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Russia marks Stalingrad defeat of Nazis

75 years ago, the surrender of Nazi Germany’s Sixth Army marked the end of the Battle of Stalingrad. It was a major turning point in the war, which remains important for many Russians even today.

During World War II, Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht intended to conquer the industrial city of Stalingrad — named after then Soviet leader Joseph Stalin — before advancing onward to capture its intended goal: The Caucasus oil fields. Given the city’s name, both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin afforded great symbolic meaning to the Battle of Stalingrad that transcended its strategic importance.

Due to the very long supply routes, the German Sixth Army’s offensive on Stalingrad was risky from the outset. Led by General Friedrich Paulus, the attack commenced in mid-August 1942, roughly one year after Nazi Germany first invaded the Soviet Union.

Back then, Hitler had claimed: “The Russians are exhausted.” His assessment proved to be wildly inaccurate. Despite fierce resistance, the Wehrmacht did succeed in conquering most of Stalingrad by mid-November 1942. By this time, however, Soviet forces had launched a two-pronged attack to encircle the German troops. In late November, the Red Army had encircled Germany’s entire Sixth Army and elements of the 4th Panzer Army — together, almost 300,000 German soldiers. Hitler, in turn, demanded they hold their position. Similarly, Stalin told his forces in July “not to move an inch.”

Stubbornly, both parties held their positions. German forces were encircled. And soon, their situation began to deteriorate. Over the course of several weeks, Germany’s Luftwaffe attempted to provide necessary supplies. But this was not enough. With the advance of the Red Army, supplies began dwindling further. Then winter set in, with temperatures dropping as low as -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit). Consequently many German soldiers died, not from fighting, but from starvation and hypothermia. A German relief operation that, after many delays, arrived to try and break the encirclement, and failed.

General Friedrich Paulus surrendered, despite Hitler’s orders.
General Paulus disobeyed Hitler in final moment

Despite these dire circumstances, General Paulus obeyed Hitler’s order to “stand and fight,” rejecting a Soviet offer to surrender on January 8, 1943. On January 29, Paulus sent the following message to Hitler: “On the 10th anniversary of your assumption of power, the Sixth Army hails its ‘Fuhrer.’ The swastika flag is still flying above Stalingrad. May our battle be an example to the present and coming generations that they must never capitulate even in a hopeless situation, for then Germany will be victorious. Hail my Fuhrer!”

But when the Red Army stormed Paulus’ headquarters, located in a cellar beneath a department store on January 31st, he was captured alive. Paulus had also forbidden his officers to commit suicide to avoid capture so they would share the same fate as ordinary German soldiers. At this stage, the surrounded German troops had been split into two encircled camps, one in northern Stalingrad, the other in the south. By late January, troops in the southern half surrendered. On February 2, 1943, those in the north followed suit. Hitler was furious when he learned of the surrender.

This was the center of Stalingrad after the Germans surrendered.
A horrendous death toll

Over half a million Soviets died in the Battle of Stalingrad, among them numerous civilians.This was due to Stalin refusing to evacuate non-combatants throughout the conflict. More than 40,000 died in German air raids during the early days of the battle. Of the 75,000 civilians who remained in Stalingrad until the German surrender, many died of starvation and hypothermia. Between 150,000 and 250,000 Germans are estimated to have died in Stalingrad. Of the 100,000 Germans who were taken as Soviet prisoners of war, only about 6,000 returned to Germany up until 1956: Among them, General Friedrich Paulus.

For Germany’s Wehrmacht, Stalingrad was not the battle that exacted the highest death toll, nor did it carry the greatest strategic significance. But “the psychological impact of Stalingrad was immense and in that sense it played a decisive role in the war,” says Jochen Hellbeck, a historian at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA. “It took on this important meaning because both sides declared it to be crucial when the battle began.” Hellbeck has collated testimonies from German and Russian Stalingrad war veterans on his website “facing Stalingrad”. He says that after the Red Army emerged victorious in Stalingrad, it was keen to show the world it had “beaten the world’s best army.”

