Vol. XLII No. 06 February 11, 2018

75 Years of Battle of Stalingrad – Inspiration, Then, Now and Forever

R Arun Kumar

FEBRUARY 2, 1943 marks an important date in the history of the Second World War. It was on this day that in the battle of Stalingrad, Germany was handed one of its first comprehensive defeats. This defeat marked the turning point in the War, with the Red Army of the Soviet Union pushing back the German troops, leading to the ultimate defeat of Nazism and Hitler. The leaders of the imperialist countries like US, UK, France and many others have openly lauded the bravery of Red Army and Soviet citizens for this stupendous feat at that time. Seventy five years since, the imperialist forces and their pen-pushers are trying to erase it from our collective memory.

The battle of Stalingrad has no parallels in the annals of war history or even in world history. It all began in July 1942 and ended on #February 2, 1943. The battle was fought literally for every inch of the land, for gaining foothold of not only streets, but also every house that was under German siege. Red Army soldiers were joined by workers, women, youth and virtually every Soviet citizen who lived in Stalingrad. Fierce and bloody engagements were fought continuously for over a period of 200 days. The Nazi German forces lost 50 divisions on the battlefields at Stalingrad, which is, one-fourth of all its forces on the Soviet-German front at that time.

Why were the Germans so desperate to capture Stalingrad? Has it got something to do with its name and the symbolic value associated with its capture? The Germans accorded so much of importance to the capture of Stalingrad that they sent the best of their troops for its capture, not only for its symbolic value. More than anything else, Stalingrad was strategically very important. It was a major industrial centre in the Soviet Union, an important communication junction linking the central regions of the European part of the USSR with the Caucasus. The city lies on the banks of river Volga, through whose waters the oil for the defence industries in the Urals was transported. Capturing this city opens up the route for the German troops to link with their Turkish allies, opens up opportunities for the capture of Iran, Iraq and with them the oil rich region in Central and West Asia. And on the top of it, capture of Stalingrad could prevent the Red Army from striking at the rear of the German armies on the Caucasus front. It was also intended to cut off the Trans-Iranian railway through which the USSR maintained its land communication with its British and American allies.

Hitler and German imperialists were so confident of the success of their attack on Stalingrad that they had asked the German press to reserve space for the announcement of their victory, within two days of launching the offensive. A gross under-estimation of the strength of the socialist State!

Hitler and German imperialists were so confident of their victory as until that point, Germany did not face any strong opposition to their blitzkrieg. They overran France, Poland and a large part of the European continent in a very short time. Germany was confident because of its well oiled and feared war machinery. On numerical terms, on July 23, when the battle for Stalingrad started, the Germans had a 20 per cent superiority in manpower, a 2:1 superiority in tanks and a more than 3.6:1 superiority in aircraft. Above all this, Germany had at its disposal the weapon, ammunition and equipment of 30 Czechoslovak, 92 French, 12 British, 22 Belgian, 18 Dutch and 6 Norwegian divisions.

There is another reason for the German confidence. They were tacitly helped by the world imperialist countries, specifically the US and the UK in the build up to the war. The imperialists believed that a puffed up Germany would defeat socialist USSR and rid the world of the ‘socialist menace’. Between 1923-1929 alone, Germany received about 4,000 million dollars in foreign loans including 2,500 million dollars from the USA. It is with these funds that Germany revived its armament industry.  Britain had entered into an agreement with Hitler to help in increasing the German navy by more than five times. This agreement was signed after Hitler withdrew from the League of Nations, repudiated the Treaty of Versailles and started universal military conscription. An enquiry by the US Congress during the War had stated that the German army would have been unable to fight the war without trucks built by US owned Opel and Ford plants, without aircraft engines and special equipment supplied by Lorenz plants and without US oil supplies. The assistance provided by both the US and the Britain for the revival of the war monopolies in Germany is mentioned by a leading German capitalist in Nuremberg prison, “If you want to put on trial the industrialists who helped Germany arm itself, you must put to trial your own industrialists”. This exposes the class character of the ruling classes of the US, UK and their other imperialist counterparts.

On its part, Germany and Japan signed the anti-Comintern pact in November 1936, which was later joined by Italy. This buoyed the imperialists and made them glee at what they looked as an imminent defeat of socialist USSR. The imperialist forces were jolted at the pace at which Hitler was conquering the countries and also at the loss of their colonies to the Germans. This had forced them to grudgingly enter into an agreement with the USSR to open a second front and work for the defeat of Germany. In spite of this agreement, they did not work sincerely for its realisation. Even the much tom-tommed ‘Lend-Lease agreement’ the US had entered with the USSR was very nominal in real terms. They constituted only 2 per cent of the anti-aircraft guns with the USSR, 7 per cent of the tanks and 13 per cent of the aircraft.

The US and its allies did not help the USSR when it needed most and it was under severe attack from the Germans. George C Herring wrote about this facet in his book, ‘Aid to Russia 1941-1946, Strategy, Diplomacy, the Origin of Cold War’: “During the most critical days of Stalingrad, the United States fell far behind its protocol commitments. By the end of November, it had shipped only 840,000 out of a scheduled 1,608,000 tons”. This opinion is shared by Richard Lukas who analysed official documents to show that the main deliveries of US aircraft were made after the battle of Stalingrad, but not when they were most needed.

In spite of these obstacles, the USSR was able to withstand the German ‘blitzkrieg’ and ultimately defeat it because of the foresight of the Communist Party led by Stalin. They had consciously relocated their entire industrial base to the eastern regions of the country. They had evacuated 2,593 industrial enterprises and millions of people (all by rail in the last six months of 1941 alone). They were resettled in the east, from where they started their work in the new places within the shortest possible time and displaying unprecedentedly high labour productivity.

Analysing the reasons behind the defeat of German forces, the British ‘Daily Telegraph’ wrote an article, ‘Stalingrad a Triumph of Morale’: “It is indeed something more than material conditions, something that transcends the pure mechanics of war, that is involved at Stalingrad. It is the great imponderable morale (emphasis added) that has turned a defensive with so many handicaps, a defensive, moreover, that seemed spent, into this astounding episode that is clearly baffling the German command”. The ‘morale’ mentioned by the Telegraph is nothing but the socialist consciousness of the Soviet citizens, who were prepared to sacrifice everything for the defeat of fascism and for safeguarding the first socialist State.

Walter Gorlitz, a German historian notes the significance of the German defeat in Stalingrad: “That was the worst defeat in history ever sustained by the German army!….The disaster at Stalingrad marked a great political change both on the domestic and international scene. Its consequence was that the entire realm of German rule in the world was badly shaken”. Despite all their reservations, the then US president Roosevelt, prime minister of UK, Churchill, president of France Charles de Gaulle were forced to lead the chorus in praising the epic victory in Stalingrad.

Reminiscing the battle of Stalingrad, we should be clear about the true role played by the various imperialist countries. After 75 years, there are now attempts to downplay the role of communists and the USSR in the defeat of fascist Germany. Attempts to rewrite history and erase the sacrifices made by communists should be resisted. Without denying glory to every single stone that was pelted to defeat fascism, we should not forget the contributions of those who had dealt the critical blow. The battle of Stalingrad and Second World War teaches us many lessons, especially in the fight against fascism. However, we should remember that these lessons should be located in their proper context and cannot be copied irrelevantly or anachronistically.