We are just back from walking the monuments and memorials to that dreadful battle for Stalingrad in 1942-3. Russia have done a brilliant job of both portraying the essence of the battle and enshrining the memories for later generations. The circular Pantheon, housing the eternal flame, with the names of Russian soldiers lost inscribed into wall panels of glass and mosaic, are beautifully done. It’s a moving place and we will try and give you the essence of it in the following photographs. On the way in I was attracted by an earlier Russian military 4X4 Jeep type vehicle. It was beautifully restored and it bought back memories of driving through Russia in 1970, when one of these vehicles was parked on a roadside and the soldiers with it, motioned for us to stop. They were interested in our ex British Army Series 11A land Rover and were comparing the two vehicles with us. This time the immaculately dressed soldier, Roland, was wanting to dress me up in a uniform he had for the occasion and had a submachine gun for me too, for a photo opportunity. I declined but commented that the sub machine gun, with an underslung, round cartridge holder, was made in the year I was born, 1944 and that for that reason alone, it must be an amazing gun..:). He could speak some english and was able to tell us his father fought in Afghanistan and that he had served in the Chechin war. For those interested, an amazing book on that war written by Nicoli Lilin, called ‘Freefall, A Paratrooper’s Story’. Roland was typical of the wonderful people we have met en-route. Though did blot his copybook by stating that Land Rover’s were SHIT!!!! What could I say!!
Dominating the skyline is a truly massive statue of “Mother Russia”. 72m high, with the sword extending a further 11m above her head. Unfortunately the sun was in the wrong quarter to reveal the full features of the statue, and it is so big, to include people in the pic for scale, would render them invisible, or the statue halved.
The statue is at the top of the hill, held by the Russians, despite huge losses and was vital as it overlooked the plains on the far side of the Volga, where the German army were massed. Stalin was as brutal towards his own troops as he was to the opponents, executing any that showed signs of weakness, or wanting to retreat. It was common in the Russian army to have political informants embedded in the fighting forces, to ensure unwavering support for the cause.
Tomorrow we will visit the Museum dedicated to the battle.