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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.

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    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 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 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 at 2:46
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Partially

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 defensive standpoint going into Stalingrad without clearing 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 even capture Astrakhan. Note that this supposed to happen after the fall of Stalingrad because Germans didn't want to leave reasonable strong enemy formation on right side of the Volga before committing themselves to such large undertaking. Overall, this planned offensive existed only on paper, as necessary circumstances were not met . 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 Don bridgehead, 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.

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    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 at 16:44
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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.

But

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.

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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.

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