Stalingrad, which was renamed Volgograd in 1960, boasts many reminders of this bloody battle. The city’s Stalingrad museum is one of Russia’s most visited institutions. The legacy of Stalingrad is also evident in the Russian controversy surrounding the British comedy “The Death of Stalin.”

In Russia, Stalin has been held responsible for the death of millions of Soviet citizens, yet is also revered for defeating Nazi Germany. Russia’s Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, banned the comedy from being shown in the country’s cinemas, saying: “Many people […] will perceive the film as making a mockery of the Soviet past.” And, he added, it would be particularly distasteful to show the film one day before the annual ceremony to commemorate the Battle of Stalingrad on February 2.

German soldiers who survived were taken as prisoners of war.
Neither side ready for grand reconciliation gesture

So now, 75 years later, is there reconciliation between both sides? There are small gestures, certainly. Altogether, more than 700,000 soldiers and civilians died in the Battle of Stalingrad. To this day, corpses and mass graves are discovered during construction work in and around Volgograd. Thanks to the cooperation between the German War Graves Commission and Russian authorities, remains are transferred to official military cemeteries like the one at Rossoschka outside Volgograd. Here, German Wehrmacht soldiers and Red Army soldiers are buried in a single cemetery, albeit separated by a road.

There is still a long way to go before there will be any kind of gesture of reconciliation similar to the handshake between German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President François Mitterand in 1984 on the former battlefields of Verdun. Historian Jochen Hellbeck thinks that Germans and Russians are not yet ready for this step. He says Russians still have reservations and in Germany there is “no willingness and no feeling that corresponds to the feeling towards the western neighbors, the French, British or Americans.” Hellbeck believes that reconciliation requires both sides to accept each other’s way of remembering the past. “You cannot simply decide that both Germans and Russians must commemorate the Battle of Stalingrad as a senseless slaughter.” Because, he says, the battle certainly had great importance to the Soviet side. Still, he remains optimistic: “I hope that I will some day witness German and Russian leaders shaking hands over the graves of Stalingrad.”

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1916 Zeppelin crashes into North Sea

Two days after nine German zeppelins dropped close to 400 bombs throughout the English Midlands, the crew of the British fishing trawler King Stephen comes across the crashed remains of one of the giant airships floating in the North Sea.

Developed by a German army officer, Count Ferdinand Zeppelin, and first flown in 1900, the zeppelin was an impressive aircraft by the beginning of World War I. With the capacity to carry five machine guns and up to 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds) of bombs, it could reach a maximum speed of 136 kilometers per hour (84.5 miles per hour) and a height of 4,250 meters (13,943 feet).

The first zeppelin attack on England took place on January 19, 1915, when two of the airships bombed the English coastal towns of Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn, killing a total of four people. The first bombing raid on London came on May 31 of that year, when a single zeppelin dropped 90 small bombs and 30 grenades on the city, leaving seven dead and 35 wounded.

The raid of January 31, 1916, by nine zeppelins was one of the largest Britain saw during the war. The Germans bombed the West Midlands towns of Bradley, Tipton, Wednesbury and Walsall. Across the region, more than 70 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the attacks.

Just before daybreak on February 2, King Stephen skipper William Martin spotted a downed airship partially submerged in the North Sea. The skipper and his crew waited at a safe distance until daylight when they confirmed the wreckage was that of a German zeppelin with the identification mark L-19. With three of its four engines failing, the L-19 had reportedly come under Dutch fire, which punctured its gas cells and brought it down, killing some of the crew.

The nine unarmed men aboard the King Stephen saw that about 20 German soldiers had survived the crash. Fearful that the German airmen could easily overpower them and take control of the ship, Martin and his crew refused the soldiers’ pleas for help and did not take the men aboard, choosing instead to return to Britain to report their discovery to the authorities. The remaining crew of the L-19 disappeared with their craft. Word of the incident soon got out in both Germany and Britain–some saw Martin’s decision as a necessary one to protect his crew, while others, including some Britons, vilified Martin for what they saw as an unpardonable act of cruelty, even for wartime.

