On this day, 75 years ago, Adolf Hitler explains the reasoning and the military objectives for the Eastern Front in 1942.
Case Blue (German: Fall Blau), later renamed Operation Braunschweig, was the German Armed Forces’ (Wehrmacht) plan for the 1942 strategic summer offensive in southern Russia between 28 June and 24 November 1942.
The operation was a continuation of the previous year’s Operation Barbarossa, intended to knock the Soviet Union out of the war, and involved a two-pronged attack against the oil fields of Baku as well as an advance in the direction of Stalingrad along the Volga River, to cover the flanks of the advance towards Baku. For this part of the operation, Army Group South (Heeresgruppe Süd) of the German Army was divided into Army Groups A and B (Heeresgruppe A and B). Army Group A was tasked with crossing the Caucasus mountains to reach the Baku oil fields, while Army Group B protected its flanks along the Volga.
In October of 1942 the German Sixth Army, under General Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus, came as close as perhaps it ever did to defeating the Soviet defenders of Stalingrad – led most prominently by General Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov’s 62nd Army. At best, by October 1942 the 62nd Army numbered 50,000 men and 80 tanks. According to those present it was nowhere near these numbers and the Germans held overwhelming advantages in men and machines.
In an assault beginning on October 14th, five German divisions – over 90,000 men, 2,000 guns and mortars, 300 tanks, and waves of Stuka’s forged a path just over two miles wide to the main source of Russian resistance in the city; at the Tractor Plant and Barrikady factory. The assault began with a one and a half hour air and artillery bombardment that crushed everything within 100 meters of the frontlines. In spite of the sheer scale of the assault it actually resembled more of a technical tour de force then it did a crude battering ram. For instance, the Germans had prepared thoroughly, including carefully mapping Russian command posts by intercepting radio signals and then targeting each one for destruction. Thus, the Germans quickly decapitated the defenders, burying entire Russian command posts under a fury of bombs and shells. In spite of a brave and spirited resistance on the part of the Russians, actually driving off the first wave and shocking the attackers who otherwise had thought nothing could have survived the bombardment, the Germans regrouped and pushed through.
German infantry and machine gun teams flowed around the Russian positions as panzers prowled the factory floors, climbing rubble and pouring point blank cannon and machine gun fire at Russian soldiers fighting with grim determination. The fighting dragged on with an unprecedented savagery as the great industrial works changed hands several times before the German attackers finally wrested control over the factories from Chuikov’s men and advanced to the Volga. The Germans sought to chop up the Russian positions, with mini-encirclement battles occurring across the city. The Russian defense flowed more flexibly, emphasizing constant small-scale counterattacks in an effort to wear down the powerful German assault. The bloodshed quickly reached epic proportions; on the night of October 15th alone over 3,500 Russian wounded were evacuated across the river. The horror of the battle was unspeakable. One survivor, Anatoly Mereshko – a staff officer from the 62nd Army, afterward described these days as an utter hell with the sun virtually blotted from view by the fire and smoke while the noise of thousands of weapons discharging at once drowning out the sound of individual weapons.
By the night of the 14th the Germans had split the 62nd Army in two; even the elite 37th Guards Rifle Division had been annihilated – fighting to nearly the last man in a desperate stand within the Tractor Factory. The crucial hours in the battle had arrived as Chuikov’s defenses cracked. By 9:40pm Chuikov, had nothing left with which to stop the Germans, and with his HQ only 800 meters from the Volga River, he contacted the Stalingrad Front and requested permission to withdraw his command post across the Volga. As it turned out such was the weakened state of attacker and defender alike that these reinforcements proved pivotal. By the 16th and with the support of the 138th Rifle Division, its lead regiment having crossed the Volga on the night of the 15th, the 62nd Army held.