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Liveblogging World War II: September 26, 1942

From Glantz and House, Armageddon in Stalingrad:

Ever candid, Chuikov was still pleased by his army's performance:

In this fighting, which frequently turned into hand-to-hand skirmishes, the enemy's forward advance from the vicinity of the central landing-stage was halted. But we failed to wipe out the enemy forces which had broken through to the VOlga and did not link up with the infantry brigades at the other side of the Tsaritsa River.

At the cost of enormous losses, the enemy won only a partial success. Paulus's plan--to reach the Volga and then strike at the flank and rear of the Army by an attack along the Volga--was frustrated. this plan collapsed when his forces came up against the tenacious actions of Rodimtsev's, Batiuk's, and Gorishnyi's divisions, Batrakov's brigade, and other units.

For the 62nd Army, the crisis was over; it had shown no fear and had not faltered when the enemy made his first breakthrough to the Volga. We still held Mamaev Kurgan. Not one of our units had been completely wiped out. Counterattacks by Batiuk's Siberian division had halted the enemy's advance in the city. The Germans were wallowing in their own blood; the streets were littered with dozens of burnt-out German tanks and thousands of German dead.

Even though Chuikov's counterattacking forces failed to fulfill Zhukov's and Eremenko's high hopes, 95th and 284th Rifle Divisions' furious counterattacks and subsequent stout defense of Mamaev Kurgan and the Dolgii and Krutoi Ravines, coupled with Rodimtsev's resolute defense in the city's center, had indeed halted LI Corps' attempt to roll up Chuikov's left flank with its 295th and 71st Infantry Divisions and penetrate into Stalingrad's factory district from the south. However, except for the region around Mamaev Kurgan and the two ravines to the south, Sovitt resistance had virtually collapsed in the southern two-thirds of the city....

But Paulus's victory in the central and southern parts of the city had been costly, and despite the fact that the heavy black lines on his operational maps showed his forces enticingly near the western bank of the Volga in this region, Paulus's position was far weaker than the map symbols indicated. All of the divisions in his shock groups... were slowly bleeding to death.... By this time, the divisions themselves had only one-third to one-half of their authorized assault guns.... [M]ost of the German infantry and panzer-grenadier regiments fielded around 1000 combat-effective soldiers.... As for the shock group's armor strength, 24th Panzer Division, although supposedly resting and refitting, still had half of its forces in the front lines, with about 30 operational tanks.... 24th Panzer Division's state typified the condition of Sixth Army's forces as a whole:

The Division had completely fulfilled the set mission of holding the defensive positions. Every enemy attack was repulsed. This was difficult, as the position in no way aided the defence but resulted in the attacks coming to a standstill. Every step backwards, however, would mean a deterioration in the starting positions for the forthcoming assault. The defence prevailed with the available small combat forces The troops from the preceding fighting in the central and southern parts of Stalingrad were heavily fatigued and, instead of receiving the promised rest, were again immediately committed in the northern part of Stalingrad.

Even General Richtofen... who was so often critical of the lack of aggressiveness in Paulus and his troops, recognized the problem in his diary....

Sixth Army attack is suffering from constipation, primarily because such a large portion of its forces is pinned down by constant enemy pressure from the north and because reinforcements--infantry divisions--are coming up to slowly. It's just a filthy slogging match from ruin to ruin and cellar to cellar!... "What we lack", I said, "is some clear thinking and a well-defined primary objective. It's quite useless to much about here, there, and everywhere as we are doing--and doubly futile, with the inadequate force at our disposal. One thing at a time.... But we must first finish off what we have started, of course, especially at Stalingrad and Tuapse."

In fact, the strength of Paulus's shock groups assaulting the city dwindled from... 80,000 men and 100 tanks and assault guns on 13 September to... no more than 65,000 men and fewer than 25 tanks on 26 September. Probably fewer than 40,000 of these soldiers were actually combat-effective infantrymen or panzer-grenadiers.... Southeastern Front indicated that 62nd and 64th armies' ferocious defense from 13 to 26 September killed at least 6000 German soldiers and destroyed more than 170 tanks (assault guns), 19 artillery pieces and mortars, and 200 aircraft....

During the same period, although Chuikov's army suffered even greater losses, including at least 69 of its original 100 tanks.... It received as many as 40000 troop reinforcements.... Therefore... Chuikov was able to maintain the strength to his defending forces at about 51000.... Although its reinforcing formations and individual replacements suffered heavily from inexperience in urban warfare, gradually, 62nd Army devised a system.... When Chuikov found a unit commander and staff who worked well, he retained that headquarters with him and siply subordinated all troops in an area to it....

From Paulus's vantage point, Chuikov's proven capability for maintaining his army' strength meant that if Sixth Army was to seize Stalingrad's factory district Paulus had no choice but to reorganize and reinforce his shock group... to take the district by deliberately (and likely costly) storm.... Zhukov's and Eremenko's continued offensives in the Kotluban' region... continued to prevent Sixth Army from bringing any significant forces from Hube's XIV Panzer Corps to bear on the northern flank of Chuikov's defenses... diverted 113th Infantry Division from its intended target--Stalingrad city....

Paulus was also under immense pressure from Hitler for results, especially in light of Army Group A's slow advance in the Caucasus regio. Sixth Army's commander was acutely aware of the attrition suffered by his infantry units, but during a brief period in late September he became optimistic... announcing on the afternoon of 26th September that the center of the city was secured and that "since noon the German war flag has been flying over the party buildings".... Recognizing the costs... and the arduous task that lay ahead, Paulus was already formulating a plan for what he believed would be the culminating assaults... to end the battle for Stalingrad.