Stalingrad (1992)

 

 

Director:    Joseph Vilsmaier.

Starring:    Thomas Kretschmann (Hans von Witzland), Dominique Horwitz (Fritz Reiser), Jochen Nickel (Rollo Rohleder), Karel Hermanek (Musk), Dana Vavrova (Irina), Sebastian Rudolph (GeGe Muller), Martin Benrath (General Hentz), Sylvester Groth (Otto).

the real turning point of the war; choice of German or English and using or not using subtitles

 

 

The battle for Stalingrad during World War II was the real turning point for the Germans. After the battle, the Germans were always on the retreat until the end of the war. More than a million and a half soldiers lost their lives in the battle. The film is told from the point of view of the German soldiers.  Hitler expected the soldiers to either win the battle or sacrifice their lives in defeat.  The brutality of war is well depicted in the movie.

It is strange to view a movie about World War II made by Germans.  How would they dare?  The fascist system of Germany was the worst in the history of man.  What would the Germans have to say for themselves, for their history, given that they murdered so many millions of people? 

But the strange thing is that the movie is actually very good.  Of course, the overall fascist system was monstrous and inhumane.  But the movie focuses on at least one somewhat decent lieutenant.  He protests against the abuse of a Russian prisoner of war.  But, of course, since the system is monstrous, the protest not only falls on deaf ears, but earns the lieutenant the ire of those officers above him.  He is branded as a Rusky lover. 

The lieutenant is soon at the front, in fact right in the downtown area of Stalingrad where the Germans took so many casualties fighting from one industrial wreck to another.  The German unit to which the lieutenant belongs becomes very whittled down to just a few men. Suffering extremely high casualties, one of the soldiers in the lieutenant's unit snaps and uses the threat of force to demand that a badly wounded buddy be given immediate medical attention at the local medical facility.  The lieutenant and his small group all get the blame for the incident and are sent to a punishment camp.  And things get worse from there. 

I never felt real sympathy for the German soldiers, except a little for the lieutenant.  I somewhat enjoyed seeing the German soldiers being killed in battle and by the freezing winter weather.  For certain the Germans had no sympathy or mercy for their "enemies" and the Germans in Stalingrad got what they deserved.

What is left of the lieutenant's group, in order to be reinstated into the army in good standing, agrees to go to the front to stop a further Russian advance.  The men accomplish their mission, but they are by no means out of trouble, for now the real suffering begins.  The Russians have surrounded the German 6th army, the Germans are running out of supplies and they are slowly being killed by the terribly frigid weather.  The men are particularly suffering from frostbite and hunger.  Again, I feel somewhat happy about their suffering.  (By now, I realize I only care about the lieutenant.  The rest can die a horrible death.  So now the real question becomes will, at least, the lieutenant come out of this alive.  Not likely, knowing the history of the Battle of Stalingrad, but I could hope couldn't I?)   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


 Historical Background:

 

Battle of Stalingrad

From: the documentary, Nation to Nation: Clash of Generals: Paulus vs. Chukov

1942 (May) -- Germany had been at war with the Soviet Union for almost a year. And 70 percent of Hitlerís forces were concentrated on the eastern front. Casualties were horrendous:  Germany -- over 1 million dead, wounded or missing.  Russia -- 3.5 million

Hitler was frustrated by his inability to take Moscow by the end of 1941. He felt they could still achieve a decisive victory.  He thought the Soviets were all but finished after the high costs of Moscow.

He concentrated his troops to the south to the area of industry rich business between the Donetz and Volga Rivers and then to the Caucasus, which had extensive oil fields.

Field Marshall Frederich Von Bock was to oversee the entire operation. Army group south was split into two groups:  army groups A and B. Army group B up by Kursk was to advance southeast to Stalingrad and the Volga to protect the open flank of army group A as it proceeded past Rostov to the oil fields of the Caucasus.

