Back in his command bunker Hitler was looking around to cast the blame. Once again his relationship with his Generals was coming under strain as they argued for more freedom to manoeuvre. Rather than waiting for orders from him, they wanted to be able to react to situations and make tactical withdrawals if necessary. Hitler never wanted to give ground, whatever the situation.
For the moment the focus was on the surrender at Stalingrad, which had cast a sombre mood over the HQ ever since the 6th Army had been besieged. Hitler blamed Paulus for allowing himself to be taken prisoner rather than take a more ‘honourable’ route. His Adjutant, Major Engel, recorded the gloomy mood in his diary:
1 February 1943
We are all imagining how it is ending at Stalingrad. F. [Fuhrer] was very depressed, looking everywhere for errors and negligence. Attempted to extenuate a report from Paulus addressed to himself and violently criticised Paulus’s attitude. How can one avoid the road to eternity in such a situation? Faced with the heroism of the fighting man, how could one leave him in the lurch at the last moment?
But there were German soldiers in Stalingrad who lived up to Hitler’s expectations…
In Stalingrad itself Mansur Abdullin was one of the Soviet troops who was surprised by the appearance of white clothes and rags being displayed from German positions on the morning of the 1st February. They had not been warned that a surrender was imminent.
Should we quit our cover? And what if this is a trap? just the evening before, the Germans were putting up a desperate fight. But our curiosity is too strong. What if this really is a capitulation? I suddenly see embarrassment on the boys’ faces. They are looking at each other with meek smiles. We’re as black as devils: dirty, covered with soot. Should we accept the capitulation? But we need someone impressive for such an occasion: ‘And where are they, those who have an imposing look?’ I thought. But we must accept now, or else the enemy will think that we’re afraid and change his mind!
I crawl over the heads of the boys, jump down, and walk into the centre of the street. My legs feel like they’re made of wood. I move slowly. The white rags and cloths can be seen on many houses, some of which we never suspected of containing Nazis. But where are they?
Some distance away, I see other ‘representatives’ apprehensively looking around, standing in the middle of the street. We cast sheepish glances at each other: look at us! Naive fools, making targets of ourselves! If, at this moment, we heard a shot, we would feel nothing but shame. I emphatically hang my sub-machine gun behind my shoulder: if they open fire, I won’t have enough time to use it anyway.
Then, all at once, they begin appearing out of the ruins. Creeping out of their holes in slow motion, they throw their SMGs on the snow and raise their hands. They seem indifferent to my scruffy, unimposing appearance!
A pistol falls at my feet. This status symbol is the only clue that the man who threw it – a scarecrow wrapped in blankets – is an officer. The swine barely missed me: ‘You can be as mad as you like,’ I thought, ‘but just surrender!’
Our boys, seeing the Germans dressed in such a way, assume a dignified air and begin crowding the street. Compared to us, the enemy troops look like ragamuffins. They throw down their guns and silently form up in columns.
Suddenly there comes a dull and solitary report: an officer, it seems, has shot himself in the heart …
Contemporary British newsreel showing scenes from the end in Stalingrad, can be viewed in full screen: