Category: USSR
Alt-history? Trump claims US won two World Wars & defeated communism
| December 9, 2017 | 8:45 pm | Donald Trump, France, Red Army, Russia, UK, USSR | No comments

Alt-history? Trump claims US won two World Wars & defeated communism

Alt-history? Trump claims US won two World Wars & defeated communism
Donald Trump has delivered his own reading of history that is likely to raise eyebrows in Russia, China, Europe, and beyond. The tycoon-turned-president claimed the US has single-handedly won two world wars and “brought communism to its knees.”

Trump appeared at a rally in Pensacola, Florida to voice his support for the Republican nominee Roy Moore, who is running for the Senate in Alabama. At first, he reprised the themes popular with his supporters, including illegal immigration, criminal gangs, and mainstream media.

The President was about 70 minutes into his appearance at the rally when he made the following remark: “We are the nation that dug out the Panama Canal, won two world wars, put a man on the moon and brought communism to its knees,” Trump proclaimed to a cheering crowd in front of ‘Merry Christmas’ signs.

The crowd seemed unfazed by the mix of historic events with outrageous claims, cheering loudly when Trump added: “As long as we have the courage of our convictions, and the strength to see them through, then there is no goal beyond our reach.”

Unluckily for Trump, who regularly lambasts media for publishing fake news, his own take on world history does not quite agree with what really happened. The US entered World War I in 1917, just one year before it ended. Washington began sending fresh troops to Europe, claiming some significant victories over the Germans, but mainly because they were unable to replace their losses or provide enough arms, munitions and food supplies for their troops.

For over three years, it was mostly Britain, France and the Russian Empire who bore the brunt of war. The allies engaged in several crucial battles against the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, including the Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme. Fierce fighting and heavy losses took their toll on the allies; the Russian Empire collapsed, while France and Britain had to deal with ruined economies, galloping inflation and social unrest.

In World War II, the US focused on fighting the Japanese Empire, its most dangerous enemy in the Pacific. Although the US declared war on Nazi Germany in 1941, in practice it sent military support to the British and the Soviets, delaying direct involvement in hostilities until 1944. By the time of the D-Day landings, the Red Army had already driven the Nazis out of Russia and the east of Europe, bringing the frontline closer to Berlin. Soviet troops captured the Third Reich’s capital in May 1945, forcing Hitler’s generals to surrender.

READ MORE: The sacrifice of the Russian people in World War II must never be forgotten

In a speech to the House of Commons in August 1944, Winston Churchill famously observed: “It is the Russian armies who have done the main work in tearing the guts out of the German army.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s remark on defeating communism may not sit well with several Asian nations, which are coincidentally trade partners of the US in the region, notably China and Vietnam. The Communist Party of China, ruling over world’s most populous nation, may have a question or two about the alleged “defeat.”

READ MORE: German trains troll Trump over #alternativefacts gaffe

“Eradicating the Bacillus”

– by Greg Godels is available at:

Eradicating the Bacillus”

