In the summer of 1942, Soviet forces suffered a defeat at Kharkov. Taking advantage of the weakened defenses of the South and South-Western fronts, the Germans began a strategic push to the Volga and the Caucasus. In the beginning of August, the 6th army approached Stalingrad.
The battle for the city is known as one of the largest land battles in WWII. The Germans continued their advance until the fall, pushing the Red Army to the Volga. In September, battles were fought in Stalingrad itself, with previously unseen ferocity, not just for blocks or streets, but commonly, for floors, and even rooms.
After unsuccessful counterattacks in August-September, understanding its grim position, Soviet high command prepared for a strategic counteroffensive. Its goal was the encirclement and destruction of German forces at Stalingrad. The victory was necessary not only from a military point of view, but from a morale one: the people of the USSR were tired of retreating. A message needed to be sent that the Wehrmacht could be, and must be, defeated.
The counterattack was to be performed with the forces of three fronts: Don, South-Western, and Stalingrad. 14 armies were gathered for this operation, codenamed "Uranus".
On November 19th, 1942, early in the morning, three and a half thousand guns and mortars opened fire on German positions. The barrage lasted over an hour, followed by tanks and infantry. General Romanenko's 5th tank army penetrated the defenses of the 2nd Corps. Through the whole day, with bad visibility and in poor terrain, columns of Soviet vehicles plunged forward, deepening the breakthrough. On that day, the Red Army advanced 20 kilometers. The Germans could not stop the offensive.
By November 23rd, 1942, the ring around the 6th Army was closed. Fighting in Stalingrad would continue, but only three months remained until the surrender of the Germans at Stalingrad.
Rocket and Artillery Day is celebrated on November 19th, in honour of the artillery barrage that signaled the beginning of the Soviet offensive at Stalingrad.
Original article available here.