Operation Uranus

Operation Uranus

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Operation Uranus was the codename of the Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 strategic operation in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 which led to the encirclement
Encirclement
Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces. The German term for this is Kesselschlacht ; a comparable English term might be "in the bag"....

 of the German Sixth Army, the Third and Fourth Romanian
Romanian Armies in the Battle of Stalingrad
Two Romanian armies, the Third and the Fourth, were involved in the Battle of Stalingrad, helping to protect the northern and southern flanks respectively of the German 6th Army as it tried to conquer the city of Stalingrad, defended by the Soviet Red Army in mid to late 1942...

 armies, and portions of the German Fourth Panzer Army. The operation formed part of the ongoing Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

, and was aimed at destroying German forces in and around Stalingrad. Planning for Operation Uranus had commenced as early as September 1942, and was developed simultaneously with plans to envelop and destroy German Army Group Center
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

 and German forces in the Caucasus
Caucasus
The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

. The Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 took advantage of the German army's poor preparation for winter, and its forces in the southern Soviet Union were overstretched, using weaker Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian armies to guard their flanks; the offensives' starting points were established along the section of the front directly opposite Romanian forces. These Axis armies lacked heavy equipment to deal with Soviet armor.

Given the length of the front created by the German summer offensive, aimed at taking the Caucasus oil fields and the city of Stalingrad
Volgograd
Volgograd , formerly called Tsaritsyn and Stalingrad is an important industrial city and the administrative center of Volgograd Oblast, Russia. It is long, north to south, situated on the western bank of the Volga River...

, German and other Axis forces were forced to guard sectors beyond the length they were meant to occupy. The situation was not improved by the decision to relocate several mechanized divisions
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

 from the Soviet Union to Western Europe. Furthermore, units in the area were depleted after months of fighting, especially those which took part in the fighting in Stalingrad. The Germans could only count on the 48th Panzer Corps, which had the strength of a single panzer
Panzer
A Panzer is a German language word that, when used as a noun, means "tank". When it is used as an adjective, it means either tank or "armoured" .- Etymology :...

 division, and the 29th Panzergrenadier Division as reserves to bolster their Romanian supporters on the German Sixth Army's flanks. In comparison, the Red Army deployed over one million personnel for the purpose of beginning the offensive in and around Stalingrad. Soviet troop movements were not without problems; to avoid tipping off the Germans, the Soviets tried to conceal their build-up, which was difficult. Commonly, Soviet units arrived late because of logistical frustrations. Operation Uranus was originally postponed from 8 to 17 November, and later moved back to 19 November.

At 07:20 (Moscow time) on 19 November Soviet forces on the northern flank of the Axis forces at Stalingrad began their offensive; forces in the south began on 20 November. Although Romanian units were able to repel the first attacks, by the end of 20 November the Third and Fourth Romanian armies were in headlong retreat, as the Red Army bypassed several German infantry divisions. German mobile reserves were not strong enough to parry the Soviet mechanized spearheads, while the Sixth Army did not react quickly enough to disengage German armored forces in Stalingrad and reorient them to defeat the impending threat. By late 22 November Soviet forces linked up at the town of Kalach
Kalach (town)
Kalach is a town and the administrative center of Kalacheyevsky District of Voronezh Oblast, Russia, located at the confluence of the Tolucheyevka and Podgornaya Rivers, from Voronezh. Population:...

, encircling some 290,000 men east of the Don River
Don River (Russia)
The Don River is one of the major rivers of Russia. It rises in the town of Novomoskovsk 60 kilometres southeast from Tula, southeast of Moscow, and flows for a distance of about 1,950 kilometres to the Sea of Azov....

. Instead of attempting a breakout operation, German dictator Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 decided to keep Axis forces in Stalingrad and resupply them by air. In the meantime, Soviet and German commanders began to plan their next movements.

