A Tale of Three Cities: Stalingrad, Hue and Mogadishu

Lessons in Urban Operations and Asymmetrical Warfare Doctrine

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2010

39 Pages



In December of 1941 as Operation Barbarossa comes to an abrupt halt at the gates of Moscow. The German High Command plan’s and launches Operation Blau; the summer campaign and full-scale offensive on the Southern flank of the Eastern Front. This operation was supposed to be the “strategic decision-seeking offensive” [i].

Stalingrad is a prominent feature on the Don River bend that is now key to the strategic decision making process. This decision was supposed to put the Caucasus and the strategic Oil fields in Hitler’s possession. Although Hitler and the German General staff never originally intended to actually fight in the city. Stalingrad has become a textbook example for strategic, operational and tactical lessons in urban combat.

With this in mind, It has been characterized that warfare in the 21st Century will see an increase in urban military operations.[ii] Accordingly, the preface to Field Manual (FM) 3-06.11 (Draft), Combined Arms Operations in Urban Terrain, indicates that all operations that involve the Military will most likely involve urban operations for the foreseeable future.[iii] Of parallel concern is the continued and increasing debate and discussion of asymmetrical warfare. Subsequently, urban operations will be an asymmetrical element to be exploited. Interestingly, the New Draft manual has 1 paragraph in Chapter 1 that addresses the symmetrical and asymmetrical threat and FM 3-0, Operations, a keystone manual for US Army doctrine has 6 short paragraphs in Chapter 4.

The definitions left to the reader in these manuals are both broad and short. Although these definitions leave the reader with the distinct impression that asymmetry is largely achieved through technological means. It can be safely argued that commanders at all levels of planning and execution, since the first recorded battles have sought to seek the decisive strategy, weapon and technological advancement that would bring swift victory from a massive blow. And, that this blow would be rapid, decisive and result in an overwhelming and disproportionately successful effect. Another consideration of the available definitions leaves the reader with the clear impression that asymmetry is largely planned and achieved at the strategic and operational level’s of command. Yet clearly, the squad leaders to the battalion commander are as capable of offering or inadvertently providing an asymmetrical wedge as well as the Theater Staff or Commander in Chief.

The Summer Offensive, The battle for Stalingrad, and post Stalingrad operations offer important lessons in asymmetrical warfare that have parallels and usefulness for today’s modern, joint and coalition Army. These lessons correlate strongly with the doctrinal views expressed in a number of current manuals and documents such as FM 3-0, FM 3-06; USJFCOM J9’s coordinating Draft of Rapid Decisive Operations; JV 2020 and The NSS phase one document.[iv] This paper will explore some of the relevant historical lessons of Stalingrad and how they apply today to current doctrine.

Stalingrad and its relevance to asymmetrical warfare offer’s lessons across the entire operational framework of strategic, operational and tactical elements of planning and execution; In particular, the lessons of Stalingrad are applicable to modern combined arms, joint force and coalition operations.

As Hitler meddled in the planning and execution phase of the operations he was especially worry some and indecisive on the Eastern Front. As The Russian troops increased in numbers and largely became cannon fodder for the Wehrmacht. Pockets of stiff Russian resistance and sheer mass began to take their toll on the German Army. Additionally, Hitler had serious misgivings over his General Staff’s ability to carry out his exact instructions. He attempted to unequivocally subjugate his officers and subsequently hired and fired several General Officers, re drew Army Boundaries and reallocated units and missions to suit his personal taste, increasing paranoia and the subsequently increasing fixation with the name and city of Stalingrad.

It is easy to see with perfect historical hindsight, how the Germans failed in a number of areas. For instance, Judgment; this failure was born of many elements of leadership, impatience, impetuousness, players, personalities, events and ideology.

