Category: Red Army
‘We Lived With One Goal’: Soviet Veteran on First, Last Days of Great Patriotic War
worker | June 23, 2021 | 8:22 pm | Great Patriotic War, Red Army, USSR | Comments closed


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WASHINGTON (Sputnik) – The news about Nazi Germany’s invasion led to the highest level of patriotism among the Soviet people despite initially causing alarm, Soviet war veteran Col. Nikolai Zaitsev told Sputnik.

“Of course, the news of the invasion [of the Soviet Union] caused consternation. I have felt that all of us somehow were confused: How are we to live now, what are we to do?” Zaitsev, who now lives in New York, said.

Zaitsev said he was a 16-year-old student in a small township near Barnaul in Siberia when Nazi Germany supported by the Axis forces attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.

“The director of the school gathered all our teachers and gave instructions as to who had to go to the military commissariat to enlist in the Army. It was the signal to us, students, and we lashed out there”, he said.

Wounded on first days of Great patriotic War
Wounded on first days of Great patriotic War

Zaitsev recalled that just one day before the invasion, he and his classmates held their high school graduation party.

“I completed 9th grade and along with our schoolmates from the 10th and 11th grades celebrated cheerily in our school”, he said.

The school administration decided to organise a joint picnic in the nearby nice forest the next day and provided a shuttle train for the trip, he noted.

“The next morning, Sunday, 22 June, we gathered together awaiting the train to that wonderful place in the forest. Everybody was ready, but our director was late”, Zaitsev said.

The war veteran explained that those gathered realised the school director was instructed to wait for an important telephone call from the local authorities. The school was some 200 meters away from the railroad station and soon everybody saw him running from the door and screaming: “War! War! War!” Zaitsev said.

People walk on Red Square during Victory Day celebrations on 9 May 1945
People walk on Red Square during Victory Day celebrations on 9 May 1945

The school director ran to the students and struggling to catch his breath informed them the Hitlerites had treacherously invaded the Soviet Union, are bombing cities and the first battles were taking place near the western border, he noted.

“The director said that we cannot live as usual anymore, a nation-wide mobilisation had been declared and everybody enlisted in the military should be ready for a new life at the front and in the rear,” Zaitsev said.

Skiers Battalions and Missile Preparation

Zaitsev said many of the young men went to the commissariat asking that they be enlisted as volunteer fighters in the so-called skiers battalions.

“We knew about those battalions, which were forming in Siberia. We grew up in the snow and knew how to ski very well”, he said.

However, the commissar told the students the Army will defeat the enemy without them enlisting and they should continue their education, he said.

“This answer did not satisfy us, we continued asking, but none of us was able to stay at the commissariat to process documents that day”, the veteran said.

Despite the given advice, the students decided education was not their major goal then and began helping local collective farms amid the new circumstances, he noted.

“We felt no panic whatsoever. All of us lived with a common goal. The war urged us to think about how to link our personal destiny to the country’s fate and be helpful to the front”, Zaitsev said.

Soviet anti-aircraft gunners
Soviet anti-aircraft gunners

When a wagon building plant was evacuated from Ukraine, he added, the students began working there and helped produce parts for missiles.

“We had to unload these machines from platforms at the railroad station and drag them to the plant”, Zaitsev said.

Before the conveyor was built, the students and other young persons dragged and grinded 18-kilogram heavy missile noses under the supervision of a few adult engineers.

“We had to prepare 225 noses, half as much than the adult workers did before the evacuation. Our master came to me once and said: ‘You are all great guys. You are doing more than adult men'”, Zaitsev said.

Joining the Army, Engaging in Battle

Zaitsev said he “at last” joined the Soviet Army in August 1942 and nine months later engaged in battle as a member of a mortar regiment.

“There was an extremely difficult situation in 1943 and 1942, but in 1945 as well, when we liberated Hungary”, he said. “Despite the fierce resistance from the Nazis, we took control over the city of Szombathely near the Austrian border and entered Austria”.

Great Patriotic War of 1941-45
Great Patriotic War of 1941-45

His reconnaissance unit received an order on 5 May 1945 to cross the Danube River and meet with US troops in Czechoslovakia, Zaitsev said.

