Paulus refuses to make a breakout from Stalingrad

Soviet troops continued to maintain the pressure on the  besieged Germans within Stalingrad, forcing them onto the defensive.

Soviet troops continued to maintain the pressure on the besieged Germans within Stalingrad, forcing them onto the defensive.

Field Marshal Erich von Manstein had begun his attack through the Soviet lines on 12th December, in an attempt to relieve Stalingrad. After initially making good progress the Red Army resistance stiffened and the German advance towards Stalingrad slowed. Yet now, outside Stalingrad the Italian army had been overrun and the flank of Manstein’s own Army Group Don was becoming increasingly exposed. While the Soviet’s attention and some resources were diverted elsewhere he now felt:

Sixth Army’s chances of breaking through the siege ring were at present better than they had ever been. A link up between Fourth Panzer and Sixth Army depended on the latter taking an active part of the battle from now on.

On the 18th December von Manstein sent his chief intelligence officer, Major Eismann, into the Stalingrad pocket with this message. He wanted the Sixth Army, commanded by General Paulus, to break out south west of Stalingrad in an operation which had already been prepared – ‘Winter Tempest’, and keep going until they met up with Fourth Panzer who were breaking in as part of ‘Winter Storm’. They would then evacuate Stalingrad sector by sector – a development that was not part the ‘Winter Tempest’ plan – but they would only tell Hitler after the event.

This was von Manstein’s recollection of events after the war:

Paulus himself had not been unimpressed by what Eismann told him though he did not fail to emphasize the magnitude of the difficulties and risks which the task outlined to him would imply.

The Army’s Chief of Operations and Quartermaster-General likewise stressed these difficulties to Major Eismann, but both men also declared that in the circumstances it was not only essential to attempt a break-out at the earliest possible moment but also entirely feasible.

What ultimately decided the attitude of Sixth Army Headquarters was the opinion ofthe Chief-of-Staff Major-General Arthur Schmidt.

He contended that it was quite impossible for the army to break out just then and that such a solution would be ‘an acknowledgement of disaster’. ‘Sixth Army,’ he told Eismann, ‘will still be in position at Easter. All you people have to do is to supply it better.’

Schmidt obviously assumed that it was the business of the Supreme Command or Army Group to get the army out of a situation in which it had landed through no fault of our own and to keep it adequately supplied from the air in the meantime. It was an understandable point of view, and one which in theory he had every right to hold.

Unfortunately circumstances had proved stronger. Eismann pointed out that although the Army Group was doing everything in its power to maintain supplies, it was not to blame when the weather brought the airlift to a virtual standstill, nor was it in a position to produce transport machines out of a hat.

But all his remonstrances were like water off a duck’s back as far as Schmidt was concerned. Even when Eismann sought to show that a break-out by Sixth Army was necessary in the interest of operations as a whole, the Chief-of-Staff still would not budge.

While the army commander was probably a better-trained tactician and a clearer thinker, it looked as if his Chief-of-Staff was the stronger personality of the two!

And so the upshot of the talks was that General Paulus himself ended by pronouncing the break-out a sheer impossibility and pointing out that the surrender of Stalingrad was forbidden ‘by order of the Fuhrer’!

See Erich von Manstein: Lost Victories: War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General

Attempting to warm up the engines of a Ju 52 transport plane at one of the airfield within Stalingrad.

Attempting to warm up the engines of a Ju 52 transport plane at one of the airfields within Stalingrad.

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