The most famous battle of World War II began a few days over three quarters of a century ago. More than four million combatants fought in the gargantuan struggle at Stalingrad between the Nazi and Soviet armies. Almost half – over 1.8 million people – became casualties. More Soviet soldiers died in this five-month contest than Americans died in the entire war. But months later, on February 2, 1943, when the Germans trapped in the city surrendered, it was clear that the momentum on the Eastern Front had shifted. The Nazis would never fully recover.
Fourteen months before Stalingrad began, Hitler had launched Operation Barbarossa, the largest military offensive in human history. After two years of decisive victories over France, Poland and others, Hitler and the German High Command were confident that the Soviet Union would fall within six weeks. At first, their prediction seemed correct: The attack in June 1941 caught Stalin unawares and the Red Army unprepared. By December, the Red Army had suffered nearly five million casualties.