Was the battle of Stalingrad “unique” in the annals of history?

Was the battle of Stalingrad “unique” in the annals of history?

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I'm referring to the fact that BOTH sides ordered their troops to fight for the city "to the last man and last round." (Hitler). The Soviet Union's General Vasili Chuikov echoed this by saying "We will defend the city or die in the attempt."

The Soviets were the first to be besieged in Stalingrad in September, 1942. They "survived" by pouring in a steady stream of replacements and reinforcements. But more than 90 percent of the original complement of troops became casualties.

The German 6th Army originally consisted of about 330,000 men. After they were surrounded by seven Soviet armies outside Stalingrad in November, 1942, only 91,000 Germans survived to surrender. Of these, all but 5,000 or so of the starving soldiers soon died in captivity. Making this adjustment, the German death rate was about 98%.

Have there been other instances in history where both sides had armies that were besieged in turn at the same location? And both sides' besieged forces suffered 90+ per cent casualties?

Another battle between the Russians and Germans that seems similar is Battle of Tannenberg during WWI. Out of 206,000 men of the trapped Russian Second Army 78,000 were killed or wounded and 92,000 taken prisoner [1]. However it seems Stalingrad still has the edge on this because both sides had their backs against the wall in 1942, whereas Tannenberg was a bit more one-sided.

The Battle of Seden destroyed an entire french army (mostly captured, not dead) and lost the Franco Prussian war for them but like Tannenberg was one sided and over quickly. An eastern example of a high casualty battles which outcome decided a large war is the Battle of Fei River (700,000 out of 870,000 deaths on the losing side according to the Book of Jin). But again this was fairly one sided.

So maybe encirclement isn't the important thing and it's about countries stubbornly pouring manpower into the meat-grinder of an "un-loseable" war of attrition. The Western Front of WWI is a great example (lots of decimated units here[2]). Verdun being a particularly horrific fight over some hilly ground near Verdun-sur-Meuse. Loss at Verdun might have might have lost the war for the Allies, but didn't losw it (not immediately anyway) for Germany. Perhaps Stalingrad was more decisive than Verdun in particular, but if you compare it to the western front in general there are a lot of similarities.

As far as other important battles with horrible casualty rates go the Battle of Antietam and percentagewise more lethal Battle of Stones River are good American examples. Leipzig is a good example before industrialised warfare.

So while there are lots of examples of desperate fighting, encirclement and awful causalities. I would agree that given the intense struggle on both sides and it's decisive role in the Great Patriotic War (that's WW2) Stalingrad was fairly unique, with the western front in WW1 being the strongest contender in my mind.

[1] Source: Sweetman, John (2004), Tannenberg 1914 (1st ed.), London: Cassell, ISBN 978-0-304-35635-5 p158

[2] Somme example: the 1st Newfoundland Regiment suffered 91% casualties in the Somme, 801 men, 500 dead, 233 wounded, which puts it in second place to the 10th Battalion West Yorkshire on the same day but I can't find those numbers

[PS] Thought I would mention ambushes like the The Battle of Salsu (302,300 out of 305,000) or 'Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!, but I don't think they can be compared to Stalingrad.

You usually don't get casualties that goes so high; one side or the other will have the sense to realise that the battle is lost and retreat. When they can't, their losses will ramp up while the winner's will stay relatively modest.

One battle with very high losses on both sides is the Dano-Swedish Battle of Lund. However, that was not due to the generals grinding the units down; it was a very confused affair where the Swedish cavalry broke of to chase the Danish cavalry, while the Swedish infantry was very hard pressed and would have lost if the cavalry had not returned. In the end, the casualty rates for both armies where over 50 % (including wounded and prisoners of war). It has been noted as one of the bloodiest pitched battles ever.

Siege of Sarajevo

The siege of Sarajevo – the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina – was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. [3] After being initially besieged by the forces of the Yugoslav People's Army, Sarajevo was besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 (1,425 days) during the Bosnian War. The siege lasted three times longer than the Battle of Stalingrad and more than a year longer than the siege of Leningrad. [4]

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Alija Izetbegović
Hakija Turajlić
Sefer Halilović
Rasim Delić
Jovan Divjak
Dragan Vikić
Enver Hadžihasanović
Mustafa Hajrulahović
Vahid Karavelić
Nedžad Ajnadžić
Mušan "Caco" Topalović
Ismet "Ćelo" Bajramović (WIA )
Jusuf "Juka" Prazina
Ramiz Delalić
Zaim Imamović
Vladimir Šaf
Ivan Vulić

When Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia after the 1992 Bosnian independence referendum, the Bosnian Serbs—whose strategic goal was to create a new Bosnian Serb state of Republika Srpska (RS) that would include Bosniak-majority areas [5] —encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of 13,000 [6] [7] [8] stationed in the surrounding hills. From there they assaulted the city with artillery, tanks, and small arms. [9] From 2 May 1992, the Serbs blockaded the city. The Bosnian government defence forces (ARBiH) inside the besieged city, approximately 70,000 troops, [10] were poorly equipped and unable to break the siege.

A total of 13,952 people were killed during the siege, including 5,434 civilians. The ARBiH suffered 6,137 fatalities, while Bosnian Serb military casualties numbered 2,241 soldiers killed. The 1991 census indicates that before the siege the city and its surrounding areas had a population of 525,980. There are estimates that prior to the siege the population in the city proper was 435,000. The estimates of the number of persons living in Sarajevo after the siege ranged between 300,000 and 380,000. [6]

After the war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted four Serb officials for numerous counts of crimes against humanity committed during the siege, including terrorism. Stanislav Galić [11] and Dragomir Milošević [12] were sentenced to life imprisonment and 29 years imprisonment respectively. Their superiors, Radovan Karadžić [13] and Ratko Mladić, were also convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. [14] [15]

The Siege of Leningrad

World War II’s most infamous siege began a little over two months after the launch of “Operation Barbarossa,” Adolf Hitler’s surprise invasion of the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, in defiance of a nonaggression pact signed two years earlier, some 3 million German soldiers streamed across the Soviet frontier and commenced a three-pronged attack. While the center and southern elements struck at Moscow and Ukraine, the Wehrmacht’s Army Group North sped through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and moved on Leningrad, a city of over 3 million situated on the Neva River near the Baltic Sea. Hitler had long considered Leningrad a key objective in the invasion. It served as the home base of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, and its more than 600 factories made it second only to Moscow in industrial output.

