Stalingrad – A Battle Analysis
Perhaps Hitler was not a military commander, but one other possibility was, like some other optimists, he was drunk with success. In the year 1941 and into the middle of 1942 the German Army had overrun most of the resources of Russia, had been stopped temporarily in the winter of 1941, and even been surrounded in pockets all over the front. But somehow, the Germans always held on and even sometimes managed to mount offensives.
Once the Germans had made Stalingrad the focus of the offensive instead of the Caucasian oilfields, or a northern thrust behind Moscow, they began to plod on to the city which would become the killing fields an entire German Army, the 6th. Its commander, Freidrich von Paulus would end up being the ultimate prize in the bag for the Russians when they captured him and made him appear on radio denouncing the German Government. No German Field Marshal had ever been captured; for this to happen was a disgrace.
Unlike other catastrophes, Hitler did not become enraged until the day after the news was heard. He then screamed at those present that, "they have surrendered there formally and absolutely. Otherwise they would have closed ranks, formed a hedgehog, and shot themselves with the last bullet." He continued with his ranting, stating, "this hurts me so much because the heroism of so many soldiers is nullified by one single characterless weakling?"
Hitler always thought of himself as a hero and as taking on the responsibility of the people of Germany, and as such, gave disastrous orders such as the stand-fast order in the winter of 1941. His constant changing of the key objective on the eastern front, and his tinkering with army plans were anything but heroic and responsible. As the battle raged on around Stalingrad and in the surrounding area, the Russians were planning a counter offensive that would, after it was over, swallow up 330,000 soldiers of many different ethnicities. Many of these soldiers may have been saved had not Hitler listened, yet again, to his Luftwaffe chief, Hermann Goering.
Goering told Hitler that he could supply the surrounded soldiers from the air. In fact, he was certain that he could not supply the besieged troops, but ordered Luftwaffe Chief of Staff Hans Jeschonnek not to leak the information that showed his troops were inadequate for the job. Perhaps Goering was still trying to make up for the blunder at Dunkirk. Had Hitler not tried to run the entire war from his bunker, Wolfsschanze, he might have listened to his generals and staff officers who tried to warn him of the troop buildup around the Stalingrad area and that his troops needed to be extracted shortly after they were surrounded. However, Hitler listened to the wrong people and let very little reason decide his course of action.
Had Hitler listened to von Manstein, the 6th Army may have been an effective fighting force that would have been very useful when the Russians launched their counterattacks. And also, had they been combat ready, Kursk may have had a different or more favorable outcome for the Germans. These are all conjectures, but unfortunately the very real truth to Hitler’s constant meddling and second-guessing brought about the unnecessary suffering of troops that were willing to lay down their lives defending the country that Hitler supposedly loved so much. The suffering of the German soldier was apparent from the fact that many soldiers who were eventually put into captivity died from typhus, and many more died from the trip to Asian prison camps. The soldiers were deprived of many basic necessities, such as food, clean water, and adequate clothing to survive the winters that they would be forced to live through; the last German soldier returned home in 1955.
Hitler was in many ways a product of his own success. The early successes of the German Army convinced many in the government structure, and many of the generals themselves, that they could defeat anyone. However, the unsuccessful attempts at peace with the English proved to be a downfall. It left open the possibility of a second front which the Germans have always tried to avoid but blundered on, twice. Hitler began to believe in his own abilities too much and took credit for things that only served to swell his ego. His cronies, who surrounded him and told him how great he was, served to further his own delusions. The success of the invasion of France and the swift termination of French, British, and Belgian resistance made Hitler feel that he could do no wrong.
When he handed down his decision to invade Russia many generals feared the worst and knew, unlike Hitler, that reality would catch up with them on this one. However, bound by his hatred of Bolshevism he knew that war in the East was inevitable, and he therefore bungled his way to ultimate defeat at the hands of the Allies, and Stalingrad was the beginning of that end.
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