February 2, 1943: The Battle of Stalingrad ends.

The decisive and bloody five month-long battle at Stalingrad, widely considered the turning point in the European Theatre of the Second World War, ended seventy years ago in a crushing defeat for German forces and marked sort of a beginning of the end for the Third Reich. The battle began in August of 1942, when a massive bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe reduced the entire city to rubble; Stalingrad soon became a conflict of both practical (the city was an industrial center) and symbolic importance. The Battle of Stalingrad was characterized by massive casualties on both sides: an estimated 850,000 Germans were killed, wounded, or declared missing, and a further 100,000 died in captivity; over 400,000 people on the Soviet side - including 40,000 civilians - were killed. It was also characterized by heavy, brutal urban warfare (see: Pavlov’s House), a method known to the Germans as Rattenkrieg - “Rat War”, and also the prevalence of snipers on both sides, most famously Vasily Zaitsev

Despite the failure of the Luftwaffe to adequately supply German troops, Adolf Hitler insisted that his trapped and cornered armies stay resolute and reject surrender at any cost. Out of both basic victuals and ammunition, the commander of the Sixth Army Friedrich Paulus requested permission from his Führer to surrender in late January. Instead, Hitler promoted Paulus to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall, reminding him that no German Field Marshal had ever surrendered and dared him to become the first. Paulus acquiesced, disregarding Hitler’s less-than-subtle suggestion that he commit suicide, and allegedly said:

I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal.

Out of the 107,000 German soldiers who made up the remainder of Paulus’ forces, 6,000 survived captivity - the Sixth Army had been completely obliterated, the first time such a thing happened to a German field army. And for the first time, the Nazi government acknowledged a major setback in its war effort. In his famous Sportpalast speech, Joseph Goebbels emphasized the looming threat of  ”Bolshevism from the East”, and he declared that such an imminent threat meant that the German people would have to make sacrifices and meet this threat with “total war”. 

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