All histories of the Stalingrad battle emphasize the heroic defense of the west bank of the Volga by the Red Army in 1942. It implies that if the German 6th Army had just managed to oust the last desperate defenders then by controlling the west bank they would have controlled the city and been able to declare some kind of victory at Stalingrad and change the course of the war.

No doubt the Russians holding on were fighting incredibly bravely. And presumably their prolonged defence of the west bank bogged the 6th Army down in a war of attrition which damaged the Germans' cause.

But what if anything would have changed if the Germans had taken the whole of the west bank? Other than a small morale boost?

They would still have only held "half" the city (my knowledge of the geography of Stalingrad is hazy but most cities which straddle a river have a substantial portion on either side). They would still have had over-extended supply lines and been exhausted and under constant attack from the opposite bank.

Most importantly Operation Uranus would surely have gone ahead in just the same way with the same final outcome.

So did it matter that the Red Army clung on to that small part of the city and, if not, why is such a big deal made of it?

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    my knowledge of the geography of Stalingrad is hazy but most cities which straddle a river have a substantial portion on either side Sorry to comment too late, but it's absolutely wrong. Stalingrad (Volgograd), as many other cities on Volga, is strictly "one-sided" city.
    – Matt
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 5:26

5 Answers 5


So did it matter that the Red Army clung on to that small part of the city and, if not, why is such a big deal made of it?

Yes, it did. By the time the battle for Stalingrad proper had begun and ran its course for the first few weeks, the Soviet high command was already thinking of what to do next. The plan that materialized would become Operation Uranus (Uran in Russian) and needed German forces to be occupied in the city for their flanks to be less secure and easier to breakthrough for an eventual encirclement. Stalingrad proper had some 80-90,000 German troops within its confines throughout the battle for Stalingrad, if the city was taken not only would it have been a military and symbolic triumph, but it would have freed a good portion of those troops for other tasks, including the ability to reinforcing the troops guarding the two bridgeheads the Red Army established and would utilize for Operation Uranus.

David M. Glantz's two volumes on Stalingrad (the third is due out soon-ish) would cover a lot of ground. Armageddon in Stalingrad: September-November 1942. To the Gates of Stalingrad: Soviet-German Combat Operations, April-August 1942.


The first stage of the Stalingrad campaign (pre-encirclement), lasted from mid-September to late middle November, or just over three months. The implications would have been very different if the Russians had lost the west bank on say, September 15th, October 15th, or November 15th.

If the Germans had captured the west bank of the city by about November 15th, the result would hardly have been different. The encirclement attack would have proceeded, and captured the German Sixth Army.

If the Germans had captured the west bank by October 15th, the encirclement attack might not have succeeded. That is, the Germans would have had a chance to rest, fortify Stalingrad in safety, and reorganize their troops, particularly their mobile divisions, to face the west and guard their flanks with the Volga at their "backs." In the actual battle, some of the heaviest, and probably the most critical casualties, took place just after the "final offensive" beginning October 14th.

If the Germans had captured Stalingrad by September 15th (which they would have if the Soviets hadn't rushed reinforcements into the city), this victory might by itself forestalled the encirclement campaign. In any event, the Germans might have even enjoyed follow up successes, such as moving down the Volga, capturing Astrakhan, and cutting off oil supplies from the Caucasus.

My best source on the course of the battle is Chuikov's "The Battle For Stalingrad." The interpretations are mine, not his.


Yes. Even though I agree with both @Tom and @Kunikov's answers, I feel that there's also another element.

Let's pretend Uranus, the encirclement phase, never happened at all. Even then the sacrifice of the 62nd Army is worthwhile.

The Germans have so far achieved a lot by using Blitzkrieg and encirclement tactics. They've used their armor and superior mobility to flow around Russian armies tasked by Stalin with point defence, rather than meeting them head-on where the Russians are strong. Disproportionate Russian losses aren't so much the result of direct battle casualties as what happens when they get cut off: Viazma means 500K prisoners, for example.

Stalingrad, up to November, is not that kind of battle. It's a vicious urban battle, where the Panzers' mobility is wasted and the infantry is put through a meatgrinder. The Volga, which is nearly 1km wide at this point, keeps the Germans from encircling the city and allows the Russians to drip-feed troops into it at their initiative. Russian courage and unwillingness to retreat, which have so far been a liability in terms of avoiding annihilation by being surrounded, become a strength, precisely due to the geography.

Even now, modern armor-heavy armies tend to shun urban combat whenever possible. The Russians are trading casualties at a lot less disfavorable rate than have been anywhere so far. They have the men to lose, Germany doesn't, so you can think of it as a proto-Kursk in a way: anything not obviously a German tactical victory is in a fact a German strategic defeat.

Second, I am not sure what the rest of Russian front is up during that period. I know the Germans mess around in the Caucasus and they are still besieging Leningrad. But, from August to October, much of the allocatable German effort is at Stalingrad. Certainly, that's where the Luftwaffe is concentrated. So that means that 40% of the 5 month fighting season, May to October, is spent by the Germans at Stalingrad rather than doing much else.

Had the 62nd retreated to the East bank (and it does seem less built-up, btw*) then the German army could have disengaged, avoided their massive losses through November and been used elsewhere. Even without Uranus, Stalingrad up to November is still not a very clever move by the Germans and a very worthwhile effort by the Russians.

* Google Maps


The western bank of the Volga in Stalingrad distracted attention and dispersed the strength of the Wehrmacht. In the same way, strikes from the north of Stalingrad distracted the attention of the divisions. Wehrmacht was forced to destroy the bridgehead and defend Stalingrad from the north and south. As a result, all the shock divisions concentrated in one place. Checkmate.

p.s. "shock divisions" - 4TA.

  • 2
    This could do with some expansion for clarity. For example, whose "shock divisions" is the last line referring to?
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 12:56

Was it necessary? No. Many Russians viewed it as symbolically important, since the Volga is considered the boundary of Europe and Asia.

I keep hearing people say that if the Germans had not made certain mistakes they would have 'won' WW II. However, the mistake was starting war in the first place. Within Europe, they were already suffering resistance from Britain, Poland, the Balkans, some parts of Greece, and the communist underground in France. In short, they were creating committed resistance movements as fast as they 'conquered', therefore a limited number of Germans were trying to run vast swaths of territory inhabited by hostile locals. The involvement of the US finished them off quickly, but it would have happened soon enough in any case.

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    Sorry, downvote. While containing nothing but true statements true, this answer is simply irrelevant to the question. Commented Jun 29, 2013 at 17:00
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    The communist "underground" in France started with the invasion of USSR. Before, they were collaborating with the occupying forces.
    – MakorDal
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 6:34
  • @MakorDal - as if the Nazis would accept collaboration from communists... Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 0:33
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    @LuísHenrique You mean,... Like the early Poland campaign?
    – MakorDal
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 3:33
  • To be honest, when the communists started resisting, they were the first organised structure. And, in 42, they were active. It's just that they weren't the firsts.
    – MakorDal
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 3:45

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