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All About Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus…

Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus…

Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus (23 September 1890 – 1 February 1957) was an officer in the German military from 1910 to 1945. He attained the rank of Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal) during World War II, and is best known for having commanded the Sixth Army’s assault on Stalingrad during Operation Blue in 1942. The battle ended in disaster for Nazi Germany when approximately 270,000 soldiers of the Wehrmacht, Axis allies, and Hilfswillige were encircled and defeated in a massive Soviet counterattack in November 1942, with casualties reaching as high as 740,000.

Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus
23 September 1890 – 1 February 1957 (aged 66)
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B24575, Friedrich Paulus.jpg
Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Paulus (shown in General’s uniform)
Place of birth Breitenau, Hesse, Hesse-Nassau
Place of death Dresden, East Germany
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany (to 1943)
 East Germany
Years of service 1910 – 1943
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Commands held Tenth Army
Sixth Army
Battles/wars World War I
World War II

  • Invasion of Poland (1939)
  • Fall of France (1940)
  • Operation Barbarossa (1941)
  • Operation Blue (1942)
  • Operation Fridericus (1942)
  • Battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943)
Awards Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves

Paulus surrendered to Soviet forces in Stalingrad on 31 January 1943, a day after he was promoted to the rank ofGeneralfeldmarschall by Adolf Hitler. Hitler expected Paulus to commit suicide, citing the fact that there was no record of a German field marshal ever surrendering to enemy forces. While in Soviet captivity during the war Paulus became a vocal critic of the Nazi regime and joined the Russian-sponsored National Committee for a Free Germany. He was not released until 1953.

Early life…

Paulus was born in Breitenau, Hesse-Nassau, the son of a school teacher.

He tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a cadetship in the Kaiserliche Marine, and briefly studied law at Marburg University.

Military career…

After leaving the university without a degree, he joined the 111th Infantry Regiment as an officer cadet in February 1910. He married Elena Rosetti-Solescu on 4 July 1912.

When World War I began, Paulus’s regiment was part of the thrust into France, and he saw action in the Vosges and aroundArras in the autumn of 1914. After a leave of absence due to illness, he joined the Alpenkorps as a staff officer, serving inMacedonia, France, and Serbia. By the end of the war, he was a captain.

After the Armistice Paulus fought with the Freikorps in the east as a brigade adjutant. He remained in the scaled-downReichswehr that came into being after the Treaty of Versailles and was assigned to the 13th Infantry Regiment at Stuttgart as a company commander. He served in various staff positions for over a decade (1921–1933) and then briefly commanded a motorized battalion (1934–1935) before being named chief of staff for the Panzer headquarters in October 1935, a new formation under Lutz that directed the training and development of the army’s three panzer divisions.

In February 1938 Paulus was appointed Chef des Generalstabes to Guderian’s new XVI Armeekorps (Motorisiert), which replaced Lutz’s command. Guderian described him as ‘brilliantly clever, conscientious, hard working, original and talented’ but already had doubts about his decisiveness, toughness and lack of command experience. He remained in that post until May 1939, when he was promoted to Major General and became Chief of Staff for the German Tenth Army, with which he saw service in Poland, theNetherlands, and Belgium (by the latter two campaigns, the army had been renumbered as the Sixth Army).

Paulus was promoted to Lieutenant General in August 1940 and the following month he was named deputy chief of the German General Staff (OQu I). In that role he helped draft the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.


Paulus in Southern Russia, January 1942.

Paulus was promoted to General of the Armoured Troops and became commander of the German Sixth Army in January 1942 and led the drive on Stalingrad during that summer. Paulus’ troops fought the defending Soviet troops holding Stalingrad over three months in increasingly brutal urban warfare. In November 1942, when the Soviet Red Army launched a massive counter-offensive, code named Operation Uranus, Paulus found himself surrounded by an entire Soviet Army Group.

Paulus followed Adolf Hitler’s orders to hold the Army’s position in Stalingrad under all circumstances, despite the fact that he was completely surrounded by strong Russian formations. A relief effort by Army Group Don under Field Marshal Erich von Manstein failed in December, inevitably: insufficient force was available to challenge the Soviet forces encircling the German 6th Army, and Hitler refused to allow Paulus to break out of Stalingrad despite Manstein telling him it was the only way the effort would succeed. By this time, Paulus’ remaining armour had only sufficient fuel for a 12-mile advance anyway. In any event, Paulus was refused permission to break out of the encirclement. Kurt Zeitzler, the newly appointed chief of the Army General Staff, eventually got Hitler to allow Paulus to break out—provided they held onto Stalingrad, an impossible task.

