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Stalingrad: The German Sixth Army Shifts It's Focus to the Factory District

on Tue, 12/13/2016 - 20:45

The Battle for the City of Stalingrad ranged across three large geographical areas divided into southern and central sectors as well as the Factory District in the north. By September 26, 1942 the German Sixth Army largely controlled the city's southern and central sectors following a brutal block by block fight that had lasted the entire month.

In southern Stalingrad the remnants from the Soviet 62nd Army's defenses (three rifle divisions, three rifle brigades, one tank brigade, and one rifle regiment - hardly equalling a fraction of their former size) had been pressed into a small strip of land along the Volga River. There they were held in place by the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps' 94th Infantry Division and 29th Motorized Division. These survivors, though brave and dogged fighters, were largely incapable of doing anything but holding on to a few city blocks even as German pressure diminished and the 94th Infantry Division prepared to redeploy further north in the city. Meanwhile, in the central/dowtown center of Stalingrad the German 71st Infantry Division had contained the 62nd Army's shattered 13th Guards Rifle Division and a single regiment from the 193rd Rifle Division in a corridor along the Volga no more than three blocks deep.

The northern part of Stalingrad represented Chuikov's only defensive position of any depth. That is where the bulk of the 62nd Army was firmly ensconsed in the imposing factory district, worker's villages to it's west, and Stalingrad's northwestern suburbs. Now, one could say that it had taken the Sixth Army a single month to take a big chunk of Stalingrad and such an accomplishment was commendable. Regardless, that would be missing the point that on September 26, 1942 the Sixth Army's units in Stalingrad carried nowhere near the fighting power they had held only a fortnight prior.

Remember, on the eve of the big September 13th offensive the Sixth Army's force in Stalingrad included the 24th Panzer, 29th Motorized, and 71st, 94th, 295th, 389th Infantry Divisions along with three assault gun battalions totalling 80,000 men and 100 tanks/assault guns. After two weeks of unrelenting combat these divisions had been badly weakened, fielding only 65,000 men and 25 tanks in the city. German regiments had dropped to around 1,000 men each, many battalions only had around 250 men, and the 24th Panzer Division's entire operational tank park equalled that of a reinforced tank company. On the other hand, the Germans had mauled the 62nd Army and taken most of the city. Nevertheless, in spite of the beating Chuikov's command had endured it still included 51,126 men in it's ranks on September 25th. This total represented a net loss of only around 3,000 men in comparison to the 62nd Army's personnel on hand two weeks earlier. Meaning that the German Sixth Army's relative manpower advantage in Stalingrad and over 62nd Army had been cut by around 12,000 men. How is this possible when the 62nd Army had been driven from most of Stalingrad while suffering enormous losses? The answer is simple: reinforcements.

During September of 1942 the Soviet 62nd Army received roughly 40,000 men as replacements for it's immense losses. These included the entire 13th Guards, 95th, and 284th Rifle Divisions as well as the 92nd Rifle and 137th Tank Brigades. In particular and as mentioned elsewhere, the timely deployment of the 13th Guards Rifle Division likely saved the then reeling 62nd Army from being flung into the Volga in mid-September. Moreover, the German inability to match the Soviet timeliness in terms of providing reinforcements only represented part of the story. Though it was only late in September when Paulus finally was able to move the 100th Jager Division into Stalingrad the 100th Jager was no substitute for an infantry division; falling several battalions short of an infantry division's frontline manpower. This meant that though Paulus had added an entire division, because of it's smaller size this addition left his in-city force a few thousand men short of the 80,000 men they had begun with earlier in September.

From the German perspetive this is all the more galling considering that even one more infantry or panzer division arriving with the 100th Jager late in September might have allowed Paulus to break the back of 62nd Army's defenses while they were still consolidating and had not yet gelled following the staggering losses of the previous days. Events in October bear this contention out when the Germans once again came dangerously close to besting Chuikov's army while deploying additional infantry divisions (the 79th which was taken from Sixth Army's XVII Army Corps and the 305th, taken from Sixth Army's VIII Army Corps) and even though Chuikov had been given nearly two weeks to replenish his infantry and armored formations. To his credit Paulus also had been trying to redeploy the 113th Infantry Division into Stalingrad. Nontheless, the relentless Soviet assaults on Sixth Army's flanks meant that not only couldn't Paulus reassign the 113th Infantry, but that it was being badly denuded in it's own right; given the pounding it was taking from the Red Army. However, the 113th Infantry Division was far from the only available division that could have pushed Sixth Army over the hump late in September, and it's not like such facts on the ground were going unrecognized at that time.

The Luftwaffe's General Richtofen on October 3rd complained in his diary that "What we lack...is some clear thinking about a well defined primary objective. It's quite useless to muck about here, there and everywhere as we are doing...One thing at a time...we must finish off what we've started." Indeed. It is not a stretch at all to argue that one more division deployed into Stalingrad and restoring the Sixth Army's assault corps to their original hitting power on the eve of the push into the factory district would have been able to replicate what Sixth Army accomplished in September. Remember, in the span of just over two weeks six average to understrength German divisions took nearly all of southern and central Stalingrad even though they featured an armored force (24th Panzer, 29th Motorized, and three assault gun battalions) equivalent to half that fielded by either the 21st or 15th Panzer Divisions then parked in Egypt. Moreover, the key combat units in Rommel's vaunted command were also being continually replenished, while the 24th Panzer Division received not one tank to replace its losses regardless of trying to bring it up to even half-strength in comparison to the lavishly equipped panzer divisions in Africa.

There is no reason to believe that an equally sized German force to that fielded by Sixth Army on September 13th couldn't have cleared the northern factory district during the month of October had the Germans been able to build on the momentum granted by the September victories and maintain the pressure on the 62nd Army. Given the extant of Sixth Army's losses in September however that would have required Paulus restore his assault groupings in late September through reinforcing them with two more divisions that included with them a total of around 80 tanks and assault guns. Instead, the forces assembling to attack the factory district received a light division (100th Jager) deployed in late September. It was only well into October when Paulus received the two infantry divisions that might have granted the edge two weeks prior while in addition getting the weakened 14th Panzer Division that entered the factory district battle not only well after this crucial fight began but after the other German divisions had been weakened that much more. Meanwhile, the German divisions cooling their heels in Egypt provided ample fuel to Richtofen's prescient lamentations regarding a German command neglecting the very operating principles that had brought it to the brink of inflicting a war altering defeat on its greatest foe.


 

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