Background


In late June 1942, the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 began its offensive against Soviet forces opposite of Army Group South
Army Group South
Army Group South was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.- Poland campaign :Germany used two army groups to invade Poland in 1939: Army Group North and Army Group South...

, codenamed Case Blue. After breaking through Red Army forces by 13 July, German forces encircled and captured the city of Rostov
Rostov-on-Don
-History:The mouth of the Don River has been of great commercial and cultural importance since the ancient times. It was the site of the Greek colony Tanais, of the Genoese fort Tana, and of the Turkish fortress Azak...

. Following the fall of Rostov, Hitler split German forces operating in the southern extremity of the southern Russian SFSR in an effort to simultaneously capture the city of Stalingrad
Volgograd
Volgograd , formerly called Tsaritsyn and Stalingrad is an important industrial city and the administrative center of Volgograd Oblast, Russia. It is long, north to south, situated on the western bank of the Volga River...

 and the Caucasus oil fields
Battle of the Caucasus
The Battle of Caucasus is a name given to a series of German and Soviet operations in the Caucasus area during the Soviet-German War.-1941 operations:...

. The responsibility to take Stalingrad was given to the Sixth Army, which immediately turned towards the Volga River
Volga River
The Volga is the largest river in Europe in terms of length, discharge, and watershed. It flows through central Russia, and is widely viewed as the national river of Russia. Out of the twenty largest cities of Russia, eleven, including the capital Moscow, are situated in the Volga's drainage...

 and began its advance with heavy air support from the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

's Luftflotte 4
Luftflotte 4
Luftflotte 4 was one of the primary divisions of the German Luftwaffe in World War II. It was formed on March 18, 1939 from Luftwaffenkommando Österreich in Vienna. The Luftflotte was redesignated on April 21, 1945 to Luftwaffenkommando 4, and became subordinated to Luftflotte 6. It was the...

. On 7 August, two German panzer corps
Corps
A corps is either a large formation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function such as Artillery or Signals representing an arm of service...

 were able to flank and encircle a Soviet force of 50,000 personnel and approximately 1,000 tanks, and on 22 August German forces began to cross the Don River
Don River (Russia)
The Don River is one of the major rivers of Russia. It rises in the town of Novomoskovsk 60 kilometres southeast from Tula, southeast of Moscow, and flows for a distance of about 1,950 kilometres to the Sea of Azov....

 to complete the advance towards the Volga. The following day, the Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

 began when vanguards of the Sixth Army penetrated the suburbs of the city.

By November, the Sixth Army was able to occupy most of Stalingrad, pushing the defending Red Army to the banks of the Volga River. By this stage, there were indications of an impending Soviet offensive which would target Wehrmacht forces around the city, including increased Soviet activity opposite the Sixth Army's flanks and information gained through the interrogation of Soviet prisoners. However, the German command was more interested in finalizing its capture of Stalingrad. In fact, the head of Army General Staff
Oberkommando des Heeres
The Oberkommando des Heeres was Nazi Germany's High Command of the Army from 1936 to 1945. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht commanded OKH only in theory...

 General Franz Halder
Franz Halder
Franz Halder was a German General and the head of the Army General Staff from 1938 until September, 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Adolf Hitler.-Early life:...

 had been sacked in September after his efforts to warn about the danger which was developing along the over-extended flanks of the Sixth Army and the Fourth Panzer Army. As early as September, the Soviet Stavka
Stavka
Stavka was the term used to refer to a command element of the armed forces from the time of the Kievan Rus′, more formally during the history of Imperial Russia as administrative staff and General Headquarters during late 19th Century Imperial Russian armed forces and those of the Soviet Union...

 (high command) began planning a series of counteroffensives which encompassed the destruction of German forces in the south, fighting in Stalingrad and in the Caucasus, and against Army Group Center
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

. Ultimately, command of Soviet efforts to relieve Stalingrad was put under the leadership of General Aleksandr Vasilevsky
Aleksandr Vasilevsky
Aleksandr Mikhaylovich Vasilevsky was a Russian career officer in the Red Army, promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1943. He was the Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces and Deputy Minister of Defense during World War II, as well as Minister of Defense from 1949 to 1953...

