Military Wiki
Friedrich Paulus
Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Paulus (shown in General's uniform)
Birth name Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus
Born (1890-09-23)23 September 1890
Died 1 February 1957(1957-02-01) (aged 66)
Place of birth Guxhagen, Hesse-Nassau, German Empire
Place of death Dresden, East Germany
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany (to 1943)
 East Germany
Years of service 1910 - 1943
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Commands held Sixth Army

World War I
World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves

Paulus in Southern Russia, January 1942.

Paulus (left), and his aides Col. Wilhelm Adam (right) and Lt.-Gen. Arthur Schmidt (middle), after their surrender in Stalingrad


Paulus' interrogation at Don Front HQ: General Rokossovsky, Marshal Voronov, translator Nikolay Dyatlenko and Paulus (left to right)

Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus (23 September 1890 – 1 February 1957) was an officer in the German military from 1910 to 1945. He attained the rank of Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal) during World War II, and is best known for commanding the Sixth Army in the Battle of Stalingrad, including the successful advance toward the city and the less successful attack in 1942 (Case Blue) stopped by the Soviet counter-offensives during the 1942-43 winter. The battle ended in disaster for Nazi Germany when about 265,000 soldiers of the Wehrmacht, their Axis allies, and the anti-Soviet Hilfswillige Russian volunteers were encircled and defeated. Of the 107,000 captured, only 6,000 survived the captivity and returned home by 1955.

Paulus surrendered to Soviet forces in Stalingrad on 31 January 1943, a day after he was promoted to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall by Adolf Hitler. Hitler expected Paulus to commit suicide, citing the fact that there was no record of a German field marshal ever being captured alive. While in Soviet captivity during the war, Paulus became a vocal critic of the Nazi regime and joined the Soviet-sponsored National Committee for a Free Germany. He moved to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1953.

Early life

Paulus was born in Guxhagen, Hesse-Nassau, the son of a school teacher.

He tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a cadetship in the Imperial German Navy (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.

After the Armistice, Paulus was a brigade adjutant with the Freikorps. He was chosen as one of only 4,000 officers to serve in the Reichswehr, the defensive army that the Treaty of Versailles had limited to 100,000 men. He 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. This was a new formation under the direction of Oswald Lutz that directed the training and development panzerwaffen or tank forces of the German army.

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 Major General and became Chief of Staff for the German Tenth Army, with which he saw service in Poland. The unit was renamed the Sixth Army, and engaged in the spring offensives of 1940 through the Netherlands and Belgium. Paulus was promoted to Lieutenant General in August 1940. 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 was promoted to General of the Armoured Troops and became commander of the German Sixth Army in January 1942 and led the drive on Stalingrad during that summer. Paulus' troops fought the defending Soviet troops holding Stalingrad over three months in increasingly brutal urban warfare. In November 1942, when the Soviet Red Army launched a massive counter-offensive, code named Operation Uranus, Paulus found himself surrounded by an entire Soviet Army Group.

Paulus followed Adolf Hitler's orders to hold the Army's position in Stalingrad under all circumstances, despite the fact that he was completely surrounded by strong Russian formations. A relief effort by Army Group Don under Field Marshal Erich von Manstein was launched in December. Following his orders, Paulus refused to cooperate with the offensive and kept his entire army in fixed defensive positions. Manstein told Paulus that the relief would be unlikely to succeed without assistance from Sixth Army, but Paulus remained absolutely firm in obeying the orders he had been given. Manstein's forces were unable to reach Stalingrad on their own and their efforts were eventually halted due to Soviet offensives elsewhere on the front. 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 food, ammunition, equipment attrition and the deteriorating physical condition of the German troops gradually wore down the German defense. The battle was fought with terrible losses on both sides and great suffering.


On 8 January 1943, General Konstantin Rokossovsky, commander of the Red Army on the Don front, called a cease fire and offered Paulus' men generous surrender terms—normal rations, medical treatment for the ill and wounded, permission to retain their badges, decorations, uniforms and personal effects, and repatriation to any country they wished after the war, terms that Rokossovsky was not in a position to guarantee. As part of his communication, Rokossovsky advised Paulus that he was in an impossible situation. Paulus again requested permission from Hitler to surrender. As before, Hitler rejected the request out of hand. Although it was obvious the Sixth Army was in an untenable position, Hitler ordered Paulus to hold "fortress Stalingrad" to the last man.

