Soviet Union Launches Operation Little Saturn
The first stage — an attempt to cut off the German Army Group A in the Caucasus — had to be rapidly revised when General Erich von Manstein launched Operation Winter Storm on 12 December in an attempt to relieve the trapped armies at Stalingrad.
While General Rodion Malinovsky's Soviet 2nd Guards Army blocked the German advance on Stalingrad, the modified plan Operation Little Saturn was launched on 16 December.
This operation consisted of a pincer movement which threatened to cut off the relieving forces. General Fyodor Isidorovich Kuznetsov's 1st Guards Army and General Dmitri Danilovich Lelyushenko's 3rd Guards Army attacked from the north, encircling 130,000 soldiers of the Italian 8th Army on the Don and advancing to Millerovo. (Manstein sent the 6th Panzer Division to the Italians' aid — of the 130,000 encircled troops, 45,000 survived to join the Panzers at Chertkovo on 17 January). To the south the advance of General Gerasimenko's 28th Army threatened to encircle the 1st Panzer Army and General Trufanov's 51st Army attacked the relief column directly. In a daring raid, by 24 December tanks of the 24th Tank Corps had reached Tatskinskaya, the air base closest to Stalingrad from which the Luftwaffe had been supplying the besieged troops. The Soviet tanks drove through snowstorms onto the airfield and roamed about for hours, destroying the German transport planes at their leisure. (see main article Tatsinskaya Raid)
With the relief column under threat of encirclement, Manstein had no choice but to retreat back to Kotelnikovo on 29 December, leaving the encircled Germans at Stalingrad to their fate. Of the 300,000 soldiers encircled 90,000 survived to be taken prisoner. Only 5,000 lived to return to Germany. The limited scope of the Soviet offensive also gave General Ewald von Kleist time to withdraw his Army Group A in the direction of the Kuban, with the exception of 1st Panzer Army which joined Army Group Don via Rostov.
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.