.

The Stavka developed two major operations to be conducted against enemy forces near Stalingrad, Uranus and Saturn, and also planned for Operation Mars
Operation Mars
Operation Mars was the codename for the Rzhev offensive operation part of the Rzhev-Vyazma strategic offensive operation launched by Soviet forces against German forces during World War II. It took place between 25 November and 20 December 1942 in a salient in the vicinity of Moscow...

 designed to engage German Army Group Center in an effort to distract reinforcements and to inflict as much damage as possible. Operation Uranus involved the use of large Soviet mechanized and infantry forces to encircle German and other Axis forces directly around Stalingrad. As preparations for the offensive commenced, the attack's starting points were positioned on stretches of front to the rear of the German Sixth Army, disallowing the Germans the ability to reinforce those sectors quickly where Axis
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 units were too overstretched to occupy effectively. The offensive was a double envelopment
Pincer movement
The pincer movement or double envelopment is a military maneuver. The flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the opponent has advanced towards the center of an army which is responding by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks, in order to surround it...

; Soviet mechanized forces would penetrate deep into the German rear, while another attack would occur closer to the German Sixth Army in an effort to attack German units there directly in the rear. While the Red Army prepared, the German high commanders—influenced by their belief that the Red Army, in building up opposite of Germany Army Group Center to the north, was incapable of mounting a simultaneous offensive in the south—continued to deny the possibility of an impending Soviet offensive.

Axis forces involved


Case Blue involved German and other Axis
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 forces sprawled out across a front over 480 kilometres (298.3 mi) wide and several hundred kilometers deep, while the decision to conquer Stalingrad had stretched Axis forces even more thinly by drawing away personnel eastwards. For example, in early July the Sixth Army was defending a 160 kilometres (99.4 mi) line, while also committing to an offensive which involved a distance of around 400 kilometres (248.5 mi). Army Group B, which was split from Army Group South (the forces operating around the Caucasus were named Army Group A), seemed strong on paper: it included the Second and Sixth German, Fourth Panzer, Fourth and Third Romanian, Eighth
Italian Army in Russia
The Italian Army in Russia was an army-sized unit of the Italian Royal Army which fought on the Eastern Front during World War II...

 Italian, and Second Hungarian Armies. Army Group B held the 48th Panzer Corps, which had the strength of a weakened panzer division, and a single infantry division as reserves. For the most part the German flanks were held by arriving non-German armies, while German forces were used to spearhead continued operations in Stalingrad and in the Caucasus.


While Adolf Hitler expressed confidence in the ability of non-German Axis units to protect German flanks, in reality these units relied on largely obsolete equipment and horse-drawn artillery, while in many cases the unenlightened treatment of enlisted personnel by officers caused poor morale. In regard to mechanization, the First Romanian Armored Division was equipped with around 100 Czech-built Panzer 35(t)
Panzer 35(t)
The Panzerkampfwagen 35, commonly shortened to Panzer 35 or abbreviated as Pz.Kpfw. 35, was a Czechoslovak-designed light tank used mainly by Nazi Germany during World War II. The letter stood for tschechisch...

s. Its 37 millimetres (1.5 in) anti-tank gun was ineffective against Soviet T-34
T-34
The T-34 was a Soviet medium tank produced from 1940 to 1958. Although its armour and armament were surpassed by later tanks of the era, it has been often credited as the most effective, efficient and influential design of World War II...

