Walsh: Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron:
[Under pressure from] Romanenko’s 5th Tank Army… [on the] Chir… Army Detachment Hollidt held the line, but it was a close-run thing. Major-General Balck’s full-strength 11th Panzer Division, the cutting edge of 48th Panzer Crops, lost over half its strength…. If the Chir line collapsed, the entire German operational position west of Stalingrad would implode….
5th Tank Army’s attack… committed 48th Panzer Corps to the Chir, while the deployment of Popov’s 5th Shock Army on 5th Tank ARmy’s left, giving the Red Army a combined strength of 100,000 on the Chir, ensured that “Winter Storm” would snow consist of a single drive by Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army.
As both Manstein and Vasilevsky realized, Major-General Trufanov’s 51st Army was the weak link in the Soviet outer encirclement… only 34,000 strong, with three infantry divisions and 77 tanks… [in] Colonel Tanaschshin’s depleted 13th Tank Corps….
The rail junction at Kotelnikovo provided a useful springboard for the operation and would be vital in sustaining the supply corridor if, as was likely, Hitler refused to authorize a breakout [by 6th Army]…. However, the operation was committed to a single line of advance… even if 6th Panzer was at full strength, 23rd Panzer Division was damaged from fighting around Ordhonikidze… the failure of 17th Panzer to arrive before ‘Winter Storm’ began on 12th December….
The 6th and 23rd Panzer Divisions with 230 tanks between the and support fro Lieutenant-General Pflugbeil’s 4th Air Corps, made rapid progress against 51st Army, Trufanov’s rifle divisions fell back on the Aksai as Vasilevsky and Yeremenko sought to buy time….
Naturally, Soviet commanders had to assume 6th Army would break out to meet 57th Panzer Corps, and their determination to sustain the siege of 6th Army dominated their actions over the next 48 hours…. Vasilevsky agreed with Yeremenko that 4th Mechanised Corps should form an improvised battle group with 13th Tank Crops…. to blunt 6th Panzer… [and] the weaker 23rd Panzer. As Vasilevsky flew to Don Front’s headquarters on 12 December he warned Malinovsky to prepare 2nd Guards Army to move south to block “Winter Storm”. Yet Vasilevsky could not order 2nd Guards Army to abandon Operation ‘Koltso’ without Stalin’s approval.
As Vasilevsky finally made contact with Stavka late on 12 December, STalin reacted furiously… [but] at 0500 hours [on 13 December] finally gave permission to move 2nd Guards Army to Yeremenko’s Stalingrad Front… ordered Vasilevsky to take personal charge of the Soviet counter-blow in the south while Marshal Voronov acted as the Stavka’s coordinator for Operation ’Saturn’...