“On the night of May 9, my radio operator warned me about an important government announcement soon”, Zaitsev said. “I took earphones and heard the words that I’d remember forever: ‘Germany has capitulated, we won!'”

Zaitsev said he remembers vividly the emotions, the firing in the air and the “Hurray” shouts once word spread of Nazi Germany’s surrender.

However, the veteran pointed out that his unit was tasked to continue moving forward.

“On 9 May, 1945, we were fraternising with American soldiers near the city of Pisek not far from Prague”, Zaitsev said.

US soldiers congratulating Soviet officers on winning the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.
US soldiers congratulating Soviet officers on winning the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

Local residents greeted the Soviet and US troops and organised a big rally to celebrate the victory, he added.

“A small girl approached me and looked very serious. My right arm was injured, but I took her on my left hand and came to that meeting with this girl and her parents. I finished the war with this girl in my arms”, Zaitsev concluded.

Mass grave with remains of at least 640 Soviet prisoners of war discovered at former German Nazi concentration camp in Russia
worker | May 31, 2021 | 7:40 pm | Fascist terrorism, Red Army, USSR | Comments closed

Mass grave with remains of at least 640 Soviet prisoners of war discovered at former German Nazi concentration camp in Russia

Mass grave with remains of at least 640 Soviet prisoners of war discovered at former German Nazi concentration camp in Russia
Volunteers in Russia’s Voronezh Region have discovered a mass grave with the remains of hundreds of Soviet prisoners at the site of a former concentration camp that housed workers building a railway from Berlin to Stalingrad.

That’s according to Mikhail Segodin, the head of Don, a group dedicated to finding the remains of people killed by the Nazi occupiers during World War II.

Mass grave with remains of at least 640 Soviet prisoners of war discovered at former German Nazi concentration camp in Russia

Segodin explained, “640 people have been discovered. We also found four death medallions. Two of them were empty, and two had inserts, one of which is fully legible. We also found a Red Army book, which we will send for examination, and a spoon marked with a surname.”

During World War II, Red Army soldiers were issued with metal medallions, in which they were supposed to put a piece of paper with their personal details on it for identification purposes, in case they were killed.


Prisoners at war at the camp, named DUGAG-191 and located near the village of Lushnikovka, were being used to build a secret railroad called ‘Berlinka’, which was intended to link Germany to Stalingrad, now called Volgograd. The Nazis created at least 17 camps along the route in the Voronezh Region, killing thousands in the process of construction.

The decision to build the railroad was taken after the Battle of Stalingrad, where the German army suffered a crushing defeat. The Nazis were left low on manpower and supplies and desperately needed an improved logistics network to get ammunition and food to the front line.

ALSO ON RT.COMGenocide has no statute of limitations: Russia reopens case into Nazi murder of 214 disabled kidsIn 2010, Segodin’s group Don began to focus on those killed building the railroad. The excavations are also being conducted with the help of the local Investigative Committee.

READ MORE: Russia seeks Canada’s aid in probing 95-yo Nazi death squad member over mass murder of vulnerable children

Speaking to Russian weekly newspaper Argumenty i Fakty, Segodin explained that most of the bones are in poor condition, making it difficult to establish the gender of the remains. According to Segodin, there was also a nearby camp for women and children.

“The only thing we can say for sure is that almost all the dead people were young,” he said.



76 years on from historic Elbe meeting, Moscow says Russia & US should come together to fight against modern rewriting of history
worker | April 26, 2021 | 8:10 pm | Red Army, Russia, USSR | Comments closed

76 years on from historic Elbe meeting, Moscow says Russia & US should come together to fight against modern rewriting of history

76 years on from historic Elbe meeting, Moscow says Russia & US should come together to fight against modern rewriting of history
Russian and American soldiers fought to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II, and it is now the duty of both nations to stop unfair readings of history. That’s according to Sergey Koshelev, Russia’s Charge d’Affaires in Washington.

