#On this day – The Battle of Stalingrad

Friday, January 24th, 2020

A fight to the death

On the 24th of January 1943, Adolf Hitler ordered his German troops to “fight to the death” at the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War. This eventually paved the way for a Soviet victory, forcing the Germans to retreat from the region and allowing the Allied forces to eventually take Berlin two and a half years later.  The order given to the German 6th Army, along with their Romanian, Italian, Hungarian and Croatian allies came after 6 months of brutal fighting in the streets and buildings of the city of Stalingrad, located in the South East of Russia. The siege began in August 1942 after orders from Hitler which placed the upmost importance on taking the city as it would have allowed the Germans access to the Soviet controlled Caucasus, famous for its oil, which would have been extremely useful for the Germans at a time when they had low industrial capabilities. Up until the Soviets launched a counter-offensive, the German advances were slow, and large casualty numbers allowed the Red Army to bring in reinforcements.


By the end of January, the axis personal became surrounded after two counter-offensives; Operation Uranus and Operation Mars, exploited weaknesses on the German flanks. This led to what became known as der Kessel which literally translates as the the Cauldron. This allowed the Soviets to start a period of constant bombardment which drastically depleted axis numbers and morale, leading to the Germans eventually disobeying the orders of Hitler; despite launching several unsuccessful offensives to break out of their situation, leading to the eventual surrender of the remainder of the troops on the 2nd of February. The axis troops were all imprisoned and this included 22 generals, who Hitler made clear had brought shame upon themselves and the German war effort. By the end of the battle, the total number of casualties was enormous; with estimates averaging at around 2 million dead, missing or wounded, including most of the city’s citizens.

The use of Hiwi

The Hiwi, short for Hilfswilliger, were the auxiliary volunteers from Eastern Europe, mostly the Soviet Union, who fought for the Germans during the Second World War. They were generally recruited from POW camps and towns and villages under Nazi control, but the word “volunteer” is used tenuously, and there are certainly accounts of many Soviets being forced to fight against their own country, as the German war effort needed anyone it could find. The Hiwis were used to great extent at Stalingrad with over 40,000 fighting, many of whom would have been citizens of Stalingrad who were captured at points when the Germans held parts of the city. By the end of the battle, it would not be unreasonable to think that at least half of these Hiwi had died, which shows their dispensable nature in the eyes of the Germans.

You can read more about WWII in our book Histories of the Unexpected: World War II

Written by Harry Cornford

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