Monday 30 December 2019

The Battle of Stalingrad (Jul 1942 to Feb 1943) - Part Two - Journal Notes From 2002

The following morning we cross the River Don following in the steps of the 60th Motorised Division of the XVI Panzer Army. Across the Steppe to the ‘Field of Soldiers’ breasting the ridge at Orlovka where the attacking German force split into two – north and south. 

Memorial on the Ridge West of Orlovka.

We spot a German helmet out of a car window but shoot pass to quickly to investigate. We follow the German drive of the 23rd August 1942 and reach the Volga just north of Rynok. In the nearby gully a newly constructed house is collapsing into the sand on which it has unwisely been built.

The Red October Factory

Inside the Red October Factory

The Tractor and the Red October factory complexes are huge – gradually decaying with the nearby workers settlement sad and unkept. The ex Intourist guide we are with talks proudly of the history of the factory – the production statistics and workers who have received the accolade of ‘Hero of the Russian Revolution’. Her words peter out as she realises the contrast between her proud memories and the desolation that lies beyond the perimeter fence.

We manage to get inside and make a beeline for a parcelled off area which, we are told, is untouched since 1943. Inside one of the buildings we debate the pros and cons of various sniper positions. Having settled on a likely spot we rummage around in the debris on the floor and find empty shell casings.

Memorial Site - Red October Factory

Gorodishche is a fascinating place. We choose to visit the battlefield relics at the local museum. We see them …. Eventually! We are greeted by the Director, her assistants and a line of very nervous children dressed in the red, white and blue of their national flag. 

Schoolchildren in Goradische

We are held in the foyer and listen to a very long speech and then are shown around – case by case with each exhibit being painstakingly described. After what seems like an hour we are ushered into a small theatre for a lecture on local folklore. “In 1273 our settlement was founded … in 1977 Comrade … won the regional tractor pulling competition". 

Gorodishche Church
Eventually we are shown the relics but only after a full immersion in yet more local folklore.Then tea and cakes – each made by a different village – and more speeches and then more tea. And then more cake.

Gorodishche Church served as a German field hospital during the battle. We heard two versions of what happened to the patients in February 1943 when the German pocket in the north finally surrendered. The first version has Red Army medics extracting the German wounded and interning them as PoWs. The second version has a flamethrower being used to incinerate everything and everyone in the basement. 

Uncle Joe at the Planetarium
 In Volgograd Planetarium there is a fabulous tiled mosaic of ‘Uncle Joe’ Stalin. After Stalin died it was painted over rather than destroyed. Last year it was re-exposed and is now shown off with pride. 

Note: Whilst we were in the city we became aware of a vociferous campaign to restore 'Stalingrad' as the city's name. A veterans organisation led by Colonel Anatoly Kozlov were leading the charge. Sadly Anatoly died a few years back but at the time of writing in 2002 he was very active - more from Anatoly later.

Back at the hotel my phone rings. Ah, perhaps Mo is calling I think. But no, it’s a Russian voice. “Do you want sex” the female caller says in a disconcertingly perfunctory way. There’s a pause. “I am 23” the caller intones. I decline the offer.

To Read Part Three click here.