Volgagrad, Russia (1942-1943 AD)
The Battle of Stalingrad is generally regarded as the decisive turning point of World War II, as well as the largest battle ever fought in history. Over the five months that the battle took place, over three and a half million men were involved on both sides, with over two million casualties. Stalingrad effectively ended Nazi Germany’s effort to secure the rich oilfields of the Caucusus region. Moreover, the German losses were so high that they were effectively unable to launch any further offenses in the east, ultimately leading to the collapse of the European eastern front of the war. The battle is commemorated by the statue, “The Motherland Calls”, the largest and arguably the most magnificent such monument in the world.
In the Summer of 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union with the largest military force in history. Millions of men, along with countless planes, tanks and artillery pieces, overran most of European Russia within the first few months. However, a brutal Russian winter halted the German advance at the gates of St. Petersburg and Moscow. When the German campaign resumed in 1942, the strategic objective was shifted further south.
One of the biggest problems with the German war effort was the long-term inability to supply the army with sufficient oil. With Russia still in the war in 1942, the Nazi fuel shortage began to take a large toll on the war effort. To fix the situation, Germany organized a fresh campaign to drive into the Caucasus region of Southern Russia and Georgia, which were home to one of the world’s largest proven reserves of oil, not to mention being the gateway to the Middle East oil reserves.
In August the German army, supported by auxiliary forces from the other Axis countries, launched their assault on Stalingrad, the key city in the region. For a month they pushed throught city in brutal block-to-block fighting. By September most of Stalingrad west of the Volga was in German hands, though the Soviets maintained a toe hold. However, right when it seemed like the city was secure, the Soviets launched a counter offensive against the Axis auxiliary armies. These were quickly defeated, and by November the German army in Stalingrad was cut off and surrounded.
This unexpected turn of events was not well received by Adolf Hitler, who insisted that the poorly positioned German army stay put and hold the city at all costs. Despite efforts to support the defenders from the air, the Germans were soon hopelessly outnumbered and at the absolute mercy of the overwhelming Russian artillery superiority. By February it was all over. The Germans took 850,000 casualties before the city was lost, though the Russians suffered over a million dead and wounded as well. After the disastrous battle, the Germans never again able to retake the initiative on the eastern front.
The Battle of Stalingrad was absolutely immense in scale with fighting taking place on virtually every block of the city, and for miles around in every direction. Among the most popular sites related to the battle is the old tractor factory, where some of the fiercest fighting took place, and where a memorial to the battle now stands. But the greatest monument to the battle by far is a massive memorial site on Mamayev Kurgan which is dominated by the statue The Motherland Calls, the largest freestanding statue on Earth.
The Battle of Stalingrad memorial complex at Mamayev Kurgan is on a tall hill overlooking the modern city of Volgagrad approximately two miles north of the city center. The memorial is an open site, and there is no charge for admission. Web: www.visitvolgograd.com (official tourism website of Volgograd).