• Michael Laxer

Stalingrad Year One: A look at the battle and rebuilding from the first anniversary of victory

The two remarkable documents republished here are from the first anniversary of the February 2, 1943 victory.

A street in Stalingrad just after the victory


February 2 is the anniversary of the day in 1943 that the Red Army fully triumphed at Stalingrad ending one of the most important and largest battles in the history of the world. This astonishing victory of the Soviet people stands as a testament to their courage and tenacity. It was a battle that literally helped to save the world.


The two remarkable documents republished here are from the first anniversary of the victory in 1944 while the USSR was still pushing the invaders out of their country. It would be over a year still until the final victory.


One is a Soviet colonel's account of the battle itself. The other is from a Soviet journalist (whose wife was killed in the battle) who came from the Stalingrad area and who went back a few months after the victory to see the already amazing strides being made to rebuild the devastated city. We read of a 15 year old Komsomol bricklayer Nadya Tyuleneva and her ability to lay over 2,500 bricks a shift, of those who gave their lives in the epic struggle, of workers and rebuilders returning and having to live in the wreckage of buildings, buses and even downed bombers among many other heroic stories.


The text is accompanied by some powerful photos.


"One year ago -- February 2, 1943 -- the great Battle of Stalingrad was brought to a close. It resulted not only in the destruction and capture of 330,000 picked German troops, but marked the beginning of the decline of the German-fascist army. It was one of the most important battles not only of the present war, but of all wars. It developed along a huge front and engaged enormous masses of men and materiel. The entire world watched breathlessly as the Red Army emerged triumphant from the epic struggle."




The Battle of Stalingrad


By Colonel I. Korotkov


One year ago -- February 2, 1943 -- the great Battle of Stalingrad was brought to a close. It resulted not only in the destruction and capture of 330,000 picked German troops, but marked the beginning of the decline of the German-fascist army. It was one of the most important battles not only of the present war, but of all wars. It developed along a huge front and engaged enormous masses of men and materiel. The entire world watched breathlessly as the Red Army emerged triumphant from the epic struggle.


In the summer of 1942 the German command drew up a strategic plan, the main objective of which was to outflank Moscow from the east and by an overwhelming blow from the southwest to cut it off from its Volga and Urals area, then to strike at the city. With this aim the Germans hurled enormous forces into the drive on Voronezh, and at a heavy cost succeeded in reaching that city. Here they were stopped by the solid defense and determined counter-attacks of Soviet troops.


The failure at Voronezh forced the Germans to change the direction of their offensive and to advance upon Stalingrad. They hoped by capturing the city on the Volga to drive an enormous wedge into the positions of the Soviet troops and to cut their communications with the south, and subsequently to develop their cherished thrust on Moscow. The drive in the Caucasus was designed to draw Soviet reserves from the main theater of operations.


In mid-July a numerically superior German force comprising the Sixth Army and the Fourth Tank Army broke through the Soviet front and advanced into the Don Bend. The enemy thought he was within reach of his objective. In reality he was heading for disaster. The Soviet Command took the necessary measures for the defense of Stalingrad and simultaneously worked out a far-reaching strategic plan for the destruction of the enemy force.


In the second half of July the Germans fought their way to the outer approaches of Stalingrad. Here an exhausting struggle went on throughout the month of August. The Germans paid with thousands of dead and piles of materiel for every step forward. In the early part of September they brought up fresh tank and infantry reinforcements and in the early part of September approached within striking distance of Stalingrad proper. About 25 picked divisions of the Wehrmacht were ordered to take the city at all costs.


The enemy attacks continued day and night. The Germans did not confine themselves to ground operations, but hurled as many as one thousand aircraft against the defenders of Stalingrad. The Luftwaffe made over a hundred thousand sorties and dropped about one hundred thousand tons of bombs on the heroic city.


But the nearer the enemy approached Stalingrad. the slower was his advance. Soviet troops met the onslaught of the Germans with renewed strength and inflicted heavy losses upon them. Soviet strategy consisted of a well-organized system of defense in depth, backed by numerous attacks of infantry and tanks. As a result the Germans found their advance discouragingly slow. At times they could make no headway for many days running.


And while the enemy was draining his strength in a futile attempt to capture Stalingrad, the Soviet Supreme Command was making ready to strike crushing blows northwest and south of the city. The timely concentration of large forces and the choice of the zero hour were the two decisive factors in the counter-offensive. The first was secured by the formation of strategic reserves in the interior of the country; the second by the military skill of the Soviet Supreme Command in gauging the situation at the front.



