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Conditions deteriorate inside the Stalingrad cauldron

Russian PoWs who had been trapped inside Stalingrad along with the Germans, found starved to death after the Red Army broke through in 1943.
Russian PoWs who had been trapped inside Staingrad along with the Germans, found starved to death after the Red Army broke through in 1943.

Inside Stalingrad, where up to 350,000 men were trapped in the ‘Kessel’ or cauldron, conditions were rapidly deteriorating. Really cold weather had set in at the beginning of December just as the acute shortage of rations and supplies became clear to all. In the first week of December fodder for the horses, widely used for transport in the German Army, was used up and they began to slaughter the horses for food.

Rations that had been cut to 200 grams of bread since November 23rd were then cut again. By the second week of December it was down to 100 grams of bread and 60 grams of meat or fat per man per day. This was supplemented by soup if possible. There was also the problem of keeping warm.

Alfred Simmen, of the 371st Infantry Division, was in an area on the outskirts of southern Stalingrad under regular artillery bombardment from the Russians.

The shelling gradually flattened our positions, which had to be improved. Where could we get building timber? For us and many others, the wooden houses in the suburbs were the only supply of wood, and only daily hunts, which also brought in many other useful things, gave relief; a packet of long nails, wire, and white flare rounds, which I traded for my cigarettes, ensured friendly faces in the position at evening.

From sawed-off flak shellcasings, a chimney was constructed, so that the bunker’s location could not be spotted easily due to smoke.

Our supplies soon began to run out. Remains of rye and oats ground up in coffee grinders gave the soup additions, even if they only resulted in warm Radfahrersuppe [cyclist’s soup].

Everyone was hungry.

There was however a hierarchy of people in the cauldron. Substantial numbers of Russians PoWs had been recruited by the Germans as ‘volunteers’ to assist in hauling ammunition and the like. For many thousands of men it had been a case of work or starve. Now the Germans had nothing to feed them with anyway.

When the Hiwi’s [Russian PoW helpers] used for the nightly building were marched back to our dug-in field kitchens (supply train in the old sense no longer existed) by me or another man, they hacked out pieces of meat from horse corpses with the entrenching tools.

Then afterward, they boiled them in old buckets until they thought they could eat the meat, despite all the warnings. Then, in the mornings, one or two would sadly be lying dead on their cots, having had a more merciful ‘departure’ than many men in the days to come.

See Winter Storm: The Battle for Stalingrad

Field Marshal von Manstein had launched operation ‘Winter Storm’ on the 12th December in an attempt to drive a corridor through the Russian lines to Stalingrad. Hitler regarded it as a ‘relief column’ but von Manstein knew that, if he could reach Stalingrad, then it would be a case of evacuating everyone out through the corridor if possible.

On the 13th December his Panzer spearhead of 160 tanks clashed all day long with about 350 Soviet tanks in the battle of Werchne-Kumsky. The Soviet tanks went sent into battle piecemeal and the Germans began to prevail. Men inside Stalingrad started to get their hopes up.

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