December 7, 1941
June 6, 1944
November 22, 1963
September 11, 2001
November 19, 1942
“Hmmmmmmm, why is that last one in the mix?” You might be asking yourself this question. November 19, 1942 is a pivotal day in world history. The reason it does not stand out with all the others is due to the fact that neither America or Americans had anything to do with this date. A city in southern Russia had been the focal point of news that summer since the German Sixth Army reached it in August, 1942. The German Summer offensive was aimed at cutting the vastness of Russia off from its oil resources in the Caucasus, while also capturing the city that bore Stalin’s name.
Once the German and Soviet forces joined battle, the name Stalingrad would always be a symbol of house-to-house fighting in one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the world. Throughout September and October, the Sixth Army battled toward the Volga, while the Soviet 62nd army kept replenishing forces from the eastern side of the river under horrendous Stuka dive-bomber attack. The two forces grappled in the ruins of factories and buildings in a street to street engagement. Soldiers of each side were sometimes rooms apart battling in the most vicious urban warfare man had ever seen.
As the German Army focussed more and more on the city, the flanks around the outskirts had to be manned by Armies of other countries allied with Nazi Germany (Rumanian, Italian, Bulgarian). These armies were woefully ill-equipped for modern warfare against the Soviets, and this was the Achilles heal of the German offensive.
On November 19, 1942, Soviet forces attacked north and south of Stalingrad. Within 48 hours, General Friedrich von Paulus and 250,000-350,000 men of the Sixth Army and remnants of the 4th Panzer Army were surrounded. Hitler would not allow a retreat, so the Sixth Army stayed in Stalingrad and bled to death over the next 2 1/2 months while the Soviets crushed the encirclement around them. Only 6,000 German soldiers ever made it back to Germany of the 100, 000 + that marched into captivity in January/February, 1943.
November 19, 1942 was the date that the war in Europe was decided. It would be a long march from Stalingrad to Berlin, but 70 years ago this Monday the march to liberation from Nazi hegemony began.