On Sunday, at a ceremony in the US capital commemorating the 76th anniversary of Elbe Day, Koshelev spoke about the alliance of the US and the Soviet Union during the conflict. On April 25, 1945, after fighting the Germans from both East and West, troops from the Red Army met with their American counterparts at the River Elbe, in Saxony. The encounter meant the war in Europe was effectively over, and Adolf Hitler committed suicide five days later.

“We will always pay tribute to the courage of our comrades in arms, honor all those who sacrificed their lives in the fight against the worst evil of the 20th century. We consider any attempts to rewrite history a betrayal,” Koshelev said, as cited by news agency TASS, noting that it is a “common duty” to prevent “unfair readings” of the lessons of World War II.

ALSO ON RT.COMMoscow promises Washington a ‘SERIOUS TALK’ about its V-Day message that omits Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazis“Our countries need to preserve the spirit of the Elbe. The memory of our alliance should help us build a partnership in the fight against the common challenges and threats of the 21st century,” he explained.

One of the ceremony’s participants, American veteran Frank Cohn, told the TASS news agency that he completely supports Koshelev’s position.

“I hope it isn’t rewritten,” he explained. “We met on the Elbe and shook hands. Moreover, we embraced. They tried to buy me some vodka, but I was 19 years old, and I had never tasted vodka.”

Both Moscow and Washington have been accused of revisionism of World War II history in recent years. The most recent serious accusation came last year, when a tweet from the White House claimed that “America and Great Britain had victory over the Nazis,” deliberately omitting the Soviet Union.

The tweet was roundly criticized, and led to the Russian Foreign Ministry promising a “serious talk” with American officials on the “distortion” of history.

“The US officials have found neither the courage nor the desire to … do justice to the indisputable role of the Red Army and of the Soviet people, and to the enormous sacrifices they made in the name of humanity,” its statement said.

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‘Protecting Historical Truth’: Russia Declassifies Archival Documents About Nazis’ Atrocities
worker | April 11, 2021 | 7:41 pm | Red Army, Russia, USSR | Comments closed


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The action comes in the run-up to the International Day of the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camp Prisoners, commemorated annually on 11 April. On this day in 1945, an uprising took place in the Buchenwald death camp.

The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has declassified a wide range of documents testifying to the atrocities committed by Wehrmacht soldiers, the civilian personnel of Nazi Germany and their accomplices in concentration and POW camps, as well as within occupied territories.

The archival documents and photographs were published earlier this week in a section of the ministry’s website titled ‘Not Subject to Oblivion’.

The publication comes ahead of the International Day of the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camp Prisoners, which is commemorated annually on 11 April and pays tribute to an uprising at the Buchenwald death camp.

 Nazi camp of Buchenwald
Nazi camp of Buchenwald

According to the ministry, the documents pertain to “evidence of atrocities, bullying and mass destruction by Nazis of the population of the occupied territories in the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe, including Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, as well as Poles, Austrians, Slovenes, Bulgarians and representatives of other nationalities”.

The ministry pointed out that the publication is a continuation of the MoD’s activities aimed at “safeguarding and protecting historical truth, as well as countering falsifications of history, and attempts to revise the results of World War II”.

One of the documents refers to a POW camp near Stalingrad, where up to 1,500 Soviet soldiers were tortured. After the camp was liberated by Red Army soldiers, they found a platform there that was “fully covered in blood”.

Prisoners of Auschwitz are meeting their liberators from the Soviet Red Army.
Prisoners of Auschwitz are meeting their liberators from the Soviet Red Army.

Another document declassifies bloody events that took place in a village in Ukraine’s Chernigov region on 23 February 1943, where the Nazis executed 28 collective farm families.

“Moans and crying were heard as fascist monsters threw infants on corpses, finishing them off with machine guns and stabbing them with bayonets,” the document cited eyewitnesses as saying.


A whole array of the documents is related to Nazis’ atrocities in concentration camps, including the Auschwitz death camp, which is described as a “man-made hell”. 

All the materials have been declassified and published within the framework of the federal project “For an indefinite term”,  implemented at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The information published on the Russian MoD’s website may be restrictive and is not recommended for persons who have not reached the age of majority,” the MoD said.