1942 (June 28)  --Army group A opened the offensive on June 28 1942. 10 days later army group B launched its attack. The bulk of the Russian forces withdrew to avoid being trapped.The Soviet High Command felt that the German assault in the south was merely a diversion to mount an attack on Moscow.

Hitler mistakenly believed that large numbers of Russian troops remained west of the River Don. He halted the sixth army that was spearheading the advance to the Volga and switched most of its armor to Army Group A. He dismissed Von Bach for being too cautious and took over personal command of Operation Blue.

Within days Hitler ordered Paulusís sixth army to renew its advance with specific instructions to capture Stalingrad. The Fourth Panzer army was brought up from the south to support Paulus slowing the advance of Army Group A into the Caucasus.

In 1924 Stalingrad was known as Czaritzen but Stalin changed the name of the city because, he said, he had played in a key role in the defense of the city in the Russian civil war. Stalingrad was a major industrial center, its base was a huge tractor factory. The factory switched over to the production of the T-34 tank, one of the red armyís greatest assets.  The city lay on the Volga River, stretching for 30 miles on the west bank of the river. It was only 3 miles thick.

August 23 -- Paulusís advance units had reached the Volga River just north of Stalingrad. Paulus thought Stalingrad would fall fairly quickly, but Vassily Chukov took command of the 62nd army to prevent and frustrate Paulusís take over of Stalingrad.

Frederich Paulus

1890 -- he was born the son of an accountant. He was later inaccurately titled von Paulus.

1900 --  at age 20, he joined the German army.

1912 -- he was a lieutenant in his local infantry regiment.

WWI -- served as an infantry officer and then in the elite Alpine Corps. But at heart he was a staff officer.

After the war -- he commanded an infantry battalion but later returned to the staff.

during the 1920s -- Paulus embraced Hitler.

1933 -- when Hitler came to power, Paulus was a major on the general staff in Berlin where he was noticed by the Fuhrer.

1935 -- named chief of staff of Panzer headquarters.

Outbreak of WWII -- Paulus was a major general and chief of staff of the tenth army that served with distinction in the assault on Poland. The tenth army continued its success during the fall of France, after which it was renamed the sixth army.

For the next 18 months -- he played a key role in planning the attack on the Soviet Union while serving on the staff of the armyís overall headquarters in Berlin.  Hitler appointed him head of the sixth army on the eastern front. He was surprised because he had no experience of high command in actual war. But now he had to lead an army of over 300 thousand men and was given the assignment of holding the city of Kharkov against fierce Russian attacks. He succeeded and was awarded the Knightís Cross.

Chukov

1900  --  born into a peasant family in Czarist Russia.

WWI  --  he was too young to fight.

He volunteered to serve in the red army during the Russian civil war.

At age 24 he excelled at the Punza military academy in Moscow.

1926  --  he was posted to the city of Chun King as an adviser to the Chinese nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-Shek. He remained in China for almost 10 years.

1937 -- now a Colonel, he returns to the Soviet Union to work on the staff of the Soviet war ministry. He was noticed by Stalin and rapidly promoted.

After the German June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union -- he distinguished himself as an army chief of staff on the Don front. He was then appointed to command the Soviet 64th army.

He was one of the youngest generals in the Soviet Union. He was thick set and typical of the new breed of ruthless, tough commanders rising to the top of the Soviet military.

1942 (Sept 12)  --  his successes gained his transfer to the 62nd army at Stalingradís darkest hour.

 

Paulus prepared to take Stalingrad.

Stalingrad was subjected to massive air strikes. On Sundays the German aircraft flew almost 2,000 bombing sorties. And there was a near continuous artillery bombardment. A few days after Paulus reached the Volga River, the 4th Panzer army arrived on the river to the south.

September 13 -- The main assault began. 19 divisions totaling 250,000 men and 600 tanks attacked in a pincer movement from the north and south of Stalingrad. Paulus had under his command around a half a million men and 1,000 aircraft.

