Saturday, April 24, 2004
Once Stalingrad had been encircled, Hitler issued an insane order that von Paulus' Sixth Army should hold until relieved. General Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, in operational control of Army Group Don and Hermann Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army, tried to get that amended to allow Sixth Army to meet the advancing Fourth. Manstein would try to get close enough for von Paulus to break out to the west and make contact with Hoth's panzer troops.
The reality was that Operation Winter Storm was conducted by fewer than 75,000 men and five hundred tanks against two Soviet tank armies, neither of which showed up on the German intelligence reports until Hoth ran into them. The units were understrength and Sixth Army, for its part, was in no condition to conduct an offensive. The Soviets halted the Fourth in its tracks in December and by Christmas day, had pushed the relief force back to its start line. Sixth Army itself would surrender the following February, marking as it did the greatest catastrophe in the history of German arms up to that time.
Fast forward to Fallujah, Iraq, sixty two years later. Unlike von Paulus, the terrorists don't have a Hitler telling them to remain in place at all costs. You will recall that over the past several nights, we have had reports of major firefights as jihadi have tried to attack entrenched Marine positions. The terrorists realize that they are trapped, and that the Marines intend to come in and defeat them in detail. So, in small groups of twenty or thirty, they are attempting to break out to fight another day. But like the Soviets before them, the Marines have a tight cordon around the jihadi.
Like von Paulus before them, they cannot get out. Unlike von Paulus, there's no Fourth Panzer Army to threaten the Americans. Sadr's Mahdhi Army has ceased to be a viable force outside of Najaf, so the possibility of a front opening up in the American rear is moot at this point.
At this point, the political ground is being laid within Iraq and without for the assault. More on how it should play out in the next post.