In November, 1942, with the beginning of the Soviet counter-offensive, came the decisive phase of the war in Russia. The destruction of the German forces around Stalingrad was the chief objective of the Red Army.


At the very outset the operations in the Stalingrad area developed on a wide scale. On November 19 the troops of the Southwestern and Don Fronts struck out in a southeasterly direction from the area of Serafimovich. The troops of the Stalingrad Front, striking in a northeasterly direction, drove forward to meet them. On November 23 the pincers closed at Kalach. The greatest encircling operation in the history of warfare was brought to a successful conclusion. The German force under Field Marshal von Paulus found itself securely boxed.


The German command sought ways of escaping from the trap. Their Italian and Rumanian allies were ordered to hold the middle reaches of the Don. while von Mannstein's Kotelnikovo group was to break through and relieve Paulus. The same task was as- signed to the German troops in the areas of Tormosin and Nizhnechirsky.


But the Soviet Command forestalled the enemy. In the period from December 16 to 31, the troops of the Southwest Front routed the Italians and Rumanians in the middle reaches of the Don and dealt a crushing blow to the German forces around Tormosin and Nizhnechirsky. At the same time von Mannstein's group was hurled back. The ring around Paulus' armies was drawn tighter. German attempts to aid their encircled troops from the air proved equally unsuccessful. Hundreds of enemy aircraft were brought down by Soviet anti-aircraft gunners and fighters. The German Stalingrad group was deprived of all contact with the outside world.

January 10 marked the beginning of the concluding phase of the Stalingrad battle. The task now was to destroy the German armies around the city. In order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, the Soviet Command proposed an honorable surrender to the Germans. The enemy refused and the Red Army set out to liquidate the German forces. A powerful artillery barrage coupled with infantry assaults and mass air attacks broke the German group into two parts: northern and southern. Soviet troops advancing from the west joined with the divisions in Stalingrad. First the southern enemy force was destroyed, and then the northern. Realizing that further resistance was futile, large groups of Germans began to lay down their arms. The end came February 2, 1943. Over 91,000 Germans, including 2,500 officers and 24 generals, headed by Field Marshal Paulus, were taken prisoner, and enormous booty captured.


Thus the battle of Stalingrad was the decisive operation of the second year of the Soviet-German war. It determined the future course of the fighting in Russia. The remarkable Soviet victories in the summer and autumn of 1943 were a continuation of the success scored by the Red Army in the winter campaign of 1942-43. These victories were made possible by the stability of the Soviet home front, which supplied the armies in the field with everything needed. They were made possible by the might of the Russian people and its Red Army commanded by the great leader, Marshal of the Soviet Union Stalin.


THE GREAT CITY


By Vasili Koroteyev


The following is part of a booklet on Stalingrad written by a 32-year-old war correspondent for KRASNATA ZVEZDA, a native of the Stalingrad Region, who remained in the Volga city throughout the epic siege. Koroteyev's wife was killed during the fighting. After the victory of the Soviet forces he spent some time on other fronts, returning to Stalingrad in August, 1943. The booklet is a record of this visit.




The plane approaches the Volga. In another moment the bright ribbon-like streak of the river will flash and the city come into view. I close my eyes, remembering the disfigured, wrecked and charred Stalingrad I saw last autumn. I shrink from this fresh visit. But when I open my eyes, the appearance of the city from the air seems to have undergone little change.


The road from the airfield to the city runs past green melon-patches. The air is filled with the odor of wormwood. From the lower Volga blows the dry Caspian wind. Suddenly among the bright green watermelon leaves rises the figure of a German soldier - field-gray uniform, black helmet and all.


"What's that?" I ask. The Ukrainian chauffeur grins. "Just a scarecrow."


It seems that a Stalingrad melon-grower has utilized the uniform and helmet of a German brigand to scare away the crows.


It is a hot August day. Half a year has passed since the victory of Stalingrad. As we drive along the Stalingrad-Sarepta highway, on the southern approaches to the city, we pass scores of cars of many different German and French makes speeding in the opposite direction. Among them are heavy troop-carriers on treads, Adler staff cars, luxurious Oppels, Unions, Mercedes-Benz and BNVs. The whole city seems to be driving in trophy machines.


"A present to Stalingrad from the Sixth Army." explains our smiling chauffeur.