Arguably there were many errors in judgment, however, one of the early signs of errors in judgment occurs when Hitler continually assesses coalition forces on the Eastern Front in purely mathematical terms. These units with rare exception were neither at full strength nor of the Wehrmacht quality that Hitler insisted they were. A deeper strategic problem was with the ‘League of Nations Army “ and the corresponding difference of opinion between Hitler and the High Command on the equipment, leadership and training of the “Coalition” forces on the Eastern front. There were only a few exceptions to the foul characterizations that had been attributed to the Hungarians, Romanians and Italians. The Soviets would exploit this disparity that would ultimately lead to the encirclement and destruction of the 6th Army. [v] When the Soviets launched Operation Uranus on 19 November 1942 they had massed the 5th Tank Army and 21st Army on the NorthWest, approximately 100 miles in straight-line distance from Stalingrad. Vicinity of Serafimovich on the Don and attacked through the approximately Nine Romanian Divisions. On the South, they massed 3 Armies, the 51st, 57th and 64th, approximately 30 miles South East of Stalingrad on the West Side of the Volga, and attacked through three Romanian and one German division. The 64th and the 62nd would hold the line at Stalingrad and would continue to hold the Germans by the nose as they conducted frequent attacks in the City. Gleaning there intelligence of the situation from a number of ways, but primarily from patrols that were sent to deliberately capture “tongues”, Soviet slang for prisoners. [vi] They clearly knew that the Romanian divisions in these sectors were both ill equipped and ill led and despised by the Germans. Besides the fact that the Soviet plan was clearly a deep battle strategy that intended to break through far to the rear and cause immense panic in the Depot and Army Rear Area’s. The Soviets primarily exploited the weakness of integrating units with in the Coalition. Modern US Forces are, and will be required to work extensively with a number of other coalition armies. Those that are primarily “Non Western” could potentially be the American Achilles heel in any operation. Primarily for the difference in training and technology. Even the other so-called other “Western” Armies have language, cultural, technological, equipment, leadership and rules of engagement differences that can and will be exploited.

The Germans to the gradual and subsequent advantage of the Soviets created a different strategic asymmetry; for instance, a German tactical and strategic blunder was the blind reprisal and retaliation methods that they used. In essence, although much of the population thought of the Germans as rescuers. The Germans treated everyone the same. They were all considered combatants and or partisans. Furthermore, as the German Army used Napoleonic foraging techniques additional portions of the population came to despise and hate there so called rescuers. From a strategic point of view, this stiffened resolve, determination and ideology. These elements would later be successfully exploited further by the Red Army as the intensity at Stalingrad increased; and as German disciplinary and collective punishment measures escalated in harshness.[vii] In a comparison with the current National Military Strategy of Shape, Respond and Prepare Now; which is translated into the operational planning fundamentals in Chapter 4, FM 3-0, Operations, Fundamentals of Full Spectrum Operations. The German High Command in expectation of a clear, decisive and rapid victory in the East, began to “Shape and Prepare” the battlefield with these reprisals. Regardless if this was actually intended or not, the unintended consequences of these actions, planned or unplanned, “Shaped” the battlefield. As is now common knowledge, these harsh measures worked to the gradual increase in resistance and firmly entrenched soviet ideology and provided immense amounts of material for Soviet disinformation and propaganda. Even converting those that devoutly hated the Stalin Regime yet preferred the Soviets to the Germans because of the brutality and indiscriminate harshness of German measures.[viii]

Another strategic German failure was the constantly changing organizational structure and missions after Operation Blau. That is, Essentially from about 23 August 1943 when the First Units of the 16th Pz Division viewed the Volga from the high ground at Rynok, until the final collapse on 31 January 1943, had little consistency in task organization assignment structure. For instance, The two Engineer Battalions were actually “Army” assets, Engineers were task organized by Squad, Platoon or Company but no mention was made of task organization in conjunction with mission and capabilities. Arguably, as units were decimated and not replenished, the 6th Army had no choice but to reconstitute ad hoc units. This might work in a pinch, but once again, differences in unit equipment, training and leadership would ultimately work against them. Time and equipment would be the two major factors that could potentially overcome this deficiency. Both of which the 6th Army did not have. Coupled with this was the fact that the Luftwaffe, although providing close air support, was actually operating as an independent arm and assigned there own air missions and sorties. Ground Commanders may have requested specific air missions, and there may have been some general officer discussion over planning and some promised support, but the Luftwaffe was independent of the ground commander and independently assigned air tasking orders and missions. In a take on the “Split Military Psyche” the Luftwaffe had there own ideas on what should or should not be a target.[ix] They Generally considered ground support and tank buster operations demeaning and menial. For Instance; It is incomprehensible why the German Air Force continued to bomb rubbled area’s within Stalingrad instead of focusing on the deep battle and interdicting follow on Soviet forces, reserves, artillery, command and control and logistics.

Discounting the power plays, animosity, flawed strategy and operational planning by Hitler. The German General staff did a remarkable job of continuing with the tradition of the “Operational Art’ at the Division level and Below. Additionally, this speaks highly of the German soldiers, NCO’s and Officers that executed the tactical elements of these flawed operational plans, even as composite ad hoc units. If anything, That itself is a study of Leadership, Training, Camaraderie and Discipline. Additionally, when one considers that the actual street fight and building for building close combat was conducted by squads, sections and platoons, that in many cases where also ad hoc formations, that also speaks highly of the training and ability of the soldiers and NCO’s that performed the lions share of the leadership role in the urban fight.