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Eradicating the Bacillus”
In the US, the last few months have seen a host of celebratory salutes to, tributes to, and commentaries on the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Serious research and thought were reflected in many, reminding us of both the sacrifices and achievements made by the workers of many nationalities who established the first sustained workers’ state, the USSR. Authors and speakers touched on many aspects of the Revolution and its rich legacy of fighting for socialism and ending imperialism.
Needless to say, little (or none?) of the victories of twentieth century socialism spawned by the Russian Revolution found its way into the monopoly media; the fete for the Bolshevik Revolution was held on alternative websites, by small circulation journals, and in small meeting halls and venues. This would neither surprise nor disappoint Vladimir Lenin; rather, it would conjure memories of the difficult and stubborn work of the small, often disputatious Russian Social Democratic Party in the years leading up to the revolutions of 1905 and 1917.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that the mainstream capitalist media had no commentary on the Russian Revolution. They did.
And it was relentlessly and uniformly negative. No warm words of any kind were spared for Russian workers of 1917 and their cause. In fact, in a year when the media and its wealthy and powerful collaborators decided to resurrect the spectre of Soviet Russia in a new, hysterical anti-Russia campaign, moguls mounted a lurid, anti-Communist campaign unseen since the Cold War.
The New York Times unleashed their rabid neo-McCarthyite commentator (Communism Through Rose-Colored Glasses), Bret Stephens, to spew his venom and unsparingly and gratuitously denounce anyone that he could even remotely connect with the Revolution, from those wearing “Lenin or Mao T-shirts” to Lillian Hellman. Progressives, Jeremy Corbyn, and, predictably, Bernie Sanders are condemned, part of the “bacillus” yet to be “eradicated,” to reference his clumsy, vulgar paraphrase of Winston Churchill. They, like any of us who find any merit at all in the Soviet experience, are “fools, fanatics, or cynics.”
Then there was the nutty Masha Gessen– the favorite of NPR’s resident bootlicker to wealthy patrons, Scott Simon– who analyzes the Soviet experience in a strange brew of mysticism and psycho-babble. Even The Wall Street Journal reviewer of her new book (The Future is History) concedes that she “puts forth a[n]… argument full of psychospeak about ‘energies’ and an entire society succumbing to depression.” He goes on: “She begins with the dubious assertion that one of Soviet society’s decisive troubles derived from the state prohibition against sociology and psychoanalysis, which meant the society ‘had been forbidden to know itself.’”
“Dubious” assertion? Or whacky assertion?
But Gessen will always be remembered for embracing the term “Homo Sovieticus,” a term that will undoubtedly prove attractive to those mindlessly active in the twitter universe.
For reviewing Gessen’s book, reviewer Stephen Kotkin had the favor returned with a glowing review in The Wall Street Journal of his book, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler 1929-1941. Joshua Rubenstein– himself the author of another catalogue of Stalin’s evil, The Last Days of Stalin— engages the usual verbal histrionics: “despotism,” “violent and catastrophic,” “ruthlessness and paranoia,” “draconian,” “remarkable cruelty,” “calamitous,” “crimes,” “ideological fanaticism.” These, and other shrill descriptions, pile up in a mere ten paragraphs. Rubenstein clearly reveals his anti-Soviet bias when he describes Soviet aid and assistance to the elected Spanish anti-fascist government in 1936 as an “intervention.” The interveners were the Italian and German fascists; the Soviets were, unlike the Western “democracies,” the only opponents of intervention.
Kotkin’s service to the WSJ and the anti-Soviet cause were rewarded with a long op-ed piece in the Journal in the weekend Review section (November 4-5, 2017). The Princeton and Stanford professor tackled the topic, The Communist Century, with great vigor. He sets the tone with the dramatic claim that …communism has claimed at least 65 million lives, according to the painstaking research of demographers.”
The victims-of-Communism numbers game was elaborated and popularized by Robert Conquest, a writer whose career overlapped on numerous occasions with the Cold War propaganda efforts of the UK Information Research Department, the US CIA, and the CIA’s publishing fronts. Conquest owned the estimate of 20 million deaths from the Soviet purges of the late 1930s. At the height of the Cold War, this astounding figure met no resistance from “scholars” at elite universities. Indeed, every schoolgirl and schoolboy in the crazed, rabid 1950s “knew” of the tens of millions of victims of Stalin’s purges.
Unfortunately for Conquest (though he never acknowledged it) and the many lemming-like academic experts, the post-Soviet archives revealed that his numbers were vastly inflated. In fact, they had no relationship whatsoever to the actualities of that nonetheless tragic period.
Kotkin’s claimed 65 million victims of Communist misdeeds should, accordingly, be taken with less than a grain of salt, though it is curiously and mysteriously well below the endorsed estimate of his mentor, Martin Malia. Malia, the author of the preface to the infamous Black Book of Communism (1994), endorsed that sensationalized book’s claim that 94 million lives were lost to Communism. Some contributors to the Black Book retracted this claim, noting that it was arrived at by an obsession with approaching the magic number of 100 million victims. They subsequently “negotiated” (or manufactured) a tally between 65 and 93 million. Such is the “rigor” of Soviet scholarship at elite universities.
