Soon, it will all be over... The World will be changed forever.
As Panzer Group 4 closed in on the city of Stalingrad, together with support from 6th Army, the Soviets were in desperate straits. They had suffered grave losses after their retreat from the Donets river, and from the battle of Kalach. They had very few reserves left to respond with. The great city that bore Joseph Stalins name was being defended by only a handful of hastily mobilised divisions. The Red Armys garrison was so inadequate, in fact, that it had to be bolstered by local militia forces. The Luftwaffe only added to their difficultys by bombing the railways leading into the city, along with any ships moving down the Volga river. The Soviets were forced to limit their movements to the night time only, lest they attract the attention of Ju 88 and Ju 87 bombers. Ships were also at risk from magnetic mines that had been dropped into the canal. While Stavka was loathe to admit it, they simply did not have enough troops to properly defend Stalingrad. The Generals were afraid of incurring the wrath of their leader, who had already put to death other subordinates who had failed him. The fall of Moscow 2 months earlier had shattered the trust between Stalin and the Generals. They were working in an atmosphere of fear, just as all men throughout the Red Army now were. Hundreds of soldiers were being arbitrarily shot every day by their commissars, for crimes that ranged from malingering, desertion, and defeatism. And now, for the first time ever, there were incidents of soldiers shooting their commissars. After over a year of war, there were finally signs of a social breakdown taking place. The constant string of defeats was eroding the Russian morale, which had once been insuperable. On September 7th, the Germans finally moved into the outskirts of Stalingrad. Panzer Group 4 was in the lead, while 6th Army trudged far behind them. General Erich Hoepner split his armoured command into two separate elements, sending one to the north of the city and one to the south. They encountered minimal resistance from the Soviets as they moved along the flanks of the city. The Russians were too weak to have any hope of winning a battle out in the open, so instead they sought to fight from within Stalingrad itself. The urban confines would limit the Germans and prevent them from utilizing their firepower and maneuver to its full extent. In the north, panzer divisions mounted an attack on the Tractor factory and captured it after hours of fighting. They were the first to establish a presence along the banks of the Volga river.
In the south, there was a protracted struggle around a massive grain elevator, which dragged on for two days. This was in a residential area, which meant the Soviets had to be cleared out block by block. Groups of tanks and infantry systematically isolated each city block and cleared them out. By September 11th, General Hoepner could report to headquarters that his initial objectives had been met. By this time, 6th Army was finally starting to arrive at Stalingrad, and they were preparing to launch their own attack against the downtown core. For now, at least, the banks of the Volga were securely in their hands. This was welcome news to General Gerd Von Runstedt. Despite the late start to this campaign, results were being made very quickly. After their capture of Voronezh just 5 weeks earlier, Army Group South had moved nearly 500 kilometers during their drive to Stalingrad. This was an incredible advance that presented its own complications. They now had a long, exposed flank that stretched from the Don river to the Volga. The first stretch was being held by Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian soldiers, while the second stretch was in the hands of the Germans themselves. This was a vital pre-condition that had to be completed before the Wehrmacht could finally launch its main attack into the Caucasus mountains. Now that the first stage of Case Blue was over, the second stage could begin. On September 12th, the Soviet forces along the lower Don were hit with a thunderous artillery barrage. 17th Army smashed its way out of Rostov and sent them reeling. Further east, Panzer Group 1 broke through the front lines. Ahead of the Germans was a densely populated agricultural region called the Kuban. The infantry moved along the coast towards the Black sea, while the tanks marched to the oil fields of the Caucasus, which were over 400 km distant. The Nazis would need to move quickly if they were to reach their objectives before the arrival of the autumn rains. But to their surprise, the Red Army offered scant resistance as they fell back across the Kuban. This was a relief to General Ewald Von Kleist, who knew just how much his progress would be against a resolute enemy. His troops fought running battles against Soviet rearguards, and little else besides that. By this time, German soldiers were in a state of exhilaration. They knew that things were different this time around. This battle would not just be another hollow victory. This battle would bring the entire war to a close.
