German General Frederick Von Paulus’ Sixth Army was finally within striking distance of Stalingrad. Throughout late July and early August of 1942, General Wolfram Von Richthofen ‘s 4th Air Flotte, the most powerful air formation in the world at that time, was isolating Stalingrad as they approached. Richthofen’s bombers sank every ship and ferry on the Volga that connected the city to the outside world.
On 23 August 1942, those bombers turned Stalingrad into rubble in preparation for Sixth’s Army attack and created a firestorm that killed thousands of civilians and turned the rest homeless. Many civilians had evacuated Stalingrad in the previous weeks but on Stalin’s the order most were stopped and put to work strengthening the defenses of the city, or continued to work in the factories, in particular the Volograd Tractor Plant which was retooled to produce T-34 tanks.
Across the city, the commander of the Soviet 62nd Army, Lt Gen Vasily Chuikov, deployed support personnel and civilian militias as the first line of defense against the Germans in order to preserve his Soviet regulars. After the bombing, the German’s attacked and ran into fierce resistance, particularly from an anti aircraft regiment made up exclusively of women and girls, supported by brand new T34 tanks manned by workers from the tractor factory. Once the Germans broke through the first line of defense, Chuikov ordered his units to stay close enough to the Germans to hug them, thereby mitigating the Germans superior firepower. By the end of the day, the Soviet soldiers were contesting every street, alley, sewer, house and room of Stalingrad.
The Rattenkrieg, “Rat’s War”, had begun.