s. Similarly, the 37 millimetres (1.5 in) PaK anti-tank guns were also antiquated and largely short of ammunition. Only after repeated requests did the Germans send the Romanian units 75 millimetres (3 in) PaK guns; six per division. These units were extended over very large sections of front; for example, the Third Romanian Army occupied a line 140 kilometres (87 mi) long, while the Fourth Romanian Army protected a sector no less than 270 kilometres (167.8 mi) long. The Italians and Hungarians were positioned at the Don west of the Third Romanian Army, although the German commanders, realistically, did not hold in high regard the capability of those units to fight. Italian soldiers were held in particular low regard by their allies and often accused of cowardice. Their ineffectiveness in combat was actually only due to their obsolete weaponry and poor equipment. Weapons in Italian service were of very low quality: there was almost total absence of any anti-tank weaponry, hand grenades rarely detonated, the praised high-quality Italian submachine guns were extremely rare and mortars and field artillery pieces were under-gunned and weak. Rifles and machine guns had to be kept for a long time on a fire to work properly in extreme climatic conditions, and thus were often not capable of firing in the midst of battle.
Generally, German forces were in no better shape; they were weakened by months of fighting the Red Army, and, while Stavka raised new armies, the German high command attempted to maintain its existing mechanized units. Furthermore during the course of the German offensive between May and November 1942 two motorized divisions, the elite Leibstandarte
1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard. Initially the size of a regiment, the LSSAH eventually grew into a divisional-sized unit...

 and the Großdeutschland
Großdeutschland Division
The Großdeutschland Division was an elite Heer combat unit of the Wehrmacht. The Großdeutschland was considered to be the premier unit of the German Army and as such it was one of best-equipped unit of the German Armed Forces, receiving equipment before all other units.- Early history -...

, were redeployed from Army Group A to the West, to provide a mechanized reserve in case of an Allied landing in France. The Sixth Army had also suffered many casualties during the fighting in the city of Stalingrad proper. In some cases, such as that of the 22nd Panzer Division, their equipment was no better than that of the First Romanian Armored Division. German formations were also overextended along large stretches of front; the XI Army Corps, for example, had to defend a front around 100 kilometres (62.1 mi) long.

Soviet forces involved


The Red Army allocated an estimated 1,100,000 personnel, 804 tanks, 13,400 artillery pieces and over 1,000 aircraft for the upcoming offensive. Across the Third Romanian Army, the Soviets placed the redeployed 5th Tank Army, as well as the 21st and 65th Armies, in order to penetrate and overrun the German flanks. The German southern flank was targeted by the Stalingrad Front's 51st and 57th Armies, led by the 13th and 4th Mechanized Corps; these would punch through the Fourth Romanian Army, in order to link up with the 5th Tank Army near the town of Kalach. In total, the Soviets had amassed 11 armies and various independent tank brigades and corps. Preparations for the offensive were, however, far from perfect; on 8 November, Stavka issued orders to postpone the launch date of the operation, because transportation delays had precluded many units from being able to move into place. In the meantime, units at the front went through a number of war games to practice repelling an enemy counterattack and exploiting a breakthrough with mechanized forces. These movements were masked through a deception campaign by the Soviets, including the decrease of radio traffic, camouflage, operational security, using couriers for communication instead of radio, and active deception, such as increasing troop movements around Moscow. Troops were ordered to build defensive fortifications, to offer false impressions to the Germans, while fake bridges were put up to divert attention from the real bridges being built across the Don River. The Red Army also stepped up attacks against Army Group Center and set up dummy formations to maintain the idea of a main offensive against German forces in the center of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Stalingrad Front forces were subject to heavy bombardment, making mobilization more difficult. The 38 engineer battalions allocated to the front were responsible for ferrying ammunition, personnel and tanks across the Volga River while carrying out minor reconnaissance along sections of the front which were to be the breakthrough points of the impending offensive. In three weeks the Red Army transported around 111,000 soldiers, 420 tanks and 556 artillery pieces across the Volga.

On 17 November Vasilevsky was recalled to Moscow, where he was shown a letter written to Stalin by General Volsky
Vasily Volsky
Vasily Timofeyevich Volsky was a General of Soviet tank forces....

