Friedrich Paulus

Friedrich Paulus : Nazi Germany

Friedrich Paulus was born in Breitenau, Germany, on 23rd September 1890. The son of a administrator in a reform school, Paulus attempted to become an officer-cadet in the German Navy but was rejected because of his lack of aristocratic blood. After briefly studying law at the University of Munich he joined the German Army in 1910. The following year he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 3rd Baden Infantry Regiment.

On the outbreak of the First World War Paulus was adjutant of the III Battalion. In 1915 he was assigned to the staff of the 2nd Prussian Jaeger Regiment and two years later to the operations staff of the Alpine Corps. During the war he served on the Eastern Front and the Western Front.

Paulus remained in the army after the war and was appointed adjutant to the 14th Infantry Regiment at Konstanz. In 1922 he was given general staff training and the following year joined Army Group 2 at Kassel. From 1924 to 1927 he was a General Staff officer with Wehrkreis V at Stuttgart. One senior officer commented that Paulus was: "slow, but very methodical". Another complained that he "lacked decisiveness". However, he continued to be promoted and in 1930 he became a tactics instructor with the 5th Infantry Division.

In 1934 Paulus was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and appointed commander of Motor Transport Section 3. In September 1935, Paulus succeeded Heinz Guderian as chief of staff to the commander of Germany's Mechanized Forces. Considered to be an expert on motorized warfare, Paulus was promoted to major general and became director of training for Germany's four light divisions in 1939. This included two motorized infantry regiments, a reconnaissance regiment and a motorized artillery regiment.

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War Paulus became chief of staff of the 10th Army. Serving under General Walther von Reichenau, Paulus took part in the invasion of Poland in September 1939. This was followed by the Western Offensive in Belgium and France.

In June 1940, Paulus was promoted to lieutenant general and three months later became deputy chief of the General Staff. He visited General Erwin Rommel in North Africa on a fact-finding tour. His report was highly critical of Rommel and the Deutsches Afrika Korps but this was not acted upon by Adolf Hitler.

Paulus then carried out a strategic survey on the Soviet Union for the proposed Operation Barbarossa. The main advice given by Paulus to Hitler was to make sure that after the invasion the Red Army did not retreat into the interior. For the campaign to be successful he argued for battles of encirclement. He also suggested that the main thrust should be made north of the Pripyat Marshes in order to capture Moscow.

In December, 1941, Hitler agreed to the suggestion made by Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau that Paulus should be given command of the 6th Army. Promoted to general, Paulus took up his appointment on 1st January 1942 and fought his first battle at Dnepropetrovsk in the Soviet Union. The advance of the 6th Army was halted by the Red Army and the following month Paulus was forced to order his men to move back in search of better defensive positions.

On 9th May 1942, General Semen Timoshenko, with 640,000 men, attacked the 6th Army at Volchansk. Paulus, seriously outnumbered, decided to move his troops back toward Kharkov. The 6th Army was rescued by General Paul von Kleist and his 1st Panzer Army when they struck Timoshenko's exposed southern flank on 17th May. Paulus was now able to launch a counter-attack on 20th May and by the end of the month all Soviet resistance had come to an end. A total of 240,000 Soviet soldiers were killed or captured and Paulus was awarded the Knights' Cross.

In the summer of 1942 Paulus advanced toward Stalingrad with 250,000 men, 500 tanks, 7,000 guns and mortars, and 25,000 horses. Progress was slow because fuel was rationed and Army Group A were given priority. At the end of July 1942, a lack of fuel brought Paulus to a halt at Kalach. It was not until 7th August that he had received the supplies needed to continue with his advance. Over the next few weeks his troops killed or captured 50,000 Soviet troops but on 18th August, Paulus, now only thirty-five miles from Stalingrad, ran out of fuel again.

When fresh supplies reached him, Paulus decided to preserve fuel by move forward with only his XIV Panzer corps. The Red Army now attacked the advance party and they were brought to a halt just short of Stalingrad. The rest of his forces were brought up and Paulus now circled the city. As his northern flank came under attack Paulus decided to delay the attack on the city until 7th September. While he was waiting the Luftwaffe bombed the city killing thousands of civilians.

As the German Army advanced into Stalingrad the Soviets fought for every building. The deeper the troops got into the city, the more difficult the street fighting became and casualties increased dramatically. The German tanks were less effective in a fortified urban area as it involved house-to-house fighting with rifles, pistols, machine-guns and hand grenades. The Germans had particularly problems with cleverly camouflaged artillery positions and machine-gun nests. The Soviets also made good use of sniper detachments deployed in the bombed out buildings in the city. On the 26th September the 6th Army was able to raise the swastika flag over the government buildings in Red Square but the street fighting continued.