Near the railway tracks on the southern outskirts we come across a vast dump of smashed enemy airplanes: German, Rumanian and Italian fighters, heavy bombers and scouting and cargo planes - with great yellow, gray and orange fuselages, ripped-off tails, smashed motors and broken wings. Over 2,00 the enemy planes brought down over the city and environs have been assembled in this "cemetery."


Farther along the road, also near the railway tracks, is another "cemetery" of German tanks, armored cars and guns. Hundreds of disabled tanks have already been repaired and are fighting against their former owners.


At last we are in the city. At first glance it seems dead. For nearly 50 miles in length and two to three miles in width -- from the steppe to the Volga -- stretch heaps of rubble and the charred walls of buildings with empty windows, like gouged-out eyes. The ruins of the houses lie close together, the wreckage of one intermingled with that of its neighbor. It is as if the city had been pounded in a gigantic mortar, a tornado of unheard-of force had swept through:' overwhelmed it.


But the city is alive! Young trees are rearing their green crests; scaffoldings are rising above the wreckage. Amid the ruins there are scarcely any undamaged -- or as they say here, "fortunate" -- houses. Yet the city already has a population of 215,000, and the Chairman of the Stalingrad Soviet expects this figure to rise to at least 300,000 before the year's end.


Captured Nazi soldiers


A joke commonly heard in Stalingrad runs like this: "Formerly there was a city and a housing problem—now there is no city, but all are housed."


But where do all the people in Stalingrad live? In the basements of wrecked or burned houses, in canvas or cloth tenth, in hastily-built barracks, in dugouts and bunkers, in damaged German autobuses—of which there are still many left in the city—and even in the fuselages of damaged planes.


Life here is no picnic, of course. But the Stalingrad people are ardent patriots who love their Volga city with the imperishable love of loyal sons. They are men and women of unbending fortitude and noble civic courage hammered out in constant constructive in work in Stalingrad's industries and in the heroic defense of Tsaritsyn and Stalingrad. The military and labor traditions of the city -- discipline, perseverance and a sense of duty to their country -- are in the very blood of these people. Foremost in their minds today is the reconstruction of their city.


Out of Ruins and Ashes


Anyone who remained in Stalingrad during the siege and saw the city after the defeat of the Germans, could hardly believe it possible to restore it. But Stalingrad is rising from its ashes and ruins.


Factory ruins


In the center of Stalingrad the City Soviet and dozens of other buildings are being restored. The workers live in tents pitched in the parks, whose trees shared the fate of the city. The Municipal Park is littered with shell and bomb splinters. A charred acacia lies stricken, felled by a shell. Next to it stands a maple, with trunk pitted by shell-splinters, the crest lopped off and branches charred. Its leaves are black -- it is dying. But young and luxuriant verdure is already springing up beneath it.


Among the statues of children at play is a laughing child with one arm missing; a tiny hand lies on the ground. The air here was thick with flying bullets and splinters. In the Zoo only the lions' cage, built of brick and iron, escaped destruction. The massive white theater in the midst of the park stands like a dead giant, with seared steel rattling in the wind. Boys and girls are clearing the space which was once the stage.


The bank of the Volga is humming with activity; there is a constant ringing of axes, singing of saws and grating of stone-crushers and concrete-mixers. Smoke is already rising from the tall smokestacks of many factories. Each day people count the number of houses rebuilt, the machines installed in repaired plants.


A young Soviet tommy-gunner stands guard over the ruins


Builders of the New Stalingrad The initial work of reconstruction was begun by those who defended the city and smashed the Germans. They restored 17 bridges and repaired dozens of miles of road. Men of the rear services rebuilt the first houses, doing the work in off hours. Instead of limestone and alabaster they used clay, and in-stead of iron, bits of German wire and scorched metal.


The slogans of the heroic days of the defense are now interspersed with new slogans. One surviving wall of a wrecked building carries the words: "We will carry out the country's order—we will die rather than surrender Stalingrad!" On the next building is the inscription: "Let us make it our life's aim to revive our Stalingrad!"



One of the heroes of present-day Stalingrad is Nadya Tyuleneva, a 15-year-old Komsomol from the Kirov Region. She is a bricklayer who doubles her quota daily, laying 2,520 bricks each shift. Another is Alexandra Cherkasova, a former kindergarten teacher; a frail woman, mother of two children. Her husband is at the front, and she herself took part in the defense of Stalingrad as a nurse, saving the lives of many wounded. Cherkasova organized a brigade of women office-workers who after working hours helped restore the famous Pavlov house. Pavlov, a Red Army sergeant, with a handful of men defended this house till death. The enterprise of Cherkasova gave rise to hundreds of similar volunteer brigades. Thousands of workers in factories and offices are helping to rebuild the city after their day's work and on Sundays, adding to Stalingrad's military glory the glory of heroic labor.



