The military history YouTube channel The Armchair Historian opens their episode on the Battle of Stalingrad with the line "The average lifespan of a soldier in Stalingrad was just 24 hours."

The YouTube channel is a generally reputable source but this fact made me skeptical. When looking for confirmation of this fact the Britannica article on Stalingrad lists that the lifespan for a Soviet solider is 24 hours, whereas the video seems to depict a German solider as the host recites his opening line.

The thought that life could be so disposable during the Battle of Stalingrad is already difficult for me to come to terms with, and the slightly differing reports of which combatants had the shorter lifespan creates additional ambiguity. Other aspects such as "does this quote encompass the immediate area outside of Stalingrad" or "was this fact true for only specific operations during the battle" are unclear. An answer may reflect either a specific operation or the battle as a whole.

Did Soviet soldiers deployed to Stalingrad have an average lifespan of 24 hours? Did German soldiers have the same life expectancy too?

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    It's a very slippery claim that needs to be boxed in before it can be addressed. The battle lasted 5 months with several phases and larger operations. Does it include all 2 million soldiers, or just those physically within the city limits? Was it over all 5 months, or a particular time period? – Schwern Mar 30 at 19:06
  • "average lifespan of 24 hours" . So they were conscripted at birth, and died shortly thereafter? I don't understand what this stat means. – axsvl77 Mar 30 at 19:55
  • @Schwern That's part of the ambiguity of the claim. I am expecting for an answer to the effect of "this generally wasn't true, but during a certain operation soldiers had a lifespan of fewer than 24 hours." - but history may not conform to expectations. In both instances I recited the quote verbatim, and the lack of detail is why I am so doubtful of the claim. – PausePause Mar 30 at 20:11
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    What does "average lifespan" even mean? Three soldiers arrive. One dies after 12 hours. One gets wounded after two days and sent home. The third doesn't die at all until well after the war. Is that an average lifespan of 24 hours, calculated between the two casualties? Is it 12 hours because only one actually died? And how would you factor in the one who survived? -- Units of division strength got reduced to basically nothing in a matter of days if unlucky. That's the kind of attrition rate that battlefield had. I wouldn't look too close at specific statistic statements. – DevSolar Mar 31 at 0:14
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    Given the way statistics work, I'd by a 24 hour median survival long before I bought a 24 hour average survival. – Gort the Robot Mar 31 at 2:04

The question really relates to which group of Soviet soldiers had average life expectancies of 24 hours. But during the battle, there were in fact some such groups,

One example was Rodimtsev's 13th Guards division, which lost all but 300 members out of its original 10,000 men complement (crossing the Volga into Stalingrad on September 13, and recapturing the key ground of Mamayev Kurgan and the center of the city). There were only six survivors from the most embattled battalion of some 1,000 men.

Another was Zholudov's 37th Guards division, which took 75% losses in two days (average life expectancy of 24 hours) and 97% overall defending the Tractor Factory.

This loss ratio did not apply to most other arrivals or to the relief force, so it is not an "average." But it did apply to soldiers placed into the most intense locales and periods of fighting.

  • I think this is the closest I'll get to having a valid answer to the quote I recited. I'm going to wait a day to see if anybody else posts additional information, then I'll accept this post. – PausePause Apr 1 at 16:20
  • it is the better answer, and it mentions the Volga crossing as a contributing factor. In Enemy at the Gates, the movie, there is a opening scene which shows just how nasty it was. The movie is from the general history book of the same name, but most Stalingrad books don't talk that much about casualties during the crossing, instead concentrating on combat operations within the city, only mentioning the crossing as a bad situation. And Enemy at the Gates, the book, makes claims about the sniper in the movie that are somewhat disputed, so I was not sure if that opening scene was credible. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Apr 1 at 18:10
  • Years ago, I remember hearing a statistic said that the average time a new second lieutenant survived in the jungles of Vietnam was just 15 minutes. I don't know if that was actually true, let alone how it was calculated. Intuitively, it sounds relatively plausible, although you might have to add a qualifier like "once a firefight began". Otherwise, I'd have trouble believing that enemy contact would likely be achieved that quickly. – Henry Apr 2 at 4:14
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica the main problem with that scene is that it depicts the water as the most dangerous place during the crossing, while boats on the move were actually a pretty hard target. The real danger was on the shore, the piers being a place where transports had to stop and become a static target in range of german heavy artillery. That said, I think the answer mentions the crossing only as the reference point from which the time is counted, not as the point where losses were sustained. – Danila Smirnov Apr 7 at 7:14