Kotkin, like most other anti-Communist crusaders, gives away the numbers endgame, the purpose behind blaming uncountable victims upon Communism. For the arch-enemies of Communism like Conquest and the participants in the Black Book, it is imperative that Communism be perceived as equally evil with or more evil than Nazism and fascism. This charge of moral equivalence is targeted at the liberals who might view Communism as a benign ally in the defense of liberal values or social reforms. No one has done more to promote this false equivalency than Yale professor Timothy Snyder with his shoddy, ideologically driven book, Bloodlands.
Of course, the Washington Post also has its resident guardians of anti-Soviet dogma in Marc Thiessen and the incomparable Anne Applebaum. Applebaum has enjoyed a meteoric career from graduate student to journalist covering Eastern European affairs to the widely acknowledged leader of anti-Soviet witch-hunters. Her marriage to an equally anti-Communist Polish journalist-turned-politician further strengthened her role as the hardest charging of the hard-charging professional anti-Communists. Her consistent work denouncing everything Soviet has earned her a place on the ruling class Council of Foreign Relations and the CIA’s “active measure,” the National Endowment for Democracy.
She “celebrated” the Bolshevik Revolution on November 6 with a several-thousand-word Washington Post essay raising the feverish alarm of a return of Bolshevism (100 years later, Bolshevism is back. And we should be worried.) Applebaum repeats a favorite theme of the new generation of virulent anti-Communists: the events of November 1917 were a coup d’etat and not a revolution. Of course, this claim is hard to square with another favorite theme– the Bolsheviks numbered only two to ten thousand followers. How do you reconcile such a tiny group “overthrowing” the government and the security forces of the fourth most populated empire in the world?
The Bolsheviks lied. Lenin was a liar. Trotsky was a liar. “So were his comrades. The Bolsheviks lied about the past… and they lied about the future, too. All through the spring and summer of 1917, Trotsky and Lenin repeatedly made promises that would never be kept.” Further, Lenin’s henchmen used the “tactics of psychological warfare that would later become their trademark” to mesmerize the population. That same easily charmed population was to later fight for socialism against counter-revolutionary domestic reaction and foreign intervention in a bloody five-year war (1917-1922), the same supposedly easily tricked population that laid down their arms and refused to fight for the Czar or his “democratic” successors. This neat picture of perfidy surely exposes a belief in both superhuman, mystical powers possessed by Lenin and an utter contempt for the integrity and intelligence of the Russian masses.
But it is not really the historical Bolsheviks who are Applebaum’s target, but today’s “neo-Bolsheviks.”
And who are the “neo-Bolsheviks”?
For Ms. Applebaum, they are everyone politically outside of her comfortable, insular world of manners and upper-middle class conservatism. First and foremost, she elects to smear the social democrats in Spain and Greece, along with Jeremy Corbyn, who may consider “bringing back nationalization.” Similarly, their US counterparts “on the fringes of the Democratic Party” (Bernie Sanders!) are condemned because they embrace “a dark, negative version of American history” and “spurn basic patriotism and support America’s opponents, whether in Russia or the Middle East.” (Sadly, my social democratic friends will likely not allow these ravings to shake their confidence in Applebaum’s equally inane pronouncements on Communism.)
But the “neo-Bolsheviks” exist on the right as well! She identifies them as those rightists who “scorn Christian Democracy, which had its political base in the church and sought to bring morality back to politics…” “If some of what these extremists [on the right] say is to be taken seriously, their endgame– the destruction of the existing political order, possibly including the U.S. Constitution– is one that the Bolsheviks would have understood.” In Applebaum’s bizarre world, there are Bolsheviks of both the left and right lurking under our beds! Safety is only found in the bosom of Christian democracy, that post-war artifact cobbled together by the Western powers to counter the parliamentary rise of Communism.
The anti-Communist graffiti artists, the professional defacers of the Soviet legacy, are legion. Books and commentaries by others, like Victor Sebestyen, Serhii Plokhy, Douglas Smith, Svetlana Alexievich, Amy Knight, and Catherine Merridale, join the authors reviewed here in churning out new grist for the anti-Communist, anti-Soviet mill.
With many Soviet sources now available, the practice of Cold War defamation has become a riskier business, an enterprise possibly bringing embarrassment to the most outrageous fabricators. Accordingly, the most sophisticated among the new generation of Cold Warriors have turned in a new direction: the 1930s famines in then Soviet Ukraine. With little risk of exposure and eager cooperation from the virulently anti-Communist, extreme nationalists now installed to govern Ukraine, they have started a new victim-numbers race to rally the cause of anti-Communism, a new narrative of Red wickedness.
Applebaum is right about one thing. There is evil in the air.
But it is the vicious slander of everything Red, especially the legacy of the Soviet Union.
Greg Godels (Zoltan Zigedy)
How TV Shows From Behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ Captured British Children’s Hearts
| November 22, 2017 | 7:03 pm | UK, USSR | No comments
Television screen