, commander of the 4th Mechanized Corps, who urged calling off the offensive. Volsky believed the offensive as planned was doomed to failure due to the state of the forces earmarked for the operation; he suggested postponing the offensive and redesigning it entirely. Many Soviet soldiers had not been issued with winter garments, and many troopers died of frostbite, "due to the irresponsible attitude of commanders". Although Soviet intelligence made honest efforts to collect as much information as possible on the disposition of the Axis forces arrayed in front of them, there was not much information on the state of the German Sixth Army. The Soviet commanders, overruling Vasilevsky, agreed the offensive would not be called off, and Stalin personally rang Volsky, who reiterated his intention to carry out the operation if ordered to do so.

Soviet offensive



Operation Uranus, postponed until 17 November, was again postponed for two days when Soviet General Georgy Zhukov
Georgy Zhukov
Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov , was a Russian career officer in the Red Army who, in the course of World War II, played a pivotal role in leading the Red Army through much of Eastern Europe to liberate the Soviet Union and other nations from the Axis Powers' occupation...

 was told the air units allotted to the operation were not ready; it was finally launched on 19 November. Lieutenant Gerhard Stöck, posted on the front, had received a call that morning offering intelligence on a pending attack which would occur that day after 05:00 that morning; however, because he had received the message after five and was not keen on waking the commanding general, Arthur Schmidt
Arthur Schmidt (soldier)
Arthur Schmidt was an officer in the German military from 1914 to 1943. He attained the rank of Generalleutnant during World War II, and is best known for his role as the Sixth Army's chief of staff in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942–43, during the final stages of which he became its de facto...

, with a false alarm, he failed to warn the Romanian armies' commands of the information he had received. Although Soviet commanders suggested postponing the bombardment due to poor visibility brought about by a thick fog, front headquarters decided to proceed. At 07:20 (Moscow time; 05:20 German time) Soviet artillery commanders received the codeword "siren", prompting an 80-minute artillery bombardment directed almost entirely against the non-German Axis units protecting the German flanks. Some 3,500 guns opened up against the Third Romanian Army and the northern shoulder of the German Sixth Army's flank. Although thick fog prevented the Soviet artillery from correcting their aim, their weeks of preparation and ranging allowed them to lay down accurate fire on enemy positions along the front. The effect was devastating, as communication lines were breached, ammunition dumps destroyed and forward observation points shattered. Many Romanian personnel who survived the bombardment began to flee to the rear. Soviet heavy artillery aimed at Romanian artillery positions and second-echelon formations also caught the retreating Romanian soldiers.

Against the Third Romanian Army: 19 November


The offensive against the Third Romanian Army began at 08:50, led by the 21st and 65th Soviet Armies and the 5th Tank Army. The first two assaults were repulsed by the Romanian defenders, and the effects of the heavy artillery bombardment had actually made it more difficult for Soviet armor to navigate through the minefields and terrain. However, the lack of heavy anti-tank artillery caused the Romanian defense to collapse; a breakthrough by the 4th Tank Corps and 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps was established by noon. Soon after, the 5th Tank Army was able to gain a breakthrough against the Second Romanian Corps, followed by the Eighth Cavalry Corps. As Soviet armor navigated through the thick fog by compass, overrunning Romanian and German artillery positions, three Romanian infantry divisions began to fall back in disarray; the Third Romanian Army had been outflanked to the West and East. After receiving the news of the Soviet attack, Sixth Army headquarters failed to order the 16th and 24th Panzer Divisions, hitherto engaged in Stalingrad, to reorient themselves to bolster the Romanian defenses; instead the task was given to the 48th Panzer Corps.

