Military history

The Statistical Debate: Sixth Army Strength in the Kessel

The variety of figures cited for the strength of the encircled Sixth Army requires at least an attempt at clarification. Estimates of the strength of the Sixth Army within the Kessel on 19 November 1942 range widely, mainly it seems because there were so many Russians incorporated in the ranks of the Sixth Army that they had been included on the German ration strength and not cited separately. Some of the figures of Manfred Kehrig, the author of Stalingrad: Analyse und Dokumentation einer Schlacht, the magisterial volume published in 1974 under the auspices of the Militärgeschichtlichen Forschung-samt, have recently been challenged by Rüdiger Overmans. Overmans, working mainly from Wehrmacht retrospective estimates (basically an attempt later to calculate from personnel records who had been trapped inside the Kessel), puts the figure of surrounded Germans as low as 195,000, the Hiwis at 50,000 and the Romanians at 5,000, a total of approximately 250,000. Kehrig had estimated 232,000 Germans, 52,000 Hiwis and 10,000 Romanians, a total of approximately 294,000. Another more recent study estimates a total on 18 December of 268,900, of which 13,000 were Romanians and Italians, and 19,300 Hiwis.

This latest breakdown, allowing for the difference in dates and consequent casualty figures, tallies fairly closely with the total compiled on 6 December by the Sixth Army’s Oberquartiermeister. This ‘Sixth Army ration strength in the Kessel’ gave a total of 275,000 men, including 20,300 Hiwis and 11,000 Romanians. (Romanian army sources assert that they had 12,600 men in the Kessel. There were also several hundred Italians.) If one adds to these figures the 15,000 men lost ‘only inside the Kessel’ between 21 November and 6 December, that would mean that almost 290,000 men had been surrounded on 22 November.

All writers are agreed that around 25,000 wounded and specialists were flown out, but there is little certainty over the numbers killed or taken prisoner. The truth will never be known in the chaos after the Soviet offensive of 10 January 1943 to crush the Kessel. All that we can be fairly sure of is that just under 52,000 members of the Sixth Army had died between 22 November and 7 January, but it is not stated how many of these were Hiwis. The Soviet figure of prisoners taken between 19 November and 31 January – 111,465 as well as 8,928 in hospitals – does not specify how many were German nor, more important, how many belonged to the encircled troops, as opposed to those captured during Operations Winter Storm and Little Saturn.

The Soviet onslaught of Operation Ring on 10 January 1943, added to the effects of disease, cold, starvation, exhaustion and summary execution, suggests that losses soared – they may well have doubled to around 100,000, including Hiwis. Both Kehrig and Overmans estimate German losses from 22 November until the surrender at close to 60,000. They naturally make no attempt to estimate the number of Hiwis who died during the fighting. One can only assume that very few got away with their lives afterwards.

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