As one studies the incremental and increasing changes in the operational planning and subsequent fixation with Stalingrad. There is a remarkable resemblance to the phases or stages of conflict escalation. As each belligerent draws a line in the sand, the stakes become increasingly higher and the amount of resources and energy committed is commensurate with the amount of hatred, enmity and desire to win at whatever the cost. Both sides were determined to win at Stalingrad. For the Germans, it was an underestimation of Soviet resolve, available manpower and resources. Further, it was a matter of concentration of command authority and a delay in strategic decision making. For the Soviets, it was an act of desperation and survival. They had nothing left to lose but the country itself along with whatever dignity and honor they had left; harsh Soviet Disciplinary tactics also helped stem the tide of “Defeatism”.

Although discussed as an individual element. This is actually part of a series of calculations, miscalculations, and ideology that were “Shaped” over time. Besides the obvious fact that the Germans could and should have bypassed Stalingrad. And besides the fact that both sides made a deliberate and conscious strategic decision to bleed each other white on the Volga. Neither side had the foresight to use these elements to shape the battlefield. That is at least not until after the battle of Stalingrad, but more on that later.

Tactically, Stalingrad was a model of improvisation, and necessity is the mother of inventions. Improvisations during the Stalingrad campaign were as much a result of need and creativity as it was also a means to overcome deficiencies in supply or doctrine. Each side learned to put Wire mesh over Windows to keep out hand grenades. The soviets developed “Hugging’ techniques and kept the front trace within 50 yards of the German troops in order to reduce the effectiveness of Air and Artillery. Both sides used Reconnaissance in Force as a means of implementing ‘Economy of Force”. Both sides developed squad level “Storm Troop” tactics and organizations to better deal with the chaos of close combat in an urban setting and to better exploit the existing capabilities of assigned weapons systems through a modified task organization.[x]

In all respects, it was the gathering and cumulative effect of a number of variables or “Friction; [xi] Which speaks largely to a strategic and operational control born of “Shape, Respond and Prepare Now” of which the German High Command had both miscalculated and seriously misjudged. The implications of a very long range plan that must begin well before the conflict stage, surely implies the need for a full court press of all covert and PSYOP operations. And the conscious decision to implement these shaping strategies well before consideration of troop deployment and trigger pull, ideally, in the diplomatic stage. As an example, Post Stalingrad, the Formation of the “German League of Officers” was the Soviet exploitation of Psyop’s. This “League” had absolutely no credibility and no believable plausibility. If Both the Soviets and Germans had expected to create an offensive employment of ‘Friction” then this charade would have had to have been born long before “Operation Ring”. Timing is a key element in establishing this believable plausibility. [xii] Post Stalingrad was not the time for either side to attempt to manipulate world opinion with such nonsensical charades.

What is relevant to modern operations are this cumulative and culminating effect of many elements that created the “Psychological and Disproportionate effect” that led the Soviets and Germans on the road back to Berlin.[xiii]

Using a biblical lesson in history to explore and exaggerate the “Shape and Respond” strategy. Let’s explore a lesson from the Biblical Book of Jonah. Although Biblical scholars would indicate that the Book of Jonah is an allegory of lessons, it does provide a very good example of potential shaping. If we examine Jonah 3:1-5,10 we will see that first, Jonah is an unwilling participant. He is called to be an Ambassador. The Commander in Chief sends Jonah to Nineveh. Jonah is to tell the Ninevites that unless they repent Gods punishment will be swift and severe. The Ninevites repent. Jonah as Ambassador is the reluctant messenger. Jonah feels that the Ninevites should be destroyed and does not want to deliver the message because he knows that if they repent then God will show mercy. Although the timeline is greatly expanded it will show how God or the Commander in Chief used a shaping strategy to achieve his ends. First, Nineveh falls about 612 BC. Although the Book of Jonah is written circa 400-200 BC it is known that that the historical elements of the allegory occurred between 750 BC and 612 BC when Nineveh falls. By Now, there has been somewhat of a “Psyops” campaign. The Ninevites had surely known of Sodom and Gomorra, they had heard of the Flood, the Fall of Babel and the Crossing of the Red Sea. Moving forward in time to circa 1200BC we have the Exodus and Conquest and now, about 750 BC we have the predictions of Deuteronomy the fall of Jericho and the fall of the Northern kingdom. [xiv] So, with this series of major and other minor events there has been a clear shaping of the battlefield. Of course there are a number of assumptions and elements that might provide “Scenario Variants” for instance. What if Jonah had not delivered the message with conviction?, surely our present day diplomats and leaders personal opinions will account for an altering of the intended outcome? And of course there are a host of other questions and biblical timeline debates in which this paper recognizes, yet is not intended to demean, belittle, diminish or provide the room for such an extended debate. However, this was intended to show an “Shaping” example and how the current doctrine of asymmetry, shape, prepare and respond will need to clearly be assessed, re evaluated and implemented over the course of many years. Another example would be to consider current Urban Architecture. It is a known fact that a number of buildings and facilities built with in the last 10 years are also built to inhibit or prevent the use of wireless phones and other wireless apparatus. So with this in mind, how will the Military shape, prepare and respond to that Urban dilemma? Will staff’s be specialized by region and or city? Will commands and or Divisions become highly specialized as well? Will CENTCOM get the city and architecture drawings for every major city in its theater? Has acquisition of new military technology taken the potential wireless blackout areas into consideration? How will these weaknesses be compensated for in current and or near future urban operations until technology, strategy or both catch up with the R&D and equipment issue phase?

