The battle for Stalingrad was the turning point of the Second World War. After the German invasion of Russia – codenamed Operation Barbarossa, which began in June 1941 – the Wehrmacht remained eastward, killing entire Soviet armies and imprisoning two million prisoners, most of whom were starving.
In Washington and London, leaders gloomily wondered how long the Russians could prevent the absolute defeat.
In the spring of 1942, Hitler's legions drove deeper into the Russian heart, besieged St Petersburg, outwitted the Crimea and threatened the oil fields of the Caucasus.
German soldiers use the evening light to approach a Russian outpost on the outskirts of Stalingrad
The Fuehrer was convinced that the Russians were taking their last breath. He was delighted when in June & # 39; Operation Blue & # 39; enabled its armies to occupy new parts of Central Russia.
After his last victory, Hitler ended General Friedrich Paulus, a staff officer who wanted to prove that he was a fighting commander, to strike a line to the town on the Volga that was named after Stalin, and knew a symbolic triumph, while another German army group waved south to catch the oil fields.
Hitler's top soldiers were appalled by the dangers of splitting the Wehrmacht to capture Stalingrad alone, which was strategically unimportant. Their protests were ignored: the Fuehrer insisted.
Also in Moscow, when the German goal became clear, the Russian dictator Josef Stalin ordered that & # 39; be & # 39; city at all costs must be retained. This paved the way for one of the most terrible weapons weapons of history, in which more than a million people were locked up between the fall of 1942 and the following spring on both sides.
On September 12 the first German troops entered Stalingrad. From the Kremlin a new order came to the Red Army: & # 39; No step back. . . The only mitigating circumstance is death. & # 39;
The first German air raids killed between 10,000 and 40,000 people – almost as many as died in the entire London blitz. Shellfire and bombs rained down on the city, day in, day out, and week in week out.
Stuka pilot Herbert Pabst wrote: "It is incomprehensible to me how people in that hell can continue to live, but the Russians are firmly anchored in the wreckage, in canyons, cellars and in a chaos of distorted skeletons of factories & # 39 ;
Two German soldiers hold their ground and seek cover while shooting from a dilapidated building
General Vasily Chuikov, commander of the 62nd Army of Stalin in the city, wrote: & # 39; The streets of the city are dead. There is no single green branch in the trees; everything has died in the flames. & # 39;
The Russians initially held a circumference of 30 miles against 18, which shrank relentlessly while the men of Paul stood forward within a few hundred meters of the Volga.
Every night, up to three thousand Russian wounded were transported eastward from the city, while a matching stream of fortifications, ammunition and supplies reached the defenders.
New units were put into action as fast as they were to join duels in the ruins that were often hand-in-hand-dead-grabs.
Both parties chronically had a shortage of food and water. The few surviving citizens suffered terribly, a troglodyte living in cellars.
Some soldiers were reduced to cannibalism to stay alive in the ruins of the city while the mercury plunged to -40C.
The bloodiest battle in the Second World War came to an end on January 31, 1943, when Field Marshal Paulus surrendered, disobedient to the orders of his Fuehrer to kill himself.
Of the 110,000 Germans who surrendered, only 5,000 Stalin's guinea pigs would survive to return to a defeated Germany.
The battle cost the German army a quarter of everything it possessed as material – guns, tanks and ammunition. It was a defeat of which it never recovered and for days in a row all shops and restaurants were closed as a sign of respect.