This episode gives the context for Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union and the confident German advance across the country to the Stalingrad and the Volga River. There, the Germans found bitter cold. They bombed the city mercilessly, but the Red Army imbedded itself and cunningly used snipers to keep the Germans off balance.
“Kessel” is the German word for “cauldron,” which is how the German soldiers referred to the area in which they ended up trapped when the Russians cut off their supply lines and surrounded them after they had marched into the city. The Germans had overextended their military in Hitler’s haste to conquer all of the Soviet Union. Here, they fought the Russians for several grueling months through sub-zero temperatures, dealing with disease and hunger. His commanders forbidden to surrender, Hitler was determined to conquer the city that bore his enemy’s name.
The conclusion deals with the Germans’ growing desperation to get out, as they resort to cannibalism to survive. They eventually surrendered and the last part of the film details the gruelling march to prisoner-of-war camps. Nearly one million died during the campaign.