In January it began to dawn on the men of 6. Armee that Operation Wintergewitter had failed. The exhausted and starving men began to understand the cruel reality but morale did hardly suffer. Many men kept hoping for a miracle and retained their confidence in the staff. The conditions for 62nd Army of Vasily I. Chuikov werenít easy either but at least it was part of a ring of steel of seven armies surrounding Stalingrad. Supply in particular had posed a problem for Chuikov but that soon changed. It had become steadily colder in Stalingrad and now the Volga was finally frozen over. Supplies could now easily be delivered since the chunks of ice had made this all but impossible and so nearly everything had to be flown in.
Chuikovís battered forces opened a small offensive against the Germans who were still holding the tractor factory and the Mamayev Kurgan. The Germans could not be driven off though. 6. Armee continued to offer resistance and still tied down a considerable number of Soviet troops that could be better deployed elsewhere. Colonel-general Rokossovski, commander of the Don front, arrived at the conclusion that a large scale operation was required to eliminate the Germans in the Cauldron.
Colonel-general Nikolai N. Voronov, Stavkaís representative and Rokossovski decided to wait for an offer of honorable surrender anyway. On January 8th, they sent a number of envoys to the Germans with the conditions of capitulation drafted by Voronov and Rokossovski. Paulus was not convincing enough to make the determined Schmidt accept and so, the offer was rejected. Therefore Voronov and Rokossovski decided to start a new operation on January 10th, code named Operation Koltso, meaning ring. The Soviet armies would attack the Germans from the north, south and west and so drive wedges between the German units in the Cauldron.
Operation RingThe operation was preceded by a massive bombardment again: for 55 minutes thousands of guns and mortars pounded the German positions while hundreds of aircraft dropped their bombs. At 09:00 hours, the infantry attacked from all directions. What had taken Paulus weeks to capture was recaptured in only days by Voronovís and Rokossovskiís forces. On January 14th, the Germans lost their most important air field, Pitomnik; Gumrak was captured on the 21st. Next day, the Stalingradski air field, near the suburbs of Stalingrad was opened but was captured by the Soviets the next day. From that moment on, all supplies had to be dropped by parachute.
A number of German generals and other officers had managed to escape to safety by flying out of the surrounded area, leaving many ill and injured soldiers behind. These officers included many specialists, who were to help in re-establishing the units destroyed. Many soldiers and officers pretended to be ill or injured in order to secure a place aboard one of the aircraft. The Feldgendarmerie maintained order with a stern hand though.
On January 24th, the Don front attacked Stalingrad west of the Mamayev Kurgan. Two days later, forward units of 21st Army and 65th Army of the Don front made contact with units of the 13th Guards Rifle Division of 62nd Army. The Axis forces had been cut in half. The southern half commanded by Generaloberst Paulus contained four corpses and the staff while the northern half in the area around the Dzerzhinski tractor factory contained encircled forces of XI Armeekorps commanded by General der Infanterie Karl Strecker. On January 29th, the southern part of the Cauldron was split again by forces commanded by Rokossovski.
The surrender of 6. Armee
Following the fall of Gumrak, Paulus moved his headquarters to the Univermag department store in the center of Stalingrad. Lieutenant-general Mikhail Shumilov, commander of 64th Army in whose sector this store was situated, found out on January 30th. In the early morning of the next day, his headquarters was surrounded. Shortly afterwards, Paulus was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall, 118 other officers were also promoted, even some who had already surrendered. Never in the history of German warfare, a field marshal had surrendered so Hitler expected Paulus either to fight to the death or commit suicide. Paulus, usually very obedient, did not take this last hint of his FŁhrer. The fanatical chief of staff Schmidt urged Paulus to continue fighting until the bitter end in order to be able to inspire German armies for years to come with this sacrifice but Paulus did not listen anymore. Later in the day, Soviet officers entered the basement. Paulus was lying quietly on his bed, smoking and, still dressed in the uniform of Generaloberst, was taken to Shumilov. Paulus had not ordered 6. Armee to surrender but the central and southern Cauldron surrendered on their own accord that day.
The last resistorsThe northern Cauldron, containing XI Armeekorps with six severely battered divisions, continued fighting though. On February 1st, Hitler ordered Strecker to hold the Cauldron until the last man. The Soviets were furious about Streckerís refusal to capitulate so Rokossovski ordered the artillery on the Don front to destroy the Korps. On February 2nd at 08:40, Strecker radioed a last message to Hitler: "XI Armeekorps and its divisions have fought to the last man against an overwhelming majority. Long live Germany." Some sources report Hitler had promoted Strecker to Generaloberst at the last moment but it is unclear whether Strecker received this message. At 10:00 hours, Strecker finally surrendered with 33,000 men.
On February 3rd, local skirmishes were still going on; efforts by small groups of men attempting to break out or by soldiers who knew nothing of the surrender. Later in the day, silence fell over Stalingrad. The battle had come to an end. The day after the battle, February 3rd, the O.K.W. announced the defeat: "Sie starben damit Deutschland lebe" (They died so Germany will live). The defeat at Stalingrad finally tipped the balance against the Axis powers.