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I'm referring to the fact that BOTH sides ordered their troops to fight for the city "to the last man and last round." (Hitler). The Soviet Union's General Vasili Chuikov echoed this by saying "We will defend the city or die in the attempt."

The Soviets were the first to be besieged in Stalingrad in September, 1942. They "survived" by pouring in a steady stream of replacements and reinforcements. But more than 90 percent of the original complement of troops became casualties.

The German 6th Army originally consisted of about 330,000 men. After they were surrounded by seven Soviet armies outside Stalingrad in November, 1942, only 91,000 Germans survived to surrender. Of these, all but 5,000 or so of the starving soldiers soon died in captivity. Making this adjustment, the German death rate was about 98%.

Have there been other instances in history where both sides had armies that were besieged in turn at the same location? And both sides' besieged forces suffered 90+ per cent casualties?

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I focused the question by asking whether there were other battles where BOTH sides met the criterion of having besieged armies, and both besieged forces suffered 90+ percent casualties. The revised question can be answered factually, and not with opinions. – Tom Au Sep 6 at 22:21
Stalingrad is in no way a siege from the Russian perspective. It was an assault. – Oldcat Sep 9 at 17:23
Did you search for a book on military history that classifies historic battles into categories? Stalingrad might be in there somewhere. – jjack Sep 9 at 19:34

3 Answers 3

Another battle between the Russians and Germans that seems similar is Battle of Tannenberg during WWI. Out of 206,000 men of the trapped Russian Second Army 78,000 were killed or wounded and 92,000 taken prisoner [1]. However it seems Stalingrad still has the edge on this because both sides had their backs against the wall in 1942, whereas Tannenberg was a bit more one-sided.

The Battle of Seden destroyed an entire french army (mostly captured, not dead) and lost the Franco Prussian war for them but like Tannenberg was one sided and over quickly. An eastern example of a high casualty battles which outcome decided a large war is the Battle of Fei River (700,000 out of 870,000 deaths on the losing side according to the Book of Jin). But again this was fairly one sided.

So maybe encirclement isn't the important thing and it's about countries stubbornly pouring manpower into the meat-grinder of an "un-loseable" war of attrition. The Western Front of WWI is a great example (lots of decimated units here[2]). Verdun being a particularly horrific fight over some hilly ground near Verdun-sur-Meuse. Loss at Verdun might have might have lost the war for the Allies, but didn't losw it (not immediately anyway) for Germany. Perhaps Stalingrad was more decisive than Verdun in particular, but if you compare it to the western front in general there are a lot of similarities.

As far as other important battles with horrible casualty rates go the Battle of Antietam and percentagewise more lethal Battle of Stones River are good American examples. Leipzig is a good example before industrialised warfare.

So while there are lots of examples of desperate fighting, encirclement and awful causalities. I would agree that given the intense struggle on both sides and it's decisive role in the Great Patriotic War (that's WW2) Stalingrad was fairly unique, with the western front in WW1 being the strongest contender in my mind.

[1] Source: Sweetman, John (2004), Tannenberg 1914 (1st ed.), London: Cassell, ISBN 978-0-304-35635-5 p158

[2] Somme example: the 1st Newfoundland Regiment suffered 91% casualties in the Somme, 801 men, 500 dead, 233 wounded, which puts it in second place to the 10th Battalion West Yorkshire on the same day but I can't find those numbers

[PS] Thought I would mention ambushes like the The Battle of Salsu (302,300 out of 305,000) or 'Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!, but I don't think they can be compared to Stalingrad.

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Good try, but I wasn't really talking about "one-sided" battles. My question was about battles where BOTH sides were ready to sacrifice large percentages (more than 50%) of their troops. – Tom Au Mar 8 '13 at 23:52
skip the first two paragraphs then. – Nathan Cooper Mar 9 '13 at 10:54

You usually don't get casualties that goes so high; one side or the other will have the sense to realise that the battle is lost and retreat. When they can't, their losses will ramp up while the winner's will stay relatively modest.

One battle with very high losses on both sides is the Dano-Swedish Battle of Lund. However, that was not due to the generals grinding the units down; it was a very confused affair where the Swedish cavalry broke of to chase the Danish cavalry, while the Swedish infantry was very hard pressed and would have lost if the cavalry had not returned. In the end, the casualty rates for both armies where over 50 % (including wounded and prisoners of war). It has been noted as one of the bloodiest pitched battles ever.

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The battle of Stalingrad was unusual, perhaps unique, in that it was a "siege within a siege."

"Everyone" knows that a German army was trapped in Stalingrad by two Soviet columns to the north and south, that marched southeast and northwest respectively, to converge at Kalach, 40 miles west of Stalingrad. Of the 330,000 German and allied troops of the Sixth Army trapped in late November 1942, only 91,000 survived to surrender in late January 1943, and of these, only 5,000 survived hunger, cold and disease until the end of the war. These troops suffered "98" percent casualties.

What some people forget is that when the Germans occupied most of Stalingrad, they in turn surrounded the Soviet 62nd army on the west bank of the Volga, holding 10 percent of city, (except by the Volga on the fourth side). According to "Barbarians at the Gate" and other sources, the survival rate was extraordinarily low among the units that went there early; 300 out of the 10,000 men of Rodimtsev's 13th Guards (elite, special forces) Division in the seesaw fighting around Mamayev Kurgan, the grain elevator, and the "Universal" stores in the south of the city; 250 among the 10,000 men of Zholudov's 37th Guards defending the Tractor and Barrikady factories further north. Similar stories could be told for 5-10 other Soviet divisions, held in the German death grip, basically a 97-98 percent casualty rate. Only the last relief units ferried across the Volga didn't suffer so badly. Basically, the later the arrival, the lower the casualty rate.

But it was the "siege within a siege" factor of two mutually surrounded armies that created such a fight to the death situation and casualties. Also, the name "Stalingrad" gave the city a symbolic importance out of proportion even to its genuine strategic importance. Both sides took their turns manning an "Alamo" and fighting almost to the last man.

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A siege within a siege may not be common, but it is not unique either (, and IIRC one of the battles of War of the Sicilian Vespers) – SJuan76 Sep 5 at 22:57
@SJuan76: But you missed the second criterion, that both sides' besieged forces suffered 90+ percent casualties. Even so, you may have the beginnings of a good answer. – Tom Au Sep 6 at 22:24
The best example of a Siege within a Siege is Caesar at Alesia. Stalingrad was never cut off from Soviet aid, so it was not a siege within a siege in any respect. – Oldcat Sep 9 at 17:24

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