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Thread: Friedrich Paulus - Hero or Traitor?

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    Friedrich Paulus - Hero or Traitor?

    General Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus (23 September 1890 - 1 February 1957) was the commander of the German forces at Stalingrad and on 30 January 1943 Hitler promoted him to Field Marshall. Up to that point no German Field Marshall had ever surrendered but the very next day, 31 January 1943, Paulus did just that.

    Paulus then became a very vocal critic of the Nazi regime and joined the Russian-sponsored National Committee for a Free Germany and subsequently was a witness at the Nurnberg trials. He was released in 1953.

    Of the 91,000 German prisoners taken at Stalingrad, only 6,000 lived to return to Germany.

    Did Paulus achieve anything positive for the German people and should he be regarded as a hero or a traitor?

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    If Paulus had disobeyed Hitler earlier and either broken out of Stalingrad or surrendered earlier he could have saved more lives. But at any rate Paulus was not responsible for the prisoners dying-the Soviets were.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fredericus Rex View Post
    If Paulus had disobeyed Hitler earlier and either broken out of Stalingrad or surrendered earlier he could have saved more lives. But at any rate Paulus was not responsible for the prisoners dying-the Soviets were.
    I am not a military expert but I think that if Paulus had broken out when he still had some chance of getting through, then at least some of those 85,000 prisoners who perished would have survived to fight another day, and so in that sense I believe that Paulus was at least partly responsible for their deaths.

    But what about his actions during his captivity?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Petervalhalla View Post
    I am not a military expert but I think that if Paulus had broken out when he still had some chance of getting through, then at least some of those 85,000 prisoners who perished would have survived to fight another day, and so in that sense I believe that Paulus was at least partly responsible for their deaths.
    Well Hitler didn't approve it, although of course it could be argued Paulus lacked the moral courage to defy Hitler until it was too late.

    But what about his actions during his captivity?
    Those are more questionable...to say the least.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fredericus Rex View Post
    Well Hitler didn't approve it, although of course it could be argued Paulus lacked the moral courage to defy Hitler until it was too late.



    Those are more questionable...to say the least.
    Indeed. Hitler didn't approve of Paulus surrendering either, so if Paulus was capable of defying Hitler, why did he not do it earlier?

    This is the point. What were Paulus's morals? It seems to me that Paulus, like the officers involved in the 20 July 1944 bomb plot, was quite happy to support Hitler as long as things were going well but not when things turned bad.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Petervalhalla View Post
    I am not a military expert but I think that if Paulus had broken out when he still had some chance of getting through, then at least some of those 85,000 prisoners who perished would have survived to fight another day, and so in that sense I believe that Paulus was at least partly responsible for their deaths.

    But what about his actions during his captivity?
    An outbreak was not possible.

    The 6th Army was an Infantry Army with only 1 Panzer Regiment. Also there were 10.000s of wounded in the basements of the ruins of Stalingrad. Only a relieve operation with at least 5 full strength Panzer/ Panzergrenadier Divisons plus Hausser's SS-Panzercorps (already on the rail, it helped a few weeks later to avert an even greater disaster/ see Third Battle of Kharkov) operating from the River Chir emergency defense line of Fretter-Pico (Army Corps detachment out of remnants of previously destroyed units) from the West could save the 6th Army.

    The terrain around Stalingrad is steppe, thus infantry is lost when it meets armor/mechanized. Stalingrad (the city) itself requires infantry/artillery, Stosstruppen and engineer units. But relief or outbreak can only be archived by armor.


    The only relief action that was undertaken out of desperation came from the wrong direction- South East. See Operation Wintergewitter. Hoth's 4th PzArmy was heading from Elista to the North and made it as close as 50 km to the Stalingrad pocket . But then again, his divisons were exhausted and only 50% of nominal strength from the summer and autumn campaigns into the Caucasus. Worse, as the the Soviets were already pushing toward Rostov he himself was threatened to be cut off. You can see that not only his desperate relief attempt failed, but a few days later he had to exercise a fighthing-withdrawal 300 km in south-western direction toward the Rostov needle-ear ---to escape his own encirclement.

    If Paulus with his half dead (starvation) infantry men and 50.000 wounded had attempted to break out into his direction (almost zero chance to break through the iron Soviet grip around the 6th Army) , then he still wouldn't have been in safety, but would have been annihilated in open terrain.

    Too little, too late and from the wrong direction.



