Κυριακή, 3 Οκτωβρίου 2010

WALTER GOERLITZ: PAULUS AND STALINGRAD

Stalingrad, a brief survey in retrospect by Field-Marshal Paulus
The whole of the Stalingrad complex consists of three phases:
(1) The Drive to the Volga.
Within the framework of the war as a whole, the 1942 summer offensive represented an attempt to achieve by further offensive action what we had failed to achieve in the late autumn of 1941 -namely, to bring the eastern compaign to a swift and victorious conclusion - which, after all, was one of the primary objects of the sudden onslaught on Russia - in the expectation that this would lead to our winning the whole war.
In the minds of the military commanders, it was this purely military aspect that was predominant. This basic attitude regarding Germany's last chance of winning the war dominated all our military thinking during the two phases ahead.
(2) With the launching of the Russian November offensive and the encirclement of the Sixth Army and part of the Fourth Panzer Army - some 220,000 men in all - the emphasis shifted from 'the victorious conclusion of the Russian campaign' to the question:
how can we avoid being completely defeated in the east and thus losing the whole war?
It was this latter that was uppermost in the minds of both the commanders and the rank and file of Sixth Army, while higher authority - Army Group, Army and Supreme Headquarters -still believed, or at least pretended to believe, that we still had a chance of ultimate victory.

As a result, there arose a sharp divergence of opinion regarding plans for the further conduct of operations and the methods to be employed to implement them. Since higher authority, adhering still to the more optimistic appreciation mentioned above and promising immediate support, had forbidden Sixth Army to try to to try to fight its way out during the first phase of the battle of encirclement (when it could quite easily have done so), the Army subsequently (284)had no alternative but to stand and fight. Any other, independent action on its part might well have led to complete disorganization and the subsequent dissolution of the whole of the southern sector of the eastern theatre of war. Had that happened, not only would all hope of ultimate victory have been irremediably destroyed but very swiftly all possibility of avoiding decisive defeat and the consequent collapse of the whole eastern front would have dis-appeared.
(3) In the third phase, after the attempt to relieve Sixth Army had foundered and the promised help had failed to materialize, our sole objective was to gain time and thus to make possible the creation of a new front in the southern sector and the rescue of the very strong German forces operating in the Caucasus.
If we did not succeed in this, then the magnitude of our defeat in the eastern theatre would alone have sufficed to ensure our losing the whole war.
By this time, the higher authorities themselves had also adopted the line that we must 'hold out at all costs', if the worst were to be avoided. The question of the resistance to be offered by the Sixth Army culminated therefore in the following problem: As I myself saw the situation and, even more, as the situation was depicted to me by those above, total defeat could be avoided only if Sixth Army fought on to the very last. All the more recent wireless signals were couched in the same sense - 'every additional hour counts' and (repeatedly from the neighbours on our right) 'How much longer can Sixth Army hang on?'
From the time the cauldron was formed, and more particularly after the failure of Fourth Panzer Army's attempt to relieve us at the end of December, I, as the Army Commander, was confronted with violently conflicting considerations.
On the one hand were the stream of strict orders to hold fast, the repeated promises of help and admonitions of increasing urgency that I must be guided by the situation as a whole. On the other hand there was the purely human aspect of the increasing and incredible hardships and suffering which my troops were being called upon to endure and which inevitably caused me to ask myself whether the time had not come for me to give up the struggle.
But, deeply though I sympathized with the troops committed to (285)my care, I still believed that the views of higher authority must take precedence; that Sixth Army must accept its agony, must make all the sacrifices demanded of it, if by so doing, we would ensure -as they themselves were convinced we should - that the even greater number of their comrades in neighbouring armies would be rescued and saved.
I believed that by prolonging to its utmost our resistance in Stalingrad I was serving the best interests of the German people, for, if the eastern theatre of war collapsed, I saw no possible prospect of a peace by political negotiation.
To have stepped on my own responsibility out of the general framework, to have acted deliberately against the orders given to me would have entailed the acceptance of a sequence of responsi¬bilities: at the outset, by breaking out, I should have been responsible for the fate of my neighbours; later, by prematurely giving up the fight, for that of the southern sector and with it the whole of the eastern front; and that would have meant - or so it least it seemed -that I should have been responsible to the German people for the loss of the whole war. In that case they would not have hesitated to place on me the whole blame for everything that had happened in the eastern theatre.
And (with the future outcome still hidden from us) what con¬vincing and valid arguments could the Commander of the Sixth Army have produced in support of his disobedience of orders in the presence of the enemy?
Does the fact that his troops are in a position that is hopeless, or threatens to become so, give a Commander the right to refuse to obey orders? In the case of Stalingrad, it could by no means be asserted with certainty that our position was hopeless or even -except at the very end - that it threatened to become so. How, then, could I later have demanded obedience, or even felt justified in doing so, from one of my subordinates in a situation of, in his opinion, similar danger?
Does the prospect of his own death or the probable destruction or capture of his troops release the Commander from his soldierly duty to obey orders?
That is a question which each individual must today leave to his own conscience to answer.(286)
At the time of which I am writing, neither the nation nor the Armed Forces would have understood my acting in this manner. It would have been an unequivocal, revolutionary, political act against Hitler. Furthermore, it is at least possible that, by abandoning Stalingrad contrary to orders, I should have been playing into Hitler's hands and given him the opportunity of castigating the cowardice and disobedience of his Generals and putting upon them the whole blame for the military defeat that was looming larger and larger.
I should, too, have prepared the ground for a new myth, that of the Stalingrad stab in the back, to the great detriment of the German people's ability to form an accurate picture of the history of this war and to draw the conclusions that it is so important that they should draw.
The possibility of initiating a coup d'etat, of deliberately inviting defeat, in order to bring about the downfall of Hitler and his National-Socialist regime as obstructions to the ending of the war never entered into my deliberations, nor, so far as I am aware, was any such idea ever mooted by anyone anywhere within the limits of my command.
Such ideas not only played no part in my deliberations, but would also have been wholly out of keeping with my character and out¬look. I was a soldier, and I believed that it was by obeying orders that I could best serve my people.
As regards the responsibility of my subordinate commanders, they, tactically speaking, were under the same compulsion to obey my orders as I myself was, in the broader sphere, to carry out the strategic conceptions imposed upon me.
The responsibility - vis à vis the officers and men of the Sixth Army and the German people - for having obeyed orders and resisted till we could do no more and collapsed is mine and mine alone.

Friedrich Paulus, Field-Marshal.

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