Blown Away by the Battle of Stalingrad

Mother Russia War Memorial

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, turning the tide of War World Two against the Nazis.


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

Stalingrad War Museum is the first visit

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

Stalingrad Battle sites include “The Mill”

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.

Stalingrad left 1,200,000 dead (plus Italian, Romanian and Croatian troops fighting with the Germans and also thousands of Russian civilians).

It’s estimated the entire Stalingrad campaign caused 2 million casualties (including wounded, sick and missing).

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 total defeat at Stalingrad

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin would not 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 Nazis had their first real setback since invading Russia in 1941).

battle of Stalingrad statue - massive memorial in russia
Battle of Stalingrad statue – the massive Mother Russia figure facing west – towards Germany – atop of Hill 101.

Why did Germany lose the Battle for Stalingrad

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 had 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.

battle of stalingrad war memorial scultpure russia
Russian soldiers and tank depicted on memorial walls around Stalingrad Hill 101 site.

Stalingrad encirclement trap

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

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 and the harsh weather restricted resupply opportunities.

massive mother russia war memorial statue in summer rain
Rain across a summer’s day in Stalingrad; raindrops – teardrops – flying from Mother Russia onto my camera lens.

Impossible for the 6th Army at Stalingrad

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

Starving men ate supply horses and stray dogs; many had only a few slices of bread daily.

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

The Russians had the advantage.

More men, weaponry, and seemingly endless willpower and tenacity to defend their homeland.

And they knew 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 exploded.

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.”

The Battle of Stalingrad site today is in Volgograd

They renamed the city in 1961.

In south-western Russia (near Ukraine), many statues mark vital battle sites, headquarters, shifting front lines across this tranquil city on the Volga River.

Today, bathers sun themselves on the sandy shores where shells once fell.

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

Battle of Stalingrad Statue and Mamayev Kurgan

They opened the war memorial complex in 1967.

Standing on Mamayev Kurgan (Hill 101) is the imposing Mother Russia statue commemorating the Soviet victory and sacrifice.

Her raised sword and savage outcry, short sweeping hair, long dress and large breasts – defying enemies as she gazes west.

The statue stands about 70 meters on this small hill overlooking the city and thus; it was the site of brutally contested fighting.

Soldiers in tomb of unknown soldier at Hill 101 in Battle of Stalingrad statue park.
Soldiers in tomb at Hill 101 in Stalingrad Mother Russia Memorial Park.

Visiting the Stalingrad War Memorial

The walkway avenue is a park of war 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 – and placed it here, as the changing of the guards took place.

Meantime, the weather over the space of two hours flipped between sweltering or chilly winds or rainstorms; 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 at the Stalingrad memorial park in 2005. BELOW LEFT: The waterfront looking to Volga River; RIGHT: Government Intourist Hotel where I stayed 2 nights. It was the only option and a (seriously unnecessary) luxury for me at $US 120 a night! It had antique furniture, a bathtub and a balcony.


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.

Travels in Russia – 2005

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