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
    Mar 15, 2013 at 9:36
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    "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, 2013 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, 2013 at 16:46
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    @TomAu - too many objectives for a limited amount of resources :)
    – DVK
    Mar 15, 2013 at 17:00
  • What is a "Verdun-like strategy"?
    – jjack
    Sep 10, 2015 at 18:44

5 Answers 5


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.

  • However, there was a "Verdun-Like" strategy at play at Stalingrad, but it was the Soviets who were doing it. Stalingrad was in soviet territory, while Verdun was in invaded territory in a German viewpoint. So this statement makes few sense.
    – Bregalad
    Dec 11, 2019 at 12:26

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, 2014 at 19:50


  1. Verdun was not a great German victory. Why would they want to replicate its nonsuccess on the bank of the Volga?

  2. If you look at the early part of the Russian campaign in 1941, the German Army was able to encircle and force the surrender of hundreds of thousands of Russian troops again and again. That was a far more efficient way to remove enemy troops from the field than to Verdun them.

  3. We will likely never know for sure if bleeding the French at Verdun was even Erich von Falkenhayn's original intent, or just something he invented after the fact to explain his lack of success.

  4. There was no real evidence that tanks was the answer at Stalingrad. That the 6th Army reached Stalingrad late, or that it was unable to trap and destroy the bulk of the soviet forces outside of stalingrad, was largely due to Paulus' slow and methodical nature. He had at 2 opportunities to destroy the soviets before they fell back into Stalingrad. He simply lacked the decisiveness to make the necessary call.

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    Welcome to the site. I look forward to seeing more of your posts. Nov 7, 2018 at 17:07
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    Paulus "lacked decisiveness"... or he knew his troops were exhausted and his supply lines massively overstretched already.
    – DevSolar
    Dec 9, 2019 at 9:01

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.


Well, to answer to the part of the question: "did the Germans use a Verdun like strategy?", I will make a request to another battle: Kursk.

About Verdun in 1916, historians have long debated of wether the Germans were searching for a bloody attrition battle, or a breakthrough in the Allied front. But the conclusion to be accepted seems to be: the Germans were searching to make the French Army tear blood, until France would give up and Germany be able to break the French front.

About Kursk in 1943, the debate was sometimes the same, but it is clearer that the Germans were searching for a victory on the Red Army rather than a territorial gain.

So the strategies in the two battles were quite similar. The events of both battles are also comparable, as in both battles a heavy resistance from respectively French and Soviet forces made up to a powerful German attack, and managed at great losses for both sides to stabilize the front.

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