In a last ditch effort to free Axis forces trapped around Stalingrad, Field Marshall von Manstein of the newly formed Army Group Don planned to break through Russian lines under Operation Winter Storm. The 4th Panzer division attacked from the south on 12 December and made quick progress, catching the Russians by surprise. If the 6th Army had possessed the resources to launch their own attack from within the city of Stalingrad, they may have been able to link with the relief effort, which was just 30 miles (48 km) away. Meanwhile, the Soviet plan to cut off the main bulk of the Axis forces occupying eastern Ukraine began on 16 December. Operation Little Saturn targeted Italian troops on the Germans’ northern flank with a pincer movement, and destroyed the German air base at Tatsinskaya, halting air supplies for the besieged 6th Army. With another encirclement looming, the relief force for Stalingrad had to retreat and was pushed back towards Kharkov.
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