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Update 1-30-2018 : New Pictures Added to the Website

New Pictures have been added to the Website:

  • Past Re-Enacting Events
  • Historical Society of German Military History Collection of Memorabilia – Historic Items (Members Only)
  • Models and Toys of Others from Around the World
  • Battle of Crete
  • Eastern Front
  • Battle of Normandy – Invasion of Normandy & Operation Cobra Plus Others Battles in France
  • Falaise Pocket
  • Battle for Western Germany
  • Other World War 2 Battles/ Major Events
  • German Heer – Army
  • Volkssturm – People’s Militia
  • Foreign Troops in the Wehrmacht
  • Orders of Battle – Armies and Armeegruppes
  • Pak Anti-Tank Guns
  • Destroyed or Left Over Vehicles & Equipment from War
  • Fallschirmjägers – Paratroopers – Green Devils
  • Luftwaffe Varied Plane Types
  • Hand Held Infantry Weapons or Light Equipment of WW2
  • World War 2 Generals – V
  • Luftwaffe Pilots & Airmen – H thru M
  • Third Reich Era War Medals and Decorations – Luftwaffe 1933-1946
  • East Germany 1949-1990
  • Reichstag
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Modern Germany Information and Facts
  • Black and White Photos of Adolf Hitler (Members Only)
  • Leading Figures of Nazi Germany – M thru Z
  • SS – Schutzstaffel
  • Order of Battle – Waffen-SS Divisions
  • SS Panzer Division – Hitlerjugend

New Pages have been added to the Website:

  • German Reunification
  • Information and Facts of World War 1

 

Enjoy!

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1943 RAF launches massive daytime raid on Berlin

On this day, the British Royal Air Force begins a bombing campaign on the German capital that coincides with the 10th anniversary of Hitler’s accession to power.

The Casablanca Conference, held from January 14 to 23, saw Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff meet in Morocco to discuss future war strategy following on the success of the North African invasion, which heralded the defeat of Vichy forces. One of the resolutions of the conference was to launch a combined and sustained strategic bombing effort against the Germans. Strategic bombing was the policy of using bombers to destroy an enemy’s warmaking capacity, also referred to as “area bombing.” Churchill described it as an “absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by very heavy bombers…upon the Nazi homeland.”

To celebrate the anniversary of Hitler’s 1933 appointment to the office of chancellor by then-President Paul von Hindenburg, both propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and head of the Luftwaffe Hermann Goering planned to give radio addresses to the German masses. Goebbels intended to bolster morale by hailing an impending victory in Russia: “A thousand years hence, every German will speak with awe of Stalingrad and remember that it was there that Germany put the seal on her victory.” As the speeches were broadcast, RAF fighters rained bombs on Berlin, the beginning of devastating attacks on German cities that would last until the very end of the war. To make matters even worse for the Germans, the next day a massive surrender of German troops occurred at Stalingrad.

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1933 Adolf Hitler is named chancellor of Germany

On this day in 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg names Adolf Hitler, leader or fÜhrer of the National Socialist German Workers Party (or Nazi Party), as chancellor of Germany.

The year 1932 had seen Hitler’s meteoric rise to prominence in Germany, spurred largely by the German people’s frustration with dismal economic conditions and the still-festering wounds inflicted by defeat in the Great War and the harsh peace terms of the Versailles treaty. A charismatic speaker, Hitler channeled popular discontent with the post-war Weimar government into support for his fledgling Nazi party. In an election held in July 1932, the Nazis won 230 governmental seats; together with the Communists, the next largest party, they made up over half of the Reichstag.