Country Helps Stalingrad


The entire country helped to defend Stalingrad. Now the entire country helps to rebuild it. As soon as the great battle on the Volga ended, brotherly help began to stream into the city. Ships and trains brought glass from Penza, lumber from Archangel, machine tools from the Urals, coal from the Donets Basin, prefabricated houses from the Molotov Region. They are bringing books, tools, clothing and footwear, cement, nails and furniture—everything needed for the restoration of the city. Hundreds of thousands of individual gifts have also been delivered to Stalingrad.


A group of girls from Siberia is repairing an apartment house. On the walls there is an inscription: "The men of the tank brigade defending this building fought to the last drop of their blood. The fascists did not pass!" The Siberian girls are working with self-sacrificing zeal to restore this building—which was defended by their countrymen. But what has been achieved counts for little compared with the job ahead.


Architects Iofan and Alabyan have drawn up a project for the construction of a new Stalingrad, one of the features of which will an open riverside boulevard running from one end of the city to the other.


The work to be done before the job of reconstruction was in itself enormous. "In three months," said Alexei Chuyanov, Chairman of the City Defense Committee, "the civilian population and units of the Red Army picked up and buried 128,000 German corpses and 11,000 dead horses. A rather unpleasant job, of course -- but we wouldn't have minded even double the number, or more. The menace of epidemics, which quite was serious, has been removed. Another urgent task was to clear buildings, streets and roads of mines. As many as 1,063,000 anti-tank and anti-infantry mines were rendered harmless within a few months. But to this day not all of the mines have been removed."


In confirmation of this statement a number of explosions shake the ground nearby and black clouds of smoke arise from a hill outside the city. Volunteer sappers, who have been given special training, are exploding mines, six months after the German defeat.


The Bastions of Stalingrad


After passing the destroyed Balkany section and crossing a bridge over a deep ravine, one reaches the northern section of the city where stood the three huge plants which for three months stood in the way of the main thrust of the Germans. For three months the world followed with breathless anxiety the reports on the fighting in the northern section of Stalingrad.


Unlike the center of the city, where the shells of houses remained standing and even some buildings survived—in this section everything from the Balkany plant to the Tractor works was razed. Not even trees remain. The sand and clay ravines which run out to the Volga served the people as shelters during the siege. Here passed the front line, which was held by the divisions of Guryev, Batyuk and Rodimtsev.


Along a narrow footpath one climbs to the top of Mamayev Kurgan*, scene of the most bloody fighting—a mound of death and glory. It is crisscrossed with trenches and girdled with barbed-wire entanglements. From here the whole city is visible and the green islands of the Volga, where our artillery was placed, the forests and parks on the other side -- and beyond, the bare steppe. Mamayev Kurgan is the most hallowed place in Stalingrad. From base to summit it is covered with shell and bomb splinters. You can place the palm of your hand anywhere on the ground and be sure of finding six or seven splinters. In this spot the magnetic needle of the compass fails to point to the north.


Once young trees grew on this hill. Now they are gone. The ground is littered with soldiers' spades, helmets, bits of wire and fragments of overcoats and blankets. Sunflowers have grown around a smashed German tank with a jammed turret; they screen the rusty tracks from view. Two tall ferro-concrete water tanks, built three years before to supply water for gardens, were bastions during the siege. At a particularly tough moment when the attacking Germans had come quite close, our men requested our artillery across the Volga to open fire on their own positions.


The people of Stalingrad are building three huge monuments to the soldiers who lost their lives here. Several girls are busy putting the facings on the obelisks. The foreman, who was wounded during at fighting at Millerovo, spoke to me. "The men who lost their lives here deserve to have golden monuments built to them," he said.


• • •


At the gates of the Red October plant a young girl stands on guard, armed with a rifle. The ruin of the plant is appalling, and yet magnificent. Factory buildings shattered by bombs, powerful iron structures twisted out of shape. In one building lies a German bomber; in another stands two guns beneath a heap of debris.


The workers of the Red October plant now correspond with their friends of the divisions which defended the plant -- men now fighting the Germans far from the city; men who remember the Volga and cherish the glorious Stalingrad traditions which live in their banners, songs, decorations and memories. Similarly the workers of Stalingrad remember those who fought for their city.