Seriously understrength and poorly equipped, the 48th Panzer Corps had fewer than 100 serviceable modern tanks to combat Russian armor. Furthermore, they lacked fuel and the shortage of tanks forced commanders to organize tank crews into infantry companies; the 22nd Panzer Division, which formed part of the corps, was almost completely destroyed in the fighting that ensued. The 22nd had entered the fighting with fewer than thirty working tanks, and left with a company of tanks. The Romanian 1st Armored Division, attached to the 48th Panzer Corps, engaged the Soviet 26th Tank Corps after having lost communications with their German corps commanders, and were defeated by 20 November. As the Soviets continued to advance southwards, many tank crews began to suffer from the worsening snow blizzard, including the blocking of gun sights. It was not uncommon for tanks to lose traction on the ground, and for a crew member to have an arm broken as he was thrown around inside the hull. However, the blizzard also neutralized the German corps' coordination.

The Third Romanian Army began to be routed by the end of 19 November. The Soviet 21st Army and 5th Tank Army were able to capture some 27,000 Romanian prisoners—the bulk of three divisions—and then continue their advance southwards. Soviet cavalry was used to exploit the breakthrough, sever communications between the Romanians and the Italian 8th Army, and to block any possible counterattack against the Soviet flank. While the Red Air Force strafed retreating Romanian soldiers, the Luftwaffe provided negligible opposition. The withdrawal of the 1st Romanian Cavalry Division, originally positioned on the German 376th Infantry Division's flank, allowed the 65th Army to bypass German defenses. As German forces began to react late on 19 November, another attack developed on the Sixth Army's flank to the south.

Against the German southern flank: 20 November



In the early morning of 20 November Stavka telephoned Stalingrad Front commander Andrei Yeremenko
Andrei Yeremenko
Andrey Ivanovich Yeryomenko or Yeremenko or Eremenko was a Soviet general during World War II, Marshal of the Soviet Union.-Draft and early service:...

 asking if he would begin his portion of the offensive on schedule, at 08:00. He responded he would do so only if the fog lifted; although the 51st Army opened its artillery barrage on time because front headquarters could not get into contact with the division, the rest of the forces prepared for the operation received orders to postpone the attack until 10:00. The 51st Army engaged the Romanian 6th Corps, taking many prisoners. As the 57th Army joined the attack at 10:00, the situation developed in such a way that the Stalingrad Front could throw its armored corps into battle. The German 297th Infantry Division watched as its Romanian supporters failed to put up resistance against the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

. However, confusion and lack of control caused the Soviet 4th and 13th Mechanized Corps to stumble as they began to exploit the breakthroughs achieved by the opening offensive.

The Germans in this case responded quickly by redeploying their only reserve in the area, the 29th Panzergrenadier Division. Despite initial victories against Soviet armored forces, the Romanian collapse forced the division to again redeploy in an attempt to shore up defenses to the south. The 29th Panzergrenadier Division's counterattack had cost the Red Army around fifty tanks, and caused Soviet commanders to worry about the safety of their left flank. However, the German division's redeployment meant that by the end of the day only the 6th Romanian Cavalry Regiment was positioned between advancing Soviet forces and the Don River
Don River (Russia)
The Don River is one of the major rivers of Russia. It rises in the town of Novomoskovsk 60 kilometres southeast from Tula, southeast of Moscow, and flows for a distance of about 1,950 kilometres to the Sea of Azov....

.

Continued operations: 20–23 November


While the Stalingrad Front launched its offensive on 20 November, the 65th Soviet Army continued to apply pressure to the German 11th Corps along the northern shoulder of the Sixth Army's flank. The Red Army's 4th Tank Corps advanced beyond the German 11th Corps, while the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps crashed into the German unit's rear. The German 376th Infantry Division and the Austrian 44th Infantry Division began to redeploy to face the enemy on their flanks, but were hindered by shortage of fuel. The 14th Panzer Division's remaining panzer regiment destroyed a flanking regiment of the Soviet 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps, but its anti-tank artillery suffered heavy casualties when it was overrun by Soviet forces. By the end of the day the Soviet 1st Tank Corps was chasing the retreating 48th Panzer Corps, while the Soviet 26th Tank Corps had captured the town of Perelazovsky, almost 130 kilometres (80.8 mi) to the northwest of Stalingrad.