‘For the Motherland’: Red Army on Soviet Posters
worker | February 22, 2018 | 7:18 pm | Red Army, USSR | 1 Comment

  • For Motherland: Red Army on Soviet Posters


20:17 22.02.2018Get short URL
© Sputnik/ Pavel Balabanov
“Who we beat” by N. Dolgorukov and V. Deni, 1939.

As the national Defender of the Fatherland Day has wives and girlfriends shopping for small gifts all over Russia, we look back at how Soviet propaganda glorified the military visually.

First celebrated in 1919, the holiday marks the date a year prior during the Civil War, when the Red Army conducted its first mass draft in Moscow and St. Petersburg (known as Petrograd back then).

Originally known as Red Army Day, it was renamed to Soviet Army and Navy Day in 1949, and finally was given its current title by Vladimir Putin in 2002.

Roza Shanina- The Soviet Army’s sniper who became the nightmare of the Nazis
worker | January 28, 2018 | 10:49 am | Red Army, USSR | Comments closed

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Roza Shanina- The Soviet Army’s sniper who became the nightmare of the Nazis

Roza Shanina, In Memoriam.
1924 – 1945.
It was January 28, 1945 when the heroic senior sergeant of the Soviet Red Army, Roza Shanina, died after being seriously wounded in combat. She was 20 years old and already a legendary fighter of the Soviet Army against the Nazis.
Roza Georgiyevna Shanina was born in the village of Yedma, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia to logger Georgiy Mikhailovich Shanin and milkmaid Anna Alexeyevna Shanina. After completing elementary school in Yedma, she studied at a middle school at the nearby village of Bereznik.
In 1938, she walked 200 kilometers (120 miles) to the city of Arkhangelsk, Russia to continue her education. In the same year, she joined All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (Komsomol). In 1941, after the Soviet Union introduced tuition fees for college courses, she took on a job at a kindergarten in Arkhangelsk to help her own finances. 
After the Nazi invasion of Soviet Union, she took on yet another role as a firefighter; she often spent many hours on the rooftops at and near the kindergarten of her employment to protect the children and the other employees.
In Dec 1941, her 19-year-old brother Mikhail Shanin was killed in combat at Leningrad, Russia. In 1942, after she completed her studies, she visited the local military commissariat for permission to serve. In Jun 1943, she was accepted in the Vsevobuch universal military training program. After some time, she was accepted into the sniper school; she excelled in this specialty and was offered a position as an instructor, but she turned it down, preferring to go to the front lines.
In Apr 1944, she was made the commander of the all-female 1st Sniper Platoon of the Soviet 184th Rifle Division, in the same month she would kill her first German soldier in Byelorussia and then was awarded the Order of Glory 3rd Class. In Jun 1944, all female snipers in her sector were ordered to be withdrawn, but she (along with many of the women in her platoon) disobeyed her orders and joined an infantry unit. She participated in the Vitebsk Orsha Offensive in Byelorussia and then the Battle of Vilnius in Lithuania. In Sep, she was awarded the Order of Glory 2nd Class. 
Roza Shanina / Colour by klimbim.
In Oct, she was honored by the Central Committee of Komsomol and received the Medal for Courage. In Dec 1944, she was wounded in the right shoulder by a Nazi German sniper.
In Jan 1945, she received official authorization for her to fight on the front lines. While fighting in East Prussia, her final confirmed kill count reached 59. 
On 27 Jan 1945, she was seriously wounded in combat, and died on the following day. Her final rank was senior sergeant. She was initially buried on the shore of the Alle River (German: Alle, Russian: Lava), but her remains were later re-interred to Znamensk, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia.
Her death notification was writing:
Please notify Shanina, Anna Alexsandrova, resident in city of Arkhangelsk, 15 Leningrad Avenue, that her daughter Sn. Sergeant Shanina, Roza, in battle for the Socialist Motherland, in loyalty to the military oath, showing heroism and honor, was wounded and died from wounds on 28 January, 1945.
Beginning in Oct 1944, Shanina kept a combat diary against orders; the entries were published in the magazine Yunost in 1965, and the diary collection itself, consisted of three notebooks, was given to the Regional Museum of Arkhangelsk Oblast.
Timeline of Roza’s life.
3 Apr 1924 Roza Shanina was born in the village of Yedma, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia.
11 Sep 1941 Roza Shanina took on a job at kindergarten No. 2 in Arkhangelsk, Russia to help pay for her tuition.
22 Jun 1943 Roza Shanina was accepted into the Vsevobuch program for universal military training.
2 Apr 1944 Roza Shanina was made the commander of the all-female 1st Sniper Platoon of the Soviet 184th Rifle Division.
5 Apr 1944 Roza Shanina killed her first German soldier southeast of Vitebsk, Byelorussia.
17 Apr 1944 Roza Shanina was awarded the Order of Glory 3rd Class while fighting in Byelorussia; she was the first woman of 3rd Byelorussian Front to receive this award.
9 Jun 1944 Roza Shanina was featured on the front page of the Soviet newspaper Unichtozhim Vraga.
22 Jun 1944 Roza Shanina, with the rest of female snipers in her platoon, received orders to be withdrawn from front line combat. She disobeyed her orders and continued to fight with an infantry unit in Byelorussia.
31 Aug 1944 Roza Shanina reached 42 confirmed kills.
16 Sep 1944 Roza Shanina was awarded the Order of Glory 2nd Class.
17 Sep 1944 Soviet newspaper Unichtozhim Vraga credited Roza Shanina with 51 kills.
6 Oct 1944 Roza Shanina began keeping a combat diary against orders.
Roza Shanina and Alexndra Maksimovna Ekimova.