While Leningrad’s civilians made a frantic attempt to construct trenches and antitank fortifications in the late summer of 1941, the Soviets’ unprepared Red Army and volunteer forces were defeated in one engagement after another. On August 31, the Germans seized the town of Mga, severing Leningrad’s last rail connection. A week later, they captured the town of Shlisselburg and cut off the last open roadway. By September 8, a water route via nearby Lake Ladoga stood as Leningrad’s only reliable connection to the outside world. The rest of the city had been almost completely encircled by the Germans and their Finnish allies to the north.

The German advance continued until late September, when Soviet forces finally halted Army Group North in the suburbs of Leningrad. With his army now bottled up in trench warfare, Hitler changed strategy and ordered them to settle in for a siege. “The Führer has decided to erase the city of Petersburg from the face of the earth,” he wrote in a memo. “It is intended to encircle the city and level it to the ground by means of artillery bombardment using every caliber of shell, and continual bombing from the air.” The memo stressed that requests for surrender negotiations were to be ignored, since the Nazis didn’t have the desire to feed the city’s large population. Hitler had chosen a chilling alternative to advancing on Leningrad directly: he would simply wait for it to starve to death.

By the time of Hitler’s directive, the Germans had already set up artillery and launched a campaign to shell Leningrad into submission. The Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force, also conducted regular bombing runs over the city. An incendiary attack on September 8 caused raging fires that destroyed vital supplies of oil and food. An even bigger raid followed on September 19, when the Luftwaffe unleashed 2,500 high explosive and incendiary bombs. All told, an estimated 75,000 bombs were dropped on the city over the course of the blockade.

While enemy fire would eventually kill or wound some 50,000 civilians during the siege, Leningrad’s most serious problem was lack of food. 600,000 people had been evacuated before the Germans tightened their grip on the city, but some 2.5 million civilians still remained. Officials had been dangerously negligent in stockpiling food, so the Soviets had to bring in fresh supplies across Lake Ladoga, which offered the only open route into the city. Food and fuel arrived in barges during the autumn and later in trucks and sleds after the lake froze in the winter. The Ladoga route became known as the “Road of Life,” but Leningrad still remained woefully undersupplied. By November, food shortages had seen civilian rations cut to just 250 grams of bread a day for workers. Children, the elderly and the unemployed got a scant 125 grams—the equivalent of three small slices.

Two women sitting among the debris in the aftermath of the German bombardment of Leningrad. (Credit: D. Trakhtenberg / Getty Images)

During the bitterly cold winter of 1941-1942, Leningrad was rocked by a starvation epidemic that claimed as many as 100,000 lives per month. “Is this my body or did it get swapped for somebody else’s without me noticing?” one man wondered. “My legs and wrists are like a growing child’s, my stomach has caved in, my ribs stick out from top to bottom.” In their desperation, people ate everything from petroleum jelly and wallpaper glue to rats, pigeons and household pets. For warmth, they burned furniture, wardrobes and even the books from their personal libraries. Theft and murder for ration cards became a constant threat, and the authorities eventually arrested over 2,000 people for cannibalism. As the famine intensified, one 12-year-old Leningrader named Tanya Savicheva recorded the dates of the deaths of all her family members in a journal. “The Savichevs are dead,” she wrote after the passing of her mother. 𠇎veryone is dead. Only Tanya is left.”

Thousands of similar tragedies played out in Leningrad during what became known as the “Hungry Winter,” and yet the city still held out against the Nazi siege. In early 1942, the Soviets evacuated some 500,000 civilians across the “Road of Life” on Lake Ladoga, reducing the starvation-ravaged population to a more manageable 1,000,000. Following the springtime thaw, meanwhile, Leningrad’s survivors conducted a thorough cleanup campaign to remove bombed-out rubble and bury the dead lining their streets. Gardens were also planted across the city in courtyards and parks. Food remained in short supply, but the city had pulled itself back from the brink of collapse. In August 1942, Leningrad even played host to a performance of composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s seventh symphony, which had been written during the early days of the siege. In defiance of the Germans, the concert was broadcast over loudspeakers pointed toward the enemy lines.

The tide would finally begin to turn early the next year. The Soviets had already made several failed attempts to break through the blockade—usually with little progress and crippling casualties𠅋ut in January 1943, the Red Army succeeded in prizing a small land bridge from the Nazis. Engineers built a special railway link on the corridor, and by the end of the year, nearly 5 million tons of food and supplies had been shuttled into Leningrad. Despite an increase in shelling and bombing from the Germans, the once-starving city sprang back to life. Its factory workers—now nearly 80 percent women—were soon producing huge amounts of machinery and ammunition.

The long-awaited breakthrough followed in early 1944, when the Red Army mobilized some 1.25 million men and 1,600 tanks in an offensive that overran the German lines. Like the rest of Hitler’s forces in Russia, Army Group North was soon pushed into a general retreat. On January 27, 1944, after nearly 900 days under blockade, Leningrad was freed. The victory was heralded with a 24-salvo salute from the city’s guns, and civilians broke into spontaneous celebrations in the streets. “People brought out vodka,” Leningrader Olga Grechina wrote. “We sang, cried, laughed but it was sad all the same—the losses were just too large.”

Stalingrad at 75: A Battle That Marked the Defeat of More than Just the Nazis

On the 75th anniversary of Germany's surrender at the iconic Soviet city, it is evident that Stalingrad was also a turning point in the larger practice of empire.

