The Soviets have launched offensives on the entire eastern front and by now hundreds of thousands of men are surrounded at Stalingrad. The Japanese win a battle at sea, but are losing a war of attrition.
The Japanese try and fail to supply their starving soldiers. The Allies fail to break through in Tunisia and New Guinea. The fighting in the USSR is bloody, but the Axis prepare for a new offensive there.
Just a few weeks ago massive offensives were launched in North Africa and the Soviet Union, against the Axis. These operations and offensives have now morphed into fully fledged campaigns, and the nature of these theatres of the war has been transformed.
The Soviet offensive Operation Mars is over; it has failed, but Operation Little Saturn has been such a success that the Axis are forced to cancel their own Operation, Winter Storm, which was to relieve the troops trapped in Stalingrad. They remain trapped because Adolf Hitler has now forbidden them from trying to break out. The Allies run into tough Axis defense in both Tunisia and on Guadalcanal, and a French bigwig is assassinated.
The attrition cannot continue so the Japanese decide they will evacuate Guadalcanal, conceding the Solomon Islands to the Allies. The Allies are also conceding the Caucasus, and a naval battle in the far north convinces Hitler that he should scrap the entire German surface fleet. 1943 begins ominously for the Axis.
Things look grim for the Germans, surrounded at Velikie Luki and Stalingrad and with no real help of relief. The Soviets are, in fact, making plans for attacks all along the front, as are the Americans to push the Japanese off of Guadalcanal.
Soviet attacks are launched this week to destroy the Hungarians, all while the German desperation at Stalingrad and Velikie Luki continues, but in the far north the Soviets have broken through the siege of Leningrad after 16 months. And the Casablanca Conference begins, a meeting to guide the war’s future progress.
This is a rough week for the Germans- their trapped garrison at Velikie Luki is liquidated, and their trapped army at Stalingrad is... well, it isn't going well for them. In fact, it isn't going well for the Axis anywhere this week, being pushed back or retreating in New Guinea, the Caucasus, North Africa, and on Guadalcanal. Berlin is even bombed this week as well.
The Allies are unable to win in Tunisia, though further east Bernard Montgomery has achieved his goal of driving the enemy out of Libya. To the west, the Casablanca Conference comes to its end and the Allies write a list of their war priorities. The Soviets, however, are on the move everywhere, closing in on Stalingrad, and launching new operations up and down the eastern front, to the dismay and detriment of the Axis forces.
The Battle of Stalingrad is nearing its end. Strong contingents of the 21st and 62nd Soviet Armies broke through the German defensive lines west of Stalingrad and were now pushing deep into the city. Despite the “Kessel” being split into several parts, the Axis soldiers are still resisting fiercely, fighting street by street, house by house. Yet it is a desperate last stand. Overwhelmed and undersupplied, many Generals push for surrender. But only their commander, the freshly promoted “Field-Marshal” Paulus, has the authority to do so.
Operation KE, the Japanese evacuation of Guadalcanal, concludes this week and the campaign has been a big loss for the Japanese. The Axis forces are also withdrawing- and the Red Army advancing- in the Donbas and the Caucasus, closing in on both Kharkov and Rostov. And a front that's been quiet for a while, the Burma front, begins heating up again with an Allied advance out of India.
The Red Army liberates both Rostov and Kharkov this week, but their advancing spearheads are close to an even bigger prize, Adolf Hitler himself. It is the Axis, however, who are both advancing and consolidating in Tunisia, and gearing up for new offensive actions next week.
On 17 February 1943, Adolf Hitler narrowly escapes capture by the Soviets and his own men. Over the past weeks, we have seen how the Red Army broke through to Kharkov on a wide front. Hoping to turn the tide, Hitler ordered Hubert Lanz's detachment to make a stand at the city: a probable death sentence. However, it does not come to this. Paul Hausser orders his SS Panzer Corps to withdraw on his authority, and the Soviets capture the city on the 16th.
With the Wehrmacht in retreat from Orel down to Voroshilovgrad, Hitler deems the crisis severe enough to visit the front, something he did not do during the Battle of Stalingrad. His first stop will be Lanz's headquarters at Poltava, but he has no idea what danger lays ahead there. Like in the headquarters at Army Groups Center and B, Lanz and much of his staff have grown disillusioned with Hitler's leadership. While the Night of the Long Knives, the first atrocities in Poland, and the daily interference during Operation Barbarossa gave rise to the first doubts, the large majority of the armed forces still stood firm behind Hitler.
Now, after the defeat at Stalingrad, overthrowing Hitler is once again becoming a hot topic in the senior officer corps, although few are prepared to take the risk. Lanz decides to take the gamble. Using a regiment from the elite Grossdeutschland Division, Hitler is to be arrested either immediately when his plane touches down or during a conference in the headquarters. Violence is to be avoided, but if Hitler's personal SS bodyguards resist, the plotters must shoot to kill. But it is not to be. In a last-second change of plans, Hitler flies to Zaporozhye instead to visit Erich von Manstein's Army Group Don. To make things worse for Lanz, he is relieved from his command for losing Kharkov. Help comes from an unexpected quarter when the Soviets break clean through toward Zaporozhye. Less than two hours separate the 25th Tank Corps and Hitler's plane when he takes off in a hurry, narrowly avoiding capture for the second time. Photo: Von Manstein welcomes Hitler during his visit to Zaporozhye, 1943. Source: Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1995-041-23A
On 18 February 1943, Reichsminister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels prepares the German people for total war.
With the war having turned against the Axis over the past months, culminating in the defeat at Stalingrad, there's an increasing need to boost morale on the German homefront. Goebbels knows this better than anyone else and decides to host a venue in the Sportspalast Berlin. Our recently released deep-dive on YouTube provides much more context and details, but today, we'll just have a listen to some of the questions Goebbels has for the German people.
'The English maintain that the German people have lost faith in victory. I ask you: Do you believe with the Führer and us in the final total victory of the German people? I ask you: Are you resolved to follow the Führer through thick and thin to victory, and are you willing to accept the heaviest personal burdens?'
'Second, The English say that the German people are tired of fighting. I ask you: Are you ready to follow the Führer as the phalanx of the homeland, standing behind the fighting army and to wage war with wild determination through all the turns of fate until victory is ours?'
'Third: The English maintain that the German people have no desire any longer to accept the government's growing demands for war work. I ask you: Are you and the German people willing to work, if the Führer orders, 10, 12 and if necessary 14 hours a day and to give everything for victory?'
'Fourth: The English maintain that the German people is resisting the government's total war measures. It does not want total war, but capitulation! I ask you: Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even imagine today?'
The audience is in a complete frenzy, shouting, clapping, and saluting after every question. The speech goes on for several more minutes, but the message is already clear. The German people will fight on until either total victory or total defeat. Photo: Goebbels speaking in the Sportpalast, 18 February 1943. Source: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J05235
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