    Paulus did do the only service he was able to do: To hold out as long as possible in Stalingrad to bog down the 5 Soviet Armies around him, to avert an even bigger disaster : The entrapment of Army Group A in the Caucasus.

    The 4 weeks in January 1943 he continued to hold the ruins of Stalingrad (despite getting zero supply, the air-supply stopped when in the last December week the departure air fields at the Chir River were overrun) were sufficient to evacuate the 4th Panzerarmee (his supposed 'savior'), 2nd Panzerarmee and 17th Army plus 3 Romanian Army Corps out of the Caucasus trap. Essential was that Hoth's 4th Panzer. was able to hold the Don bridges near Rostov.

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    Thank you MCPThree. Your clear and straightforward explanation is very much appreciated.

    As I have already said, I am no military expert. But was there a "point of no return" up to which Paulus could, possibly, have broken out, or was the situation already completely hopeless before he could even consider defying Hitler.

    Do you think that Paulus ever really believed that he could succeed at Stalingrad? And how do you view his behaviour as a Russian prisoner?

    The point of my post was not so much to discuss Paulus's military decisions but his moral decisions. What I am really asking is whether his anti-Nazi sentiments were genuine or was he just looking after his own interests.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Petervalhalla
    Did Paulus achieve anything positive for the German people and should he be regarded as a hero or a traitor?
    Certainly not a traitor because of anything that happened prior to his captivity and he never ordered the surrender of the 6th army - although you could argue that was an act of cowardice.

    One should blame Halder ("Stalingrad will fall within a week!"), Hitler ("Paulus can take the Stalingrad region and Astrakhan by himself!"), von Manstein ("Stalingrad can be held!") and Göring ("I'll supply the beleaguered troops from the air!") more for the defeat at Stalingrad than Paulus.

    Paulus was Germany's most brilliant staff officer. He war gamed Operation Barbarossa prior to the invasion and discovered the Germans would run into trouble deep inside Russia. And this was without war gaming the logistics behind the enterprise. Paulus was not a great or inspiring field commander but still an able one - the reason why Stalingrad became the quagmire it was, was because of the constant need to guard the Northern flank of the Fall Blau project - this meant pretty much all armies of Army Group B were spread out along the Don and occupied with guarding the Don front and its extension, the land bridge between the Don and the Wolga, and when Paulus attacked the city he had only two understrength corps left for this mission. Even most of the Sixth Army was busy absorbing Soviet blows to the north of the city. The force tasked with taking Stalingrad was too weak to take the city, yet at first it did seem like it would. There was a chance of pulling it off, but it wasn't big, looking upon it now. You could blame Paulus for a few decisions during the campaign on road to the city and the assault on Stalingrad, you could in fact say he should've never entered the city - as it was not a main objective - and he had the mandate to make the decision to stay out of Stalingrad if it seemed too well defended. It was a tempting target, and we can judge him for it, but Paulus didn't do anything most German commanders wouldn't have done in this situation. And he worked with the intel he had. It was certainly not unreasonable to try it, at the time, even with limited forces. More assault forces at Stalingrad would've also meant less supplies for all of them anyhow.

    As I have already said, I am no military expert. But was there a "point of no return" up to which Paulus could, possibly, have broken out, or was the situation already completely hopeless before he could even consider defying Hitler.
    Yes, there was a point of no return. Paulus should've reacted more pro-actively to the Soviet breakthrough on his flanks - that is, he should've kept his road of escape open - or at least tried to do so. He should've gone all in on protecting Kalach, a major Don crossing point in his rear. What little mobile troops he had should've been rushed to that area. Kalach was the ultimate Soviet objective during Operation Uranus, it's where the two pincers of the Soviet offensives would eventually meet up. After missing that bus the situation was rather hopeless, as MCP3 wonderfully explained. Yet even with Kalach in German hands the retreat from Stalingrad would've been a hazardous undertaking - and the wounded would've been left behind and most heavy material would've been ditched along the way, as there are no horses in the 6th army anymore; they're already in their winter camps, resting for the springtime. The only alternative for the eventual destruction of the 6th army was to give up the salient in front of Moscow, no doubt a complicated manoeuver too, and then transfer mobile forces from the center of the front to Stalingrad, for a relief effort. I'm pretty sure that's what German commanders of back then would do today, with the benefit of hindsight, if they were still alive and could do it all over.