A Soviet soldier unfurls the red flag near the centre of Stalingrad. Credit: Wikimedia

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the victory of Soviet forces over Nazi Germany and its allies at the city of Stalingrad on the banks of the Volga.

It was in the nature of those times of epic proportion that a confrontation involving millions of people, with hundreds of thousands of lives lost and bodies maimed, and entire armies destroyed, is remembered as a ‘battle’. The Battle for Stalingrad, nevertheless, became a symbol for heroism, sacrifice, bloodletting, tenacity, ruthlessness and tragedy all in good measure. For the communists it was a byword for hard-fought victory. Its place in the annals of military history survived communism’s fall from grace, and J.V. Stalin’s tumble from the pedestal. There is much in the story that continues to fascinate students of warfare: one of the largest tank battles ever fought, strategic blunders and masterstrokes, a personal duel between Hitler and Stalin, the brilliance of General Zhukhov, but above all, “a psychological turning point” of the Second World War.

Map of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. After Moscow held out, the Germans advanced on Stalingrad.

After a series of spectacular successes against ill-prepared Soviet defenders, Nazi German forces attempted to take Moscow in November 1941. Their progress ground down, however, and by December they were forced to abandon the attack. In the meanwhile, things had gone well for them in the south, and having captured the main grain producing areas of the Ukraine and Russia, Hitler decided to make a lunge for Caspian Sea oil. Stalingrad was the gateway to Baku. This decision more or less sealed the fate of the war in Russia. From the military point of view, there would be a turning point, if not in Stalingrad, then somewhere else along this route. Stalin appears to have understood this, decided that the stand will be made at the city named after him, and gave General Zukhov the task of laying a trap and then closing it.

But how did Hitler’s forces allow themselves to get ‘trapped’ so deep into Russia, at the far end of Europe? If the fate of Napoleon’s armies in the winter of 1812 at the hands of the Russian expanse and winter had preyed upon the minds of Hitler and his generals, why would they choose to extend their supply lines even further to the east?

To the extent that Hitler’s politics, as laid out by him in Mein Kampf, were in the driving seat, we have an answer. Race was the predominant theme. Two groups were singled out as inexorable enemies of the noble Aryan: the “cunning parasitic Jew” and the “subhuman Slav”. A central tenet of foreign policy was to create living space or Lebensraum for Germans by annexing Poland, Ukraine and Russia for settler colonisation. The inhabitants of these lands would either be deported or turned into slave labour for German settlers. With expanded territory and resources, Germany could truly become a “World Power” so that the Aryan race could takes its rightful place as the builder of civilisation.

Some wartime commentators in the west argued that Hitler had abandoned his plans of Mein Kampf, which was published in 1925, in favour of a more ‘conventional’ aim of replacing the Bolshevik government with a collaborationist regime, like the Vichy in France. The conduct of the war in the east formalised under new rules of engagement such as the notorious Commissar and Jurisdiction Orders, however, made it clear that Hitler saw this as a “war of annihilation”, not just of the “Jewish-Bolshevik” regime, but of the people of the occupied land. What seems, with the benefit of hindsight, like an ill-thought and suicidal lunge to the east was no “mission creep”. It was a primary aim of Nazi Germany’s war.

In his book, Hitler set out his position in favour of Lebensraum compared with the policy of seeking colonies in Africa and Asia. He argued against an overseas colonial policy, not because he thought it was outmoded and collapsing, but because he believed that it was firmly entrenched. A racial empire was there to stay, it would be difficult for anyone, let alone the natives themselves, to dislodge England from its colonies:

“England will never lose India unless she admits racial disruption in the machinery of her administration (which at present is entirely out of the question in India) or unless she is overcome by the sword of some powerful enemy. But Indian risings will never bring this about. We Germans have had sufficient experience to know how hard it is to coerce England. And, apart from all this, I as a German would far rather see India under British domination than under that of any other nation.

“The hopes of an epic rising in Egypt were just as chimerical. The ‘Holy War’ may bring the pleasing illusion to our German nincompoops that others are now ready to shed their blood for them. Indeed, this cowardly speculation is almost always the father of such hopes. But in reality the illusion would soon be brought to an end under the fusillade from a few companies of British machine-guns and a hail of British bombs.”

The Soviet Union, however, was a different proposition altogether:

“This colossal Empire in the East is ripe for dissolution. And the end of the Jewish domination in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a State. We are chosen by Destiny to be the witnesses of a catastrophe which will afford the strongest confirmation of the nationalist theory of race.”

While Hitler admired England’s racially-ordered colonial system, it was the other contemporary landgrab which was seen as the more appropriate model for German expansionism. America’s Manifest Destiny had come to final fruition in 1890 with the end of armed resistance by the native peoples at Wounded Knee.

The moral and strategic arguments for the landgrab to the east were one and the same. A superior race deserved resources it could fight to take. Just as Indians and Egyptians could not overthrow the English, and the native peoples could not resist the United States, so the ‘Jewish-Bolshevik cabal’, by violently removing the German blood line of the Tsars, had left the lands of the Slavs ready for the picking. While racial supremacy and territorial hunger were not the sole preserves of Nazi Germany, Hitler’s shrill and frantic articulation of these ideas had closed off the possibility of a more cold-headed assessment of ground realities.

Hitler’s forces were not just trapped by the Soviet strategy – or muddle – of retreating before the Nazi German advance, while keeping the bulk of their military strength in secret reserve. They were also trapped on the wrong side of history. The Battle of Stalingrad was a turning point in the practice of empire. Racially-ordered settler colonialism, which was at its apogee when Hitler’s ideas were formed, and which had seemed feasible enough at the start of Nazi Germany’s war in the east, went into unstoppable retreat, with perhaps one or two notable exceptions remaining. The British Empire ended, India and Egypt became independent, and Germany emerged as a world power without any further need for Lebensraum.