September 12 -- Chukov arrived in the city and said he would hold the city or die there. He had only six weak divisions of the 62nd army totaling 75,000 men and less than 150 tanks, although most were T-34s. His most important asset was his artillery which included the katushas, multiple rocket launchers. He also had support from the Stalingrad front artillery group with 300 heavy guns.

He had support from Georgi Zukov, Stalinís chief trouble shooter.

Stalin spared some reinforcements because he thought Germans would still attack Moscow.

The citizens hastily prepared defenses. Chukov had studied German military strategy carefully. He thought the Germans had little experience with urban warfare and he would make the Germans fight for every foot of ground they took. His plan was to lure the German tanks and infantry to fight at short range so that his troops could isolate and then destroy them. Everything depended on the courage of the soldiers.

As autumn approached, the Germans had to hurry to avoid the oncoming winter. But in an urban area, the Germans could not use the tactics of the blitzkrieg. Fighting at close quarters would prove to be exhausting and mentally straining.

The red army was 10 million strong and had the T-34 tank. Their universal hatred of the Germans sustained them.

Chukovís men would lead lightning attacks on specific targets and then melt away.

September 13 -- early hours on a Sunday, the 6th army and the 4th Panzer attacked, supported by a massive aerial bombardment. At first the assault went very well; within 24 hours the central railroad was under threat. They were also threatening to take the landmark grain elevator. Much of the outer part of the Russian city was soon in German hands.

Chukov pushed his men into the city at night to retake parts of the taken city. The railway station changed hands four times on one day alone.

Heavy casualties for Chukov. Some of his infantry divisions had less than 2,000 men. But every pile of rubble became a stronghold that the Germans had to assault one after the other.

During the day, because of German air superiority, it was dangerous for the Russian troops to be about. But at night it was a different story. They often recovered any ground lost during the day.

Rubble slowed down or blocked German tanks. They were then destroyed by frequent anti-tank ambushes. The German tank crews were then machine gunned when they attempted to escape. Russian snipers and assault troops began to take their toll and began to outmatch those of the Germans.

Chukovís headquarters came under fire and was forced to move to the Red October tank factory at the edge of the Volga. Small boats ferried ammunition and reinforcements across the river, but many Russians drowned or were shot in the river.

October 5 -- Paulusís troops were ready to take the vital ferry landing stages but Chukov called in his artillery to annihilate the German attackers. A huge 45 minute bombardment smashed the German assault. German morale was beginning to slip badly.

The Russian troops were beginning to use cellars and sewers in order to get an advantage.

Oct 14 -- an even bigger offensive launched by Paulus. Some 2,500 German troops were on the verge of eradicating the final Russian pockets on the west bank of the Volga.

Oct 23 -- Paulus on the verge of victory but he began to receive intelligence that the Russians were preparing a counter offensive. Hitler and his staff dismissed this.

Nov 11 -- the last great German offensive to take Stalingrad. It split Chukovís troops for the third time. Most of the units were down to only ten percent of their original strength. A few small islands of Russian resistance remained on the west side of the Volga.

Nov 17 -- the Russian situation was desperate and the Volga was beginning to freeze. on the other hand, Paulusís offensive began to grind to a halt. The Germans had to turn to the Rumanians for reinforcements. The Soviets found out and planned to attack Paulusís weak flank.

November 19 -- 13,000 Russian guns open fire, startling, and then pulverizing, the Rumanian troops.

80 minutes later the main attack was launched. This opened operation Uranus with over a million Russian soldiers, almost 900 tanks and 1200 air craft. The aim was to trap the German sixth army.

In the north the Soviet southwest and Don fronts attacked the Rumanian third Army. The Stalingrad front went against the Rumanian 4th Army in the south. The Russian southwest front and the 65th army of the Don front attacked first advancing up to 20 miles by the end of day one. The next day the southern arm of the offensive struck and both Russian attacks quickly sliced through the Rumanians.

November 23 -- red armies of the two fronts met. Paulus was now trapped within the Stalingrad pocket. He believed there was only one course of action: to withdraw to a more defensible position on the River Don.