Adolf Hitler now ordered Paulus to take Stalingrad whatever the cost to German forces. On the radio Hitler told the German people: "You may rest assured that nobody will ever drive us out of Stalingrad." When General Gustav von Wietersheim, commander of the XIV Panzer Corps, complained about the high casualty rates, Paulus replaced him with General Hans Hube. However, Paulus, who had lost 40,000 soldiers since entering the city, was running out of fighting men and on 4th October he made a desperate plea to Hitler for reinforcements.

A few days later five engineer battalions and a panzer division arrived in Stalingrad. Fighting a war of attrition, Joseph Stalin responded by ordering three more armies to the city. Soviet losses were much higher than those of the Germans, but Stalin had more men at his disposal than Paulus.

The heavy rains of October turned the roads into seas of mud and the 6th Army's supply conveys began to get bogged down. On 19th October the rain turned to snow. Paulus continued to make progress and by the beginning of November he controlled 90 per cent of the city. However, his men were now running short of ammunition and food. Despite these problems Paulus decided to order another major offensive on 10th November. The German Army took heavy casualties for the next two days and then the Red Army launched a counterattack Paulus was forced to retreat southward but when he reached Gumrak Airfield, Adolf Hitler ordered him to stop and stand fast despite the danger of encirclement. Hitler told him that Hermann Goering had promised that the Luftwaffe would provide the necessary supplies by air.

Senior officers under Paulus argued that they doubted if the scale of the airlift required could be achieved during a Russian winter. All of the corps commanders argued for a breakout before the Red Army were able to consolidate its positions. General Hans Hube told Paulus: "A breakout is our only chance." Paulus responded by saying that he had to obey Hitler's orders.

Throughout December the Luftwaffe dropped an average of 70 tons of supplies a day. The encircled German Army needed a minimum of 300 tons a day. The soldiers were put on one-third rations and began to kill and eat their horses. By 7th December the 6th Army were living on one loaf of bread for every five men.

Now aware that the 6th Army was in danger of being starved into surrender, Adolf Hitler ordered Field Marshal Erich von Manstein and the 4th Panzer Army to launch a rescue attempt. Manstein managed to get within thirty miles of Stalingrad but was then brought to a halt by the Red Army. On 27th December, 1942, Manstein decided to withdraw as he was also in danger of being encircled by Soviet troops.

In Stalingrad over 28,000 German soldiers had died in just over a month. With little food left Paulus gave the order that the 12,000 wounded men could no longer be fed. Only those who could fight would be given their rations. Erich von Manstein now gave the order for Paulus to make a mass breakout. Paulus rejected the order arguing that his men were too weak to make such a move.

On 30th January, 1943, Adolf Hitler promoted to Paulus to field marshal and sent him a message reminding him that no German field marshal had ever been captured. Hitler was clearly suggesting to Paulus to commit suicide but he declined and the following day surrendered to the Red Army. The last of the Germans surrendered on 2nd February.

The battle for Stalingrad was over. Over 91,000 men were captured and a further 150,000 had died during the siege. The German prisoners were forced marched to Siberia. About 45,000 died during the march to the prisoner of war camps and only about 7,000 survived the war.

Paulus was taken into custody and at first refused to cooperate with the Soviets. However, after he discovered that his friends, Erich Hoepner and Erwin von Witzleben, had been executed after the July Plot, he agreed to make anti-Nazi broadcasts. This included calls for German officers to desert or to disobey Hitler's orders. As a result of these broadcasts Hitler ordered that Paulus' entire family should be imprisoned.

In 1946 Paulus appeared at Nuremberg as a witness for the prosecution. Although he admitted he had been guilty of a criminal attack on the Soviet Union he refused to incriminate Alfred Jodl or Wilhelm Keitel. Paulus remained in a Soviet Union prison until being released in 1953. He settled in Dresden, East Germany, where he worked as an inspector of the People's Police. Friedrich Paulus died of cancer on 1st February, 1957.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Report of Friedrich Paulus by German Army in 1927.

He is at pains to avoid making enemies. He is slow, but very methodical. He displays marked tactical ability, though he is inclined to spend overmuch time on his appreciation.

(2) Samuel W. Mitcham, Hitler's Field Marshals (1988)

It would be difficult to imagine a general less suited to high command than Friedrich Paulus was in 1942. He was a solid, technically proficient staff-officer, it is true, but he had never held a command higher than an experimental motorized battalion. He was a desk soldier to his toes. Tall, slim, and fastidious, he habitually wore gloves because he hated dirt. He bathed and changed clothes twice a day and was sarcastically nicknamed "The Noble Lord" and "Our Most Elegant Gentleman" by some of his more combat-experienced peers. Worse still he lacked decisiveness and had convinced himself that Hitler was an infallible military genius - a fatal combination.

