As I understand it, the military objective of capturing Stalingrad was to be able to cut off north-south river traffic on the Volga, and land traffic on the east bank of the river, using the city as a base for air and artillery strikes. In fact, the original plan for Fall Blau had the Germans going up to, and screening the city, without actually entering it and engaging in city fighting.

During the battle of Stalingrad, the Germans captured 90% of the city (but a decidedly smaller proportion of the west bank of the Volga). Nevertheless, the Germans held portions of the west bank both north and south of the city on which they could place artillery and air units to disrupt Volga River traffic. Per the Wikipedia article:

"After three months of slow advance, the Germans finally reached the river banks, capturing 90% of the ruined city and splitting the remaining Soviet forces into two narrow pockets. Ice floes on the Volga now prevented boats and tugs from supplying the Soviet defenders."

Was there any time prior to the encirclement that the Germans' military objectives would have been substantially fulfilled by consolidating their holdings and "ring fencing" the remaining portion of the city while they wen about their business (like setting up a defense)? Or did they need the last 10% of the city for military reasons?

Please note that I am NOT asking about political considerations such as the prestige value of taking or holding the city.

  • 2
    Tik History has a huge series of videos about the Battle of Stalingrad on YouTube. Many hours, too many for me. You probably find your answer there.
    – Jos
    Nov 5, 2021 at 8:26
  • @Jos: I have seen a number of their videos, and they provide a lot of good raw material, but I asked the question because I am having trouble "connecting the dots."
    – Tom Au
    Nov 5, 2021 at 19:09
  • I saw some of them, but the series is 30 episodes. I probably will watch it, but not right now. :-)
    – Jos
    Nov 6, 2021 at 2:46

4 Answers 4



We could identify four main objectives for Army Group B during summer/autumn 1942. Let's examine them separately :

  • Eliminate Stalingrad as industrial center. Arguably, this was already achieved with huge Luftwaffe raids in late August, with further destruction by aerial and artillery strikes latter in the battle. For this, of course, it was not necessary to capture the whole city, being in range for artillery was sufficient. It should be noted that Soviets tended to operate factories as long as was humanly possible, but without electricity or water supply even they could not continue with production.

  • Stop or hinder traffic on the Volga. Stalingrad is a western most point on Volga in this part of USSR (Russia), therefore invader coming from the west would naturally aim for Stalingrad in order to fulfill this objective. Germans would not cross to left side of the Volga due to various reasons (width of the river, lack of landing boats and other equipment, Volga military flotilla etc ...) . However, they did come to the Volga at certain points outside of the city (north of city primarily) and they did subject traffic on the river to their direct and indirect artillery fire. Therefore, in combination with air strikes and deployment of riverine mines, this practically stopped any daytime transit and greatly reduced it during the night, even without capturing whole city.

  • Defense of northern flank of German penetration . For this particular task city of Stalingrad was less important. Historically, what would be fatal for Army Group B and indeed for whole German war effort, were Soviet bridgeheads on Don : one at Serafimovich and other at Kletskaia. Due to various reasons, Germans elected not to mount major attacks on either of these bridgeheads, instead focusing almost all of the offensive power of Army Group B on Stalingrad itself. Without going into what if territory, from purely a defensive standpoint, going into Stalingrad without clearing the right bank of Don was not very sound decision.

  • Drive to Astrakhan. Final goal for Army Group B after the capture of Stalingrad would be to drive as far as possible along Volga bank and maybe capture Astrakhan. Note that this supposed to happen after the fall of Stalingrad because Germans didn't want to leave reasonable strong enemy formations on right side of the Volga before committing themselves to such a large undertaking. Overall, this planned offensive existed only on paper, as necessary circumstances were not met. It was not only that Soviet resistance in Stalingrad was much larger then expected, also Soviet armies on southern approaches to Stalingrad (64th, 57th and 51st ) were reinforced and actually launched some probing offensives on their own even before the Uranus.

As a conclusion, in hindsight it could be said that Germans should have simply besieged Stalingrad and concentrated on eliminating the Don bridgeheads, thus concentrating on defense without even dreaming of going to Astrakhan. This would of course leave Army Group A without northern cover (as historically it was) in their drive towards oil fields. Overall, it is unlikely that Germans could capture oil fields with or without Stalingrad, and Soviet winter offensive was bound to happen somewhere as they simply managed to mobilize enough troops while Axis strength was waning.

