Being a German soldier trapped in Stalingrad was certainly bad. Not only did one have to deal with bullets and bombs, but also frostbite, hypothermia, disease, and vermin. As Soviet soldiers tightened the noose around the German 6th Army, the food situation grew especially desperate. German soldiers were reduced to 1/3 rations. At its worse, bread rations were reduced to 75g (about a slice) a day. It was not uncommon for soldiers to slaughter horses, dogs, or cats for sustenance. Over time soldiers began to suffer the effects of malnutrition with fighting ability greatly diminished due to the lack of energy and nutrition. Sympathizing with the soldiers of Stalingrad, the staff officer Gen. Kurt Zeitzler reduced his own rations to their level. He lost over 26 pounds in two weeks and began to suffer from illness and fatigue. Eventually Adolf Hitler personally ordered Zeitzler to end the diet.
To make up for the lack of calories ingested by the German soldiers at Stalingrad, high command ordered a new type of ration to be airlifted to the troops. Canned meat was a common ration for German soldiers, however a new “meat paste” was developed to give soldiers a great boost of caloric energy. What provided this concentrated energy was a ridiculously high fat content. Sounds appetizing!
As soon as the new rations were distributed, a new phenomenon began to occur. German soldiers began to collapse and die inexplicably. One minute a soldier could be on sentry duty, the next moment he would be found dead with no apparent wounds or trauma. The rising number of these strange deaths baffled German commanders. To investigate the phenomenon, the German Army flew in a pathologist named Dr. Hans Girgensohn. Under very difficult conditions, Dr. Girgensohn performed autopsies on 50 men who had died of the strange occurrence. After much investigation Dr. Girgensohn pinned the cause of the strange deaths on one culprit; the high fat tinned mystery meat that was being airlifted to the troops. As it turns out, adding a high fat content to the meat was a terrible mistake. Due to the effects of malnutrition, German soldiers at Stalingrad were unable to metabolize the high concentrations of fat within the meat paste. As they continued to consume the meat, vital organs such as the liver, kidneys, and pancreas suffered damage. Eventually, soldiers would collapse and succumb to shock, not unlike a diabetic suffering from hyperglycemia.
The meat paste rations were immediately recalled. However the situation in Stalingrad grew even worse. Eventually the Soviet Army prevented all rations from entering the city. On February 2nd, 1943, 110,000 German soldiers surrendered. Most were sent to labor camps all over the Soviet Union. Only 6,000 would ever return home.