(3) In the winter of 1942 General Guenther Blumentritt was asked to visit the Eastern Front. His report suggesting a stepback from Stalingrad was rejected by Adolf Hitler.

I spent ten days in that sector and after returning made a written report to the effect that it would not be safe to hold such a long defensive flank during the winter. The railheads were as much as 200 kilometres behind the front, and the bare nature of the country meant that there was little timber available for constructing defences. Such German divisions as were available were holding frontages of 50 to 60 kilometres. There were no proper trenches or fixed positions.

General Halder endorsed this report and urged that our offensive should be halted, in view of the increasing resistance that it was meeting, and the increasing signs of danger to the long-stretched flank. But Hitler would not listen. During September the tension between the Fuhrer and Halder increased, and their arguments became sharper. To see the Fuhrer discussing plans with Halder was an illuminating experience. The Fuhrer used to move his hands in big sweeps over the map - 'Push here, push there'. It was all vague and regardless of practical difficulties. There was no doubt he would have liked to remove the whole General Staff, if he could, by a similar sweep. He felt that they were half-hearted about his ideas

Finally, General Halder made it clear that he refused to take the responsibility of continuing the advance with winter approaching. He was dismissed, at the end of September, and replaced by General Zeitzler - who was then Chief of Staff to Field-Marshal von Rundstedt in the West. I was sent to the West to take Zeitzler's place.

(4) Friedrich Paulus, radio message to Adolf Hitler (24th January 1943)

Troops without ammunition or food. Effective command no longer possible. 18,000 wounded without any supplies or dressings or drugs. Further defence senseless. Collapse inevitable. Army requests immediate permission to surrender in order to save lives of remaining troops.

(5) Adolf Hitler, radio message to Friedrich Paulus (24th January 1943)

Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their positions to the last man and the last round and by their heroic endurance will make an unforgettable contribution toward the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western world.

(6) Friedrich Paulus, radio message to Adolf Hitler (31st January 1943)

The Sixth Army, true to their oath and conscious of the lofty importance of their mission, have held their position to the last man and the last round for Führer and Fatherland unto the end.

(7) German stenographic record of what Adolf Hitler said at a meeting with his generals on 1st February 1943.

He'll be brought to Moscow - and imagine that rat-trap there. There he will sign anything. He'll make confessions, make proclamations - you'll see. They will now walk down the slope of spiritual bankruptcy to its lowest depths. You'll see - it won't be a week before Seydlitz and Schmidt and even Paulus are talking over the radio.

They are going to be put into the Liublanka, and there the rats will eat them. How can they be so cowardly? I don't understand it. What is life? Life is the Nation. The individual must die anyway. Beyond the life of the individual is the Nation. But how can anyone be afraid of this moment of death, with which he can free himself from this misery, if his duty doesn't chain him to this Vale of Tears.

So many people have to die, and then a man like that besmirches the heroism of so many others at the last minute. He

could have freed himself from all sorrow and ascended into eternity and national immortality, but he prefers to go to Moscow!

What hurts me most, personally, is that I still promoted him to field-marshal. I wanted to give him this final satisfaction. That's the last field-marshal I shall appoint in this war.

(8) Official German radio broadcast on 3rd February 1943.

The battle of Stalingrad has ended. True to their oath to fight to the last breath, the Sixth Army under the exemplary leadership of Field-Marshal Paulus has been overcome by the superiority of the enemy and by the unfavourable circumstances confronting our forces.

(9) Edward Heath, The Course of My Life (1988)

While I was in court, Field Marshal von Paulus, who had commanded the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, was produced by the Russians as a witness for the prosecution. Tall and, by now, slightly stooping, he told in a quiet voice the story of the attack on Russia; of how it had been planned, the orders given for the treatment of the Russian people and, finally, of the defeat and capture of his army. He was examined by members of all the prosecuting teams. I felt particularly proud of the skill with which the British team, led by David Maxwell Fyfe, later Lord Kilmuir, did its job, and we all watched the faces in the dock as the hideous tale unfolded. I thought of all the plans of aggression and domination that had been revealed; of the horrors of the concentration camps - of the shrunken heads of strangled Poles and the tattooed human skins on lampshades that I had seen among the exhibits in a room outside - and forced labour; of the thousands of displaced people from every European country who were still scattered across the continent searching desperately for a home; and of those makeshift graves that we had left behind us as we moved up from Normandy to the Baltic. My mind went further back, to the evening of 3 September 1939, when Neville Chamberlain had broadcast to the nation and warned, 'It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against - brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution - and against them I am certain that right will prevail.'