Friedrich Paulus

Friedrich Paulus

Infobox Military Person
name=Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus
born=birth date|1890|9|23|df=y
placeofbirth=Breitenau, Hesse-Nassau
placeofdeath=Dresden, Germany

caption="Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Paulus (shown in General's uniform)"
allegiance=flagicon|German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
flagicon|Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
flagicon|Nazi Germany Nazi Germanyflagicon|East Germany German Democratic Republic
serviceyears=1910 - 1943
commands=Tenth Army
Sixth Army
battles=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

Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus (23 September 1890 – 1 February 1957) was an officer in the German military from 1910 to 1943, attaining the rank of "Generalfeldmarschall" during World War II. He is most known for commanding the Sixth Army's assault on Stalingrad during Operation Blue in 1942. The battle ended in disaster for Nazi Germany when approximately 300,000 soldiers of the Wehrmacht, Axis allies, and Hilfswillige were encircled and defeated in a massive Soviet counterattack in November 1942, and with casualties reaching as high as 740,000.

Paulus surrendered to Soviet forces in Stalingrad on January 31, 1943, a day after he was promoted to the rank of "Generalfeldmarschall" by Adolf Hitler. Hitler expected Paulus to commit suicide, citing that no German field marshal was ever captured by enemy forces. While in Soviet captivity during the war he became a vocal critic of the Nazi regime and joined the Russian-sponsored National Committee for a Free Germany. He would not be 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 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. Erwin Rommel also served in the Alpenkorps during World War I.

After the Armistice Paulus fought with the Freikorps in the east as a brigade adjutant. He remained in the scaled-down Reichswehr 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 Generalmajor and became Chief of Staff for the German Tenth Army, with which he saw service in Poland, the Netherlands, and Belgium (by the latter two campaigns, the army had been renumbered as the Sixth Army).

Paulus was promoted to Generalleutnant 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 became commander of the German Sixth Army in January 1942 and led the drive on Stalingrad.

Paulus followed Adolf Hitler's orders to hold the Army's position in Stalingrad under all circumstances, despite the fact that by November he was completely surrounded by strong Russian formations. A relief effort by Army Group Don under Field Marshal Erich von Manstein failed, 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 the most unimaginable (and perhaps unparalleled) suffering.

On January 8 1943, General Konstantin Rokossovsky, commander of the Red Army on the Don front, offered Paulus' men generous surrender terms--normal rations, medical treatment for the ill and permission to retain their badges, decorations and personal effects. 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 his men had no winter clothing. However, when Paulus asked HItler for permission to surrender, Hitler rejected this request almost out of hand.

After a heavy Russian offensive cut off the last emergency airstrip, the Russians again offered Paulus a chance to surrender. Once again, Hitler ordered Paulus to hold Stalingrad to the death. By 30 January, Paulus informed Hitler that his men were hours from collapse. Hitler responded by showering a raft of 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. Since no Prussian or German field marshal in history had ever surrendered, the implication was clear--Paulus was to commit suicide. If Paulus surrendered, he would shame Germany's military history.

Despite this, and to the disgust of Hitler, Paulus and what was left of the Sixth Army surrendered the next day, 31 January. Speaking about the surrender of Paulus, Hitler told his staff:

Paulus himself said of Hitler's expectation: "I have no intention of shooting myself for that Bohemian corporal".

Although he at first refused to collaborate with the Soviets, after the July 20th plot on Hitler's life, 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 served as an inspector of police after his release and died in Dresden, German Democratic Republic.


"Ask Paulus if he knows he is a traitor. Ask him if he has taken out Russian citizenship papers." --- Hermann Goering to his lawyer at the Nuremberg Trials


*cite book|first=Antony|last=Beevor|title=Stalingrad, The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943|location=New York|publisher=Penguin Books|year=1998
*cite book|first=William|last=Craig|title=Enemy at the Gates. The Battle for Stalingrad|location=Victoria|publisher=Penguin Books|year=1974
*cite book |last=von Mellenthin |first=Friedrich |authorlink=Friedrich von Mellenthin |coauthors= |title=Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War |year=2006 |publisher=Konecky & Konecky |location=United States |isbn=1-56852-578-8

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