3 reasons why Stalingrad was so important to the Soviet Union

The battle of Stalingrad is known as not only one of the deciding turning points of World War II but also as one of the most brutal battles of the entire war. But why were both Germany and the Soviet Union so persistent in their attempts to conquer or in the case of the Soviet Union defend the city.

While many people still think that the reason why the city of Stalingrad was so important had mostly to do with being named after Joseph Stalin I would like to present 2 additional, maybe even more crucial, reasons why Stalingrad was so important to the Soviet Union.

The Volga and several railway lines made Stalingrad an important transshipment hub for transporting oil and allied weapon deliveries from the South to the Northern- & central regions of the Soviet Union. Losing these transportation lines would`ve devastated the Soviet war efforts. Stalingrad was also an industrial city that held the largest tank factory of the entire war. And the city had propagandistic value since it was an old border fortress built in 1586 to prevent nomadic invasions and renamed after Stalin who had defended the city during the Russian civil war against troops loyal to the tsar.

So let`s dive into more detail and take a look at the reasons why Stalingrad was so important to the Soviet Union. And if you want to find out more about why Stalingrad was equally important to Germany I would like to recommend you my article here.

Let`s start out with the reason that most people think of, the name of the city.

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The propagandistic value of Stalingrad to the Soviet Union

When we talk about Stalingrad than we have to recognize that the city was not always called Stalingrad.

It wasn`t until April 10, 1925, that the city of Tsaritsyn („=city of the tsarina“) was renamed Stalingrad. Originally founded as a border fortress in 1589 to protect Russia against invading nomads from the South Tsaritsyn was besieged by Cossacks during the Russian civil war.

During the cossack attacks, the Bolshevist defenders of Tsaritsyn were commanded and organized by Joseph Stalin, the chairman of the war council of the north caucasian military district. To honor Stalin’s role in the defense of Tsaritsyn the city was renamed Stalingrad on April 10, 1925.

So it is safe to say that Stalingrad, the city that Joseph Stalin had been able to defend against cossacks who were loyal to the Russian tsar, had a special propagandistic status.

That status was intensified by the fact that the city had originally been founded in 1589 as a border fortress to prevent the invasions of nomadic tribes from the South into Russia.

So yes, the city of Stalingrad and the status as an old border fortress and as the city that Joseph Stalin himself defended against the forces of the tsar during the Russian civil war were certainly a reason for the significance of Stalingrad for the Soviet Union.

That significance of Stalingrad would result in one of the most brutal battles of World War II. A battle that was so brutal that it is hard to even imagine. Should you be interested in reading about the battle of Stalingrad from the viewpoint of the regular soldier then I would like to recommend you two diaries of soldiers who fought in Stalingrad.

The first, the diary of Mansur Abdulin* offers us the good but rare insight into the reality of the battle of Stalingrad through the eyes of a soldier of the Red Army. The second that you can find here* on Amazon, the diary of the German machine gunner Günter Koschorrek, gives us insight into the same battle from the other perspective.

But there are reasons that (in my opinion) are of much greater importance.

Let`s check them out!

Stalingrad as a major transshipment hub

The significance of Stalingrad as a major transportation hub can be split into two parts. First of all the transportation by ship on the Volga river and then Stalingrad as a crosspoint of important railway lines.

The significance of Stalingrad for transports on the Volga

Stalingrad is situated at the shore of the Volga river. The Volga is not only the largest river in Europe, its drainage basin also stretched across 1/3 of the European part of the Soviet Union. Around 2112 miles of the 2299 miles long Volga were utilizable for transporting goods by ship, although parts of the river could only be used for 6 months out of the year due to ice.

Now the information that the Volga is a big river is nice to have. But what were the effects?

Several smaller rivers and channels connected the Volga to the Baltic Sea, Lake Ladoga, the White Sea, and important cities like Moscow and Leningrad. So goods like oil and allied weapon deliveries could easily be shipped from the harbors in the South into the heart of the Soviet Union and to crucial defensive positions (like the frontline at Moscow).

