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Friedrich Paulus

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Title: Friedrich Paulus  
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Subject: Battle of Stalingrad, Timeline of World War II (1942), 6th Army (Wehrmacht), Operation Uranus, Erich von Manstein
Collection: 1890 Births, 1957 Deaths, East German People, Field Marshals of Nazi Germany, German Commanders at the Battle of Stalingrad, German Male Writers, German Military Historians, German Prisoners of War, German Roman Catholics, Knights Second Class of the Order of the Zähringer Lion, Military Personnel Referenced in the Wehrmachtbericht, National Committee for a Free Germany Members, People from Hesse-Nassau, People from Schwalm-Eder-Kreis, Recipients of the Clasp to the Iron Cross, 1St Class, Recipients of the Cross for Merit in War, Recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Recipients of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Recipients of the Military Merit Cross (Austria-Hungary), 3Rd Class, Recipients of the Military Merit Cross (Mecklenburg-Schwerin), 1St Class, Recipients of the Military Merit Order (Bavaria), 4Th Class, Recipients of the Order of Michael the Brave, 1St Class, Recipients of the Order of the Cross of Liberty, 1St Class, World War II Prisoners of War Held by the Soviet Union
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Friedrich Paulus

Friedrich Paulus
General Friedrich Paulus (1942)
Birth name Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus
Born (1890-09-23)23 September 1890
Guxhagen, Province of Hesse-Nassau, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Died 1 February 1957(1957-02-01) (aged 66)
Weißer Hirsch, Dresden, Bezirk Dresden, East Germany
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany (to 1943)
NKFD (to 1945)
 East Germany
Years of service 1910–43
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Commands held Sixth Army

World War I
World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
Paulus in Southern Russia, January 1942.
Paulus (left) and his aides Col. Wilhelm Adam (right) and Lt.-Gen. Arthur Schmidt (middle), after their surrender in Stalingrad
Paulus' interrogation at Don Front HQ: General Rokossovsky, Marshal Voronov, translator Nikolay Dyatlenko and Paulus (left to right)

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 commanding the Sixth Army in the Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942 to February 1943), including the successful advance toward the city of Stalingrad and the less successful attack in 1942 (part of Case Blue, June to November 1942) stopped by the Soviet counter-offensives during the 1942–1943 winter. The battle ended in disaster for Nazi Germany when Soviet forces encircled and defeated about 265,000 personnel of the Wehrmacht, their Axis allies, and the anti-Soviet volunteers. Of the 107,000 Axis servicemen captured, only 6,000 survived captivity and returned home by 1955.

Soviet troops took Paulus by surprise and captured him in Stalingrad on 31 January 1943,[Note 1] the same day on which he was informed of his promotion to field marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) by Adolf Hitler.

Hitler expected Paulus to commit suicide,[2] citing the fact that there was no record of a German field marshal ever being captured alive. While in Soviet captivity during the war, Paulus became a vocal critic of the Nazi regime and joined the Soviet-sponsored National Committee for a Free Germany. He moved to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1953.


  • Early life 1
  • Military career 2
  • Stalingrad 3
    • Crisis 3.1
    • Capitulation 3.2
  • After Stalingrad and postwar 4
  • Awards and decorations 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
    • Citations 7.1
    • Bibliography 7.2

Early life

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

He tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a cadetship in the Imperial German Navy (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 around Arras in the autumn of 1914. After a leave of absence due to illness, he joined the Alpenkorps as a staff officer, serving in Macedonia, France and Serbia. By the end of the war, he was a captain.

After the Armistice, Paulus was a brigade adjutant with the Freikorps. He was chosen as one of only 4,000 officers to serve in the Reichswehr, the defensive army that the Treaty of Versailles had limited to 100,000 men. He 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. This was a new formation under the direction of Oswald Lutz that directed the training and development panzerwaffen or tank forces of the German army.

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. The unit was renamed the Sixth Army, and engaged in the spring offensives of 1940 through the Netherlands and Belgium. Paulus was promoted to lieutenant general in August 1940. The following month he was named deputy chief of the German General Staff (Oberquartiermeister I). In that role he helped draft the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.


In December 1941, after German Sixth Army's commander Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau became commander of the entire Army Group South, Paulus was promoted to general der Panzertruppe and became commander of the Sixth Army. He 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 Soviet formations. Operation Winter Storm, a relief effort by Army Group Don under Field Marshal Erich von Manstein was launched in December. Following his orders, Paulus refused to cooperate with the offensive by trying to break out of Stalingrad; he kept his entire army in fixed defensive positions. Manstein told Paulus that the relief would be unlikely to succeed without assistance from the Sixth Army, but Paulus remained absolutely firm in obeying the orders he had been given. Manstein's forces were unable to reach Stalingrad on their own and their efforts were eventually halted due to Soviet offensives elsewhere on the front. Kurt Zeitzler, the newly appointed chief of the Army General Staff, eventually got Hitler to allow Paulus to break out, provided they also held onto Stalingrad; an impossible task.

For the next two months, Paulus and his men fought on. However, the lack of food, ammunition, equipment attrition and the deteriorating physical condition of the German troops gradually wore down the German defence. The battle was fought with terrible losses and suffering on both sides.


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; terms that Rokossovsky was not in a position to guarantee. As part of his communication, Rokossovsky advised Paulus that he was in an impossible situation. Paulus requested permission from Hitler to surrender. As before, Hitler rejected the request out of hand. Although it was obvious the Sixth Army was in an untenable position, Hitler ordered Paulus to hold "fortress Stalingrad" to the last man.

