Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Friedrich Paulus: Verdun to Stalingrad

In preparation for my trip to Verdun during the spring I was reading about the desperate fighting during the summer of 1916 around Fleury village in the heart of the Hot Zone when I ran across an interesting name, Captain Friedrich Paulus. Yes, the same Paulus who would surrender the German Sixty Army at Stalingrad a quarter century later.  I made a mental note to check out his WWI career when I had a chance and below is what I have found.

Well-Known Image of Paulus After the Surrender of Sixth Army
(I could not find a 1914–18 image of him.  He must have been camera shy.)

Paulus opened the war as a junior officer in 7th Army, initially posted in Alsace but later was sent to join the Race to the Sea. In November he became ill and was reposted after his recovery as a staff officer to the 2nd Prussian Jäger Regiment. Part of the Alpenkorps, the regiment fought in Macedonia and Romania. Interestingly, Paulus never commanded an operational unit in the war; he was strictly a staff officer.

The elite Alpenkorps, though, was needed on the Western Front. During the summer of 1916 it was sent into the cauldron of Verdun. At Fleury the Alpenkorps lost two-thirds of its men to casualties. Reconstituted in 1918 Paulus's unit shows up in the April Ludendorff Offensive and the Battle of Amiens.  After taking heavy casualties, the 2nd Jäger Regiment was sent to Serbia, where it spent the remainder of the war.

Paulus's Regiment at Verdun, Between Fleury and Fort Souville

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. He became the protege of a number of gifted officers, made few enemies, and became an expert in mechanized warfare. He became chief of staff for Panzer Headquarters and was one of the principal planners of Operation Barbarossa, which went well at first,but eventually bogged down. Changes in command for the German Southern Group came and Paulus was given Sixth Army and, eventually, Stalingrad. The rest of the story is well known.

Sources: and


  1. I imagine that many of the German officers in the Second World War had been in the German or the Austrian armies in the First. It's just a matter of ferreting out the information!

    1. After all, Hans Krebs was a leutnant in France during the First War; even Rommel had been a highly decorated leutnant and Hauptmann on the Rumanian and Italian fronts.