Hindenburg, intimidated by Hitler’s growing popularity and the thuggish nature of his cadre of supporters, the SA (or Brownshirts), initially refused to make him chancellor. Instead, he appointed General Kurt von Schleicher, who attempted to steal Hitler’s thunder by negotiating with a dissident Nazi faction led by Gregor Strasser. At the next round of elections in November, the Nazis lost ground—but the Communists gained it, a paradoxical effect of Schleicher’s efforts that made right-wing forces in Germany even more determined to get Hitler into power. In a series of complicated negotiations, ex-Chancellor Franz von Papen, backed by prominent German businessmen and the conservative German National People’s Party (DNVP), convinced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor, with the understanding that von Papen as vice-chancellor and other non-Nazis in key government positions would contain and temper Hitler’s more brutal tendencies.

Hitler’s emergence as chancellor on January 30, 1933, marked a crucial turning point for Germany and, ultimately, for the world. His plan, embraced by much of the German population, was to do away with politics and make Germany a powerful, unified one-party state. He began immediately, ordering a rapid expansion of the state police, the Gestapo, and putting Hermann Goering in charge of a new security force, composed entirely of Nazis and dedicated to stamping out whatever opposition to his party might arise. From that moment on, Nazi Germany was off and running, and there was little Hindenburg or von Papen—or anyone—could do to stop it.

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1915 German lieutenant Erwin Rommel leads daring mission in France

On January 29, 1915, in the Argonne region of France, German lieutenant Erwin Rommel leads his company in the daring capture of four French block-houses, the structures used on the front to house artillery positions.

Rommel crept through the French wire first and then called for the rest of his company to follow him. When they hung back after he had repeatedly shouted his orders, Rommel crawled back, threatening to shoot the commander of his lead platoon if the other men did not follow him. The company finally advanced, capturing the block-houses and successfully combating an initial French counter-attack before they were surrounded, subjected to heavy fire and forced to withdraw.

Rommel was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, for his bravery in the Argonne; he was the first officer of his regiment to be so honored. Where Rommel is, there is the front, became a popular slogan within his regiment. The bravery and ingenuity he displayed throughout the Great War, even in light of the eventual German defeat, led to Rommel’s promotion through the ranks of the army in the post-war years.

In May 1940, Erwin Rommel was at the head of the 7th Panzer Division that invaded France with devastating success at the beginning of the Second World War. Promoted to general and later to field marshal, he was sent to North Africa at the head of the German forces sent to aid Hitler’s ally, Benito Mussolini. Known as the Desert Fox, Rommel engineered impressive victories against Britain in Libya and Egypt before his troops were decisively defeated at El Alamein in Egypt in 1943 and forced to retreat from the region.

Back in France to see the success of the Allied invasion in June and July 1944, Rommel warned Hitler that the end of the war was near. The unequal struggle is nearing its end, Rommel sent in a teletype message on July 15. I must ask you immediately to draw the necessary conclusions from this situation.

Suspected by Hitler of conspiring against him in the so-called July Plot, Rommel was presented with an ultimatum: suicide, with a state funeral and protection for his family, or trial for high treason. Rommel chose the former, taking poison pills on October 14, 1944. He was buried with full military honors.

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1944 Siege of Leningrad is lifted

By History

On this day, Soviet forces permanently break the Leningrad siege line, ending the almost 900-day German-enforced containment of the city, which cost hundreds of thousands of Russian lives.

The siege began officially on September 8, 1941. The people of Leningrad began building antitank fortifications and succeeded in creating a stable defense of the city, but as a result were cut off from all access to vital resources in the Soviet interior, Moscow specifically. In 1942, an estimated 650,000 Leningrad citizens perished from starvation, disease, exposure, and injuries suffered from continual German artillery bombardment.

Barges offered occasional relief in the summer and ice-borne sleds did the same in the winter. Slowly but surely a million of Leningrad’s young, sick, and elderly residents were evacuated, leaving about 2 million to ration available food and use all open ground to plant vegetables.

On January 12, Soviet defenses punctured the siege, ruptured the German encirclement, and allowed more supplies to come in along Lake Ladoga. The siege officially ended after 872 days (though it is often called the 900-day siege), after a Soviet counteroffensive pushed the Germans westward.

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