After a heavy Soviet offensive overran the last emergency airstrip in Stalingrad on 25 January, the Russians again offered Paulus a chance to surrender. Paulus again requested permission to surrender. He informed Hitler that his men were without ammunition or food, and he was no longer able to command them. He also said that 18,000 men were wounded and were in immediate need of medical attention. Once again, Hitler ordered Paulus to hold Stalingrad to the death. On 30 January, Paulus informed Hitler that his men were hours from collapse. Hitler responded by showering a raft of field 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. In deciding to promote Paulus, Hitler noted that there was no known record of a Prussian or German field marshal ever having surrendered. The implication was clear: Paulus was to commit suicide. If Paulus surrendered, Hitler implied he would shame Germany's military history.


Despite this, and to the disgust of Hitler, Paulus and his staff surrendered the next day, 31 January. On the 2 February 1943 the remainder of the Sixth Army capitulated. Upon finding out about Paulus' surrender, Hitler flew into a rage, and vowed never to appoint another field marshal again. He would, in fact, go on to appoint another seven field marshals during the last two years of the war. Speaking about the surrender of Paulus, Hitler told his staff:

In peacetime Germany, about 18,000 or 20,000 people a year chose to commit suicide, even without being in such a position. Here is a man who sees 50,000 or 60,000 of his soldiers die defending themselves bravely to the end. How can he surrender himself to the Bolshevists?![1]

Paulus, a Roman Catholic, was opposed to suicide. During his captivity, according to General Max Pfeffer, Paulus said of Hitler's expectation: "I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal." Another general told the NKVD (the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union) that Paulus had told him about his promotion to field marshal and said: "It looks like an invitation to commit suicide, but I will not do this favour for him." Paulus also forbade his soldiers from standing on top of their trenches in order to be shot by the enemy.[2]

After Stalingrad and postwar

Paulus speaking at a press conference in East Berlin in 1954

Although he at first refused to collaborate with the Soviets, after the attempted assassination of Hitler on 20 July 1944, 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 allowed to relocate to the German Democratic Republic in 1953, two years before the repatriation of the remaining German POWs who were held under the pretext that West Germany was not recognized by the Soviet Union, and were used for forced labor.

During the Nuremberg Trials, Paulus was asked about the Stalingrad prisoners by a journalist. Paulus told the journalist to tell the wives and mothers that their husbands and sons were well.[3] Of the 91,000 German prisoners taken at Stalingrad, half had died on the march to Siberian prison camps, and nearly as many died in captivity; only about 6,000 returned home.[4]

From 1953 to 1956, he lived in Dresden, East Germany, where he worked as the civilian chief of the East German Military History Research Institute and not, as often wrongly described,[citation needed] as an inspector of police. In late 1956, he developed Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and became progressively weaker. He died within a few months, in Dresden, on 1 February 1957, 14 years after the surrender at Stalingrad. As part of his last will and testament, his body was transported to Baden, West Germany to be buried next to his wife, who had died eight years earlier in 1949, not having seen her husband since his departure for the Eastern front in the summer of 1942.[5]

Awards and decorations


  1. Overy 1997, p. 185.
  2. Beevor p. 381
  3. Craig, William (1973). Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad New York: Penguin Books (paperback, ISBN 0-14-200000-0) p.280
  4. Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois: The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, 1999, hardcover, 858 pages, ISBN 0-674-07608-7, page 322, They put the number of POW captured at Stalingrad at 100,000 of whom 6,000 survived
  5. On one of the final Luftwaffe flights out of Stalingrad, Paulus had sent his wedding ring to his wife (Commanders at War, on the Military Channel, 28 May 2010).
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 (in German) Rangliste des Deutschen Reichsheeres. Mittler & Sohn Verlag. 1930. p. 132. 
  7. (in German) Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945. Ranis/Jena: Scherzers Militaer-Verlag. 2007. p. 585. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 


  • Beevor, Antony (1998). Stalingrad, The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. New York: Penguin Books. 
  • Craig, William (1974). Enemy at the Gates. The Battle for Stalingrad. Victoria: Penguin Books. 
  • Overy, Richard (1997). Russia's War. United Kingdom: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-027169-4. 
  • von Mellenthin, Friedrich (2006). Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. United States: Konecky & Konecky. ISBN 1-56852-578-8. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Reichenau
Commander of 6. Armee
30 December 1941 – 3 February 1943
Succeeded by
General Karl-Adolf Hollidt

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