On this day in 1942, a Soviet counteroffensive against the German armies pays off as the Red Army traps about a quarter-million German soldiers south of Kalach, on the Don River, within Stalingrad. As the Soviets’ circle tightened, German General Friedrich Paulus requested permission from Berlin to withdraw.
The Battle of Stalingrad began in the summer of 1942, as German forces assaulted the city, a major industrial center and a prize strategic coup, if it could be occupied. But despite repeated attempts, the German 6th Army, under Paulus, and part of the 4th Panzer Army, under Ewald von Kleist, could not break past the adamantine defense by the Soviet 62nd Army, commanded by Gen. Vasily I. Chuikov, despite having pushed the Soviets almost to the Volga River in mid-October and encircling Stalingrad.
Diminishing resources, partisan guerilla attacks, and the cruelty of the Russian winter began to take their toll on the Germans. On November 19, the Soviets made their move, launching a counteroffensive that began with a massive artillery bombardment of the German position. The Soviets then assaulted the weakest link in the German force-inexperienced Romanian troops; 65,000 were ultimately taken prisoner by the Soviets.
The Soviets then made a bold strategic move, encircling the enemy, launching pincer movements from north and south simultaneously, even as the Germans encircled Stalingrad. The Germans should have withdrawn, but Hitler wouldn’t allow it. He wanted his armies to hold out until they could be reinforced. By the time those fresh troops arrived in December, it was too late. The Soviet position was too strong, and the Germans were exhausted. It was then only a matter of time before the Germans would be forced to surrender.