How TV Shows From Behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ Captured British Children’s Hearts


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Neil Clark

We’ve been hearing a lot about the centenary of the Russian Revolution, but one aspect of communism – and its impact on Britain – we’re not reading about.

Namely, the wonderful children’s programs from eastern Europe that were shown on British television in the pre-neoliberal era.

It is said that the BBC bought these “Red Classics,” because they were relatively cheap, but as the former Head of Children’s Programmes, Edward Barnes, admitted in 2002, there was also “a desire to see that children got as wide a cultural diet as possible. It gave them a taste of other cultures and other worlds.” How very admirable.

Watching these programs was certainly a highlight of my childhood. They probably inspired me to travel behind the so-called “Iron Curtain” and later live and work in central/eastern Europe. They broadened my horizons — and I’m sure the horizons of millions of other children.

At the top of the list was the quite magical The Singing Ringing Tree (Das Singende, Klingende Baumchen), from East Germany, which has now deservedly acquired cult status. Described as “a surreal fairy-tale featuring the world’s first communist Princess, a bizarre fish and the most sinister dwarf in the history of dwarf kind,” it also featured a prince who gets turned into a bear. This 1957 film (which was shown in serialized form in the UK), was a staple on BBC children’s teatime television schedules in the sixties and seventies.

Critic Marina Warner wrote of it:

“Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings film have brought the idea of fantasy with a strong moral message back into the mainstream… And somehow the East German state pedagogy, for all its risible earnestness, managed to do this in a way which is more idyllic, more heart-warming than these blockbuster films with all their merchandising.”

Filmed in glorious color, The Singing Ringing Tree has been called “the epitome of fairytale delight” and also “the scariest children’s TV programme ever.” That malevolent dwarf really does give you the shivers. My wife bought me a DVD copy for Christmas a couple of years ago and it proved a big hit for all the family — including octogenarian members.

Sixty years on from its production, its charm — and what Warner rightly calls its “strong moral message” still endures — even though the country which made it no longer exists.

The Tales from Europe series — under whose banner The Singing Ringing Tree was shown, also featured programs from the Soviet Union. Writing in the Daily Telegraph in 2002, Mark Hudson references Maximka, described as “a stirring tale of a boy sailor made at the legendary Mosfilm studios with no expense spared” while he nominated another Soviet production The City of Craftsmen, “a visually extraordinary medieval fable, full of sinister physiognomies and fantastic headgear,” as his personal favorite.

I don’t remember them (they were shown in 1967 when I was only one), but I do remember White Horses, from Yugoslavia, with its lovely Come White Horses title song. How many children acquired their interest in equestrianism from watching this uplifting program which was a mainstay of morning television in Britain the summer holidays in the late Sixties and Seventies? I know that I did. A co-production with West Germany, it told of the adventures of a very attractive teenage girl called Julia (who every boy in Britain at the time had a crush on) — who left Belgrade to work on her uncle’s stud farm, where beautiful Lipizzaners were trained.

In 2003, its theme tune was named the greatest in television history.

Sadly — and rather criminally — the BBC later wiped the dubbed-English language episodes from its library. It was thought that the series in English would be lost for ever, but fortunately reel-to-reel audio tapes were found for 12 episodes, which are now available on DVD.

Another classic was The Mole (Krtek), a very sweet cartoon series from Czechoslovakia, which was usually shown just before the evening news.