It is in the nature of epics to leave behind as many lessons as there are lesson-seekers. Stalingrad will be remembered this year by disparate groups – anti-fascists, Russian nationalists, Soviet nostalgists, communist holdouts as well as the many families and communities who lost or found something there. One of its many lessons is that history does not end, ideas and power centres that lose moral legitimacy will also lose ground, shrill rhetoric notwithstanding, and it is good to keep looking out and preparing for the turning points, because they will come.

Haris Gazdar is an economist who lives and works in Karachi. He tweets at @HarisGazdar

Backdrop for a simulation

IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad provides a simulated backdrop for the air war and the conflict for the city of Stalingrad.

It’s really important to remember that the backdrop and the scenery of IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad features this very brutal battle.

The air war was a critical component of the battle overall. We see it represented in a number of different ways. Fighters flying desperate combat missions over the Volga and surrounding territory, bombers flying battlefield support missions, and transport aircraft trying to fly supplies in to the city. The simulation does its best to help us understand the size and scale of the battle.

Of course a simulation will never truly represent what was. It shouldn’t glorify it. I think what it offers us is a chance to better understand this moment in history and remember it.

Through the IL-2 series I have learned the details of titanic battles fought long ago… forever altering and opening up understanding of the conflict that we know as World War II. Hopefully it has done something similar for you as well.


These refer to battles in which armies met on a single field of battle and fought each other for anywhere from one to several days. This type of battle died out in favor of grander military operations.