After a heavy Soviet offensive overran the last emergency airstrip in Stalingrad on 25 January, the Soviets again offered Paulus a chance to surrender. Paulus radioed Hitler once again for permission to surrender. Paulus stressed that his men were without ammunition or food, and he was no longer able to command them. He also said that 18,000 men were wounded and were in immediate need of medical attention. Once again, Hitler ordered Paulus to hold Stalingrad to the death. On 30 January, Paulus informed Hitler that his men were only 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 ever having surrendered. The implication was clear: Paulus was to commit suicide. If Paulus surrendered, Hitler implied he would shame Germany's military history.


Paulus and his staff were captured on the morning of January 31, 1943. The events of that day were recorded by Colonel Wilhelm Adam, (aide to Paulus and adjutant in the XXIII Army Corps), in his personal diary:

January 31, 1943 - 7.00 a.m. It was still dark but day was dawning almost imperceptibly. Paulus was asleep. It was some time before I could break out of the maze of thoughts and strange dreams that depressed me so greatly. But I don't think I remained in this state for very long. I was going to get up quietly when someone knocked at the door. Paulus awoke and sat up. It was the HQ commander. He handed the colonel general a piece of paper and said: 'Congratulations. The rank of field marshal has been conferred upon you. The dispatch came early this morning - it was the last one.'
'One can't help feeling it's an invitation to suicide. However I'm not going to do them such a favour.' said Paulus after reading the dispatch. Schmidt continued: 'At the same time I have to inform you that the Russians are at the door.' with these words he opened the door and a Soviet general and his interpreter entered the room. The general announced that we were his prisoners. I placed my revolver on the table.
'Prepare yourself for departure. We shall be back for you at 9.00. You will go in your personal car.' said the Soviet general through his interpreter. Then they left the room. I had the official seal with me. I prepared for my last official duty. I recorded Paulus's new rank in his military document, stamped it with the seal then threw the seal into the glowing fire.
The main entrance to the cellar was closed and guarded by the Soviet soldiers. An officer, the head of the guards, allowed me and the driver to go out and get the car ready. Climbing out of the cellar, I stood dumbfounded. Soviet and German soldiers, who just a few hours earlier had been shooting at one another, now stood quietly together in the yard. They were all armed, some with weapons in their hands, some with them over their shoulders.
My God, what a contrast between the two sides! The German soldiers, ragged and in light coats, looked like ghosts with hollow, unshaven cheeks. The Red Army fighters looked fresh and wore warm winter uniforms. Involuntarily I remembered the chain of unfortunate events which had prevented me from sleeping for so many nights. The appearance of the Red Army soldiers seemed symbolic. At 9.00 sharp the HQ commander of the 64th Army arrived to take the commander of the vanquished German 6th Army and its staff towards the rear. The march towards the Volga had ended."[3]

On 2 February 1943 the remainder of the Sixth Army capitulated. Upon finding out about Paulus's 'surrender', Hitler flew into a rage, and vowed never to appoint another field marshal again. He would, in fact, go on to appoint another seven field marshals during the last two years of the war. Speaking about the surrender of Paulus, Hitler told his staff:

Paulus, a [5]

After Stalingrad and postwar

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 Soviet-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 allowed to move to the German Democratic Republic in 1953, two years before the repatriation of the remaining German POWs who were held under the pretext that West Germany was not recognised by the Soviet Union, and were used for forced labour.

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.[6] Of the 91,000 German prisoners taken at Stalingrad, half had died on the march to Siberian prison camps, and nearly as many died in captivity; only about 6,000 returned home.[Note 2]

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. In late 1956, he developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and became progressively weaker. He died within a few months, in Dresden, on 1 February 1957, 14 years after the surrender at Stalingrad. As part of his last will and testament, his body was transported to Baden, West Germany, to be buried next to his wife, who had died eight years earlier in 1949, not having seen her husband since his departure for the Eastern Front in the summer of 1942.[Note 3]

Awards and decorations


  1. ^ "I didn't surrender. I was taken by surprise". (Paulus in conversation with Marshal Voronov).[1]
  2. ^ They put the number of POW captured at Stalingrad at 100,000 of whom 6,000 survived.[7]
  3. ^ On one of the final Luftwaffe flights out of Stalingrad, Paulus had sent his wedding ring to his wife (Commanders at War, on the Military Channel, 28 May 2010).



  1. ^ Beevor 1998,p. 390.
  2. ^ "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Shirer, digital page 1569
  3. ^ 'Meeting The Victors', Sputnik Magazine, 1968, USSR; (English language article).
  4. ^ Overy 1997, p. 185.
  5. ^ Beevor p. 381
  6. ^ Craig 1973, p. 280.
  7. ^ Werth; Bartošek; Panné; Margolin; Paczkowski; Courtois 1999, p. 322.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Rangliste des Deutschen Reichsheeres (in German). Mittler & Sohn Verlag. 1930. p. 132. 
  9. ^ a b Thomas 1998, p. 143.
  10. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 334.
  11. ^ a b Scherzer 2007, p. 585.
  12. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 65.
  13. ^ Vojnički red željeznog trolista
  14. ^ “Award Document to General der Panzertruppen Paulus, Item Number: EU4642”. eMedals. eMedals, n.d. Web. 12 Dec 2013. <>.


  • Adam, Wilhelm & Otto Ruhle. With Paulus at Stalingrad, Pen & Sword Books Ltd., England, 2015. ISBN 978-1-47383-386-9.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 the Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag.  
  • Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag.  
Military offices
Preceded by
Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Reichenau
Commander of 6. Armee
30 December 1941 – 3 February 1943
Succeeded by
General Karl-Adolf Hollidt
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