Operation Winter Storm

Operation Winter Storm (German: Unternehmen Wintergewitter) was a German offensive in World War II undertaken between 12–23 December 1942, in which the German Fourth Panzer Army attempted to relieve encircled Axis forces during the Battle of Stalingrad. In late November 1942, the Red Army completed Operation Uranus, encircling Axis personnel in and around the city of Stalingrad. German forces within the Stalingrad pocket and directly outside were reorganized under Army Group Don, under the command of Field Marshal Erich von Manstein. As the Red Army continued to build strength, in an effort to allocate as many resources as possible to the eventual launch of the planned Operation Saturn, which aimed to isolate Army Group A from the rest of the German Army, the Luftwaffe had begun an attempt to supply German forces in Stalingrad through an air bridge. The Luftwaffe proved incapable of carrying out its mission and it became obvious that a successful breakout could only occur if it was launched as early as possible, Manstein decided on a relief effort.

Originally Manstein had been promised four panzer divisions. Due to German reluctance to weaken certain sectors to redeploy panzer divisions to Army Group Don and because several formations had been tied down by Soviet pressure, the task of opening a corridor to the German Sixth Army fell to the Fourth Panzer Army. The German force was pitted against several Soviet armies preoccupied with the destruction of the encircled German forces and the progress of their offensive around the lower Chir River.

The German offensive caught the Red Army by surprise and made large gains on the first day. The spearhead forces enjoyed air support and were able to defeat counter attacks by Soviet troops. By 13 December Soviet resistance to the German effort slowed the advance considerably. Although German forces took the area surrounding Verkhne-Kumskiy, the Red Army launched Operation Little Saturn on 16 December. Operation Little Saturn defeated the Italian Eighth Army on Army Group Don's left flank, threatening the survival of Manstein's entire group of forces. As resistance and casualties increased, Manstein appealed to Hitler and to the commander of the German Sixth Army, General Friedrich Paulus, to begin the Sixth Army's breakout; both refused. Fourth Panzer Army continued to attempt to open a corridor to the Sixth Army between 18–19 December but was unable to without the aid of forces inside the Stalingrad pocket. Manstein was forced to call off the assault on 23 December and by Christmas Eve the Fourth Panzer Army began to withdraw to its starting position. Due to the failure of the Sixth Army to breakout and the attempt to break the Soviet encirclement, the Red Army was able to continue the destruction of German forces in Stalingrad.

In mid-November 1942, the Soviet army launched a massive counteroffensive against the German Sixth Army, some 250,000 soldiers trying to conquer Stalingrad in bitter hand-to-hand fighting. The Soviet troops encircled and trapped the German forces. Following six more weeks of fierce combat in which both sides took heavy casualties, some 91,000 surviving German soldiers surrendered between January 31 and February 2, 1943.