17 Oct 1944
Roza Shanina visited her family in Arkhangelsk, Russia.
27 Oct 1944 Roza Shanina was awarded the Medal for Courage.
10 Nov 1944 Roza Shanina recorded in her diary the death of her lover Misha Panarin.
12 Dec 1944 Roza Shanina was wounded in the right shoulder by a German sniper.
8 Jan 1945 Soviet 5th Army formally granted Roza Shanina the permission to fight on the front lines.
15 Jan 1945 Roza Shanina reached Eydtkuhnen, Ostpreuen (East Prussia), Germany (now Chernyshevskoye, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia).
16 Jan 1945 Roza Shanina wrote in her diary “What I’ve actually done? No more than I have to as a Soviet man, having stood up to defend the motherland.”
Roza Shanina / Colour by klimbim.

17 Jan 1945 Roza Shanina wrote a letter to a friend, in which she noted that she might be on the verge of being killed in combat as the numbers of her battalion dwindled.
24 Jan 1945 Roza Shanina made her final entry in her combat diary.
27 Jan 1945 Roza Shanina was seriously wounded while shielding a wounded artillery officer.
28 Jan 1945 Roza Shanina passed away in near the Richau estate three kilometers (1.9 miles) southeast of the village of Ilmsdorf, Ostpreuen (East Prussia), Germany (now Novobobruysk, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia) from wound received in combat on the previous day.
Sources: / / Wikipedia. 
The Soviet WWII Counteroffensive That Changed the Course of History
worker | November 19, 2017 | 6:16 pm | Action, Red Army, Russia, struggle against fascism, USSR | Comments closed

The Soviet WWII Counteroffensive That Changed the Course of History

Battles in Stalingrad

The Soviet WWII Counteroffensive That Changed the Course of History

© Sputnik/ Natalya Bode

Military & Intelligence

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Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad, a dramatic battle that routed Axis armies and became the turning point in the war against the Nazis. Russian military journalist Andrei Stanavov looks back on the key events of the battle and its lessons.

Between late 1942 and early 1943, along the snow-covered steppes off the banks of the Volga River, the Nazi war machine suffered the most devastating defeat in its history – one from which it would never fully recover.

The Soviet counteroffensive around Stalingrad, known as ‘Operatsiya Uran’ (Operation Uranus) started on November 19, and continued until February 2, 1943. The daring operation, planned by Soviet High Command and executed by Generals Georgy Zhukov, Konstantin Rokossovsky, Alexander Vasilevsky and Nikolai Vatutin, culminated in the encirclement and liquidation of a 300,000+ Wehrmacht army group led by Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus and units from Germany’s Axis partners.

