General Friedrich Paulus was a German military leader who led German forces during the Battle of Stalingrad.
This article contains a brief biography of Paulus.
Early career of Friedrich Paulus
Born on 23 September 1890, Paulus joined the German Army in February 1910 after leaving University mid-way through his studies. As a young officer, he saw combat in France during the early stages of the First World War. His ill health saw him pulled back from the front lines briefly, and he served out the war in the Alpenkorps, posted in Macedonia, France again, and finally Serbia.
During the inter-war years, Paulus rose rapidly through the German military ranks. He developed a great deal of expertise in leading motorised brigades, including a stint as chief of staff at Panzer headquarters, and had reached the rank of Major General by the outbreak of the Second World War.
After being appointed commander of the German Sixth Army in January 1942, General Paulus masterminded the German advanced towards Stalingrad. The city of Stalingrad was of vital strategic importance to both Germany and the Soviet Union. Its capture would secure a vital communications hub for the German army, and open the way to the oil rich Caucasus.
The battle for Stalingrad was one of the most brutal fought in the Soviet Union. Well over a million men were killed or went missing during the battle, and few buildings were left standing in the city. You can find out more by reading our battle of Stalingrad summary article.
Paulus’ Stalingrad battle plan went well initially, a Soviet counter attack outside of the city left the Sixth Army surrounded, and they were gradually squeezed into a smaller and smaller pocket.
Although it was clear that defeat was inevitable, Hitler wanted the Sixth Army to fight on to the bitter end, to tie the Soviet Army down and give the rest of the Nazi German forces some breathing space. He promoted Paulus to the rank of Field Marshal, on the grounds that no Field Marshal had ever surrendered to the enemy before, and ordered him and his men to fight to the death. Once defeat became inevitable, Paulus was expected to either die fighting, or honourably commit suicide.
Paulus refused to commit suicide, however, and surrounded himself and his army of 90,000 men to General Zhukov, commander of the Soviet forces.
Paulus After Stalingrad
Paulus was put under immense pressure to collaborate with the Soviets. He initially resisted but, as the war progressed he became increasingly critical of Hitler in public. He joined the National Committee for a Free Germany, an anti-Nazi organisation based in the USSR and called on Hitler to surrender.
Shortly after the war, Paulus participated in the Nuremberg Trials, where he appeared as a witness for the prosecution. He spoke to a journalist about the 91,000 prisoners that had been captured with him, and told him to spread the message that they were alive and well. It’s not certain whether Paulus was deluded, misled by the Soviet authorities, or merely terrified of them, but they were certainly not alive and well – of the 91,000 captured, only 6,000 made it back to Germany alive.
In 1953, once the trials were completed, Paulus was repatriated to Communist East Germany. He lived out his final years working for the East German Military History Research Institute before dying on 1 February 1957.