In Mein Kampf and in numerous speeches Adolf Hitler claimed that the German population needed more living space. Hitler's Lebensraum policy was mainly directed at the Soviet Union. He was especially interested in the Ukraine where he planned to develop a German colony. The system would be based on the British occupation of India: "What India was for England the territories of Russia will be for us... The German colonists ought to live on handsome, spacious farms. The German services will be lodged in marvellous buildings, the governors in palaces... The Germans - this is essential - will have to constitute amongst themselves a closed society, like a fortress. The least of our stable-lads will be superior to any native."
Hitler intended to force Norwegians, Swedes and Danes to move to these territories in the East. Hitler believed that the Blitzkrieg tactics employed against the other European countries could not be used as successfully against the Soviet Union. He conceded that due to its enormous size, the Soviet Union would take longer than other countries to occupy. However he was confident it could still be achieved during the summer months of 1941.
Joseph Stalin believed that Germany would not invade the Soviet Union until Britain and France had been conquered. From Stalin's own calculations, this would not be until the summer of 1942. Some of his closest advisers began to argue that 1941 would be a much more likely date. The surrender of France in June, 1940, cast doubts on Stalin's calculations.
Stalin's response to France's defeat was to send Vyacheslav Molotov to Berlin for more discussions. Molotov was instructed to draw out these talks for as long as possible. Stalin knew that if Adolf Hitler did not attack the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 he would have to wait until 1942. No one, not even someone as rash as Hitler, would invade the Soviet Union in the winter, he argued.
Germany was now in a strong negotiating position and found it impossible to agree to Hitler's demands. As soon as talks broke-up, Hitler ordered his military leaders to prepare for Operation Barbarossa. The plan was for the invasion of the Soviet Union to start on the 15th May, 1941. Hitler believed that this would give the German Army enough time to take control of the country before the harsh Soviet winter set in.
General Friedrich Paulus was asked to carry out a strategic survey on the Soviet Union for the proposed invasion. The main advice given by Paulus to Adolf 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.
Information on the proposed invasion came to Stalin from various sources. Richard Sorge, an agent working for the Red Orchestra in Japan, obtain information about the proposed invasion as early as December, 1940. Winston Churchill sent a personal message to Stalin in April, 1941, explaining how German troop movements suggested that they were about to attack the Soviet Union. However, Stalin was still suspicious of the British and thought that Churchill was trying to trick him into declaring war on Germany.
When the Red Orchestra prediction that Germany would invade in May, 1941, did not take place, Stalin became even more convinced that Germany had invaded Yugoslavia in April. Adolf Hitler had expected the Yugoslavs to surrender immediately but because of stubborn resistance, Hitler had to postpone Operation Barbarossa for a few weeks.
On 21st June, 1941, a German sergeant deserted to the Soviet forces. He informed them that the German Army would attack at dawn the following morning. Stalin was reluctant to believe the soldier's story and it was not until the German attack took place that he finally accepted that his attempts to avoid war with Germany until 1942 had failed.
The German forces, made up of three million men and 3,400 tanks, advanced in three groups. The north group headed for Leningrad, the centre group for Moscow and the southern forces into the Ukraine. Andrey Yeryomenko, who was in Minsk, later wrote: "Having covered every inch of ground with corpses the Nazis broke through to Smolensk. Stubborn fighting for the town proper raged for almost a whole month. The city repeatedly passed from hand to hand. More than one German division found its last resting place in the approaches to Smolensk and in the town itself. Every street and every house was contested by severe fighting and the Nazis paid very heavily for every yard of their advance. Hundreds of German soldiers and officers perished in the waters of the Dnieper River." General Demitry Pavlov was forced to retreat and the within six days, the German Army had captured the city. When he heard the news Stalin told Lavrenty Beria: "This is a monstrous crime. Those responsible must lose their heads."
Pavlov and his chief of staff, Major-General Vladimir Efimovich Klimovskikh, were now recalled to Moscow. After a meeting with Kliment Voroshilov they were charged on 4th July with being involved in an "anti-Soviet military conspiracy" that had "betrayed the interests of the Motherland, violated the oath of office and damaged the combat power of the Red Army that are crimes under Articles 58-1b, 58-11 RSFSR Criminal Code." It was reported that: "A preliminary judicial investigation and determined that the defendants Pavlov and Klimovskikh being: the first - the commander of the Western Front, and the second - the chief of staff of the same front, during the outbreak of hostilities with the German forces against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, showed cowardice, failure of power, mismanagement, allowed the collapse of command and control, surrender of weapons to the enemy without fighting, willful abandonment of military positions by the Red Army, the most disorganized defense of the country and enabled the enemy to break through the front of the Red Army."