Let`s look at a few numbers for a better understanding of how important the Volga was as a transportation line before we look at the reason why especially Stalingrad was crucial for keeping that transportation up.

Before World War II around 30 Million tons of goods, mostly oil from the Caucasus (about 80% of the Soviet oil was produced there) but also products made in the industrial plants along the Volga, were shipped every year.

The number and significance grew after the beginning of the German invasion of the Societ Union, more on the reason why Hitler was so keen on attacking the Soviet Union in my article here. The reason for that increase in the significance of the Volga as a line of transportation can be seen in the fact that most of the transportation routes west of the Volga fell into German hands.

So keeping the Volga in Soviet hands was crucial for the continuation of the war against Germany!

Controlling the Volga as the major Soviet supply line was crucial for being able to continue the war against Germany since the bulk of the caucasian oil as well as a good part of the war supplies that the English and American allies delivered was shipped on the river.

So now we have clarified why the Volga was so important to the Soviet Union.

But why was Stalingrad so crucial for the continuation of the ship traffic on the Volga.

Why was Stalingrad important for the ship traffic on the Volga?

So we just established that the Volga is a giant river that basically connects the sea to the South of the Soviet Union with the Sea to the north of the Societ Union. But what is the role of Stalingrad?

Well, Stalingrad had two roles. One role that we will dive into with more detail in the next paragraph was several important railway lines. Another reason was the topography of the Volga river.

North of Stalingrad the Volga is one massive river. But not too far south of Stalingrad the river splits up into a massive river delta before it drains into the Caspian sea. And that detail was crucial for the Soviet defense!

If Germany would have been able to capture Stalingrad and block the ship traffic on the Volga neither the Caspian oil nor American & British weapons would have made it to the battlegrounds in the north and center of the Soviet Union. The main artery of the soviet war supplies would have been cut!

The effect of such a blockade would have been devastating to the Soviet Union. So it should not come as a surprise that cutting of the ship traffic on the Volga was one of the major reasons why Stalingrad was so important to Germany.

More on the other reasons and the alternative order that Hitler gave on July 17 1942 in case a capture of Stalingrad was not possible in my article here.

Additionally, Stalingrad was not only important for transportation by boat, the city was also a massive railway hub.

Stalingrad as a railway hub

Since all the goods that were shipped on the Volga eventually came through Stalingrad the city also developed into a massive transshipment point for a wide variety of goods. Goods that came from either the North or the South by ship could be transferred to railway carriages and sent on their way into all directions.

The significance of Stalingrad as a railway hub increased with the German advance since the last railway line that connected the North of the Soviet Union with its South (the line Stalingrad – Sal`sk – Tichorck) led through Stalingrad.

And just as we already saw with the ship traffic. It was absolutely crucial that goods, especially oil and weapons, could be transported from the South to the North and the Center regions of the Soviet Union.

Speaking of weapon production and industrial plants in general.

That brings us to the third reason why Stalingrad was so important to the Soviet Union.

Stalingrad as an Industrial center (specialized in arms production)

Due to its already mentioned location on the banks of the major artery for both the civil and the war industry Stalingrad had quickly developed into a transshipment point for a broad variety of goods.

And since many of the goods were already transshipped in Stalingrad it made sense for different industries to also move to Stalingrad.

During the 1920s and 1930s, different industries like steel plants, machine factories, refineries, but also factories of the wood- and food industry moved to Stalingrad.

That by the way should also show in the development of the population of Stalingrad.

Within 15 years between 1924 and 1939, the population of Stalingrad tripled to 445,000. But it is also important to note that during the summer of 1942, when the German army advanced on Stalingrad, the city was overflowing with refugees who had fled to the east in hopes of escaping the advancing frontline.

So in the summer of 1942, the population of Stalingrad was probably somewhere around 900,000 people, including both inhabitants and refugees.

But let`s return to Stalingrad as an industrial city:

To better show the significance I decided to present 3 different factories.

These factories should give you a good indication of why it was so crucial for the Soviet Union to hold Stalingrad and why it also was important for Germany to stop the production by conquering the city. More on why Germany was also interested in controlling Stalingrad in my article here.

