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Soviets offer ‘Gingerbread or the Whip’

Soviet troops advancing on Stalingrad.
Soviet troops advancing on Stalingrad.

The Russian phrase knut i pryanik, ‘whip or gingerbread’, was used to characterise a mix of threats and promises. This was the approach adopted by the Soviet army as they attempted to avoid further losses at Stalingrad. An invitation to surrender was drawn up, to be delivered to the Germans inside the besieged city. The document set out the cold facts of the situation – the 6th Army was not going to be rescued and the supply situation was going to get worse:

To the Commander of the Sixth Army encircled at Stalingrad, General Paulus, or his deputy.

The Sixth German Army, the units ofthe 4th Tank Army and their reinforcements have been completely surrounded since November 23rd, 1942. The forces ofthe Red Army have drawn a secure ring around this German army. All hopes of rescue by means of a German offensive from the south and south-west have proved unfounded.

The forces which were rushed to your aid have been destroyed by the Red Army, and the remnants of these forces are withdrawing towards Rostov. The German transport planes which are supplying you with a bare minimum of food, ammunition and fuel are being forced to move between airfields, and to fly from great distances to reach your positions. Moreover, the Russian air force is inflicting great losses on Gennan transport planes and their crews. Air transport is unlikely to continue for much longer.

Your encircled troops are in a grave situation. They are suffering from hunger, sickness and cold. The harsh Russian winter is only just beginning: hard frosts, cold winds and snowstorms are still to come, but your soldiers do not have winter uniforms and are living in unsanitary conditions. You, as commander, and all the officers of the surrounded troops know very well that there is no longer any realistic possibility of breaking through the encirclement. Your position is hopeless and further resistance is pointless.

Given the inescapable position that your forces now find themselves in, and in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, we propose that you accept the following terms of surrender:
1. All surrounded German troops, with you and your staff, are to give up further resistance.
2. You are to hand over to us, in an orderly fashion and intact, all men, arms, weaponry and army property.

We guarantee the lives and the safety of all officers, non-commissioned officers and men who cease resistance. We also guarantee that at the end of the war they will be returned to Germany, or to any other country of their choice.

All surrendering forces will be allowed to keep their uniform, insignia and decorations, along with their personal belongings and valuables. High-ranking officers will be allowed to retain their service daggers.

All officers, non-commissioned officers and men who surrender will immediately be issued with normal rations. All those suffering from wounds, illness or frostbite will receive medical attention.

We expect your written reply on january 9th, 1943, at 15.00 hours, Moscow time. It should be brought by a representative whom you have personally appointed, and who should proceed in a car flying a white flag along the road from the Konny railway halt to the Kotluban station. Your representative will be met by Russian officers in Region B, 0.5 kilometres south-east of railway halt No. 564.

If you choose to reject our proposal for your capitulation, be warned that the forces of the Red Army and the Red Air Force will be compelled to take steps to destroy the surrounded German troops, and that you will bear the responsibility for their annihilation.

Colonel-General of Artillery, Voronov;
Supreme Commander of the Don Front, Lieutenant-General Rokossovsky.

See Voices from Stalingrad.

Considerable difficulties were encountered just delivering the message. Despite broadcasting their intentions by loudspeaker the first attempt to approach the German lines was met with a hail of gunfire and the treaty party was pinned down in the snow for some time. When eventually they got through to deliver the message early on the ninth, it did not take long for the Germans to reject it out of hand.

Whether or not the Soviet regime would have kept to its promises to treat the prisoners well will never be known. The German commander General Paulus was not ready to defy Hitler and surrender. The agony would continue.

Soviet armoured cars approaching Stalingrad.
Soviet armoured cars approaching Stalingrad.

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