For the next two months, Paulus and his men fought on. However, the lack of ammunition, equipment attrition and deteriorating physical condition of the German troops prevented them from defending effectively against the Red Army. The battle was fought with terrible losses on both sides and great suffering.

Paulus (left), with his chief of staff, Generalleutnant Arthur Schmidt (middle) and his aide, Wilhelm Adam (right), after their surrender.

On 8 January 1943, General Konstantin Rokossovsky, commander of the Red Army on the Don front, called a cease fire and offered Paulus’ men generous surrender terms—normal rations, medical treatment for the ill and wounded, permission to retain their badges, decorations, uniforms, and personal effects, and repatriation to any country they wished after the war. Rokossovsky also noted that Paulus was in a nearly impossible situation. By this time, there was no hope for Paulus to be relieved or supplied by air, and most of his men had no winter clothing. However, when Paulus asked Hitler for permission to surrender, Hitler rejected this request almost out of hand and ordered him to hold Stalingrad to the last man.

After a heavy Soviet offensive overran the last emergency airstrip in Stalingrad on 25 January, the Russians again offered Paulus a chance to surrender. Once again, Hitler ordered Paulus to hold Stalingrad to the death. On 30 January, Paulus informed Hitler that his men were hours from collapse. Hitler responded by showering a raft of field promotions by radio on Paulus’ officers to build up their spirits and steel their will to hold their ground. Most significantly, he promoted Paulus to field marshal. In deciding to promote Paulus, Hitler noted that there was no known record of a Prussian or German field marshal having surrendered. The implication was clear: Paulus was to commit suicide. If Paulus surrendered, he would shame Germany’s military history.

Paulus’ interrogation at Don Front HQ: General Rokossovsky, MarshalVoronov, translator Nikolay Dyatlenkoand Paulus (left to right)

Despite this, and to the disgust of Hitler, Paulus and his staff surrendered the next day, 31 January. On the 2 February 1943 the remainder of the Sixth Army capitulated. Upon finding out about Paulus’ surrender, Hitler flew into a rage, and vowed never to appoint another field marshal again, though he would in fact go on to appoint another seven field marshals in his lifetime. Speaking about the surrender of Paulus, Hitler told his staff:

In peacetime Germany, about 18,000 or 20,000 people a year chose to commit suicide, even without being in such a position. Here is a man who sees 50,000 or 60,000 of his soldiers die defending themselves bravely to the end. How can he surrender himself to the Bolshevists?!

Paulus, a Roman Catholic, was opposed to suicide. During his captivity, according to General Pfeffer, Paulus said of Hitler’s expectation: „I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal”. Another general told the NKVD that Paulus had told him about his promotion to field marshal and said: „It looks like an invitation to commit suicide, but I will not do this favour for him.” Paulus also forbade his soldiers from standing on top of their trenches in order to be shot by the enemy.

Paulus speaking at a press conference in East Berlin in 1954

Although he at first refused to collaborate with the Soviets, after the attempted assassination of Hitler on 20 July 1944, Paulus became a vocal critic of the Nazi regime while in Soviet captivity, joining the Russian-sponsored National Committee for a Free Germany and appealing to Germans to surrender. He later acted as a witness for the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials. He was released in 1953, two years before the repatriation of the remaining German POWs (mostly other Stalingrad veterans) who had been designated war criminals by the Soviets. Paulus settled in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

During the Nuremberg trials, Paulus was asked about the Stalingrad prisoners by a journalist. Paulus told the journalist to tell the wives and mothers that their husbands and sons were well. Of the 91,000 German prisoners taken at Stalingrad, half had died on the march to Siberian prison camps, nearly as many died in captivity; only about 6,000 returned home.

From 1953 to 1956, he lived in Dresden, East Germany, where he worked as the civilian chief of the East German Military History Research Institute and not, as often wrongly described, as an inspector of police. In late 1956, he developed motor neuron disease and was eventually left paralyzed. He died in Dresden on 1 February 1957, exactly 14 years after he surrendered at Stalingrad. His body was brought for burial in Baden next to that of his wife, who had died in 1949 having not seen her husband since his surrender.


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