The Battle of Stalingrad was the military turning point in the war on the Eastern Front. After reversing the defeats in front of Moscow in the winter of 1941-42, the Wehrmacht, in the spring and summer of 1942 executed successful offensives in the south towards Stalingrad on the Volga. In September General Paulus’ 6th Army entered the streets of Stalingrad. Stalin decided that the city would have to be held, no matter the cost. The next weeks saw some of the most vicious fighting of the entire war, as the Wehrmacht engaged the Red Army in street battles, in which each building was fanatically defended.

On 19 November the Red Army counterattacked in a pincer movement against two Romanian armies that were protecting the German flanks. The Romanian armies collapsed under the assault of Lt. General Vatutin and Lt. General Eremenko’s armies, and the Red Army completed an encirclement of Paulus’ Army in Stalingrad on 23 November. Hitler refused to let the 6th Army break out of Stalingrad in an attempt to reestablish contact with German forces, and Field Marshal von Manstein was ordered to establish contact by breaking through the Soviet encirclement. Reichmarshall Herman Goring, head of the Luftwaffe, pledged to keep Paulus’ army supplied through airdrops; the Luftwaffe, however, was unable to deliver even 1/4th of the promised 300 tons of supplies a day. Von Manstein’s attempt to reestablish supply lines with the 6th Army failed, and Lt. General Rokossovsky’s Don Front attacked Paulus’ army in the Stalingrad pocket from west to east.

Lacking reinforcements, warm clothing and supplies, the 6th Army put up fierce resistance, but on 22 January, lost its last airfield. Paulus suggested to Hitler that the Army be allowed to surrender; this was refused. Paulus was promoted to Field Marshal on 30 January and the 6th Army was abandoned, ordered to fight to the last man. On 31 January, Paulus surrendered to the Rokossovsky’s armies. The Wehrmacht lost an estimated 250 000 men at Stalingrad, not including the 30 000 wounded that were evacuated by air. The victory at Stalingrad cost the Red Army some 750 000 dead, wounded or missing.

After the Battle of Stalingrad, the initiative in the War changed irrevocably to the Soviet side. The disastrous defeat at Stalingrad marked the end of Wehrmacht advances into the USSR; hereafter, the Red Army would begin to reconquer Soviet territories taken by the Germans since June 1941. Stalingrad also epitomized the brutality of fighting on the Eastern Front; both Hitler and Stalin ordered that their armies hold territory to the last man – “not one step back.” These orders led to massive casualties on both sides.