Arguably, one might say that the United States would never deliberately make the kind of decision that the Germans made regarding a deliberate decision to a battle of absolute attrition and annihilation for a city. Or that we would even tolerate the kind of casualties that are a result of urban combat. On the other hand, we also know that cities are increasingly important for their political, economic, b2b and ideological symbolism. With Internet and system networks, backups and system redundancy, as a minimum there will be the requirement to insert troops into the urban setting rapidly and decisively. Securing the multiple and redundant networks are as key and critical terrain as airfields, power stations, dam’s, oil fields, radio stations and government buildings. Assuming that the Shape. Respond and Prepare Now doctrine also provides for computer EW and ECM Measures well in advance of any fight. It will still be important to physically secure these items to prevent destruction of data and help restore the infrastructure to normalcy during stability and or constabulary operations.

All in all there are number of lessons from the battle of Stalingrad that relate directly to an enemy that will seek to exploit asymmetry in his operations. Once again, although some might argue that this was a conventional war setting, the lessons are clear and unmistakable for modern army doctrine.

Strategically: Shaping the battlefield comes in many ways and designs. Since we are already practicing unrestricted warfare in the political and business world it will be important for the military to do the same. Shaping operations will need to address religious, ideological, humanitarian, business, political and social elements just to name a few. In order for the charade of the “German League of Officers” to work. That would need to be planned and implemented very early in the operation. Not after the slugfest decided the outcome. Coalitions: They will come in various shapes, sizes and resolve. Adding to the “Friction” dilemma will be the leadership, training, equipment and resolve of each unit down to Battalion, Company and Squad level. Aggregating ability by Division, Country or Nationality will be a dangerous prospect. Because there is a growing concern in the World that the US is exercising its power in inappropriate ways. The “Yankee Go Home” attitude is increasing in intensity.[xv] Consequently, this could potentially act as a contagion among the Officers and soldiers within those units. If there is a hint of mistrust or lack of confidence in leadership, equipment, ability or government action it will take a Herculean effort to prevent the intolerant derision and mudslinging between units and forces, not to mention the monumental degradation in morale, unity and cohesion. Tactically: With the understanding that a tactical failure can result in strategic and or operational failure. Small, very small units; that is, from Squad to Battalion will need to be highly educated and might strongly consider some kind of area specialization within the ranks. It is a known fact that there are not enough special operations soldiers to cover all the missions and all the theaters. Some conventional units other than the 82nd, 101st, 10th Mtn and selected Marine Units will need to be trained for specialized regions and missions. In turn these Divisions or Corp size Units would work with TRADOC to act as the “proponency” for that task and region and then use train the trainer and reassignment selection to cross level knowledge and skills.

Across the Strategic Spectrum: It is not sufficient anymore for soldiers to just know the commander’s intent or know and understand the broad brush stroke of the strategic intent. They must be knowledgeable of regional and global events. They must be intimately knowledgeable of global events. They must understand how the tactical portion can enhance, mitigate or wreck the operational and strategic plan. Increasingly, soldiers will need to add the Harvard Business Review, World Energy, The Washington Post, Forbes, Business week and Baseline Magazine to the book shelf and ruck sack of FM’s and other materials that accompany them on training or deployment missions.

