While the battle of Stalingrad is one of the best-known battles of World War II the reasons why both Germany and the Soviet Union were so keen on controlling the city of Stalingrad are often reduced to the propagandistic effect that the city that was named after the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had.
But there is actually much more to it. In the following I would like to present the 4 reasons why capturing Stalingrad was so important to Germany.
Capturing the city that was named after Stalin would`ve had a massive propagandistic effect and would have cut off the ship traffic on the Volga on which most of the Soviet oil and a large part of the allied weapon deliveries were transported. It would have also destroyed one of the largest soviet industrial centers with its weapon factories. Additionally, the capture of Stalingrad would`ve secured the flank of the Heeresgruppe A during its advance into the Caucasus.
So Germany had good reasons to advance on Stalingrad. But the Soviet Union also had good reasons to defend Stalingrad even at a high cost!
If you are interested in the 3 reasons why Stalingrad was also extremely important to the Soviet Union (apart from its propagandistic value) you might want to check out my article here.
But let`s now start out by talking about one of the less well-known reasons why Germany was interested in capturing Stalingrad.
- 1 Securing the advance into the Caucasus
- 2 The propagandistic value of capturing Stalingrad
- 3 Cutting off the major Soviet supply line by capturing Stalingrad
- 4 Destroying a major industrial center and its arms factories
- 5 Conclusion
- 6 Sources
Securing the advance into the Caucasus
Stalingrad and the landbridge between the rivers Volga and Don were crucial for the German plan in the summer of 1942. But in order to find out why that area was so important, we have to take a quick look at the German plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
When Operation Barbarossa, named after the great medieval Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, had started in the summer of 1941 the german army was arranged into 3 army groups.
Each army group (North, Center, and South) was named for the region in which it would be deployed. For our purpose of finding out why Stalingrad was important to Germany, we have to look at the army group South, especially during the early summer of 1942.
The army Group South in 1941 – occupying Ukraine
Just like the name Army Group South suggests the formation was actually used to invade the South of the Soviet Union, modern-day Ukraine.
Ukraine, more precisely the precious and rich soil was actually one of the main motivations for the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Do you want to find out more about why Hitler actually attacked the Soviet Union? Here you can find my article with the answer!
1942: Splitting up the Army Group South – attacking Stalingrad and the Caucasus
After occupying Ukraine the Army Group South was tasked with executing Case Blue, meaning the advance into the Caucasus and the occupation of the soviet oilfields.
The basic German problem of the summer of 1942 (and from there until the end of the war) was a lack of fuel. Germany and Western Europe in general don`t really have any kind of oilfields. And the rich Norwegian oilfields that secure Norway’s current wealth were not discovered back then.
So most of the oil that Germany needed had to be imported either from Venezuela, Iran, or the United States. But after the war began in 1939 and Great Britain started its naval blockade Germany was pretty much cut off from oil deliveries.
Only the Romanian oilfields were left to supply Germany with oil. And relying on one single source seemed too risky.
The Soviet Union on the other hand got most of its oil (around 80%) from the caucasian oilfields. And these oilfields obviously caused Hitlers’ interest…
Originally Hitler had planned to advance to the Volga, secure the flank, and then push south into the Caucasus to occupy the oilfields. There was even a plan to use paratroopers to occupy the most important oilfield in the area of Majkop to prevent the Societ army from destroying it during their retreat.
But since the Army Group South had been able to conquer Ukraine while capturing way more soviet soldiers than expected Hitler made the fatal decision to speed things up.
Instead of securing the flank (the Volga) first and then advancing South Hitler now planned on securing the flank by advancing to the Volga and capturing Stalingrad while simultaneously advancing into the Caucasus.
To achieve that goal the Army Group South was split up into the Army Group A and the Army Group B in July of 1942.
The Army Group A was then tasked with advancing south into the Caucasus. But that advance is a story for another time. We will focus on Army Group B and its task to secure the flank of the Army Group South.
And securing the flank meant pushing towards Stalingrad and the Volga.
How did capturing Stalingrad secure the advance into the Caucasus?
To secure the advance of the Army Group A into the Caucasus Army Group B was expected to erect defenses at the Don river. But while advancing onto the Don the german troops faced the growing Soviet resistance of the newly compiled Stalingrad Front.
The Stalingrad Front was made up of three soviet reserve armies (62., 63., 64. Army), consisted of 38 divisions, and was established on 12 July 1942 to strengthen the crumbling south-western frontline in the region of Stalingrad.
Just like the name suggests the Stalingrad Front was established to shield Stalingrad from a German attack. Here you can find out the 3 reasons why Stalingrad was so important to the Soviet Union.
While the Soviet forces were not able to stop the German forces at their defensive structures on the eastern banks of the river Don they still managed to slow down the German advance which gave the Soviet generals more time to prepare the defense of Stalingrad.
After crossing the Don river Army Group B was now on its way to push the Soviet forces back to the Volga just like the orders demanded.
But there was one problem. As stated, the Soviets had accumulated 3 reserve armies around Stalingrad and were more than willing to defend the city. And while Hitler originally did not have the goal of occupying Stalingrad at any price that changed.
The German high command knew that in order to secure the flank and supply lines of the Army Group A the forces Stalingrad Front that had accumulated in and around Stalingrad had to be taken care of.
Since Hitler, blinded by successes in Ukraine, had decided to launch Case Blue (the advance into the Caucasus) before Stalingrad and the Volga had been secured, Army Group B was forced to attack Stalingrad to secure the flank of Army Group A and prevent a Soviet counter-attack that could trap Army Group A in the Caucasus.
So there we have it. Taking Stalingrad was necessary to secure the flank of the prematurely launched attack on the Caucasian oilfields.
