The Soviet encirclement of Paulus’ German Sixth Army Stalingrad doomed the German troops in the city and its outskirts. However, Hitler ordered the city held and the Luftwaffe supply it by air, as had happened for similar, albeit smaller pockets the year before. Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein’s Army Group Don was tasked to break through to Stalingrad.
Manstein knew that his men could not reach Stalingrad. Hitler’s refused to release most of his armored reserve, and much of what was released was sent to Tunisia. Although theoretically Manstein had the entirety of Army Group Don for the attack, only one Panzer corps was readily available to participate. The only hope of saving the Sixth Army was for Paulus to attempt a breakout at the same time. Paulus however would not do so without Hitler’s permission. At best, all Manstein knew he could do was get close enough, and then appeal to Hitler to give Paulus permission.
Army Group Don launched Operation Winter Storm/Tempest/Thunderstorm (whatever the hell historians want to call it these days) on 12 December 1942. The attack made excellent initial gains but the Soviets were massing troops for Operation Saturn, the encirclement of Army Groups B and Don, and shifted forces to the Stalingrad perimeter opposite Manstein. The Soviets then launched Operation Little Saturn to just cut off Manstein. With much shifting of troops Manstein stabilized the front but could not get any closer to Stalingrad.
Manstein was just 30 miles from Paulus, but might as well have been 300. The Sixth Army only had enough fuel to advance 20 miles, and its infantry was starving and frozen. The Luftwaffe’s ability to deliver more fuel and food took a body blow when Soviet troops in the Little Saturn offensive overran the two primary airfields from which the transports flew to Stalingrad. Moreover, an actual winter storm hit the area and the blizzards grounded all aircraft. Even if Paulus was allowed to break out, by the third week of December, it was no longer possible.
Manstein ceased offensive operations on 23 December 1942, sealing the Sixth Army’s fate in Stalingrad.