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Opinions of Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Columnist: Dag Heward-Mills

A good leader encircles his enemy

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Encirclement is a military term for the situation where an enemy is isolated and completely surrounded by enemy forces.

Encirclement is a military strategy that has been used throughout the centuries by military leaders, including generals such as Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Sun Tzu, Shaka Zulu, Napoleon, Zhukov and King David of Israel.

The Philistines made yet another raid in the valley.

David inquired again of God, and God said to him, “YOU SHALL NOT GO UP AFTER THEM; CIRCLE AROUND BEHIND THEM AND COME AT THEM IN FRONT OF THE BALSAM TREES. It shall be when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then you shall go out to battle, for God will have gone out before you to strike the army of the Philistines.” David did just as God had commanded him, and they struck down the army of the Philistines from Gibeon even as far as Gezer.

1 Chronicles 14:13-16 (NASB)

Encirclement of stalingrad

Germany started the Second World War by invading Poland and other western countries. After successfully overpowering these nations, they made the mistake of invading the Soviet Union.

In 1941, Germany attempted to take Moscow but was stopped by the stubborn resistance of the Soviet army. It seemed Adolf Hitler had not learnt anything from his failure to capture Moscow so he decided in 1942 to stage another invasion, this time towards Stalingrad.

The Germans started their attack on Stalingrad, Operation Blue, on 28 June 1942 under the command of General Friedrich von Paulus. The Germans were fully expecting a quick victory as they pushed the Soviet forces back and penetrated the Soviet Union until they got to the Volga River where Stalingrad is situated. They sang patriotic songs, even taking time off to visit Mount Elbus, planted a Nazi flag and claimed it for Germany.

The swift German advance alarmed Stalin (Russia’s Premier) so much that he issued his infamous “not one step back” directive of 28 July, ordering execution for the slightest sign of defeatism.

Behind the Soviet frontlines roamed a second Soviet line ready to shoot any retreating “cowards” or “traitors of the Motherland”. As Georgy Zhukov, one of Stalin’s top generals said, “In the Red Army it takes a very brave man to be a coward.”

By 23 August 1942, the German advance had reached the outskirts of Stalingrad and, with 600 planes, unleashed a devastating aerial bombardment. Entering the city, the Germans, along with units from Italy, Romania and Hungary fought the Russians street to street, house to house and sometimes, room to room.

This, as the Germans called it, was rat warfare, where a strategic stronghold would change sides many times. The frontlines of the war were so close that one could throw back a grenade before it exploded. A soldier’s life expectancy in Stalingrad was three days.

But the Soviet army led by General Zhukov launched a well-planned counter attack to encircle the Germans who had invaded Stalingrad. The Soviets came sweeping in from two different directions and within four days they had totally encircled the German forces in Stalingrad.

The encirclement was so swift that the Soviet camera crews missed the moment and battalions of soldiers had to re-enact the essential moves for the benefit of the cameras. The Soviets squeezed the 250,000 Germans tighter and tighter. As the feared Russian winter set in, the temperatures dropped to the minus forties. The German army was cut off and began to perish from starvation, frostbite, disease and suicide.

The German air force, promised Hitler that their planes could drop 500 tons of supplies each day into Stalingrad to supply the encircled Germans with their needs. But the Soviet anti-aircraft guns and poor weather prevented most of these supplies from getting to the encircled German army.

By January 24th, the encirclement of the German forces was complete and airtight. General Paulus requested permission to surrender. He was completely encircled. General Zhukov of the Russian army had completely surrounded General Paulus.

General Paulus sent a message to Adolf Hitler, “Troops without ammunition or food. Effective command no longer possible. 18,000 wounded without any supplies or dressings or drugs. Further defence senseless. Collapse inevitable. Army requests immediate permission to surrender in order to save lives of remaining troops.” By 26 January 1943, the encircled German army was trapped in two small pockets of the city.

Despite the hopeless situation, Hitler still refused to give permission to surrender. Instead, he promoted General Paulus to the rank of Field Marshal on the 30th of January. Adolf Hitler was hoping that General Paulus would not surrender because no German Field Marshal had ever surrendered.

Encirclement is highly dangerous for the encircled enemy. The encircled enemy cannot receive supplies, help or reinforcement. This gradually weakens the enemy who is not happy to be within the circle. The encircled enemy becomes desperate because he cannot escape from any side. Are you a leader? This is a good strategy to employ – encircle your enemy!

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