Desperate fighting in Stalingrad but no surrender

Soldiers from Bezdetko's mortar battery firing at German positions. 22 January 1943

Soldiers from Bezdetko’s mortar battery firing at German positions. 22 January 1943. RIA Novosti archive, image #58807

In Stalingrad conditions just kept getting worse. Not only were the men in appalling condition, with many too weak to continue to fight but they were running out of ammunition. The Red Army attacks were unrelenting and whole units were being overrun.

The Soviets were to discover transcripts of many of the German radio transmissions made during this last period, when they finally broke through to the German HQ. Their terse descriptions of the final days’ fighting give an idea of how many met their end:

Intelligence report, January 26th.

4th Corps south of Tsaritsa collapsing in face of enemy army’s superior numbers. Last report from there received 07.00 hours, that Generals Pfeffer, von Hartmann, Stempel and Colonel Crome with few men are making a stand on the right-hand side of the railway embankment, firing into the Russians who are advancing in large numbers.

General von Hartmann, Commander 71st Infantry Division killed at 08.00 hours by a bullet through the head during close combat. General von Dresser, Commander 297th Division, overrun by Russians in his command post at noon on January 25th, presumably taken prisoner.

Daily bulletin, January 26th.

Croatian 369th Infantry Regiment participated in the fighting around Stalingrad with 1st Croatian Artillery Division, and distinguished itself outstandingly. Heavy enemy artillery fire over the entire town area. Defence of same massively hampered because of 30,000- 40,000 unattended wounded and scattered personnel.

Energetic leaders making every effort to form units out of scattered personnel, and are fighting alongside them offering front-line resistance. Apart from a few scraps, all rations have been used up.

German Gold Cross awarded to Major-General Wulz January 26th. Don Headquarters. Request posthumous promotion for Lieutenant-General Hauptmann, Commander ofthe 71st Infantry Division, whose outstanding conduct was a shining example, and who fell today in close combat.

Signed, Paulus

On the 24th the German commander Friedrich Paulus had finally sent an appeal to Hitler to be allowed to surrender. The invitation to surrender from the Soviets on the 8th had been rejected out of hand. It was well known what Hitler’s attitude to surrender was – but now it was just a matter of accepting the inevitable and trying to save a few lives:

Troops are without ammunition and food. We have contact with some elements of six divisions only. There are signs of disintegration on the southern, western and northern fronts. Unified command is no longer possible. Little change on the eastern side. We have 18,000 wounded who are without any kind of bandages or medicines at all.

The 44th, 76th, 100th, 305th and 384th divisions have been annihilated. As a result of strong incursions the front has been torn open. Firing points and shelter are available only inside the city. Collapse is inevitable. The army requests permission to surrender so as to save the lives of those that remain.

See Voices from Stalingrad.

Hitler’s attitude was unchanged and the saving of lives was of no consequence to him. What did matter was the preparation of the German people for the news. Crucially the 10th anniversary of the Nazis coming to power fell on the 30th January. The annual anniversary was normally celebrated by a speech by Hitler to the party faithful. The most catastrophic reverse the Nazis had yet faced had to accomodate the propaganda agenda. The doomed victims of an overstretched war strategy had to wait a few days more while they were transformed into ‘heroes’.

Soviet troops move towards the village of Gorodischensko in mid January 1943, past German dead, during the advance on Stalingrad.

Soviet troops move towards the village of Gorodischensko in mid January 1943, past German dead, during the advance on Stalingrad.

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