When Joseph Stalin was told that Pavlov and Klimovskikh had been charged he told Major-General Alexander Poskrebyshev: "I approve the sentence but tell Ulrikh to get rid of all that rubbish about conspiratorial activity. The case shouldn't drag out. No appeal. And then inform the fronts so that they know that defeatists will be punished without mercy." Anastas Mikoyan later wrote: "It was a pity to lose him but it was justified."
With the execution of Demitry Pavlov and three other generals, Joseph Stalin made it clear that he would punish severely any commander whom he believed had let down the Soviet Union. In future, Soviet commanders thought twice about surrendering or retreating. Another factor in this was the way that the German Army massacred the people of Minsk. Terrified of both Stalin and Hitler, the Soviet people had no option but to fight until they were killed.
The first few months of the war was disastrous for the Soviet Union. The German northern forces surrounded Leningrad while the centre group made steady progress towards Moscow. German forces had also made deep inroads into the Ukraine. Kiev was under siege and Stalin's Chief of Staff, Georgi Zhukov, suggested that the troops defending the capital of the Ukraine should be withdrawn, thus enabling them to take up strong defensive positions further east. Stalin insisted that the troops stayed and by the time Kiev was taken, the casualties were extremely high. It was the most comprehensive defeat experienced by the red army in its history. However, the determined resistance put up at Kiev, had considerably delayed the attack on Moscow.
It was now September and winter was fast approaching. As German troops moved deeper into the Soviet Union, supply lines became longer. Joseph Stalin gave instructions that when forced to withdraw, the Red Army should destroy anything that could be of use to the enemy. The scorched earth policy and the formation of guerrilla units behind the German front lines, created severe problems for the German war machine which was trying to keep her three million soldiers supplied with the necessary food and ammunition.
Sepp Diettrich, the commander of the 1st SS Panzer Division, announced on 9th October, told Adolf Hitler that "For all military purposes, Soviet Russia is done with. The British dream of a two-front war is dead." Between Vyazma and Bryansk, another six hundred thousand Russians were trapped and taken prisoner." Albert Speer argued that Dietrich ordered that Soviet prisoners should be killed: "In the course of advances by SS units it had been established, Dietrich said, that the Soviet troops had killed their German prisoners. Hitler had then and there announced that a thousandfold retaliation in blood must be taken... Hitler issued an order that this time no prisoners were to be taken." Speer explained to Hitler was this was a bad move: "I was alarmed at the sheer wastefulness of such a step. Hitler was counting on hundreds of thousands of prisoners. For months we had been trying in vain to close a gap of hundreds of thousands in the supply of labour."
By October, 1941, German troops were only fifteen miles outside Moscow. Orders were given for a mass evacuation of the city. In two weeks, two million people left Moscow and headed east. Stalin rallied morale by staying in Moscow. In a bomb-proof air raid shelter positioned under the Kremlin, Stalin, as Supreme Commander-in-Chief, directed the Soviet war effort. All major decisions made by his front-line commanders had to be cleared with Stalin first.
In November, 1941, the German Army launched a new offensive on Moscow. The Soviet army held out and the Germans were brought to a halt. Stalin called for a counter-attack. His commanders had doubts about this policy but Stalin insisted and on 4th December the Red Army attacked. The German army, demoralized by its recent lack of success, was taken by surprise and started to retreat. By January, the Germans had been pushed back 200 miles.
Stalin's military strategy was basically fairly simple. He believed it was vitally important to attack the enemy as often as possible. He was particularly keen to use new, fresh troops for these offensives. Stalin argued that countries in western Europe had been beaten by their own fear of German superiority. His main objective in using new troops in this way was to convince them that the German forces were not invincible. By pushing the German Army back at Moscow, Stalin proved to the Soviet troops that Blizkrieg could be counteracted; it also provided an important example to all troops throughout the world fighting the German war-machine.
In December, 1941, Adolf Hitler agreed to the suggestion made by Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau that General Freidrich 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.
General Timoshenko was now placed in overall command of the Stalingrad. In the summer of 1942 General Freidrich Paulus advanced toward the city 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 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.