By International Federation of Resistance Fighters (FIR) – Association of Antifascists. From the 2022-47 edition of their newsletter.
The FIR commemorates one of the decisive military operations that marked the final end of the fascist expansionist policy, “Operation Uranus,” the beginning of the Red Army’s counteroffensive in the Battle of Stalingrad.
The German blitzkrieg strategy had suffered its first defeat in the winter of 1941 at the Battle of Moscow, when it succeeded in halting the advance on the Soviet capital. A year later, the objective was to stop the advance of German troops to Stalingrad and thus their control of the supply route on the Volga. From the German point of view, this advance was linked to the strategic consideration of waging the war for resources and thus providing military access to the Caucasus and Baku, as Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel formulated it.
Although the fighting in the summer of 1942 was fraught with casualties, the German 6th Army’s advance on Stalingrad began in July 1942. Here, too, the Soviet Army offered stalling resistance. Only when this was broken did the 6th Army roll up to Stalingrad within a few days: on August 23, the first units reached the outskirts of the city. Now began a house-to-house combat, combined with terrorist attacks by the German Luftwaffe, which alone claimed the lives of 40,000 civilian residents of the city. The German Luftwaffe dropped a total of about one million bombs on the city. Despite heavy losses, the 6th Army was on the verge of capturing Stalingrad by mid-November:
Stalin had issued his famous order not to retreat one step. There was no longer any opportunity for a mass evacuation of the civilian population. “Behind us lies Moscow,” was the slogan. However, it was not so much an incantation to hold out as an expression of strategic reality.
In this situation, the Red Army opened a counteroffensive on the morning of November 19, 1942, with “Operation Uranus,” which succeeded in encircling the Wehrmacht troops within five days. One reason was certainly that the flank security had been taken over by allied Italian and Romanian units, while the German combat units were tied up in house-to-house fighting. The Red Army’s advance was also rapid, because bad weather prevailed at the time of “Operation Uranus” and the German air force was unable to intervene. As a result, the Red Army encircled up to 300,000 soldiers of the Wehrmacht and its allies.
The Wehrmacht leadership was not prepared for such a situation. Adolf Hitler decided that the German troops should not attempt a breakout, but should be supplied from the air and wait for a relief offensive. Both failed. The most visible expression of the disastrous supply was that the soldiers’ bread rations were set at 300 grams per day, later at 100 grams, and toward the end at only 60 grams per man.
Operation Wintergewitter”, which was supposed to break up the encirclement, also failed in December 1942. Instead, even Army Group A, which was located in the Caucasus foothills, had to withdraw.
Already in the first year of the war, the German Wehrmacht had lost a third of the manpower with which it had started in June 1941: about one million men killed, captured or missing. Because of the Battle of Stalingrad, it now lost another entire army and hundreds of thousands of soldiers to Soviet captivity.
However, we do not only remember the military side, but in this context, we commemorate the great sacrifices of the Soviet people. In Stalingrad alone, well over half a million Soviet soldiers and an unknown number of civilians died. Twenty years after the founding of the USSR, they not only defended their homeland, but also made a decisive contribution to the military liberation from fascist barbarism.
This remains an everlasting glory. This is what the monuments to the liberators and liberation stand for.