Stalingrad: Turning Point of the Eastern Front by Paul Errington

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s I was brought up on the World at war TV series and Purnell’s History of the Second World War magazine series leading to a lifelong interest in Military history the Western European Theatre but also the Eastern Front, the scale of which fascinated me.

Great Battles in the Cities of Soviet Russia and on the expanses of the Russian Steppes where huge armies clashed in what was the most Titanic struggle of WW2. One place held my interest more than any other, a City where arguably the most destructive and costliest Battle of World War 2, and in fact History, took place and where the momentum of the campaign in the east turned against the Germans: Stalingrad.
Battle of World War 2 - Stalingrad

The Battle symbolizes many things including the clash of the ideologies of Fascism and Communism both of which were brutal regimes which led to the suppression of hundreds of millions, the personal struggle between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, but most of all the savagery of a modern Industrial war fought in an Urban environment where the loss of life was numbered in the 100’s of thousands; a final death figure will probably never be known.

But Stalingrad has also been held as a turning point of the second World War in the east, a place where the German Wehrmacht suffered its greatest
ever disaster in the field and its largest formation the 6
th Army was almost completely wiped out.

After researching the Battle for several years in 2001, I was fortunate to visit for the first time the City now called Volgograd and the surrounding Steppe Battlefields to the west and south of the City where so much remains to be seen. The battle can be viewed and Toured from the first crossing of the Don River to the final surrender by Field Marshall Friedrich Paulus at the Univermag Store in the City Centre, visiting locations relevant to all the phases of the Battle where memorials and original Battle-scarred buildings still stand bearing witness to the ferocious fighting and courage and sacrifice of those from both sides who took part.

One of the places I found the most emotive was the location to the North of the City in the suburbs of Rynok and Lataschinka where the first elements of the 16th Panzer Division, Armoured cars of Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 16 reached the Volga river in the late afternoon of the 23rd August 1942 having made their famous dash across the land bridge between the Don and the Volga. The German troops involved referred to it as overwhelming, or Ein Historisches Augenblick, an Historic moment.

From here high on the west bank of the Volga they could see the mighty river itself, the Asiatic steppe shimmering in the heat haze and extending far into the distance to the east plus the Northern part of the City and the Industrial district where they would soon be involved in brutal fighting. In the distance huge clouds of smoke and fire hung over the
City where over 600 German Bombers had begun their saturation bombing of the City itself, Soviet archives estimate that over 40,000 civilians were killed on that day alone
by the bombing. Looking at the same view you can envisage their feelings of success and exhilaration that now the Volga had been reached the Russian campaign may be
nearing its triumphant conclusion.

Volga Crossing
Volga Crossing

At that moment of Triumph I’m sure not many of them were aware of the scale of battle that was waiting to engulf them and what the fate of themselves and hundreds of thousands of other human beings would be. But the moment and feelings were only fleeting as they began to be engaged by Soviet Anti-Aircraft Guns crewed by young female crews who began firing over open sights at the German Spearhead. As the famous Russian writer Vasily Grossman wrote “This was the first page of the Stalingrad defense”:
the Battle for the City of Stalingrad had begun.

Urban warfare, or Rattenkrieg, in the sewers and underground shops of the factories, the cult of the sniper, the evolution of street fighting tactics, extremes of weather conditions, attack and counter attack, encirclement, starvation and surrender and the final victory of the people of Soviet Russia and the Red Army. This was a turning point in History.

Even in subsequent visits that first sight of the Volga in that historical location left an overwhelming feeling of a moment in history and the beginning of infamous battle that
was to follow.

First view of the Volga
First view of the Volga

The Mamayev Kurgan, the Factory District, Lyudnikovs Island, Pavlovs House, Tsaritsa Gorge, the Railway Station and the Grain Silo etc are all names that will be familiar to those who have studied the fighting to capture the City. But out on the Steppe west of the City are the Airfields of Gumrak and Pitomnik the reconciliation Cemetery complex at Rossoschka including the memorials to the over 100,000 Germans soldiers still missing in action. Soldiers Field, Bald Hill – Memorials to the heroic Soviet defenders, Kalach and the Don River crossing and the area of the German defense lines around the so called Marinovka Nose.

Mamayev Kurgan
Mamayev Kurgan

Grudinin Mill
Grudinin Mill

The Tour we have put together is one that will allow the visitor to understand all the major phases of the Battle , looking at the whole picture from the point of view of both the Axis and Soviet Armies , the senior Commanders and the ordinary soldier, the Civilian experience and the famed resilience of the Red Army soldiers.

The Tour will be led by myself and one of the most knowledgeable and experienced Russian Historians and Guides of the Battle, who first took me to Stalingrad all those years ago: Evgeny Kulichenko. No-one knows the Battle and it’s history as intimately as Zhenya, who is a lifelong resident of the City and who has studied the Battle since being a small boy growing up with the stories and first-hand accounts of the surviving veterans. We look forward to welcoming you on an amazing tour of an incredible battlefield.

