Stalingrad was now surrounded. Around 250,000 German troops were now isolated in the city, together with around 10,000 civilians and several thousand Russian Prisoners of War. The weather could only be expected to get worse.
The city was already invested with political and symbolic significance for both sides. Hitler had declared in September 1942 that he would never leave the city. Now he faced the decision as to whether the besieged men should attempt to break out – or whether they could hold out until a corridor could be forced through the Soviet lines to reach them.
Controversy continues to this day about how this decision was reached. One perspective comes from a bystander who was present as the issue was discussed at Hitler’s headquarters.
25 November 1942
Major discussion about air supply for Stalingrad. Goering bound himself to supply Army. On the average one could manage 300 tonnes [illegible, might be 500 tonnes]. Everything would be thrown in, even the Ju 90s from the commercial runs.
Z. [Kurt Zeitzler, the new Chief of Staff ] was doubtful, thought that 300 [or 500] tonnes would not be enough. talked about the weather situation and losses. However, Reichsmarschall was enormously strong, said he would fly in any weather conditions. Demyansk and other cases had proved it possible.
We were horrified at his optimism, which is not shared even by Luftwaffe General Staff. F. [Fuhrer] was enthusiastic about the Reichsmarschall, who would deliver the goods as he had done in the past. There was no chicken-heartedness with him as there was in many Army circles.
From the diary of Major Gerhard Engel, see At the Heart of the Reich: The Secret Diary of Hitler’s Army Adjutant