On 2 February 1943 the remaining German forces defending Stalingrad surrendered, ending one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War.
It was a pivotal victory for the Soviets who, after two years of being pushed back by Nazi forces, turned the tide and changed the course of the war in eastern Europe.
Two years previously, in June 1941, the Nazi’s unilaterally terminated the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and launched Operation ‘Barbarossa’ invading eastern Poland. They advanced deep into Soviet territory and occupied some of the most economically important regions of the Soviet Union including Ukraine, and inflicted heavy casualties on Russian forces.
The German offensive stalled in the Battle of Moscow and the subsequent Soviet winter offensive in December 1941 pushed German forces back. The winter of 1941-42 proved to be the coldest of the twentieth century with temperatures as low as -45 degrees centigrade (-49 degrees F).
In June 1942 the Germans launched a second major offensive in the east aimed at the industrial city of Stalingrad and the oil rich Caucasus. Like in their earlier offensive in 1941, German forces advanced quickly and entered the city of Stalingrad in September 1942 having destroyed most of the city with aerial bombing and artillery bombardment.
In November 1942 the Russians launched a major counteroffensive, Operation ‘Uranus’ which encircled the 250,000 men of General Friedrich Paulus’s German 6th Army. Over the next two months the encircled German forces faced bitter winter conditions and starvation. In January 1943 the Soviets offered General Paulus the opportunity to surrender, which Hitler refused to accept.
On 30 January 1943, a day before the German surrender, Hitler promoted Paulus to the rank of Field Marshal, as in German history no previous Field Marshal had surrendered to the enemy.
By the time of the surrender of the remaining German forces defending the city on 2 February 1943, only 91,000 soldiers of the German 6th Army remained. Following the end of the war, only 5,000 of those men returned alive from Soviet prisoner of war camps. In captivity General Paulus became a vocal critic of the Nazi’s and settled in East Germany after the war.
Today you can visit modern day Volgograd and see the massive 85 metre tall statue of ‘The Motherland Calls’ on the hill at Mamayev Kurgan overlooking the city. The statue was unveiled in 1967 to commemorate the battle and at the time was the largest statue in the world. It remains the tallest statue in Europe and the tallest statue of a woman in the world.
You can find out more about ‘The Motherland Calls’ statue here: https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Attraction_Review-g298537-d5770796-Reviews-The_Motherland_Calls_Sculpture-Volgograd_Volgograd_Oblast_Southern_District.html