The Red Army's offensive continued on 21 November, with forces of the Stalingrad Front achieving penetrations of up to 50 kilometres (31.1 mi). By this time remaining Romanian units in the north were being destroyed in isolated battles, while the Red Army began to engage flanking portions of the German Fourth Panzer and Sixth Armies. The German 22nd Panzer Division, despite attempting a short counterattack, was reduced to little more than a tank company and forced to withdraw to the southwest. The Soviet 26th Tank Corps, having destroyed a large portion of the Romanian 1st Armored Division, continued its advance to the southeast, avoiding engaging enemy left behind, although remnants of the Romanian 5th Corps were able to reorganize and put up a hastily constructed defense in the hope that it would be aided by the German 48th Panzer Corps. That day German General Friedrich Paulus
Friedrich Paulus
Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus was an officer in the German military from 1910 to 1945. He attained the rank of Generalfeldmarschall during World War II, and is best known for having commanded the Sixth Army's assault on Stalingrad during Operation Blue in 1942...

, commander of the Sixth Army, received reports that the Soviets were less than 40 kilometres (24.9 mi) from his headquarters; furthermore, there were no remaining units which could contest the Soviet advance. In the south, after a brief halt, the Soviet 4th Mechanized Corps continued its advance north, removing German defenders from several towns in the area, towards Stalingrad. As German forces in and around Stalingrad were at risk, Hitler ordered German forces in the area to establish an "all-around defensive position" and designated forces between the Don River and Volga River
Volga River
The Volga is the largest river in Europe in terms of length, discharge, and watershed. It flows through central Russia, and is widely viewed as the national river of Russia. Out of the twenty largest cities of Russia, eleven, including the capital Moscow, are situated in the Volga's drainage...

 as "Fortress Stalingrad", shattering hopes of an attempted breakout by the Sixth Army. The Sixth Army, other Axis units, and most of the Fourth Panzer Army's German units were caught inside the growing Soviet encirclement. Only the 16th Panzergrenadier Division began to fight its way out. Lack of coordination between Soviet tanks and infantry as the Red Army's tank corps attempted to exploit the breakthrough along the German's southern flank allowed much of the Fourth Romanian Army to escape destruction.

On 22 November Soviet forces began to cross the Don River and continued their advance towards the town of Kalach
Kalach (town)
Kalach is a town and the administrative center of Kalacheyevsky District of Voronezh Oblast, Russia, located at the confluence of the Tolucheyevka and Podgornaya Rivers, from Voronezh. Population:...

. German forces defending Kalach, mostly composed of maintenance and supply personnel, were not aware of the Soviet offensive until 21 November, and even then did not know in what strength the Red Army was approaching. The task of taking the bridge at Kalach was given to the 26th Tank Corps, which used two captured German tanks and a reconnaissance vehicle to approach it and fire on the guards. Soviet forces broke into the town by mid-morning and drove the defenders out, allowing themselves and the 4th Tank Corps to link up with the Red Army's 4th Mechanized Corps approaching from the south. The encirclement of German forces in Stalingrad was completed on 22 November 1942. That day Soviet formations also continued to fight pockets of Romanian resistance, such as that put up by the Romanian 5th Corps.

Fighting continued on 23 November as the Germans attempted in vain to mount local counterattacks to break the encirclement. By this time Axis personnel inside the encirclement moved east towards Stalingrad to avoid Soviet tanks, while those that managed to escape the encirclement moved west toward German and other Axis forces.

