The End at Stalingrad: 20th January – 2nd February 1943
German planners believed that the Russians were incapable of deep thrusts and exploitations with mechanised and armoured formations. The failure at Kharkov earlier in the year had convinced the German General Staff that their Soviet counterparts lacked finesse and style, resorting instead to superiority in numbers and materials. One can argue that the ensuing combat in the city blinded the Germans to the possibility of encirclement, but German Generals believed that the Russians could not carry out Blitzkrieg operations successfully.
As such the Russian storm caught German planners by surprise, so much so that once Paulus was made aware of the scale of the Soviet operation he did not disengage the armoured and mechanised formations in Stalingrad in order to provide a mobile reserve. The only mobile unit available that could react in time was General Heim’s XXXXVII Panzer Corps, a very elaborate title for a relative weak unit that was eventually deployed into the battle in an ad hoc fashion; e.g. the 1st Romanian Panzer Division was ordered to divert its route once it had set away and when it eventually entered combat its Czech made Pz38t’s were blasted away by the Russian T34′s.
The Soviet plan called for the South West (Vatutin) and Don (Rokossovosky) Fronts to strike across the Don and to trap the Axis forces between the Don and the Volga. The next day the Stalingrad Front (Eremenko) was to strike to the south of Stalingrad, pierce the Romanian defences and strike towards Kalach where they were to link up with the units coming from the north. The Romanian divisions were very poorly equipped to deal with the amount of armour the Russians had amassed. They did not have enough anti-tank weapons, and those issued were of the obsolete 3.7 cm type that had already proved ineffective against the T34 and KV1. After breaking through at Kletskaya the armoured and mechanised Corps from the Don and South West Fronts dashed to Kalach. There, on the 23rd November they linked with their comrades coming from the south effectively encircling 6th Army and the remnants of the Romanian 3rd and 4th Army’s.
Upon hearing of the Soviet breakthrough Hitler looked for a scapegoat, in this case General Heim for not reacting quickly enough with his Panzer Corps even though it was because of Hitler’s own confusing orders that Heim’s units were sent into battle piecemeal. At first Hitler was inclined to order a breakthrough before the Soviets could solidify the lines around Stalingrad. However at this juncture came the blunder that doomed 6th Army. Reich Marshall Goering assured that the Luftwaffe could keep the 6th Army re-supplied by air, just like the units trapped at Demyansk earlier in the year had been. The main difference was the size of the entrapped units. 6th Army required 700 tons of supplies a day in order to keep a nominal fighting strength. Luftwaffe generals advised Goering against such an undertaking but the Reich Marshall assured the Fuhrer that 6th Army would be supplied. An action that condemned the 6th Army to death.