Battle Year Conflict Casualties
Battle of Thymbra !9452 547 BC Lydian–Persian War 0,100,001 100,000 [1]
Battle of Marathon !9509 490 BC Greco-Persian Wars 0,005,001 5,000–8,000 [2]
Battle of Thermopylae !9519 480 BC Greco-Persian Wars 0,022,300 22,300 [3] –22,500 [4]
Battle of Plataea !9520 479 BC Greco-Persian War 0,051,500 51,500 [4] –257,000 [3]
Battle of Chaeronea !9661 338 BC Rise of Macedon 0,001,000 1,000 [5] –4,000
Battle of the Granicus !9665 334 BC Wars of Alexander the Great 0,007,000 Around 7,000 [6]
Battle of Issus !9666 333 BC Wars of Alexander the Great 0,020,001 20,000-40,000 [7]
Battle of Gaugamela !9668 331 BC Wars of Alexander the Great 0,053,500 53,500 [8]
Battle of the Hydaspes !9673 326 BC Wars of Alexander the Great 0,023,310 23,310 [8]
Battle of Sentinum !9704 295 BC Third Samnite War 0,033,701 33,700 [9]
Battle of Heraclea !9719 280 BC Pyrrhic War 0,011,001 11,000–26,000 [9]
Battle of Kalinga !9737 262 BC Kalinga-Maurya Empire 0,150,001 150,000 [10] –200,000 or even 300,000 [11] [12] (including civilians)
Battle of Changping !9739 260 BC Qin's wars of unification 0,700,000 700,000 (according to ancient sources)
Battle of the Trebia !9781 218 BC Second Punic War 0,035,000 35,000 [13]
Battle of Lake Trasimene !9782 217 BC Second Punic War 0,030,001 30,000 [13]
Battle of Cannae !9783 216 BC Second Punic War 0,056,001 56,000 [14] –92,000 or more [15]
Battle of the Metaurus !9792 207 BC Second Punic War 0,012,000 12,000 [16]
Battle of Zama !9797 202 BC Second Punic War 0,021,500 21,500 [16]
Battle of Magnesia !9809 190 BC Roman–Seleucid War 0,053,350 53,350 [17]
Battle of Pydna !9831 168 BC Third Macedonian War 0,021,000 21,000 [17]
Battle of Arausio !9894 105 BC Germanic Wars (Cimbrian War) 0,084,000 84,000 [18] [19] [20]
Battle of Carrhae !9946 53 BC Roman–Persian Wars 0,024,000 24,000 [21]
Siege of Alesia !9947 52 BC Gallic Wars 0,100,000 100,000–150,000
Battle of Pharsalus !9951 48 BC Caesar's Civil War 0,017,000 17,000 [22]
Battle of Philippi !9957 42 BC Liberators' civil war 0,024,000 24,000
Battle of Actium !9968 31 BC Final War of the Roman Republic 0,007,500 7,500 or more
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest !Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character "#". #000 9 AD Roman–Germanic wars 0,020,000 20,000 [23]
Battle of Watling Street !Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character "#". #00 61 AD Iceni Revolt 0,080,400 80,400 [24]
Battle of Mons Graupius !Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character "#". #00 84 AD Roman conquest of Britain 0,010,360 10,360 [25]
Battle of Guandu #0 200 Three Kingdoms 0,078,001 78,000 [26]
Battle of Red Cliffs #0 208 Three Kingdoms 0,100,001 100,000 [26]
Battle of Barbalissos #0 252 Roman–Persian Wars 0,060,000 60,000
Battle of Edessa #0 260 Roman–Persian Wars 0,050,000 50,000-70,000
Battle of Adrianople #0 378 Gothic War 0,040,000 40,000 or more [27]
Battle of Fei River #0 383 Wu Hu Era 0,150,001 150,000 or more [28]
Battle of the Catalaunian Plains #0 451 Hunnic Invasion 0,165,000 165,000 (doubtful, according to one ancient source) [29]
Battle of Salsu #0 612 Goguryeo–Sui War 0,302,300 302,300 [30]
Battle of al-Qadisiyyah #0 636 Muslim conquest of Persia 0,031,000 31,000 [31]
Battle of Muzayyah #0 633 Muslim conquest of Persia 0,010,000 10,000
Battle of Ullais #0 633 Muslim conquest of Persia 0,035,000 35,000 [32]
Battle of River #0 633 Muslim conquest of Persia 0,015,001 More than 15,000 [33]
Battle of Walaja #0 636 Muslim conquest of Persia 0,022,000 22,000 [34]
Battle of Nahavand #0 642 Muslim conquest of Persia 0,028,500 28,500 [35]
Battle of Yarmouk #0 636 Muslim conquest of the Levant 0,070,001 70,000 [36]
Battle of Tours #0 732 Umayyad invasion of Gaul 0,013,001 13,000
Battle of Gwiju # 1019 Third conflict in the Goryeo–Khitan War 0,090,000 90,000+.
Battle of Nhu Nguyet river #0 1077 Lý–Song War 0,150,000 150,000 [37] [38]
Battle of Montgisard # 1177 Ayyubid–Crusader War 0,025,851 Around 25,850
Battle of Hattin # 1187 Ayyubid–Crusader War 0,017,001 17,000–20,000 [39]
Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa # 1212 Reconquista 0,060,001 60,000 [40]
Battle of Yehuling # 1212 Mongol conquest of the Jin dynasty 0,050,000 Around 50,000
Battle of the Kalka River # 1223 Mongol invasion of Rus' 0,050,001 Around 50,000 [41]
Battle of Legnica # 1241 Mongol invasion of Poland 0,030,001 30,000 [42]
Battle of Mohi # 1241 Mongol invasion of Europe 0,015,001 15,000 [43]
Third battle of Bach Dang river # 1288 Mongol invasion of Vietnam 0,085,000 85,000 [44]
Battle of Jaran Manjur # 1298 Mongol invasions of India 0,020,001 Over 20,000
Battle of Yamen # 1279 Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty 0,100,001 100,000
Battle of Bannockburn # 1314 First War of Scottish Independence 0,019,001 19,000 [45]
Battle of Kulikovo # 1380 List of Mongol and Tatar raids against Rus' 0,136,001 136,000
Battle of Roosebeke # 1382 Hundred years war 0,027,601 27,600
Battle of the Terek River # 1395 Tokhtamysh–Timur war 0,100,001 100,000 [46]
Conquest of Delhi # 1398 Timur's Indian campaign 0,100,001 100,000 [47] [48]
Battle of Ankara # 1402 Ottoman–Timur War 0,015,000 15,000 or more [49]
Battle of Grunwald # 1410 Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War 0,013,001 13,000 [50]
Battle of Agincourt # 1415 Hundred Years' War 0,014,000 14,000 [ citation needed ]
Battle of Tốt Động – Chúc Động # 1426 Lam Sơn uprising 0,030,000 30,000 [51]
Tumu Crisis # 1449 Ming–Mongol War 0,200,001 200,000 or more [ citation needed ]
Battle of Towton # 1461 Wars of the Roses 0,028,000 28,000 [52]
Night Attack at Târgoviște # 1462 Wallachian-Ottoman Wars 0,020,000 20,000 [53]
Battle of Vaslui # 1475 Moldavian-Ottoman Wars 0,040,000 40,000 or more [ citation needed ]
Battle of Valea Albă # 1476 Moldavian–Ottoman Wars 0,030,000 30,000 or more [ citation needed ]
