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2 Feb, 2008 11:32

Bloodiest battle in history remembered

The city of Volgograd in Russia’s south is marking 65 years since the Soviet Army defeated Nazi Germany. The Battle of Stalingrad, the city's name at the time, claimed more than a million lives and is considered the turning point of World War Two.

The commemorations are taking place at the Mamayev Kurgan memorial complex – a grandiose structure overlooking the city.

Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister and leading Presidential candidate, Dmitry Medvedev, is taking part. He's met World War Two veterans, laid a wreath and signed a Book of Remembrance at the war memorial.

“This battle made a unique contribution to the course of the Great Patriotic War. We understand that if it wasn't for Stalingrad, there would have been no further victories, no victory in the war, no freedom for Europe. The Stalingrad achievement will forever be inscribed in the annals of our country. We must do everything to ensure that the memory of the battle of Stalingrad and of the Great Patriotic War stays forever in the hearts and minds of our people,” Dmitry Medvedev said. 

The fight for Stalingrad between the Red Army and Axis powers lasted 199 days and ended with a soviet counter offensive that trapped and destroyed the German Sixth Army and other Axis forces around the city.

Historians say the importance of Stalingrad was not just the size of the victory but it was the fact that the soviet Red Army had learned how to defeat the Germans.

Throughout the battle the Germans held up to 90% of the city but the Red Army fought through and in the end used Hitler’s weakness to trap his army.

 “The red army command was clever in the way that they made use of Hitler’s obsession with Stalingrad it allowed them to create a trap a huge envelopment of the German army and this is what gave them that magnificent victory,” Anthony Beevor, a historian from London said.

The victory came after major sacrifice millions of lives lost many of them innocent civilians.

It’s said the Red army suffered over a million casualties and the Axis an estimated 850,000. More than 40,000 Soviet Civilians were killed in Stalingrad during the battle. A battle that is not only remembered for its size and ferocity but also for being the turning point of a War that would become Russia's greatest victory.

The world’s victory

“The first thing the whole world saw was that no other army could have survived that battle they knew that they had to fight through to the very end after that sacrifice made by the soviet people,” Beevor adds.

The sacrifice and victory not just of the battle of Stalingrad but of the War is something close to the hearts of Russians young and old.

But the closest it is to those who were there and remember how the simplest things became the most cherished delights.

“We were always keeping track of what was happing on the front …our windows were covered in charts where we would keep count of casualties and so on….it was bitter sweet…there were moments when we would get a loaf of bread and it would seem like the happiest moment because most of time your were thinking about how hungry you were,” Mikhail Tychkov, a Red Army veteran recalls.

Hunger that lasted for two more years before it could be appreciated the victory in Stalingrad, led to the entire victory of the second world war.

Stalingrad was awarded the title the Hero city in 1945 and 65 years later now called Volgograd it’s victory and pivotal role in the war has not been forgotten.