remaining 91,000 troops would surrender two days later. Due to the terrible conditions in Soviet Gulags, barely 6000 would return to Germany.

Campbell Bews

This slice of On This Day in Berlin history was written by BBS Member Campbell Bews.

It’s one of four events he has chosen to remember in February. See what else made the cut on our blog.