Battle of Kabul # 1504 Campaigns of Babur 0,020,001 20,000 or more [54]
Battle of Ravenna # 1512 War of the League of Cambrai 0,013,500 13,500 [55]
Battle of Marignano # 1515 War of the League of Cambrai 0,011,000 11,000–15,000 [56]
Battle of Ridaniya # 1517 Ottoman wars in the Near East 0,013,000 13,000 [57]
First Battle of Panipat # 1526 Mughal Conquest 0,020,001 20,000–50,000 [58]
Battle of Mohács # 1526 Ottoman–Hungarian wars 0,030,000 Probably 30,000 [59]
Battle of Ghaghra # 1529 Mughal Conquest 0,013,001 13,000 [60]
Battle of Lepanto # 1571 Ottoman–Venetian wars 0,022,566 22,566–27,566 [61]
Battle of Molodi # 1572 Russo-Crimean Wars 0,029,000 29,000–33,000 or 100 000 [62]
Battle of Chungju # 1592 Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598) 0,008,000 8,000–16,000 [63] 100,000 [64] [65]
Battle of Călugăreni # 1595 Long War (Ottoman War) 0,011,000 11,000–16,000 [ citation needed ]
Battle of Sacheon (1598) # 1598 Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598) 0,030,000 30,000 [66]
Battle of Sekigahara # 1600 Sengoku period 0,060,000 60,000 or less [67]
First Battle of Breitenfeld # 1631 Thirty Years' War 0,020,000 20,000 or more [68]
Battle of Lützen # 1632 Thirty Years' War 0,011,000 11,000–14,000 [68]
Battle of Nördlingen # 1634 Thirty Years' War 0,017,000 17,000 [69]
Battle of the Downs # 1639 Eighty Years' War 0,015,000 15,000 or more [70]
Battle of Song-Jin # 1641 Qing conquest of the Ming 0,060,001 60,000 [ citation needed ]
Second Battle of Breitenfeld # 1642 Thirty Years' War 0,014,000 14,000 [71]
Battle of Jankau # 1645 Thirty Years' War 0,015,500 15,500 [72]
Battle of Berestechko # 1651 Khmelnytsky Uprising 0,030,200 30,000–40,000 [73]
Battle of Samugarh # 1658 Mughal Conquest 0,032,000 32,000 [70]
Battle of Khajwa # 1659 Mughal Conquest 0,020,000 20,000 [70]
Battle of Lund # 1676 Scanian War 0,014,000 14,000 [74]
Battle of Vienna # 1683 Ottoman–Habsburg wars 0,019,500 19,500 [75]
Battle of Bijapur # 1686 [76] Mughal Conquest 0,017,000 17,000 [77]
Battle of Landen # 1693 War of the Grand Alliance 0,028,000 28,000 [77]
Battle of Zenta # 1697 Ottoman–Habsburg wars 0,030,300 30,300 [78]
Battle of Jinji # 1698 Mughal Conquest 0,016,000 16,000 [77]
Battle of Blenheim # 1704 War of the Spanish Succession 0,032,000 32,000 [77]
Battle of Fraustadt # 1706 Great Northern War 0,016,500 16,500 [79]
Battle of Ramillies # 1706 War of the Spanish Succession 0,015,600 15,600 [80]
Battle of Poltava # 1709 Great Northern War 0,014,300 14,300 [81]
Battle of Malplaquet # 1709 War of the Spanish Succession 0,095,000 95,000 [80]
Battle of Fontenoy # 1745 War of the Austrian Succession 0,014,000 14,000 [82]
Battle of Leuthen # 1757 Seven Years' War 0,011,800 11,800 [83]
Battle of Zorndorf # 1758 Seven Years' War 0,030,000 30,000 [ citation needed ]
Battle of Kunersdorf # 1759 Seven Years' War 0,035,000 35,000 [84]
Third Battle of Panipat # 1761 Marathas and Afghans 0,100,001 150,000-200,000 (including civilian camp followers) [85] [86]
Battle of Kagul # 1770 Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) 0,021,000 21,000 [87]
Battle of Rạch Gầm-Xoài Mút # 1785 Siamese-Vietnamese Wars 0,050,000 50,000 [88]
Battle of Rymnik # 1789 Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792) 0,021,000 21,000 [89]
Battle of Arcole # 1796 War of the First Coalition 0,011,000 11,000 [90]
Battle of Trebbia # 1799 War of the Second Coalition 0,017,000 17,000–23,000 [91]
Battle of Novi # 1799 War of the Second Coalition 0,019,500 19,500 [92]
Battle of Marengo # 1800 War of the Second Coalition 0,016,400 16,400 [93]
Ulm campaign # 1805 War of the Third Coalition 0,062,000 62,000 [93]
Battle of Austerlitz # 1805 War of the Third Coalition 0,045,300 45,300 [94]
Battle of Jena–Auerstedt # 1806 War of the Fourth Coalition 0,052,000 52,000 including prisoners later killed [95]
Battle of Eylau # 1807 War of the Fourth Coalition 0,040,000 40,000 [95]
Battle of Wagram # 1809 War of the Fifth Coalition 0,077,000 77,000 [95] –79,000 [96]
Battle of Talavera # 1809 Peninsular War 0,013,900 13,900 [97]
Battle of Slobozia # 1811 Russo-Turkish War (1806–1812) 0,020,000 20,000 [98]
Battle of Salamanca # 1812 Peninsular War 0,018,800 18,800 [99]
Battle of Borodino # 1812 French invasion of Russia 0,074,000 74,000 [100]
Battle of Berezina # 1812 French invasion of Russia 0,060,000 60,000 [100]
Battle of Vitoria # 1813 Peninsular War 0,013,000 13,000 [99]
Battle of Leipzig # 1813 War of the Sixth Coalition 0,124,000 124,000 [101]
Battle of Dresden # 1813 War of the Sixth Coalition 0,048,000 48,000 [94]
Battle of Ligny # 1815 Hundred Days 0,028,000 28,000 [102]
Battle of Waterloo # 1815 Hundred Days 0,047,000 47,000 or more (not including prisoners and missing) [103] [104]
Battle of Inkerman # 1854 Crimean War 0,015,857 15,857 [105]
Battle of Shiloh # 1862 American Civil War 0,024,000 24,000 [106]
Battle of Antietam # 1862 American Civil War 0,023,000 23,000 [107] –26,193 [108]
Battle of Fredericksburg # 1862 American Civil War 0,017,300 17,300 [107] –17,962 [109]
Battle of Gettysburg # 1863 American Civil War 0,051,000 51,000 [110] [111]
Battle of Chickamauga # 1863 American Civil War 0,034,001 34,000 [112]
Battle of Spotsylvania Court House # 1864 American Civil War 0,030,001 30,000 [113]
Battle of Stones River # 1862–1863 American Civil War 0,024,001 24,000 [114]
Battle of Königgrätz # 1866 Austro-Prussian War 0,047,500 47,500 [115]
Battle of Tuyutí # 1866 Paraguayan War 0,007,001 7,000–16,000 [116]
Battle of Mars-la-Tour/Battle of Gravelotte # 1870 Franco-Prussian War 0,034,000 34,000 [115]
Battle of Sedan # 1870 Franco-Prussian War 0,026,000 26,000 [117]
Battle of Adwa # 1896 First Italo-Ethiopian War 0,017,300 17,300 [118]
Battle of Binakayan-Dalahican # 1896 Philippine Revolutionary War 0,002,001 2,000–15,000 [119]
Battle of Omdurman # 1898 Mahdist War 0,020,430 20,430 [120]
Battle of Sakarya # 1921 Greco–Turkish War of 1919–22 0,061,000 61,000 [121] [122]