By September 25, Panzer Group 1 had advanced across the hot, dry steppes and captured the city of Stavropol. They had used their mechanized speed to its full advantage, skillfully pursuing and outmaneuvering their enemy. Further west, however, 17th Army was lagging behind. The infantry were making slower progress as they moved along the coast. The Russians made use of delaying actions, trading space for time. During their retreat, they burned down thousands of farms in compliance with their scorched earth policy. These actions doomed millions of people to starvation. Only on October 4 did Krasnodar fall into German hands. During this time, Army Group South struggled to resupply its forces in the Caucasus. There were few roads in the area, and none of them were paved. There was only a single broad gauge rail line, which had to be converted to standard gauge by railway engineers. General Von Runstedt depended upon a fleet of Italian ships to bring him supplies from across the Black sea. They had worked out a deal with Turkey which violated international conventions. This allowed the ships to pass through the Bosphorus straits and make stops up and down the coast, supplying the army in the Caucasus. They also visited Rostov and moved up the Don river, going all the way to Kalach. From there, supplies were moved up directly to the troops at Stalingrad. By now, 6th Army had launched their attack against the downtown core, and had captured the hill overlooking the city. The fighting on Mamayev Kurgan had been long and bloody. The Soviets made them pay for every foot of ground they took. It was, however, a price the Germans were able to pay due to their greater numbers. After mopping up remnants of their shattered enemy, 6th Army was able to push their lines forward up to the Volga itself. The 4th Panzer Group had already done so in the north and south. By October 1st, much of Stalingrad was now under the control of the Wehrmacht. There were only a few positions that had managed to hold out. The Russian divisions had been badly depleted by the fighting, and were at less than regimental strength. There was no organisation at all, and men fought simply to stay alive. Some of them holed up in Red Square, fending off one attack after another. Others were isolated in the chemical plant. The rest were mounting a last ditch defense at the ferry landing. They were desperately trying to preserve their lifeline across the Volga. Reinforcements and resupply came only at night time, as ships crossing the river were at great peril from artillery.
Stavka knew that they were on the verge of losing Stalingrad. They struggled to deploy what few reserves they had left into the city, as their railways were in a state of chaos. The loss of Moscow had disrupted the entire USSRs rail network, making it difficult to transfer divisions from one sector to another. Even after Stalin agreed to strip other parts of the front in order to save his namesake city, it took time to move the troops into position. In the end, it was time that they simply did not have. Army Group South mounted one last, great offensive against the remaining strongholds. By October 8th, they eradicated all resistance from the city, standing victorious on the Volga. It had been vicious fighting in which no quarter was given or taken. In the end, when the guns finally stopped firing, very few Russians went into captivity. Most shot themselves, or jumped into the river. News of the victory spread quickly throughout the German Reich. Adolf Hitler and the other top Nazis threw a lavish celebration, knowing they had changed their fate and mastered their destinys. They all believed that the war would end soon. The Fuhrer bestowed awards on all the Generals who had participated in the battle. The situation in the Soviet Union was the polar opposite. Joseph Stalin was furious at the loss of his city, and demanded that it be recaptured immediately. His Generals protested this order, knowing that they would be wasting their troops in a futile counter-attack. The Dictator launched into a tirade, accusing them of cowardice and disloyalty. He warned that if Stalingrad was not retaken, they would pay with their lives. Stavka had no choice but to obey. Meanwhile, morale in the Red Army hit rock bottom. The constant string of defeats, the terrible casualties, and the harsh disciplinary actions were all taking their toll. The soldiers were fighting what seemed to be an unwinnable war that exacted a higher price from them every day. The fighting did not stop with the capture of Stalingrad. Army Group South continued to drive into the Caucasus, desperate to reach their objectives before the rain season came. Panzer Group 1 had already taken control of Maykop, the closest (and smallest) of the oil complexes. Unfortunately, the fields were already in ruins by the time they arrived, due to Soviet demolitions. They had evacuated what equipment they could move, and destroyed whatever they could not. It would be a long time indeed before the Germans could extract oil from out of Maykop.
Panzer Group 1 was already pushing on to its next objective, and General von Kleist optimistically predicted that he could seize Grozny. His progress was already beginning to slow, however, due to increased resistance from the Red Army. They had recovered from their panicked retreat across the Kuban, and were building fortifications in the Caucasus mountains. The panzers were also hampered by the bad terrain, and overstretched supply lines. The Russian position was far from secure, however, as some of their forces were trapped in a pocket near the Black sea coast. 17th Army had them pinned down in Tuapse, and there was no way of escape. Their only hope was that the changing weather would bring the Wehrmacht to a halt. These hopes were forestalled by the arrival of the famous Alpini divisions. The Italian mountain troops took control of the battle and overcame the tough position. But ultimately, all these events were overshadowed by a major development on the Volga river. In the throes of defeat, the Soviets mounted a major counter-attack against Stalingrad. On October 20th, they threw everything they had at the surprised German forces.