The Graves of Stalingrad


Walking through Stalingrad's streets and squares, one often sees—amid the greenery of parks and gar-dens which have survived the siege, in empty spaces, near factory walls, on playgrounds, on the slopes of a ravine or on the bank of the Volga—small wooden pyramids painted red. These are the graves of the heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad.


All is quiet in the Square of the Fallen Heroes, once the busiest spot in Stalingrad. In the little park beside the monument to the 54 heroes of Tsaritsyn -- a tall gray obelisk scarred by bullets and shell-splinters -- are eleven new graves. The sons are lying beside their fathers...both generations having earned immortality.


Despite the early hour several people are already visiting the graves. A 15-year-old lad in a white shirt -- one of the youths now rebuilding the city -- reads aloud one of the inscriptions: "We did our duty to the end -- we did not spare our lives in the fight for Stalingrad. You, too, do your duty -- do not surrender our beloved city to the enemy."


The lad's voice falters. "It sends shivers down your spine," he says softly.


Over one of the graves stands a pyramid terminating in a star which serves as a frame for a photograph of a young fair-haired woman with stern gray eyes, wearing a gray sweater. The inscription on the tablet reads: "Here lies Head Nurse Nina Antonovna Legovich, who died heroically in the Battle of Stalingrad, February 1, 1933. During the fighting, working under enemy fire, Nina gave first aid to 18 wounded soldiers and commanders of the 318th Artillery Regiment." This brave woman was killed only one day before the victory.


On another tablet is the following: "Grave of Lieutenant Ivanov, who gave his life that the future generations of Russia might be free. The country will not forget his valor and his name. We will avenge our comrade's death."


Here is the grave of a Spaniard, Guards Lieutenant Ruben Ibaruri, the fearless son of Pasionaria, who commanded a machine-gun company. In the dry rocky soil near the city lies the Nanai hunter, Maxim Passar, a native of the Far North, the best sniper on the Stalingrad Front, with 236 kills.


And the steppes of Stalingrad also hold the body of the gallant Chechen youth, Haniosha Nuradinov, who with his machine gun mowed down four German companies; and the old soldier Gaidaichuk, veteran of three wars, who received the Order of St. George from Brusilov himself.


Many were the sacrifices borne by the divisions which fought at Tsaritsa, at the grain-elevator, on the Dargar and in Elshanka, at Voroponovo and in the Kuporosny settlement on the southern heights of Stalingrad. But hardest was the lot of those holding the northern section of the city and barring the way of the Germans' main thrust. On famous Mamayev Kurgan stand monuments to men and officers of Rodimtsev's and Batyuk's divisions. Lower down, nearer the Volga, at the entrance to the Red October plant, is the common grave of the men of the Tarashcha Regiment.


A young man. of Stalingrad, Georgi Filipov, assistant commander of a regiment, fell near the Barricades plant on the very last day of the Battle of Stalingrad. On that winter day in February when I arrived at the plant after the battle, I found near the open-hearth furnace several of our men lying face down in the snow, clutching their rifles with dead hands. In this way do Russian soldiers die. They fell in the last attack. One hour after their hearts had stopped beating, the din of battle which lasted five months ceased, and calm ensued.


Thousands of young men and experienced soldiers -- Ukrainians, Siberians, men from the Urals, Kazakhs and Don Cossacks -- laid down their lives in the fierce battle against the German army. In the steppe outside the city and in streets and squares drenched with their blood the wind rustles the leaves of the trees above their graves. Passersby slow their pace and bare their heads in reverence before the graves of these heroes. Their names are covered with everlasting glory.


• • •


It became known from captured documents, as well as from statements of war prisoners that the Germans had planned, in the event of the capture of Stalingrad, to level the city to the ground, so that no trace of it should remain. But the Red Army held Stalingrad. And now the people are bringing it back to life, regenerating it.


On the ground which will forever be associated with glory of the immortal battle, a new Stalingrad is springing up. The miracle of the defense and the miracle of the offensive are being followed by the miracle of the city's restoration. Stalingrad is growing like a city in a fairy-tale, like a young giant. It is the immortal city of our land -- the favorite of the people. For in the time of stress it defended the country and stopped the enemy.


*To read more about Mamayev Kurgan see: Mamayev Kurgan: The Stalingrad memorial complex at Soviet Volgograd - Part I (theleftchapter.com)

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