The Battle of Stalingrad: Definition & Summary

Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

This lesson will discuss the Battle of Stalingrad. It will describe the events leading up to the battle, and a description of the battle from both Russian and German perspectives. Finally, the lesson will reflect on Stalingrad's significance in WWII.

The Nazi plan: Operation Barbarossa and Case Blue

In June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union under the name Operation Barbarossa. The goal of the invasion was to conquer the Soviet lands, and to annihilate the people who lived in the East to make room, or Lebensraum, for German settlers. The war in the East was gruesome. Over a period of four years, 27 million Soviet soldiers and 4 million German soldiers would die. The civilian populations were starved and terrorized.

The German Reich in 1942
The German Reich in 1942

Operation Barbarossa was very successful at first, and the German Reich was at its largest, stretching over France to the West, Norway to the North, North Africa to the South, and far to the East. Some in Europe had come to believe that the German army was invincible. By October, the Germans seemed set to take Moscow. However, despite massive losses, the Soviet Union did not fall as the Nazis had planned. By late 1941, German troops had advanced too far, too fast and had run out of supplies, so they fell back and regrouped over the winter. In the summer of 1942, the German forces launched a new offensive against the Soviets called Case Blue. They would drive south toward the oil reserves in the Caucasus region, going through the city of Stalingrad, which sits on the Volga River. The bloody Battle for Stalingrad would claim over 2 million lives, and become a major turning point in WWII.

The Battle for Stalingrad from a Russian Perspective

Although defending every city was important for the Soviets, Stalingrad was special because it was named after the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. Stalin himself demanded that his namesake city be held at all costs, and motivated the troops with a mix of patriotism and fear. Civilians were forbidden from evacuating the city. Many soldiers were genuinely motivated to fight by patriotism and pride. However, the life expectancy of a Soviet soldier in Stalingrad was a mere 24 hours. To enforce discipline in the face of so much death and fear, Stalin issued Order No. 227 which ordered 'Not a Step Back!'. Troops were forbidden from retreating, and anyone caught doing so would be executed. Special troops were placed just behind the front lines to shoot anyone caught retreating. There are conflicting reports about how many were actually executed with some claiming 13,000 and the Russian archives listing a little less than 300. A common cry was, 'There is no land for us beyond the Volga,' as the Soviets fought valiantly to hold the city.

Stalingrad after German bombing
Stalingrad after German bombing

At the beginning of the battle, the Germans bombed the city with over 1,000 tons of bombs, including devastating incendiary bombs. Over 80% of the city's buildings were destroyed on the first day of bombing, and about 40,000 civilians were killed in the bombing campaign. The Soviet forces held their line as closely as possible to the German line to ensure that some German forces would be hit during the bombings. Once the bombing ended, bloody door-to-door fighting began. The battle also saw the rise of popular Russian heroes, like the sniper Vasily Zaitsev. The Soviets wore down the Germans, who slowly starved and froze to death through the winter. German forces eventually surrendered in February 1943, but at the grisly cost of over 1 million Soviet troops, and untold civilian casualties.

The Battle from the German Perspective

The German army was feeling confident at the outset of Case Blue. When the German Sixth Army with 250,000 soldiers prepared to attack Stalingrad, Hitler ordered that, 'No stone should remain unturned'. In other words, beyond simply defeating the Soviet army, Soviet civilians were to be expelled, killed, or taken as slaves. The German bombing campaign on Stalingrad reduced the city to wreckage, and what a German soldier called, 'a chaos of twisted skeletons of factories'. However, the grit of the Soviet civilians and soldiers who remained entrenched in the city surprised the German troops. They realized this wouldn't be an easy victory. Vicious fighting, and a Soviet counterattack, had the Germans on their heels by mid-November 1942. Some German officers wanted to abandon Stalingrad, but Hitler refused to give up the city, even with winter approaching.

Dead Bodies in Stalingrad
Dead Bodies in Stalingrad

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account