    Do you think that Paulus ever really believed that he could succeed at Stalingrad?
    Sure, he believed he could take the city and hold it after he was encircled: he and the O.K.W. thought the Sixth Army could hold Stalingrad until the springtime, at first - after all, situations like the one the Sixth Army found itself in had occured before in the winter of 1941-1942, and then the Germans held out until liberated. Plus, there was the promise of Göring: his Luftwaffe would keep the 6th army going. And Paulus didn't have a choice, as MCP3 said. Breaking out would've unhinged the entire position of Army Group South and Germany would've had to give up all gains of Fall Blau and retreat, this while relieving the pressure on the Soviet economy by losing a river traffic blocking position on the Wolga.

    The point of my post was not so much to discuss Paulus's military decisions but his moral decisions.
    The two can not be seen as entirely separate, because the moral decisions only came about because of military failure. And Paulus was disillusioned, as so many prisoners are, understandably. And he realized how bad Germany's position was now the Soviet Union could no longer be defeated. It's a sad situation altogether.

    Quote Originally Posted by MCP3
    The terrain around Stalingrad is steppe, thus infantry is lost when it meets armor/mechanized. Stalingrad (the city) itself requires infantry/artillery, Stosstruppen and engineer units. But relief or outbreak can only be archived by armor.
    I agreed with your entire post (the best post on Stalingrad on this forum I've seen so far) except for this part: armor was required, of course, but infantry loses when it meets armor in the steppe? In a video game, that's probably true: tanks meet infantry in an open field, boom, tanks roll over infantry. There's far more to it on a real battlefield, and there's a whole lot of Steppe for the Soviets to guard. Anti-tank screens, operational surprise and luftwaffe protection can go a long way too, for instance. If the Germans inside Stalingrad had tried to escape the moment von Manstein's relief effort went tits up, perhaps a few 10.000 soldiers would've still made it to the German lines - there's no way of knowing for sure however.
    “War is waged by men; not by beasts, or by gods. It is a peculiarly human activity. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss at least half its significance; it is also the punishment of a crime.” - Frederic Manning, The Middle Parts of Fortune

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    Quote Originally Posted by Petervalhalla View Post
    Indeed. Hitler didn't approve of Paulus surrendering either, so if Paulus was capable of defying Hitler, why did he not do it earlier?

    This is the point. What were Paulus's morals? It seems to me that Paulus, like the officers involved in the 20 July 1944 bomb plot, was quite happy to support Hitler as long as things were going well but not when things turned bad.
    Consider the pressure on him that builds up.
    The surrender is one thing, his switching of sites in captivity another. Again, one doesn't know the pressure on him during captivity neither. I can only imagine.
    He settled in Dresden, central Germany, which was the Soviet Zone of Occupation. He himself was from Hessen, which was in the West. I get the impression they have turned him during captivity, but one would have to investigate this further, if that is possible. Russian Archives would be the place to go, but then there is the issue of accessibility and reliability.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Theunissen View Post
    I get the impression they have turned him during captivity, but one would have to investigate this further, if that is possible.
    It's possible thanks to "Stalingrad Battle Data", a YT chan, to which real historians contribute. Here are 2 great videos on this subject matter, but there are several others on the channel. You'll become completely up to speed after watching this:





    The second video is terribly depressing.

    The Soviets seem to have killed Paulus with kindness and persuasion. Paulus must have been quite mistaken regarding his own future role in post-war Germany too. He could've as well just shot himself while still encircled at Stalingrad, he only tarnished his memory. His life was over in February 1943. Even liberal Germany can't remember him as a hero because of warming up to stalinism. He felt he was mistaken in supporting Hitler and NS in 1944, but somehow it didn't register that he could be making another, even bigger (and more personal) mistake by changing sides in captivity and becoming a fellow traveler.

    I detect opportunism mixed with disillusionment - perhaps also a limited political consciousness, typical for professional soldiers - and a whole lot of mental and spiritual weakness: because going from anti-communism to sympathetic to communism after a year in captivity; il faut le faire.

    The vast majority of other officers, all the more so the junior ones (as well as several other high ranking generals), were quite upset with Paulus' treason. Paulus considered them all idiots.
    “War is waged by men; not by beasts, or by gods. It is a peculiarly human activity. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss at least half its significance; it is also the punishment of a crime.” - Frederic Manning, The Middle Parts of Fortune

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