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In February 1916, the Germans might have captured the fortress of Verdun (France), quickly through an all-out assault. Instead, the German General Falkenhayn initially elected to make an artillery attack on it, without using a lot of infantry. His rationale was allegedly stated in his Christmas (1915) memo to the Kaiser (some historians dispute this), which was interpreted to mean that he wanted to attack a city of sentimental value to France, "suck in" as many French troops as he could, kill as many as possible with artillery fire, and bleed the French army to death. Capturing the fortress would be of secondary importance. The end result was that the Germans failed to capture the fortress, and inflicted French casualties at rate of only slightly more than 1- to 1 (versus a 5 to 4 overall Allied advantage), meaning a tactical defeat for Germany.

In 1942, the German summer offensive (Fall Blau) started spectacularly with the capture of Voronezh on the Don by the left flank of the southern front by armored divisions. If this armor had been sent southeast to Stalingrad, supported by an eastward advance of infantry, the Germans might have captured it by late July.

Instead, the Germans sent the armor from Voronezh due south for the Caucasus oil fields. This not only prevented them from using the armor to capture Stalingrad, but blocked the infantry advance of Paulus' Sixth Army. The assault on Stalingrad didn't begin until late August, giving the Soviets more time to reinforce the city.

Why were the Germans so dilatory on their attack on Stalingrad? Were they trying to "suck in" Soviet reinforcements to "Stalin's city," destroy them en masse, and thereby weaken Soviet forces to the north (around Moscow) and south (the Caucasus)?

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It seems unlikely at first glance. You don't deliberately play attrition with a numerically superior foe, at the very end of your supply lines when you're still trying to catch the enemy before they can fully mobilise. – Nathan Cooper Mar 15 '13 at 9:36
"sent the armor from Voronezh due south for the Caucasus oil fields" - the whole reason for needing Stalingrad (or one of major reasons) was specifically access to those oil fields. – DVK Mar 15 '13 at 13:41
@DVK: Good point. If I understand it correctly, the Germans should have used the armor to secure Stalingrad before sending it south to the oil fielsds. – Tom Au Mar 15 '13 at 16:46
@TomAu - too many objectives for a limited amount of resources :) – DVK Mar 15 '13 at 17:00
What is a "Verdun-like strategy"? – jjack Sep 10 '15 at 18:44
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Your description of the progress of Blau is a bit off base. In short, the main reason the assault on Stalingrad was late was that it was never a primary objective at the time. Those months were spent with the armor trying and failing to make a pocket in the Don Bend. Also, it takes time for infantry to walk all the way to Stalingrad, even without opposition. And there was some opposition.

However, there was a "Verdun-Like" strategy at play at Stalingrad, but it was the Soviets who were doing it. After the initial strike at the city faltered, the Soviets fed in just enough troops over the river to continue the meat-grinder and exhaust 6th Army. Troops fed in were replaced by Axis Allied, and the Soviets had no trouble building up forces on the flanks that would succeed in crushing the flanking forces and pocketing 6th Army.

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I suppose you could draw that comparison. However, I don't believe the respective folks responsible were looking at things that way.

Falkenhayn's strategy at Verdun was, as you say, attrition. Since frontal attacks and breakthroughs on that front were just not succeeding, the idea was instead to weaken the enemy army by bleeding away as much of it as possible. In order to do that, he had to attack at a point the French would feel forced to defend, despite any losses. Hence the salient at Verdun. The objective was never to actually take it, but to whittle away at the enemy army.

The German diversion to the Caucus oil fields by most accounts was due to Hitler's prioritizing of that objective over major Russian population centers. So it wasn't a purposeful strategy for Stalingrad, but a reflection of the fact that Stalingrad wasn't considered the top objective for them.

Put simply, the war leadership of Nazi Germany had a tendency to value strategic resources over what many would consider traditional political objectives.

Another good example of this came in April of 1940. Despite their imminent need to begin action in France before the allies could further mobilize, the Germans invaded Norway. The only real value of Norway to Germany was that it supplied them a lot of their iron. France was not invaded for another month.

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Actually, Norway supplied no Iron. Iron was provided by Sweden, shipped by rail to Narvik which was an ice free port and loaded on ships for Germany. Swedish ports on the Baltic freeze over in winter. – Oldcat Dec 16 '14 at 19:50

Another reason for attacking Stalingrad was that Japanese considered attacking Russia (opening the second front) if Germany could cross river Volga (or take Moscow).

Sorry I don't remember the source.

BTW German strategy in WWII was not verdun-like, just the opposite: blitzkrieg (highly mobile attack, avoiding and bypassing enemy's defensive strongpoints and encircling them instead). Cities like Stalingrad are especially bad match for blitzkrieg strategy, which was not lost to commanding general Chuikov.

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A good source for this is "Marching Orders" by Bruce Lee amazon.com/Marching-Orders-Untold-Story-World/dp/0306810360 – Tom Au Aug 17 '15 at 23:12

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