‘Hell on Earth’

The battle was preceded by the Nazi offensive into southern Russia and the Caucasus in the summer of 1942, during which Nazi Germany reached the zenith of its territorial gains following its invasion of the USSR. Among the goals of the operation was Stalingrad, the strategic industrial city on the Volga with the additional, symbolic importance of carrying the namesake of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, the commander in chief of the Red Army.

Wehrmacht troops in the ruins of Stalingrad, September 1942
© AP Photo/
Wehrmacht troops in the ruins of Stalingrad, September 1942

For over two months, Nazi mechanized units, artillery and aviation advanced on Stalingrad, pressing against the Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies and methodically razing the city itself to the ground.

“Nevertheless,” Russian military journalist and RIA Novosti contributor Andrei Stanavov recalled, “the enemy did not succeed in taking the embankment of the Volga and the city center, in spite of their fivefold superiority in numbers and firepower.”

“Stalingrad is hell on earth – Verdun – beautiful Verdun, with new weapons. We attack on a daily basis. If in the morning we manage to advance 20 meters, in the evening the Russians throw us backward.” This was how Wehrmacht private Walter Oppermann described the Stalingrad campaign, in a letter to his brother dated November 18, 1942, one day before the start of the Soviet counteroffensive.

Soviet troops defend a house in Stalingrad
© Sputnik/ George Zelma
Soviet troops defend a house in Stalingrad

Loathe to comparisons of Stalingrad to the bloody WWI meat grinder, Hitler demanded that his generals throw their battered units into Stalingrad again and again. The last push, which began in the fall and involved five infantry and two tank divisions, was halted by Vasily Chuikov’s depleted and pocketed but defiant 62nd Army, which refused to give a single street, house, or room to the enemy without a fight.

“By mid-November, the Germans had been halted along the entire front and forced to switch to defense and entrenchment,” Stanavov wrote. “In total, over 1,000 German tanks, 1,400 aircraft, 2,000 guns and mortars were lost, and 700,000 Wehrmacht soldiers and officers died or were wounded before the impenetrable walls of the city. Quickly assessing the situation, Soviet High Command decided not to give the enemy any time to rest, deciding instead on beginning a crushing counterblow.”

German troops passing through a wrecked generating station in the factory district of Stalingrad on Dec. 28, 1942
© AP Photo/
German troops passing through a wrecked generating station in the factory district of Stalingrad on Dec. 28, 1942

With the Nazis bogged down in and around the city, the Red Army amassed a powerful grouping of forces from the South-Western, Don, Stalingrad and Voronezh fronts and concentrated them at Stalingrad, reinforcing them with mechanized units from the reserve. The group included more than a million troops, 15,000 guns and mortars, about 2,000 aircraft, and 1,500 tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces.

“By November 1942, from the operational point of view, the Wehrmacht was not in the most favorable position on the approaches to Stalingrad,” the military journalist explained. “Focused on their assault, the Germans moved their best strike formations into the city, covering the flanks with weak Romanian and Italian divisions. It would be against them that the powerful dual blows from the Red Army forces in the South-Western and Stalingrad fronts would come. Soviet command chose the Serafimovich and Keltskaya areas as the bridgeheads for the assaults, as well as the Sarpinsky Lakes area, located to the south of the city.”

Soviet troops in action using anti-tank rifles around Stalingrad
© Sputnik/ Georgi Zelma
Soviet troops in action using anti-tank rifles around Stalingrad

‘Stunned and Confused’

On November 19, troops from the South-Western Front under the command of Colonel-General Vatutin and part of the Don Front started their offensive. Striking the Axis grouping in its left flank from the north in a lightening advance, the Red Army broke through the Romanian 3rd Army’s defenses, driving enemy forces back 35 km. A day later, rifle divisions from the Stalingrad Front commanded by Colonel-General Andrei Yeremenko struck from the southeast, smashing the 4th Romanian Army and advancing 30 km, softening up enemy entrenchments with 80 minutes of concentrated artillery fire.