This list includes sieges, as well as modern battles that were fought primarily in urban areas. Major military operations that included city fighting are listed below. The battles included here inflicted at least 50,000 casualties.

Siege Year Conflict Casualties
(High est.)
(Low est.)
Siege of Alesia 52 BC Gallic Wars 200,000 100,000
Siege of Constantinople 717–718 Arab–Byzantine wars 170,000 130,000 [36]
Siege of Yongzhou 1076 Lý-Song War 140,000 [123] 78,000 [124]
Siege of Baghdad 1258 Mongol invasions and conquests 2,000,000 [125] 100,000 [125]
Siege of Tenochtitlan 1521 Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire 240,000 100,000 [126] [127]
Siege of Rhodes 1522 Ottoman wars in Europe 55,200 [57] 55,200
Siege of Chittorgarh 1567–1568 Mughal-Rajput Wars (1558-1576) 40,000 35,000
Siege of Ostend 1601–1604 Eighty Years' War 115,000 90,000
Siege of Candia 1648–1669 Cretan War 149,739 149,739
Second Siege of Zaragoza 1808–1809 Peninsular War 64,000 [128] 64,000
First Siege of Sevastopol 1854–1855 Crimean War 230,000 [129] 230,000
Third Battle of Nanking 1864 Taiping Rebellion 100,000 [130] 100,000
Siege of Petersburg 1864–1865 American Civil War 70,000 [131] 70,000
Battle of Gettysburg 1863 American Civil War 50,000 50,000
Siege of Paris 1871 Franco-Prussian War 332,142 229,000
Siege of Plevna 1877 Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) 75,000 [132] 75,000
Siege of Port Arthur 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War 100,000 [133] 100,000
Siege of Adrianople 1912–1913 First Balkan War 93,282 [134] 93,282
Battle of Taiyuan 1937 World War II 130,000 [135] 130,000
Battle of Xinkou 1937 World War II 200,000 [ citation needed ] 200,000
Battle of Shanghai 1937 World War II 400,000 [136] 400,000
Battle of Wuhan 1938 World War II 540,000 [137] 540,000
First Battle of Changsha 1939 World War II 80,000+ 80,000+ [138]
Battle of Nanchang 1939 World War II 75,328 [139] 75,328
Battle of Dunkirk 1940 World War II 88,000 [140] 88,000
Battle of South Shanxi 1941 World War II 120,000+ 120,000+ [141]
Siege of Odessa 1941 World War II 133,813 [142] 133,813
Battle of Kiev 1941 World War II 700,544 [142] 700,544
Second Siege of Sevastopol 1941–1942 World War II 236,437 236,437
Third Battle of Changsha 1942 World War II 84,862 [143] 84,862
Battle of Stalingrad 1942–1943 World War II 2,500,620 [144] 1,250,000 [145]
Battle of Changde 1943 World War II 100,000 100,000 [146]
Battle of West Hubei 1943 World War II 115,830 115,830 [147]
Siege of Leningrad 1941–1944 World War II 5,500,000 [148] 1,117,000 [149] [150]
Warsaw Uprising 1944 World War II 200,000+ 200,000+ [151]
Siege of Budapest 1944–1945 World War II 422,000 422,000 [152]
Battle of Berlin 1945 World War II 1,298,745 [153] 1,298,745 [154]
Battle of Okinawa 1945 World War II 241,593 [155] 241,593 [155]
Battle of Manila 1945 World War II 500,000 [156] [157] 100,000 [158] [159]
Battle of the Bulge 1944–1945 World War II 218,900 161,370 [160]
Siege of Changchun 1948 [161] Chinese Civil War 425,000 425,000 [162]
Siege of Basra 1987 Iran-Iraq War 85,000 85,000

This list includes major operations and prolonged battles or operations fought over a large area or for a long time. The duration of some operations, like the Battle of Moscow, are disputed so numbers found in various sources may differ for that reason alone.

2. Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia

Napoleon was a brilliant leader who enjoyed many successes on the battlefield. As Emperor, he made France the dominant power in Europe but all of this went to his head and overconfidence led him to make one of history’s most notorious military howlers.

In 1812, Napoleon decided it was a good idea to invade Russia with winter just around the corner. His ‘Grand Armié’ went in 680,000 strong, the largest army ever assembled in the history of warfare at that time. Just five months later, the French army would limp out of Russia having lost nearly 500,000 men.

Russia’s unwillingness to engage but instead retreat further into their own country and employ scorched-earth tactics meant that Napoleon was refused the fast victory he wanted. When he finally reached Moscow, Napoleon discovered it abandoned and burnt. Instead of moving on he decided to stay in Moscow and wait for a peace offer from the Russians. It never came and the Russian winter was now one month closer.

As the Russian winter set in, the lack of food and shelter paid a heavy price on the French army.

As Napoleon’s army began their retreat they followed the same route home, a route that had little on offer regarding food and shelter since the Russians had destroyed it all. The inadequate French supply lines offered little in support.

As the Russian winter set in, the lack of food and shelter paid a heavy price on the French army. Coupled with persisted attacks from Russian forces, the Grand Armié army went into a state of disarray and discipline went out the window.

By the time the last French soldier made it off Russian soil, it was clear the campaign had been the bloodiest in the Napoleonic Wars and a tremendous turning point for the French Empire. Not only was Napoleon’s reputation severely damaged but his army was also a shell of its former self. Ultimately the failure of the invasion triggered the War of the Sixth Coalition, which saw Napoleon defeated and exiled on Elba.

4. Sent Hitler over the edge

“The problem was that Hitler had invested so much in propaganda terms – even Goebbels was worried about how much was being invested – into the capture of Stalingrad, that it was a question of pride, of vanity,”says Anthony Beevor, the best-selling war historian.

But the issue goes deeper. Hitler’s rapid ascent, both political and military, relied on manic self-belief and optimism that was carried straight into Operation Barbarossa in 1941. Even before Stalingrad, after the Soviet Union refused to surrender in the planned two months, the Führer was – perhaps subconsciously – aware that for the first time the endgame did not look promising.

A victim of the sunk cost fallacy, instead of cutting his losses and suing for peace, he doubled down, looking for the big win. And once the battle started, he did it again and again, even when there could no longer be any military justification for taking the city.

The realization of defeat, the impact of which he freely admitted, devastated Hitler. Out went the natural ebullience and Wagner sessions with the high command, in came regular amphetamine injections and a depression that prevented him even from making key addresses to the nation.

This is how two of his personal aides Otto Guensche and Heinze Linge described his mental state in the period to the Soviets who captured and interviewed them.