Aftermath


Operation Uranus trapped between 200,000 and 250,000 German soldiers within an area stretching 50 kilometres (31.1 mi) from east to west and 40 kilometres (24.9 mi) north to south. The pocket contained four infantry corps, a panzer corps belonging to the Fourth Panzer and Sixth Armies, and surviving elements of two Romanian divisions, a Croat infantry regiment and other specialist units. Trapped equipment included around 100 tanks, 2,000 artillery pieces and mortars and 10,000 trucks. The withdrawal to Stalingrad
Volgograd
Volgograd , formerly called Tsaritsyn and Stalingrad is an important industrial city and the administrative center of Volgograd Oblast, Russia. It is long, north to south, situated on the western bank of the Volga River...

 left lines of retreat littered with helmets, weapons and other equipment, and heavy equipment which had been destroyed was left on the side of the road. Bridges spanning the Don River were jammed with traffic, as surviving Axis soldiers hastily made their way eastwards in the cold weather, attempting to escape Soviet armor and infantry threatening to cut them off from Stalingrad. Many wounded Axis personnel were trampled, and many of those who attempted to cross the river on foot on the ice fell through and drowned. Hungry soldiers filled Russian villages scouring for supplies, while supply dumps were often looted in search of food cans. The last stragglers crossed the Don River by 24 November, and demolished the bridges to seal off the Fourth Panzer and Sixth Armies from the Soviets in Stalingrad.

The Sixth Army, in the midst of chaos, began to build defensive lines, hampered by the lack of fuel, ammunition and rations, and further burdened by the advancing Russian winter. It was also tasked with plugging gaps in the line caused by the disintegrating Romanian forces. On 23 November, some German units destroyed or burned everything not necessary for a breakout operation and began to pull back towards the northern end of Stalingrad. However, after abandoning their winter bunkers, the Soviet 62nd Army was able to destroy the German 94th Infantry Division on the open ground; survivors of the German division were attached to the 16th and 24th Panzer divisions. Although German military commanders were of the opinion that Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 forces caught in the encirclement should break out, between 23 and 24 November Hitler decided instead to hold the position and attempt to resupply the Sixth Army by air. The personnel trapped in Stalingrad would require at least 680 metric tons (749.6 ST) of supplies per day, a task which the depleted Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 was in no condition to carry out. Furthermore, the revived Red Air Force was a threat to German aircraft attempting to fly over the encirclement. Although by December the Luftwaffe had assembled a fleet of around 500 aircraft, this was still insufficient to supply the Sixth Army and elements of the Fourth Panzer Army with the required supplies. During the first half of December the Sixth Army received less than 20% of their daily requirements.

In the meantime, the Red Army strengthened its outer encirclement with the intention of destroying the encircled German units. Soviet armies would attack German units to the east and the south, aiming to split German units into smaller groups. These orders became effective on 24 November, and were to be executed without a major regrouping or movement of reserves. The outer encirclement ran for an estimated 320 kilometres (198.8 mi), although only three-quarters of that distance was actually covered by Soviet troops; the distance between the outer and inner encirclements was around 16 kilometres (9.9 mi). The Soviet high command also began planning for Operation Saturn
Operation Saturn
Operation Saturn, revised as Operation Little Saturn, was a Red Army operation on the Eastern Front of World War II that led to battles in the northern Caucasus and Donets Basin regions of the Soviet Union from December 1942 to February 1943....

, which was aimed at destroying the Italian Eighth Army and cutting off German forces in the Caucasus
Caucasus
The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

. The Soviet Stavka planned the offensive to start on about 10 December.

German forces in the area had been further split up, as German general Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein was a field marshal in World War II. He became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's World War II armed forces...

 was given command of the newly created Army Group Don
Army Group Don
Army Group Don was a short-lived German army group during World War II.Army Group Don was created from the headquarters of the Eleventh Army in the southern sector of the Eastern Front on 22 November 1942. The army group only lasted until February 1943 when it was combined with Army Group B and...

, comprising the German Fourth Panzer and Sixth Armies, and the Third and Fourth Romanian Armies. Although the situation looked bleak for the Germans, a moment of relative calm had settled after the end of Operation Uranus; German and Soviet forces were planning their next movements.

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