Barrikady

Originally founded in 1914 the factory was renamed after the Russian Revolution of 1917. For some time it was actually the largest ammunition factory in all of Europe.

After the factory was destroyed in 1942 during the battle of Stalingrad it was rebuilt and resumed production in 1944.

Krasny Oktyabr (= Red October)

Originally founded in 1897 the steel plant was renamed by the Bolsheviks. The name Krasny Oktyabr (=Red October) was chosen because of the October revolution of 1917.

The factory was specialized in armor steel and artillery shells and produced the steel that was used in the Dzerzinsjij Tractor Factory.

Dzerzinsjij Tractor Factory

Just like the name Dzerzinsjij Tractor Factory suggests the factory was originally designed to build tractors. Officially opened in 1930 the factory reached its full potential in 1932 when 144 tractors were built every day.

But as early as 1932 the factory also produced tanks, the T-26, alongside tractors. It wasn`t until 1939 that the plant was reorganized to only produce weapons, most notably the famous T-34 tank.

Since the population of Stalingrad had not been evacuated during the german advance and the plants were not dismantled and brought to safety until the last minute the production and repair of tanks could continue until the Germans had already reached Stalingrad.

It is estimated that during the last weeks before the Dzerzinsjij Tractor Factory had to be abandoned several hundred tanks could be repaired and countless tanks rolled from the conveyor directly into combat.

That by the way also explains why getting control over the Dzerzinsjij Tractor Factory was the first goal of the german army after fighting its way into Stalingrad. Please check out my article here for more information on the other reasons Germany had for attacking Stalingrad.

During the battle of Stalingrad, the Dzerzinsjij Tractor Factory was largely destroyed. But as soon as the fighting had ended in February of 1943 the factory was rebuilt and was able to return to full-scale production within months.

By the way, the Dzerzinsjij Tractor Factory was the largest tank factory of all nations during World War II. That alone should give us an idea of the significance of Stalingrad as an industrial center.

Conclusion

I think it became pretty clear that the propagandistic value of Stalingrad as an old border fortress built to prevent nomadic invasions and the fact that it was defended by Joseph Stalin during the Russian Civil War played a role in why the city was so important to the Societ Union.

By the way. The propagandist value was one (but not the only) reason why Hitler would refuse to allow his encircled 6th army to retreat from Stalingrad. More on the other 4 reasons here.

But I think it also became clear that Stalingrad was a massive industrial center that was specialized in the production of weapons. And that combined with Stalingrads significance as a transshipment hub for transport by both ship and railroad has to be recognized as an equally important (if not more important) reason for the significance of Stalingrad to the Societ Union.

Apart from that most of the crucial caucasian oil and a good part of the weapon aid that Americans and Great Britain sent was transported to the northern and central regions of the Soviet Union by these transportation lines.

So in the end it was the combination of the propagandistic value, Stalingrad as an industrial center of arms production, and its role as a transshipment point from which the flow of caucasian oil and allied weapon deliveries could be controlled that made the city of Stalingrad so important to the Societ Union.

So now we looked at the reasons why Stalingrad was so important to the Soviet Union. But what about the German side? Why was Stalingrad so important to Germany? And are the reasons for the significance of Stalingrad the same or are their (major) differences? Please feel free to check out my article here for more information.

Should you be interested in reading about the battle of Stalingrad from the viewpoint of the regular soldier then I would like to recommend you two diaries of soldiers who fought in Stalingrad. The first, the diary of Mansur Abdulin* offers us the good but rare insight into the reality of the battle of Stalingrad through the eyes of a soldier of the Red Army. The second one, the diary of the German machine gunner Günter Koschorrek*, gives us insight into the same battle from the other perspective.

And if you have ever wondered why Hitlers` Germany attacked the Soviet Union at all I would like to recommend you my article here.

I hope you found today’s topic just as exciting as I and maybe you also discovered one or two reasons that you did not know of. (I certainly have while researching for the article).

Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.

Until next time

Yours truly

Luke Reitzer

Sources

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).