Stalingrad War Memorial- Where Russia Smashed the Nazis

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The last months at Stalingrad saw trapped German soldiers living like rats, fighting like devils, dying like flies.

For it was at Stalingrad – in the Russian winter of 1943 – that Hitler’s Germany suffered its biggest defeat yet, turning the tide of War World Two against the Nazis.

Russian family pose for photo at Stalingrad war site at Hill 101.

The Stalingrad War Museum is the first place to visit.

The Stalingrad War Museum was what you would expect – weapons, vehicles, uniforms, but best of all: a gripping 360-degree panorama of battle as seen from Hill 101.

Stalingrad Museum: Intense battle scenes painted in a 360-degree panorama of Stalingrad as seen from Hill 101.
Stalingrad Museum: Intense battle scenes painted in a 360-degree panorama of Stalingrad as seen from Hill 101.

Other Stalingrad battle sites include “The Mill” ruins and various statues marking battle points.

Chunks of devastation – including ‘The Mill’, a ruined brick building – have been left as monuments to the five months, one week and three days of fighting, which left 1,200,000 dead (including Italian, Romanian and Croatian troops fighting on the German side; and also, thousands of Russian civilians).

It’s estimated that the Stalingrad campaign created 2 million casualties (included wounded and sick).

Various war memorials and reminders around Stalingrad battle site and museum
Various war memorials and reminders around Stalingrad battle site and museum.

Nazi Germany suffered a massive defeat at Stalingrad.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin wasn’t going to tolerate a defeat at his namesake city on the Volga River, and Hitler wasn’t in the mood to back down, either.

Secretly, the Russians had been massing for a winter offensive (like they’d done in winter 1942 outside Moscow, when the Nazi’s had their first real set-back since invading Russia in 1941).

Massive Mother Russia statue facing west – towards Germany – atop of Hill 101.

One winter later and the German 6th Army was now encircled and trapped by Russian armies, surrounded at Stalingrad in a ‘cauldron’ only 60-by-30 kilometers.

Cut-off from other German armies in Russia, the 6th Army was left to fend for itself, for months, with a promise of relief with a counter offensive … but that failed.

Fighting, existing amid intense cold, the German 6th Army also faced a lack of supplies – airdrops of food, ammunition, petrol, medicines, etc, couldn’t meet the needs of 300,000 men and their equipment.

Russian soldiers and tank depicted on memorial walls around Stalingrad Hill 101 site.

Earlier, at the initial stages of the Stalingrad encirclement, Hitler had refused his field commanders initiative to stage a break-out; rather, he ordered them to stand and hold a defensive line.

Furthermore Hermann Goering, the German Air Force commander, had insisted that his Luftwaffe could supply the encircled 6th Army from the air.

But this was all bluster, as aircraft and crews were being lost more than replaced. Furthermore, the harsh winter weather restricted resupply opportunities.

Rain across a summer’s day in Stalingrad; raindrops – teardrops – flying from Mother Russia onto my camera lens.

Beyond the endless battles and bombardments, starvation, illness and freezing tempertures took an even greater toll on German forces.

Supply horses and stray dogs were eaten by starving men.

Many troops only had a few slices of bread as daily rations. Most were constantly exposed to the cold, in foxholes or bunkers in the open steppe, or sheltered amid ruins, enduring frostbite, lice, hunger and explosions.

Starved of food and sleep, enduring temperatures at minus 30 Celsius and endless combat stress, the German troops evolved into demoralized, half-frozen zombies.

Conditions became impossible for the German 6th Army at Stalingrad.

The Russians had the advantage in available men, weaponry and an endless willpower and tenacity to defend their homeland.

And they knew that the invaders would suffer-dearly during the bitter Russian winter (as had Napoleon’s Grand Army 130 years earlier). Winter killed more enemy that bullets.

Eventually, the 6th Army commander – Paulus, surrendered his remaining 91,000 men (of which about only 5000 returned from Siberian prison camps years later).

Hitler was enraged . In his eyes it was a fight to the last man; surrender was never an option.

“The Axis suffered 647,300 – 968,374 total casualties (killed, wounded or captured) among all branches of the German armed forces and its allies.” (NOTE: These numbers vary, depending on how scholars include different aspects of the campaign).

The Russians, “according to archival figures, suffered 1,129,619 total casualties; 478,741 personnel killed or missing, and 650,878 wounded or sick … 955 Soviet civilians died in Stalingrad and its suburbs.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stalingrad ( For greater battle details check this link ).

In Stalingrad today – now renamed Volgograd, numerous statues mark vital battle sites, headquarters, shifting front lines, etc, across this modern, tranquil city alongside the Volga River; where bathers sun themselves on the sandy shores.

Russian soldiers marching to tomb for a changing of the guard at Stalingrad War memorial
Russian soldiers marching to tomb for a changing of the guard at Stalingrad War memorial.

Stalingrad’s Mother Russia statue and Hill 101.

On Hill 101, stands the massive Mother Russia statue. Her raised sword and savage outcry, short sweeping hair, long dress and big breasts – defying any enemies from the west.

She stands about 70 meters on a hill overlooking the city and thus, was a site of intense conflict.

 Soldiers in tomb at Hill 101 in Stalingrad Mother Russia Memorial Park.
Soldiers in tomb at Hill 101 in Stalingrad Mother Russia Memorial Park.

But the whole walkway avenue is a park of monuments and audio recordings of dive bombers and battle sounds as you walk thru walls of ‘sculptured war scene’ ruins and ponds.

Amid this park is an eternal flame tomb within a dome playing sombre classical music – tear jerking stuff; with statue-straight guards and flowered wreaths, surrounded by glistering-gold mosaic walls and lists of names.

I took a bunch of flowers – bought from an old lady at entrance of the park – and placed it here, as the changing of the guards took place.

Meantime, the weather over the space of two hours flipped between very hot, cold winds, and rain storms; water weeping down Mother Russia’s face as the sun shone across the battlefields of Stalingrad’s fallen.

stalingrad vologograd city scenes today
Stalingrad aka Volgograd today. TOP: MRP with flowers at base of Hill 101 Mother Russia memorial park. BELOW LEFT: The waterfront looking to Volga River; RIGHT: Government Intourist Hotel where I stayed – well beyond my backpacker budget, but one of very few options available and a real luxury treat for me @ around $US 60 a night.

Travels in Russia – 2005


FURTHER READING:

Breakout at Stalingrad: The Classic Novel of the Eastern Front

by Heinrich Gerlach

I recommend this excellent read from a German survivor’s perspective – written as a novel. (Buy on Kindle; this is NOT an affiliate link. )

Battle of Stalingrad – History.com

( Concise basics of the battle )


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