Stalingrad: 80 years ago, a victory that changed the Second World War
The Battle of Stalingrad, which turned the tide of World War II 80 years ago when German forces surrendered to the Red Army, remains a powerful symbol of patriotism in Russia as he continues his war in Ukraine.
One of the greatest battles in history, the fighting raged for more than six months in 1942 and 1943 before the Russians defeated Nazi soldiers trapped in the ruined city in the depths of winter.
By the end, on February 2, 1943, between 1 and 2 million people had died.
The very first Nazi surrender was glorified in Russia like the event that saved Europe from Adolf Hitler.
Today, some of the most enthusiastic supporters of President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine can be found in the so-called “hero city” of Stalingrad, now called Volgograd.
Located about 900 kilometers (559 miles) southeast of Moscow, pre-war Stalingrad was a melting pot of Soviet industry with factories in the city of 600,000 people producing military hardware.
Stalingrad also served as a gateway to the oil fields of the Caucasus as well as to Central Asia and the Caspian Sea.
For Hitler, who had withdrawn in June 1941 from a German-Soviet non-aggression pact, his very name made him a tempting target and worthy of an epic fight.
200 days and nights
The battle began in July 1942 and lasted 200 days of overwhelming aerial bombardment and house-to-house fighting between Germans on the one hand and Soviet soldiers and civilians on the other.
The Soviets were under strict orders from Stalin to hold their ground. “Not a single step back,” he ordered, warning that troops who retreated would be shot.
German General Friedrich Paulus’ 6th Army managed to take control of 90% of the city.
But in November the Red Army mounted a vigorous counter-offensive, overcoming enemy troops trapped and left to starve during the Soviet winter.
In January 1943, the Soviets launched a final offensive, retaking the ruined city quarter by quarter until the last German troops surrendered on February 2, 1943.
From Stalingrad to Volgograd
Originally called Tsaritsyn, the city became Stalingrad during the reign of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1925.
As part of the process of “de-Stalinization” initiated by his successor Nikita Khrushchev, the newly rebuilt city was renamed Volgograd in 1961.
In 2013, city lawmakers voted to revive the Stalingrad name for ceremonial purposes six days a year, including February 2, to commemorate the Nazi surrender, and May 9, to mark the final Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.
The city is steeped in nostalgia for the former Soviet Union, fueling a booming business in historic tourism.
Above the town stands a hilltop memorial to the battle which includes an imposing 85-metre (279ft) sculpture of a woman with a raised sword, known as ‘The Motherland Calls’ .
“The defenders of Stalingrad passed on to us a great legacy: love for the fatherland, the will to protect its interests and independence, to stand firm in the face of any ordeal,” Putin said in 2018 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary. of surrender.
Movies and video games
The battle has been the inspiration for several films, from German director Joseph Vilsmaier’s “Stalingrad,” a brutal depiction of the battle as seen by German troops, to Russian director Fyodor Bondarchuk’s 2013 take on the Soviet experience.
In literature, it inspired Vasily Grossman’s acclaimed 1960 masterpiece “Life and Fate,” which was banned in the Soviet Union for more than a quarter of a century for drawing a line between Stalinism and Nazism.
In popular culture, Sergeant Yakov Pavlov, one of the heroes of the battle, appears in the cult video game “Call of Duty”.