Czechoslovakian animations were on quite a lot in those days. There were also the absolutely thrilling dubbed Jules Verne adventures — such as The Secret of Steel City (Tajemství Oceloveho mesta) — which I would rush home from school to watch (usually on at about 5.10pm).

This gripping tale told of two neighboring cities — one Fortuna, which only wants to live in peace, but the other, Steel City — is imperialistic and is secretly developing a “freeze gun” with which it hopes to subjugate its neighbour. It was a Cold War allegory — and now — after the US-led wars/interventions against Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria we can see quite clearly who was who.

Children’s films from behind the “Iron Curtain” were popular too. Matt the Gooseboy, from Hungary, was shown on BBC2 on New Year’s Eve 1978. Imagine BBC putting on a Hungarian children’s film on New Year’s Eve nowadays. Incidentally, the Christmas matinee on December 25 on BBC2 that year was Dersu Uzala — a joint Soviet-Japanese production starring Maksim Munzuk and Yuri Solomin-proving the point that neoliberal globalization hasn’t increased cultural diversity, but reduced it. Dumbed-down Hollywood “celebrity” culture dominates to the expense of everything else. We’re all the poorer for it.

The “Red Classics” — (and indeed programs from western Europe too from the same era — like the fabulous Adventures of Robinson Crusoe from France) were far more captivating and possessed a much stronger moral message than the glitzier, but spiritually emptier offerings from the big western studios today. Harry Potter — and in fact anything by J.K. Rowling, leaves me cold — as does so most modern children’s TV — but The Singing Ringing Tree, which shows us how loving kindness can overcome the most regressive forces, still engages my emotions. That’s because it — and other offerings from that time — had a maturity and honesty that many of today’s programmes lack.

You could say that childhood itself has been destroyed in the US and UK by a rapacious capitalist system that sees children as merely young consumers to extract profit from. The 2009 report of The Good Childhood Inquiry found that “excessive individualism” in Britain was blighting children’s lives.

While Dr. Gabor Mate has said that post-industrial capitalism has destroyed “the normal basis for childhood development.”

Do we really wonder why there has been such an increase in mental illness in our society since the Seventies? If our dog-eat-dog neo-liberal societies are so fantastically “successful,” then why are so many people on anti-depressants and other drugs? Or is maximizing corporate profits the only thing that matters these days?

Revisiting these “Red Classics” provides a timely reminder that there was a time when Britain was open to cultural influences from countries which followed a very different political system. Sadly, this open-mindedness is not on display in Establishment circles today.

In 2017, obnoxious NeoCon Truth Enforcers are engaged in an obsessive campaign to stop us from watching or listening to channels that don’t regurgitate the official “Steel City” War Party line, such as RT and Sputnik. Their equivalents back in the 60s and 70s were no doubt angry that so many children’s programs from “unapproved countries” were bring shown on British television. The difference now is that the censorious voices have far more of a media presence than they did 50 years ago.

So to defy them, (in addition to tuning in to Sputnik and RT) — ditch Harry Potter — and other inferior modern western offerings, and check out the programs I mention above. I hope your imagination will be as fired as mine was all those years ago.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

Follow Neil Clark on Twitter.

Support his Anti-Stalker Crowd-Fund.

Find the boy: 30yo film in Soviet camera spurs social media quest
| November 22, 2017 | 6:55 pm | USSR | No comments

Find the boy: 30yo film in Soviet camera spurs social media quest

When a French photographer bought a second-hand Soviet camera in Moscow, she did not expect to find a roll of film inside. Once developed, pictures of a boy from 1990 inspired her to embark on a ‘Find the Russian boy’ quest on social media. And guess what? She found him.

Elisabeth Blanchet, a French London-based freelance photographer, travels extensively and this summer she visited Russia. Blanchet, a huge fan of cameras, bought one at a flea market in Moscow. Back in France, she realized the camera contained a little bonus inside, an old film that was sitting there for some 30 years.

Blanchet carefully developed the precious photos of the 6-7 year-old boy. “There were 16 black-and-white pictures… Which showed apparently important moments of his [the boy’s] life,” Blanchet told RT.