Hitler was advised that the sixth army could still break out provided that they acted swiftly. But Hitler ordered Paulus to stand on the Volga and retain Stalingrad at all costs. Hitler was assured by Herman Goering that his planes could keep Paulus supplied. The boast was an empty one. Paulus needed 750 tons of supplies a day. The air lift was only a third of what Paulus needed.

Another option was to come to the relief of the sixth army. Hitler put Field Marshall Erich von Mannstein, the most gifted of his field commanders, in charge of army group Don. Von Mannstein was ordered to link up with Paulus. Von Mannstein said the only way to success was for sixth army to break out.

In Operation Winter Storm Mannstein attempted to come to the rescue. The armored columns came within 40 miles of Stalingrad but became bogged down by stiff Russian resistance.

The Russians launched another counter offensive, Operation Saturn, from the northeast, this time against the Italian eighth army. It endangered the German lines of communication. Army group Don was now in danger of being encircled.

Dec 24 -- the Russians attacked again. This time against the Rumanians in the South.

Recognizing that even army group Don was in danger of being encircled, Hitler finally conceded to a plan that would let Mannsteinís troops withdraw to a position 135 miles from Stalingrad. Paulus was now even more isolated.

Meanwhile the Red Army concentrated on reducing the Stalingrad pocket, planning to attack from the west to drive Paulus into the city.

January 8, 1943 -- Soviet high command sent emissaries with surrender demands to Paulus. He rejected them.

The final offensive began against the Germans. Soviet fighters shot down even more German planes and the German air force had to drop their packages off the mark. Temperatures dropped to minus thirty-one degrees and thousands of Paulusís men froze to death. Paulus began to realize that defeat was inevitable. They were taking a beating from the Russian artillery, air force, etc.

Mid January -- the Germans were fighting for their lives.

third week of January -- Soviet pressure on Paulus was becoming intolerable. The Russians captured the two remaining German air fields in Stalingrad. Paulus and his men were now totally cut off from outside contact. Paulus was now concentrated in just two separate small pockets in Stalingrad. The end was in sight.

Jan 30 -- to induce the sixth army to hold on, Hitler promoted Paulus to Field Marshall.  Paulus vowed that he would never surrender.

Jan 31 -- the southern faction and the newly promoted field marshal Paulus gave up the fight.

Feb 2 -- the northern unit followed suit.

The Battle for Stalingrad was over.

More than 25 German generals had surrendered. An additional 93,000 men went into captivity. The dejected Paulus was now only a ghost of a man. Only 6,000 of his men would survive captivity to return to their homeland.

The battles of 1942 cost Germany about 1.5 million men in casualties, nearly a quarter of their strength on the eastern theater. Over 100,000 Germans were killed in the battle for Stalingrad itself. The Russian casualties were almost double those of the Germans. Chukovís 62nd army had been virtually destroyed. But the Red Army could continue to sustain huge losses.

When Hitler believed that Stalingrad had been lost, he declared three days of national mourning. He would brood over Stalingrad for months, unable to come to terms with the magnitude of the disaster.

The Russians kept Paulus for 11 years, using him for anti-Nazi propaganda. He became a member of the anti-Nazi free officersí committee and never forgave Hitlerís betrayal. He was released in 1953. He went to live in Dresden in East Germany. He died in 1957 a deeply embittered man.

Chukovís performance led to his appointment as the commander of the newly formed eighth guards army that helped sweep the Germans from Russian soil. He played an instrumental part in the capture of Berlin in April 1945. He accepted the German garrisonís surrender on the behalf of the Soviet Union.

1946 -- elevated to Marshall of the Soviet Union. He led the celebrations to mark the first anniversary of the fall of Berlin.

1946-1953 -- first deputy and then commander in chief of Soviet forces in occupied Germany.

1960- 1965 -- commander in chief of Soviet ground forces.

1982 -- died.

Stalingrad was the major turning point in the war on the eastern front and the greatest defeat ever for the German army. It had a cataclysmic effect on Hitler.

 

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