Securing the flank would escalate into the battle of Stalingrad, a battle for which the 6th German army (according to its commander Friedrich Paulus) did not have a sufficient amount of infantry.
The following battle of Stalingrad is probably one of the best-known battles of the entire war. But even such a well-known battle has its secrets. Why, for example, did Hitler not allow his army to retreat even though there was no victory in sight. I wrote another article that tries to find the answer to that question. I would invite you to check out that article here.
Are you interested in reading eye-withness accounts of the battle of Stalingrad? Then I would like to recommend you the following book in which the memories of soldiers of the German 6th army were collected and translated. You can find it here* on Amazon.
But for now, I would like to talk about the best-known reason why Stalingrad was important to Germany. And that reason is the name and the propagandistic value that capturing the city that was named after Stalin had.
The propagandistic value of capturing Stalingrad
Most people would say that the name Stalingrad, named after the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, was a major reason why the city had to be defended. And while that (and the other presented reasons) there is much more than just the name of Joseph Stalin to the propagandistic value of Stalingrad.
Stalingrad was originally named Tsaritsyn and was built in 1589 as a border fortress against invading nomadic tribes from the South. The city was also besieged by cossacks who were loyal to the tsar during the Russian civil war. The man who organized the defense was Joseph Stalin after whom the city was renamed in 1925.
Here you can find my article with more information on the Russian Revolution of 1917 that sparked the Russian Civil War and why the German Empire helped to smuggle Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia.
So Stalingrad was not only originally erected as a defense against foreign invaders, but also successfully defended by Joseph Stalin during the Russian civil war.
I think that makes it clear that Stalingrad did not only carry the name of Joseph Stalin but was also an old fortress that was built against foreign invaders.
If Germany would have been able to capture the city that was not only named after the Soviet dictator but had also been defended by Stalin during the Russian Civil war and had originally been erected as a fortress against foreign invaders then that would have been a massive blow to the Soviet spirit!
By the way, the propagandistic value of Stalingrad was one of the reasons why Hitler refused to allow the 6th army to retreat from Stalingrad, more on that here.
But apart from these propagandistic values Stalingrad also had two much more practical functions as both a massive transportation hub and as an industrial center that hosted several big weapon factories.
Let`s look at these points next!
Cutting off the major Soviet supply line by capturing Stalingrad
The location of Stalingrad on the banks of the Volga, the major bloodline of the soviet economy, and on multiple railway lines meant that Stalingrad had developed into an important transshipment hub.
Please check out my article here for more information on why Stalingrad and the Volga were so crucial for transporting oil into the heart of the Soviet Union and how the German advance of 1941 increased that importance even more.
If Germany would have been able to capture Stalingrad (or would have at least permanently reached the Volga somewhere around Stalingrad then the major transportation line on which not only caucasian oil but also British & American weapon deliveries were transported would have been cut. And that would have massively hindered the Soviet war efforts.
As already mentioned above.
Originally Hitler had not been obsessed with capturing Stalingrad. You can find out more about why he would not allow a retreat from Stalingrad despite the city being no longer of use in my article here.
On 17 July 1942 Hitler even said that Stalingrad would not have to be captured as long as the factories (more on them later) were within reach of the German artillery and the German troops had reached the Volga south of Stalingrad from where they would be able to block any ship traffic on the river.
(Here you can find out more why it was necessary to block the Volga either at Stalingrad or a little South of Stalingrad and why it was not practicable to block the river much further south.)
That is actually interesting: That means that on July 17 1942 Hitlers’ main goal (apart from stopping production in the factories) still was the blockage of the Soviet supply lines on the Volga river and the destruction of Stalingrad as a railway hub!
But what caused Hitler to change his mind? Well, that is a story for another time. More on that here.
Destroying a major industrial center and its arms factories
In addition to being a major transshipment hub and crucial for shipping caucasian oil into the center of the Soviet Union Stalingrad was also an industrial center with massive weapon factories.
And these weapon factories obviously caused the Germans a lot of problems. A good example of this kind of Problem is the Dzerzinsjij Tractor Factory, the biggest tank factory of the entire war.
Even in the weeks before the German army reached Stalingrad countless tanks were repaired by the Dzerzinsjij Tractor Factory. The factory even kept producing tanks when the fighting was so close that the tanks would come off the conveyer belt and would immediately be driven into combat.
Please check out my article here for more information on the Dzerzinsjij Tractor Factory and the other factories (for both civil and war purposes).
I think it is self-explanatory why the German high command wanted to get rid of some of the largest weapon factories. Especially since the way from the factory into combat was rather short so that the weapons could be used without having to transport them through the soviet union.
I think it became pretty clear that the plan to occupy Stalingrad had much deeper motivations than just capturing the city that was named after Hitlers’ rival.
The fact that controlling Stalingrad meant that the most important soviet supply line (the Volga) would be cut and a massive transshipment hub destroyed, but also the accumulation of three Soviet reserve armies in the flank of an overextended German advance into the Caucasus in combination with the industrial potential the weapon factories of Stalingrad had made it necessary to eliminate the threat that the city posed to the German plans.
I think it is important to consider all these reasons and not only the propagandistic value of Stalingrad when we think about why Stalingrad was so important for both Germans and Soviets.
Haven`t had enough of history yet?
If you want to find out more about why Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the first place I would like to recommend you my article here where I present the ideological and practical reasons for Hitler’s interest in the East.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
H. Boog, W. Rahn (u.a.), Der Globale Krieg. Die Ausweitung zum Weltkrieg und der Wechsel der Initiative 1941-1943; in: Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Bd. 6 (Stuttgart 1990).*
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