Not a direct answer, but I have seen a study showing that the death/shot down rate for Allied fighter pilots in WW2 dropped off dramatically once they survived their first five combat missions. Training was adjusted to try to get them past that danger point.

The reason, I assume, was a combination of better awareness and suppression of deer-in-headlights syndrome - i.e. they adapted to their surroundings, their situational awareness went up and they regained some mental agility and capability to function under extreme threat.

Now, wrt Stalingrad, it is quite possible that the first few days of a newly arrived soldier similarly saw their most vulnerable point in time. Past that, rather than attritioning at that same rate, they could then have been much more likely to survive a week or a month, even if the combat losses remained horrendous and they were unlikely to live 3 months.

So, you'd have valid "average survival is 1 day", but it wouldn't mean that 8 soldiers would last only 3 days as in 8 => 4 on 1st day, 4 => 2 2nd day, 2 => 1 3rd day. You might see 4 deaths/severely wounded on the first day then a much/somewhat lower rate going forward.

Also, militaries typically count in terms of casualties, which are dead, wounded and POW. A soldier receiving a severe enough wound would be evacuated, at least on the pre-Uranus German side (Russians evacuees would have to cross the 1km wide Volga to be taken out) so they'd live, even if their "combat lifespan" was cut short.

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    He might also be confusing average and median. If one of the eight soldiers survives for two weeks, the average is already at almost 48 hours. – Jan Mar 31 at 7:05
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    German green troops were usually "stiffened" by mixing in seasoned soldiers. Technically speaking though, this is not an answer to the question. If you require clarification of the question, please post a comment. – DevSolar Mar 31 at 9:20
  • @Jan Gort already mentioned that in a comment and yes, I agree with both of you. I was more addressing how you can have staggering casualty rates in green troops that can drop in rather unexpected fashion to give unintuitive trends. I wish I could find the fighter pilot study but I wont. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Mar 31 at 14:39
  • @DevSolar I understood the question fine and as I say this is not a direct answer. But it does show a mechanism whereby the dynamics of fresh troop arrival might result in extreme losses. Not sure what Russians might or might have the luxury, or care, to try to mitigate this. And the density of sniper and combat action in Stalingrad would be in an entirely different context than the same procedures carried out on another front where a week might very well go by without combat if the noobs are lucky. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Mar 31 at 14:49
  • @PausePause: "He" was meant to be a reference to "The military history YouTube channel The Armchair Historian". I am completely aware that this is not your claim and that you are sceptical enough to ask for second opinions here. – Jan Apr 1 at 23:21

Let us count. Notice, we are talking about mere evaluation, not about strict numbers.

According to wiki, there were about 1,100,000 people from the Russian side at the peak. And 1,100,000 losses - dead, lost, wounded, or sick. If a person is (let alone lives) at battle lines only 24h, then the battle would last for one day. But the battle lasted for 5 months and a half - from the start of the defence in the middle of August 42 and finishing by the 31st January 43. It is 165 times longer. So, the expected length of participation in the battle from the Soviet side was 5 months and a half, not one day.

As for the Axis side (Not "Germans", please, for there were really a great number of Magyars, Romanians and Italians around Stalingrad), it was about 1 million participants and 0.8 million casualties of all sorts. So, their expected length of participation was about 5.5*1/0.8=~7 months.

Of course, the numbers of participants changed rapidly and irregularly, and that could change the number twice or thrice, but this could not change half a year into a day.

Maybe, somebody counted the number of fighters around Pavlov's house or another critical point and for the days of the most mayhem, too. And somebody extrapolated that number for hundreds of square kilometres of the battle. That sounded nice to them.

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