“The attacks of nervous irritation increased. One moment Hitler’s collar was too tight and was stopping his circulation the next his trousers were too long. He complained that his skin itched. He suspected poison everywhere, in the lavatory cistern, on the soap, in the shaving cream or in the toothpaste, and demanded that these be minutely analyzed. The water used for cooking his food had to be investigated as well. Hitler chewed his fingernails and scratched his ears and neck until they bled. Because he suffered from insomnia, he took every possible sleeping pill,” reads the document, known as The Hitler Book.

In the next two years he would retreat further into delusion and despondency and literally into his underground bunker.

When they drew up their plans for the invasion of France, the Allied staff considered that it would be necessary to secure a deep-water port to allow reinforcements to be brought directly from the United States. (Without such a port, equipment packed for transit would first have to be unloaded at a port in Great Britain, unpacked, waterproofed and then reloaded onto landing craft to be transferred to France). Cherbourg, at the end of the Cotentin Peninsula, was the largest port accessible from the landings.

The Allied planners decided at first not to land directly on the Cotentin Peninsula, since this sector would be separated from the main Allied landings by the Douve River valley, which had been flooded by the Germans to deter airborne landings. On being appointed overall land commander for the invasion in January 1944, British Army General Bernard Montgomery reinstated the landing on the Cotentin peninsula, partly to widen the front and therefore prevent the invaders becoming sealed into a narrow lodgement, but also to enable a rapid capture of Cherbourg.

In the early hours of 6 June paratroopers (the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions) landed at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula. Although the landings were scattered, they nevertheless secured most of the routes by which the US VII Corps would advance from Utah Beach. The US 4th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach shortly after dawn with few casualties.

In the immediate aftermath of the landings the priority for the invasion forces at Utah Beach was to link up with the main Allied landings further east. On 9 June the 101st Airborne Division managed to cross the Douve River valley and captured Carentan the next day. After vicious house-to-house fighting during the Battle of Carentan, the airborne troops were able to take the town, ensuring the Allies a continuous front. The front was maintained despite a German counterattack reinforced by armored units on the 13th, known as the Battle of Bloody Gulch.

This success allowed VII Corps to advance westwards to cut off the Cotentin Peninsula. An additional three infantry divisions had landed to reinforce the Corps. Major General J. Lawton Collins, the Corps Commander, drove his troops hard, replacing units in the front lines or sacking officers if progress was slow.

The Germans facing VII Corps were a mix of regiments and battlegroups from several divisions, many of which had already suffered heavy casualties fighting the American airborne troops in the first days of the landings. Very few German armored or mobile troops could be sent to this part of the front because of the threat to Caen further east. Infantry reinforcements arrived only slowly. Tactically, the Germans' flooding of the Douve worked against them because it secured the Allied southern flank. [ citation needed ]

By 16 June there were no further natural obstacles in front of the American forces. The German command was in some confusion. Erwin Rommel and other commanders wished to withdraw their troops in good order into the Atlantic Wall fortifications of Cherbourg, where they could have withstood a siege for some time. Adolf Hitler demanded that they hold their present lines even though this risked disaster.

Late on 17 June Hitler agreed that the troops might withdraw but specified that they were to occupy a new, illogical defensive line, spanning the entire peninsula just south of Cherbourg. Rommel protested against this order, but he nevertheless dismissed General Farmbacher, commanding the LXXXIV Corps, who he thought was trying to circumvent it.

On 18 June the US 9th Infantry Division reached the west coast of the peninsula, isolating the Cherbourg garrison from any potential reinforcements. Within 24 hours, the 4th Infantry, 9th and 79th Infantry Divisions were driving north on a broad front. There was little opposition on the western side of the peninsula and on the eastern side, the exhausted defenders around Montebourg collapsed. Several large caches of V-1 flying bombs were discovered by the Americans in addition to a V-2 rocket installation at Brix.

In two days, the American divisions were within striking distance of Cherbourg. The garrison commander, Lieutenant General Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben, had 21,000 men but many of these were hastily drafted naval personnel or from labour units. [ citation needed ] The fighting troops who had retreated to Cherbourg (including the remnants of von Schlieben's own division, the 709th), were tired and disorganised. Food, fuel and ammunition were short. The Luftwaffe dropped a few supplies, but these were mostly items such as Iron Crosses, intended to bolster the garrison's morale. [ citation needed ] Nevertheless, von Schlieben rejected a summons to surrender and began carrying out demolitions to deny the port to the Allies.

Collins launched a general assault on 22 June. Resistance was stiff at first, but the Americans slowly cleared the Germans from their bunkers and concrete pillboxes. Allied naval ships bombarded fortifications near the city on 25 June. On 26 June, the British elite force No. 30 Commando also known as 30 Assault Unit launched an assault on Octeville – a suburb to the south west of Cherbourg. This was the location of the Kriegsmarine naval intelligence HQ at Villa Meurice which the Commandos captured along with 20 officers and 500 men. On the same day the 79th Division captured Fort du Roule, which dominated the city and its defenses. This finished any organised defense. Von Schlieben was captured. The harbor fortifications and the arsenal surrendered on 29 June, after a ruse by Allied officers, Capt Blazzard and Col Teague, who convinced the German officers to surrender the peninsula, bluffing about their manpower and ordnance. Some German troops cut off outside the defenses held out until 1 July.

The Germans had so thoroughly wrecked and mined the port of Cherbourg that Hitler awarded the Knight's Cross to Rear Admiral Walter Hennecke the day after he surrendered for "a feat unprecedented in the annals of coastal defense." [1] The port was not brought into limited use until the middle of August although the first ships were able to use the harbor in late July. Nevertheless, the Germans had suffered a major defeat as a result of a rapid Allied build up on their western flank and Hitler's rigid orders. General Friedrich Dollmann, commanding the German Seventh Army, died on 28 June, having just been informed of a court martial pending as a result of the capture of Cherbourg, reportedly from a heart attack but possibly by suicide by poisoning. [ citation needed ]

Watch the video: THE BATTLE OF STALINGRAD - for National Geographic