One German intelligence officer later recalled the impending disaster about to befall the Wehrmacht: “Stunned and confused, we did not take our eyes off the maps…Thick red lines and arrows indicated the directions of the multiple enemy attacks, flanking maneuvers, and areas where they had broken through. With all our foreboding, we could not even imagine the possibility of such a tremendous catastrophe!”

Consolidating its breakthroughs, the Red Army then began moving the breakthrough groups toward one another. On November 22, the Soviet 26th Tank Corps seized the bridge across the Don and took the town of Kalach –directly behind the German 6th Army and elements of the 4th Panzer Corps. In the space of a few days, the Red Army proceeded to create an iron ring around the 300,000-strong Axis force, including German, Romanian, Italian, Croatian and collaborationist units from the occupied Soviet territories, trapping 22 German divisions and over 160 individual units. By November 30, enemy attempts to break out of the encirclement were stopped.

Stanavov recalled: “The surrounded Axis troops occupied an area covering over 1,500 square km; the length of the perimeter of the pocket stretched 174 km…Deprived of food, ammunition, fuel and medicine, Field Marshal Paulus’ soldiers and officers froze in —30 degree cold. Dying of hunger, they ate almost all of their horses, and hunted for dogs, cats and birds. Notwithstanding the obvious hopelessness of the situation, directives ordering them to ‘fight to the end and not to surrender’ continued to come from Berlin.”

Fighting around Stalingrad, winter 1942/43
© Sputnik/ Oleg Knorring
Fighting around Stalingrad, winter 1942/43

Starting in December, Hermann Hoth’s 30-division-strong Army Group Don attempted to break through the ring in the area near the village of Kotelnikovo. They were met by the 122,000-troop-strong 2nd Guards Army commanded by Leiutenant General Rodion Malinovsky. In fierce battles, Hoth’s tanks got bogged down along the Myshkova River, and the offensive was stopped. Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, the commander of the operation, asked the Fuhrer to allow Paulus to attempt to break through to meet Hoth, but Hitler refused, believing the Sixth Army could still hold on to Stalingrad.

Turning Point in WWII

During fighting between January and early February 1943, the Red Army’s Don Front forces, commanded by General Konstantin Rokossovsky, gradually cut the encircled group up into several pieces and destroyed it. On January 31, Paulus and his command were captured, and promptly surrendered. Axis troops and officers surrendered in droves, notwithstanding orders from Berlin not to do so. The remainder of the 6th Army capitulated on February 2, 1943. An estimated 91,500 troops, including 2,500 officers and 24 generals were captured.

The last Nazi troops leaving liberated Stalingrad, 1943.
© Sputnik/ Georgy Zelma
The last Nazi troops leaving liberated Stalingrad, 1943.

For many years after the battle, Western historians accused the USSR of deliberately mistreating Axis prisoners of war. Soviet and Russian historians have gone on to counter the claims, pointing out that most of the enemy troops were taken into captivity after having been seriously weakened by the fighting and the ensuing three months of starvation while encircled.

In the first three months after their capture, the prisoner death rate at the specially organized Camp #108 outside Stalingrad’s working settlement at Beketovka was extremely high, with around 27,000 POWs having reportedly died on the way to the camp or shortly after arriving. About 35,100 others underwent treatment at hospitals set up at the camp; another 28,100 were sent to hospitals at other locations. Only about 20,000 of the prisoners were deemed capable of labor, and were sent to do construction work. Following the terrible spike in mortality in the first three months, mortality rates for the troops captured at Stalingrad stabilized, and between July 1943 and January 1949, a total of 1,777 prisoners perished. With the exception of those troops and officers convicted of war crimes, the last POWs from the Battle of Stalingrad were released to Germany in 1949.

Stalingrad became the main turning point in the European Theater of World War II, and Nazi Germany’s first major defeat following the air-based Battle of Britain in 1940. In 1943, after their defeat in the massive tank battles at Kursk, and the Allied invasion of Italy, the Nazis’ total and unconditional capitulation became only a matter of time. Stalingrad was the first nail in that coffin.