Unit organizations should become Networks, each network with the most expert and recent data, equipment and resources that are available for use. The networks should be redundant and have back up. We should consider experimental reorganization that would test the habitual opcon, assigned, attached methodology to one that is network capable. Meaning, as indicated earlier, that a Company is a Network, and each platoon is a network within a network; each Company is a network within a Battalion network. A high degree of specialization is now required. Knowing that tactical, operational and strategic specialization may become an asymmetrical weakness, like a Corporate network that has back up and redundancy in its network, if there is catastrophic failure in New York, then the Back up in Des Moines or Pensacola will kick in. For the modern soldier to be capable of Full spectrum dominance and capable of OOTW, they will need to act like Corporate Business Development and Marketing Teams that have all the expertise with in a small group of people. If they need staff support and additional resource commitments, they know they need to elevate that through the chain of command. But, because they are highly refined that is a minimal occurrence. These teams have the authority, knowledge, expertise and resources to remove barriers, make decisions and ‘Flex the plan on the Fly” if that is what it takes. And these skills and skill sets should not be the proprietary right of Special Operations, but should also reside in so-called conventional units as well.

In conclusion, in order to exploit urban asymmetrical advantages and disadvantages. The US Military will need to reconsider the paradigms and organizations that currently exist; especially in consideration of future urban warfare and operations. Technology is only one small aspect of asymmetry. What is clearly important are the intangible and “Touchy-feely” elements of friction that commanders shy away from. It should be clear by now, that our squads and conventional units of all shapes and sizes need to have and or be expert in a broad number of area’s other than just the traditional military studies; and combat on urban terrain should be classified as a highly skilled and specialized field that deserves an extensive amount of attention.


[i] Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East, page 17

[ii] This has been expressed in several publications that are freely and widely available on line such as: Sharp Corners: Urban Operations at the Century’s End, CSI; The New Urban Battlefield, Newsweek; By The Edge of The Sword: A Consideration of the Challenges Inherent in Modern Urban Military Operations and several others listed in the Bibliography

[iii] recently released draft that is intended to replace FM 90-10 and FM 90-10-1 a pdf copy of this document is available from the TRADOC, General Dennis Reimer on line library or from the Collaborate section of AKO under the “CADD” community

[iv] These manuals and documents provide the strategic, operational and tactical basis for training and preparing the Military for its Missions and ability to achieve Full Spectrum Dominance. Asymmetry is but one element.

[v] Page 81 of Stalingrad by Antony Beevor, Field Marshall Gerd Von Rundstedt may have been correct in his assessment of the “Coalition” Yet, I would surmise that his public expressions also had a lot to do with how he also helped “Create” that climate within his Officer Corp.

[vi] Ibid, pg86,180,182,279,286,307-308,319,322,350,378

[vii] Ibid, the author describes numerous atrocities, of particular mention is page 14 and 15 and Chapter 11

[viii] Ibid, Chapter 11

[ix] Article in the New York Times, July 13, 1986, The Split Military Psyche, talks about the bitter inter-service rivalry and power politics which center on budgets, resources, and manpower. The implication was the same in 42 between all the elements of the Nazi Military, especially between the Army and the Luftwaffe

[x] Ibid 5, pages 148-150

[xi] This is in reference to Von Clausewitz, On War, Book 1, Chapter 7, ed Michael Howard and peter Paret

[xii] Ibid 5, Chapter 25 page 422-431

[xiii] McNair Paper 62 offers a better definition of Asymmetry as opposed to the Doctrinal Definition in FM 3-0, Operations, Chapter 4

[xiv] Concordia Self Study Bible with Bible Atlas, NIV, St Louis, ed, Robert G Hoerber, 1984

[xv] Business week , dated Jan 20 2003 Please See “Foreign Policy: Bush’s new Pragmatism” a Commentary by Bruce Nussbaum on page 38 of the section “News: Analysis and Commentary”

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A Tale of Three Cities: Stalingrad, Hue and Mogadishu
Lessons in Urban Operations and Asymmetrical Warfare Doctrine
Chapman University  (Counterinsurgency Training Center)
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This is a 40 page paper on urban conflict. It looks at three major urban battles, Stalingrad, Hue, and Mogadishu and offers an assessment and lessons learned for asymmetrical warfare.
tale, three, cities, stalingrad, mogadishu, lessons, urban, operations, asymmetrical, warfare, doctrine
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Professor of History Terry Tucker (Author), 2010, A Tale of Three Cities: Stalingrad, Hue and Mogadishu , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/165763


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