On August 23rd 1942, the 16th Panzer division were approaching Stalingrad.
They had 12,000 elite motorised fighting troops and 130 tanks.
It was a surprise attack and the Russians were caught unawares, most of their troops were forming defensive positions elsewhere.
The only thing in their way was the 1077th Anti-Aircraft regiment, less than 3,000 troops.
This should be easy, the panzers outnumbered the defenders by 4 to 1.
All the defenders had was anti-aircraft guns against tanks.
Which is when the Germans had their first surprise.
The defenders lowered their anti-aircraft guns and began shooting directly at the tanks.
The tanks stopped and ordered up air support.
Stuka dive-bombers attacked the Russian guns, which is when the guns elevated upwards to shoot directly at the planes.
When the planes were fought off the gunners would shoot at the tanks, and when the tanks were fought off they’d shoot at the planes.
And when neither seemed able to stop the guns, the Germans sent in infantry.
Which is when they had their second surprise.
Workers from the nearby tractor factory joined in, with obsolete WW1 rifles and home-made Molotov cocktails.
They fought the infantry while the gunners fought the tanks and planes.
Eventually of course, the guns fell silent, the Russians were dead.
The battle lasted two days and cost the Germans 83 tanks, 15 armoured cars, 20 aircraft, and hundreds of dead soldiers.
Which is when the Germans had their final surprise.
They found the bodies of the young women they’d been fighting.
The 1077th wasn’t considered a frontline regiment, so it was made up of 18-20 year old girls who hadn’t even been properly trained.
The workers who fought the infantry were also girls, from the nearby tractor plant.
That was the 435 bodies the Germans found when they captured the position.
It had taken an elite Panzer division two days to overcome a quarter as many girls.
But perhaps more importantly, those two days slowed the entire German advance.
Those two days allowed the Russians to shore up the defences around the city.
So that Germany eventually lost the battle of Stalingrad and also lost a million soldiers.
Which is why Stalingrad was the battle that began Germany’s retreat and ultimate defeat.
So crucial was the two day battle that the General in charge of the 16th Panzer division, von Wietersheim, was sacked by Hitler.
In mitigation, one German soldier wrote: “We had to fight shot-for-shot against 37 anti-aircraft positions, all manned by tenacious fighting women, until all were destroyed.”
A German pilot wrote: “I would rather fly ten times over the British guns at Tobruk than once over those anti-aircraft Russian batteries.”
When Nils Leonard was ECD at Grey, he told me he had a quote of mine on his desk: “Energy will always beat talent”.
Well, in that case the Russian girls were the ‘energy’ and the elite panzers were the ‘talent’.
And the energy didn’t beat the talent on the day.
But strategically they did, they helped win the battle that won the war.
Although they had less men, less guns, no tanks, no aircraft, and every disadvantage, they did have one big advantage.
And ultimately, energy beats talent.