  • 1
    Good answer. Basically, the Germans achieved their "nominal" objectives for Stalingrad (first two), but not their real ones (last two). Given the third one, they wasted a punch at Voronezh.
    – Tom Au
    Nov 10, 2021 at 16:44

Fall Blau objective was to control oil fields of Baku, Maykop and Grozny. Stalingrad was secondary to that. But, as usual, german plans changed during the execution of the plan, making Stalingrad the main objective after a while.
Now, as you propose, if we imagine that they keep their original plan, when Stalingrad was secondary. Control Volga river would prevent Soviet Union to use this river to transport oil from Caucasus.


Soviet Union already had other sources of oil. Second Baku was already discovered and under development. Also, the allies were able to send oil through Iran and the Pacific. Obviously, infraestructure was required to make use of this alternatives.


Leaving the Soviets in possession of part of the west bank of the Volga within the city would mean that the Germans would not have a secure front. The Soviets would have been capable of supplying and reinforcing their troops via small boats at night. That would allow them to keep the front within the city active, soaking up German manpower and supplies.

The German problem was manpower. If the Germans held the whole of the west bank within the city, the Soviets would have had a harder job attacking them across the river, and the Germans would not need as many men to hold that line as they would to hold a line within the built-up area.

If the Germans had given up and pulled out of the city, they could have held a line on the plains with fewer men than they'd have needed for a line in the built-up area, but probably more than they'd have needed for holding the river line.

This is basic military calculus of forces, obvious to trained officers, which is probably why few books mention the issue. Once the Germans had started trying to take the city west of the river, they needed to finish the job, or give it up and pull back out of the city. The problem with pulling out was political: it would have looked like a Soviet victory.


Frame challenge. The German positions, even at deepest penetration, were undefendable.

...the Germans held portions of the west bank both north and south of the city on which they could place artillery and air units to disrupt Volga River traffic.

Was there any time prior to the encirclement that the Germans' military objectives would have been substantially fulfilled by consolidating their holdings and "ring fencing" the remaining portion of the city while they wen about their business (like setting up a defense)?

The easiest part first, there were no airfields that far forward that were useful (or, indeed, useable) to affect Volga traffic. The airfields that could be used were the same that were later used to (attmpt to) support the Stalingrad pocket, 50 or 100 kilometers back. You don't want to rearm bombers on the runway while in range of the enemy's artillery. So airfields were a non-issue either way. What about ground troups positioning?

North of the city, a small corridor of about 10 kilometers width was held since late August 1942 by German XIV Panzerkorps. This did interrupt the railway lines from Stalingrad to Moscow; that much was achieved. However, this corridor was through open steppes. The Don (which further west provided a defensible landmark for the Romanian 3rd Army curves to the south of Stalingrad.

This northern corridor was under continuous attacks from the north by Soviet 66th Army, 4th Tank Army, 1st Guards Army, and 24th Army. These attacks were of a magnitude that XIV Panzerkorps was unable to assist with attacks on Stalingrad. Actually, LI Armeekorps' advance on Stalingrad from the West was temporarily halted, its support redirected north, to reinforce XIV Panzer Korps.

Only two to three weeks later (around September 11th) German forces were able to close the pocket around Stalingrad in the south. However, this corridor (held by XXXXVIII Panzerkorps) was also under significant attacks by Soviet 64th Army from the south.

All the while, the units of Soviet 62nd Army fighting in Stalingrad proper were getting reinforcements from the eastern bank of the Volga.

Any German units on the west bank of the Volga -- be that in the northern corridor (XIV Panzerkorps), the southern corridor (XXXXVIII Panzerkorps), or in the city proper (LI Armeekorps) -- had Soviet forces on two sides (not counting artillery fire across the river). Quite close as well, no more than 5 kilometers at the most. Not the position you would want to dig into for defense, let alone bring your artillery into. Especially since the terrain outside of the city is nothing but flat steppes

Note that 62nd army was continuously reinforced across the river, which should give an indication that river traffic was not really "controlled" at that point.

German troops were being attacked on all sides. There was no position that could be made into a viable defensive line that could be held through the winter. As Operation Uranus proved in November, which did not target the German spearhead at all, but its exposed flanks hundred miles and more to the west and south.

To summarize.

The advance on Stalingrad was a spearhead, its grip on the west bank of the Volga tenuous, its flanks under massive pressure. Winter was fast approaching, which the Germans had learned meant the upper hand for the Russians for a couple of months. Those encircling corridors did little toward the military goals (other than interrupting the railway to Moscow), could not have been extended to do more (that is what the Germans were trying), and could not have been held as-is during the winter.

A great week by week visualization of the Battle of Stalingrad is this video by Indy Nidell. Watching it should make it clear how tenuous and short-lived the hold to the Volga was.

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