What Happened at Stalingrad?

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tags: Nazis, Russia, Putin, Stalingrad

As the Nazi blitzkreig pushed deep into the Soviet Union during the summer of 1942, Joseph Stalin ordered that in Stalingrad, the city that bore his name, the Red Army end its retreat and mount a resistance that could sway the fate of both armies.

Hundreds of thousands of German soldiers marched into the industrial city, backed by other Axis forces and supported from the air by Luftwaffe bombers. What followed were five months of the fiercest fighting between the two armies, stuck in brutal, close quarters combat in temperatures that soon dropped well below freezing. In addition to bombs and bullets, the threat of illness, starvation and frostbite hung heavy in the air. 

When the battle ended, on February 2, as many as 2 million were dead on both sides, and Stalingrad was a battered shell of a city. But it also marked the first major German defeat, the moment the tide began to turn against the Nazis, and the beginning of a campaign that would eventually see the Soviets march all the way to Berlin.

Seventy-five years later, Stalingrad retains a near-sacred status in Russian life, where decades of Soviet propaganda have fed from memories of the dogged battle on the banks of the Volga. Even if the city's name has changed—to Volgograd, under Nikita Krushchev's de-Stalinization campaign in the late 1950s—its cemetery is filled with those who fell, while the shelled ruins of buildings remain a reminder of the past. 

Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, the significance of Stalingrad—and World War II in general—has only grown greater. At a time where Moscow's relations with the U.S. and the EU are at their worst since the Cold War, Putin's government has leaned heavily on memories of a time when Russia was under siege from the West and its future was in the hands of a tough-talking strongman.

Read entire article at Newsweek

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