“I felt very emotional when I saw these pictures because I felt [that it is] a lost memory and it belongs to someone which is not me,” she recalled. “I’ve got to find him [the boy] to give these photos back to him.”

“It’s like when you find a wallet somewhere, and it’s full of things, not only money. But some important things like pictures of your kids, pictures of your driving license from when you are 18.”

Blanchet initiated a massive internet campaign dubbed, ‘Looking for the Russian boy,’ on her website and on her on social media pages. “Looking at the photos, I came out with this crazy idea: searching for the Russian boy in the photos and give his images back to him,” she wrote on her website in late September.

Her Russian-speaking friends helped Blanchet translate her call into Russian. And the journey to locate the mystery boy was underway. Asked by RT about her ‘success,’ she laughed. “Well, he found me really. I got a WhatsApp message saying ‘I am a Russian boy you are looking for’,” she said.

‘The little boy looked very much like me’

The boy on the film roll turned out to be a Moscow resident Dmitry Kretov. The photos indeed captured a significant moment in his life – his first day in school in 1990, some 27 years ago. Now 33, Kretov says he was quite taken aback when he saw Blanchet’s online campaign earlier in November.

“I was at the airport when my friend sent me a photo of a little boy, who looked very much like me, with a caption saying, “Looking for a Russian boy,” he told RT. There were so many questions. “Where do these photos come from and why is someone looking for me? Who is this Elizabeth and how did she get those photos?”

Recognizing himself in the photos, he got in touch with the photographer first via WhatsApp, then via Skype. “We talked for two hours about everything. She turned out to be a very nice woman.”

Then the pieces of the puzzle finally came together. The camera belonged to Kretov’s uncle, an artist. After that school event everyone forgot to develop the photos and the camera had been gathering dust on the shelf for nearly 30 years.

“It turned out that my uncle had given it to his friend to sell at the market [in 2017], but had forgotten to remove the film,” Kretov explained. The rest, as they say, is history – the camera fell in Blanchet’s hands who breathed life into the forgotten camera film.

Amazing coincidence

It was luck, or is it fate, that it was Blanchet, a person who knows how to handle such fragile objects and who cared about the past, who bought the camera, Kretov believes. “I just want to share this amazing story with other people – so that others might realize that our life is not just about politics and death, but includes room for small everyday pleasures.”

The whole tale is seemingly one of amazing coincidence for the two strangers. Both Kretov and Blanchet say it’s a fairytale – 27-year-old photos, two different parts of the world, and, of course, a happy ending.

Blanchet was immediately taken by the idea of returning to Russia next February and visiting the places where the photos were taken. “She has written an amazing film script for this story that’s going to be turned into a documentary! I will do my best to help her,” Kretov said.

Made in the Soviet Union: Moscow to Host ‘System of Design in USSR’ Exhibition
| November 22, 2017 | 6:49 pm | USSR | No comments

Made in the Soviet Union: Moscow to Host ‘System of Design in USSR’ Exhibition

Made in the Soviet Union: Moscow to Host ‘System of Design in USSR’ Exhibition

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© Sputnik/ Iosif Budnevich
A worker of the Alma-Atinskaya factory producing children’s toys, 1971.

The mesmerizing collection of furniture, clothes, books and other items designed and created by Soviet masters will be on display from November 22, 2017, until January 12, 2018, at the All-Russian Decorative Art Museum.

More than 500 exhibits will be presented at the event, arranged by the Moscow Design Museum. In the words of the organizers, “System of Design in USSR” is the first exhibition to reveal how various Soviet institutes, bureaus and services worked in the field of artistic design and technical aesthetics in the 1960-1980s.

The exposition will also feature unique photos from the Rossiya Segodnya archive, which you can take a look at in Sputnik’s photo gallery.

We promise the workers and peasants to do everything for (world) peace…and this we are doing
| November 21, 2017 | 8:15 pm | Struggle for Peace, USSR, V.I. Lenin | No comments

The Soviet WWII Counteroffensive That Changed the Course of History
| November 19, 2017 | 6:16 pm | Action, Red Army, Russia, struggle against fascism, USSR | No comments

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.