FIELD MARSHAL PAULUS: COMMANDER SIXTH ARMY

ADN-ZB/Archiv General der Panzertruppen Friedrich Paulus, Oberbefehlshaber der faschistischen deutschen 6. Armee, die Ende Januar 1943 bei Stalingrad vernichtet wurde. Aufgenommen im Juni 1942 in Charkow

Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Paulus (shown in General’s uniform)

The newly appointed commander of the German Sixth Army, General Friedrich Paulus was a competent staff officer, but not an inspiring leader of men. He was completely loyal to Adolf Hitler, whose teachings and political success he admired. Hitler after initially nurturing his career was to eventually dismiss him as too intellectual with insufficient character.

Paulus was 52 years old at the battle of Stalingrad. Born into a middle class family he married into the Romanian aristocracy. He was a staff officer at heart and served as such during the First World War. Assessment reports during his early Reichswehr career in the 1920s speak of a highly competent desk officer who `lacked decisiveness’ during practical troop manoeuvres. An enigmatic figure, he projected an elegant and cool staff façade with an impressive eye for meticulous staff detail. His students at Infanterieschule V during an infantry school teaching appointment nick-named him `the ditherer.’

By September 1939 he was the Tenth Army Chief of Staff (COS) during the Polish campaign and later COS to General von Reichenau during the French Blitzkrieg in 1940. He was the perfect intellectual foil to the brash, energetic and decisive Reichenau. Paulus came to Hitler’s attention during the planning for Operation Barbarossa in 1941, when he was Halder’s Deputy Chief of Staff. He was renowned for his ability to minutely study every situation before issuing orders down to the smallest detail. He was essentially rewarded for his staff expertise when he was appointed Commander Sixth Army in January 1942, taking over from his feisty former superior von Reichenau.

Without realising it, Paulus had been promoted way beyond his practical experience and capabilities. As one of the youngest of the army commanders he had never commanded a division or corps, or any combat unit in action. Yet he effectively mastered his first crisis, defeating Marshal Timoshenko’s unexpected Kharkov spring offensive just prior to the launch of Operation Blau. A good start, for which he was rewarded with the Knight’s Cross. His subsequent advance to Stalingrad was dogged by fuel shortages because of Hitler’s unexpected change of plan. By late September he was engaged in a battle of attrition for the city that bore Stalin’s name, and had Hitler’s undivided attention.

With limited practical experience Paulus had few creative solutions for the impasse, other than applying even more force with every set back. His logic was to frontally attack the long thin city and carve it up into digestible enclaves. The plan was frustrated at every turn by stubbornly held strong-points, which fought on despite being surrounded, and by Chuikov’s creative and aggressive low-level tactics.

Paulus exercised command from well back, in a village 30 miles to the west of Stalingrad. The fastidious general detested dirt and washed and changed his clothes daily, while his louse-ridden infantry fought a Rattenkrieg (rat war), for possession of every ruin, sewer and hole alongside the Volga. Constant progress reports demanded by the Führer alongside incomprehensibly bitter Soviet resistance produced a nervous tic-reaction in Paulus’s cheek. This is visible in the later newsreels that covered the unfolding drama.

When the command crisis erupted with a threat of Soviet encirclement after the counter-offensive on November 19th, Paulus prevaricated. By the 21st November he decided to stand after initially opting to break out. By the time Hitler ordered him to hold in place the next day his initial freedom of action had been lost dithering. By the 23rd November he was surrounded and any chance of creatively misunderstanding Hitler’s intentions and breaking out regardless was lost. Hitler promised a rescue and that meanwhile he would be supplied by a Luftwaffe air-bridge. Paulus, overwhelmed by events believed him. It was not in his character to do otherwise.

Field Marshal von Manstein’s rescue attempt with two understrength corps to get him out between 12th and 19th December opened up a second window of opportunity. On this occasion the clearly reluctant and nervous Paulus deferred offensive action to link up, claiming he had insufficient fuel to bridge the 30 mile gap and that he was bound by inflexible orders from Hitler not to leave the Volga. With nothing ventured, little could be gained. There is controversy about how much lassitude he had to act. This became irrelevant in any case once further Soviet offensive activity imperilled the very existence of Army Group A. Paulus obeyed Hitler’s order not to capitulate to a Soviet surrender offer on 8th January. The Stalingrad pocket was pinning down 90 major Soviet units, which would otherwise wreak havoc with the Army Group South withdrawal. Sixth Army was left to its fate.

Hitler promoted Paulus to Field Marshal on 30th January. He surrendered his staff the same day at the Univermag departmental store in the centre of Stalingrad. Resistance ceased two days later.

Paulus, a Roman Catholic, was opposed to suicide. During his captivity, according to General Max Pfeffer, Paulus said of Hitler’s expectation: “I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal.” Another general told the NKVD (the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union) that Paulus had told him about his promotion to field marshal and said: “It looks like an invitation to commit suicide, but I will not do this favour for him.” Paulus also forbade his soldiers from standing on top of their trenches in order to be shot by the enemy.

PaulusSchmidtCaptured

Paulus (left), and his aides Col. Wilhelm Adam (right) and Lt.-Gen. Arthur Schmidt (middle), after their surrender in Stalingrad.

Paulus did not initially cooperate with the Soviets until he heard about the execution of his friends, Generals Erich Hoepner and Erwin von Witzleben, after the abortive assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944. He joined the League of German Officers in Captivity, participating in radio surrender appeals, for which Hitler imprisoned his family. Paulus appeared for the prosecution during the Nuremberg War Trials in 1946, but was not released until 1953.

From 1953 to 1956, he lived in Dresden, East Germany, where he worked as the civilian chief of the East German Military History Research Institute and not, as often wrongly described, as an inspector of police. In late 1956, he developed Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and became progressively weaker. He died within a few months, in Dresden, on 1 February 1957, 14 years after the surrender at Stalingrad. As part of his last will and testament, his body was transported to Baden, West Germany to be buried next to his wife, who had died eight years earlier in 1949, not having seen her husband since his departure for the Eastern front in the summer of 1942.

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