Red Army Resurgent (TIME LIFE)

Zhukov and Vasilevsky obeyed Stalin’s instructions about absolute secrecy for Operation Uranus to the letter, even refusing written orders to be drafted.By verbalcommands issued in bits ans pieces , a gigantic stockpile of men and material began to take form. It came from all parts of Soviet Union , from Siberia , Urals , Central Asian republics.The Soviet convoys moved by night , the trucks rolled with their lights out or dimmed , they took cover in forests in ravines under camauflage nets during daytime to hide from German air reconnisance. Troop and supply trains were split into small sections to disguise scope of movement. In all more than one milliıon men ,13.451 artillery pieces ,900 tanks and 1.1100 aircraft took up assigned places in staging areas.

The northern section of the attack would be near Serafimovich about 75 miles northwest of Kalach ,a point Don flows almost to the east. There on south bank and facing south , Red Army had held a bridgehead ever since Paulus advance started across Don in summer.It was kept under desultory observation by Romanian Third Army which was responsible for a 90mile long front i,far more than warranted either by either Romanian numbers and their combat efficiency.Tıo the nrthwest of Romanians stood Italian Eighth Army and Hungarian Second Army. The southern attack , set for second day of offensive on 20th November , was to start on a broad front from southern suburbs of Stalingrad southward against sectort held by German Fouth Panzer and Romanian Fourth Armies. The Romanians holdinfg right flank of General Hoth 's Fourth Panzer Army were especially in a vulnerable state , being stretched over a vast bleak expanse of steppe

The Romanians were obvious targets. Out of a sense of national pride , Romania’s Premier Ion Antonescau and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini insisted that their armies deployed in Eastern Front remain “autonomous” without any corset stiffeling by German units. Hitler went along with this grave misgivings. The Romanian armies were distressingly primitive in their organisation with each divison possesing only one anti tank company that was equipped with obselete 37 mm guns. The Romanians seemed more interested with creature comforts rather than fighting a war actually. “The building of defenses” complained a German military engineer inspected Romenian lines “was being neglected in favour of large dugouts for command posts and shelters”

General Hermann Hoth whose flank depended on Romanians had nothing but contempt for his so called allies. Her scoffeed “German units that have Romanian forces with them , must reconcile with the fact that a moderate artillery fire even without an enemy attack would be sufficient to cause these troops to fall back and the reports they submit themselves are worthless since they do not know where their units most of the time and they exagerrate enemy strength facing them a lot”

Even Hitler who was not given overestimating enemy strength ,allowed himself a rare expression of anxiety on 9th November :"If only this front was being hwld by German formations , I would not lose a moments of sleep over it but this is different. The Sixth Army must make an end of this business and take remaining parts of Stalingrad quickly "

The next day ,stilly vaguely fretful , Hitler ordered 22nd Panzer Division to drive 150 miles north to support Romanians. The result was farcial. The panzer division had been in reserve for a long time , its tanks were dug in and covered with straw against increasing cold. 39 of the 104 tanks in 22nd Panzer Division would not start and others were malfunctioned and dropped on the way. Mice , it turned out , had been nesting in straw that blankated tanks and they had nibbled the rubber insulation of the wiring , causing short circuits. Only 42 tanks of 22nd Panzer Division were in place behind Romanians on November 19th when the roar of guns announced the beginning of Soviet counter offensive.


The Soviet onslaught was set in motion by a coded signal from Moscow “SEND A MESSENGER TO PICK UP FUR GLOVES” At day break 3.500 Soviet guns were pounding Romanian positions. The sattalite armies had very little equipment to losebut hundreds of soldiers died when their bunkers collapsed on top of them. Then at 08:30 , Soviet forces attacked from Serafimovich bridgehead .Hordes of infantrymen plodded forward through swirling snow and freezing fog but they were nearly invisible i their white winter combat garb. Later , the ghostly formations of hundres of T-34 tanks , steering by compass appeared on a long ridgeline. The Romanians defended themselves for several hours but when Soviet T-34s broke through their lines , they were afflicted by what German commanders called “tank fright” From all sides came Romanian cry. “Enemy tanks in the rear !” The Romanian formations just dissolved.

German aircraft had no chance to join the battle. “Once again” wrote General Von Richtoffen ,commander of 8th Luftflotte "the Russians made masterly use of bad weather. Rain , snow and freezing fog are making all Luftwaffe operations on Don nearly impossible"

By nightfall , a gap of 50 miles wide was ripped up in Romanian front at Don by Soviet Fifth Tank Army and Twenty First Soviet Army under major General Nikolai Vatutin. As those forces plunged southward , Stalin egged them on with signals that carried a sting. “Tell Zhukov to start more creative operations”

Next morning came the attack south of Stalingrad by two fresh armies under command of General Yeremenko. Still tired and tense after the long ordeal in defense of the city , Yeremenko wanted to wait until the Soviet offensive in north across the Don , had drawn enemy reserves in that direction , away from his own front. He had argued the point with his superiors but STAVKA had rudely rebuffed him. After a sleepless night , Yeremenko dragged his feet past 08:00 AM starting time waiting the weather to get clear. STAVKA impatiently demanded him to get going though so at 10:00 AM on 20th November , he began his own preliminary artillery bombartment. To his considerable suprise and gratification ,the Romanian 4th Army in his sector collapsed and its units dissoplved in panic and within a few hours Yeremenko reported that 10.000 enemy prisoners were captured. By darkness , his Fifty First and Fifty Seven Soviet Armiesa had torn open a 30mile wide gap and were swinging in an uppercut arc , northwest towards Kalach.


It is understandable that the Romanians and Italians weren’t motivated. Like any soldier, they were motivated to fight to protect their own country, but what possible justification might a Romanian soldier have for fighting so far from home? Why would they risk their lives for The Greater Germany? What was in it for them, anyways?

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