ANZAC by Scott Brand

On the 25th April 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces stepped ashore onto the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsular, Turkey. They were part of a large expeditionary force comprising of British, Indian, Newfoundland and French forces, with the aim of fighting their way into Turkey and capturing Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

An ambitious plan, and what could have been a bold strike that might well have changed the course of the war, very quickly deteriorated into stalemate of trench warfare only a short distance inland from the landing sites. A variety of reasons contributed to this impasse, but primarily the fighting ability of the Turks was severely underestimated, putting up a fierce and unrelenting defence.

Australians in WW1

 
The end result was eight months of horrific trench warfare, which claimed the lives of thousands of men from both sides as a result of combat and disease.  When it was acknowledged that the Gallipoli campaign was untenable, the decision was made to leave the peninsular and on the 20th December 1915, The Australians and New Zealanders under secrecy and the cover of darkness were evacuated from Gallipoli. In those eight months, 28,150 Australians became casualties, which includes 8,709 killed and 7,473 New Zealanders with 2,721 killed in action.
Rewinding sixteen months to the outbreak of war in August 1914, Australia had only been a federated nation for thirteen years and New Zealand seven, and though contingents of militia from both Australia and New Zealand had been sent to fight in South Africa during the Boer War, both countries had not fought in any major conflicts as nations. Keen to play their part, both Governments went about recruiting men, and thousands of men rallied to the call. Late 1914, the first wave of Australians and New Zealanders set off destined for the Western Front in Europe, but were diverted to Egypt and subsequently Gallipoli. This contingent of antipodeans were known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, but more commonly ANZAC’s, and it was the 25th April 1915 that the ANZAC’s wrote themselves into history and into the psyche of the Australian and New Zealand Nations.
 
Gallipoli Battlefields

The 25th April soon became a day of remembrance, with the first ANZAC day in 1916. There were commemoration ceremonies throughout the two countries and 2000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers marched through the streets of London. However, Gallipoli would be the last time the two nations would fight side by side for some time and it wouldn’t be until June 1917 at the Battle of Messines in Belgium, before they fought alongside each other again Throughout the remainder of the war ANZAC day continued to be a day of commemoration with marches in major cities, but it was used for recruitment rallies also.
At the end of hostilities in November 1918, over 60,000 Australian and over 18,000 New Zealanders had been killed, the majority on the Western Front. ANZAC day commemorations continued after the war, though there was no formal organisation, commemorations took on many different forms throughout Australia, with a morning vigil being popular amongst veterans as they most likely found peace in the quite solitude of the dawn. It was these vigils that formed the basis of the Dawn Service, which is a regular part of the ANZAC commemorations we know today.
Dawn ANZAC Day Service on the Somme

ANZAC day continued to be popular and following Word War 2, there became a new generation of ANZAC’s to commemorate. In the 1960’s with Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the popularity of ANZAC Day declined with many commemoration services marred by anti-war protests. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that they regained the popularity and attendance they had seen post World War 2.
As a young soldier in the Australian Army in the 1980’s, I participated in many ANZAC day commemorations and I have strong memories of marching along George Street in Sydney and the pavements were lined with thousands of people. As far as the eye could see along George Street it was a sea of khaki, white and blue, with the men and woman of the Army, Navy and Airforce, marching alongside veterans of three wars. The day always started with the dawn service at a war memorial local to our barracks and then it was back to the RSL (Returned Service League) for a rum with the veterans, before heading into the city for the main march. ANZAC day always ended back at an RSL for the biggest game of two-up, with the calls of “come in spinner” ringing around the room. Incidentally the only time it’s legal to play.
Villers-Bretonneux

In my younger years, I always associated ANZAC day with the remembrance of the dead and missing in the mud of France and Flanders, the beaches of Gallipoli and the sands of Mesopotamia, however as I become more involved in military history it became more than that for me.  ANZAC day for me now is not only commemorating the ultimate sacrifice so many of those men made, but it is also remembering the ones that came back. So many returned from war changed men, whether physically or mentally and the war would have a profound impact on them for the rest of their lives. It’s also reflecting on the impact war has on those left behind, whether grieving for the loss of a loved one or caring for the injured. Seeing the veterans turned out in their best bib and tucker, proudly wearing their medals, smiling and joking amongst their mates, it was easy for me to forget the painful memories so many would have had.
ANZAC day is for commemorating the fallen and celebrating the achievements of the Australian forces in all the wars it has been involved in, but also reflecting on and remembering as it has been so eloquently said to me so many times “Just ordinary men doing extraordinary things”
Join us for our Centenary of ANZAC at Villers-Bretonneaux on this 5-day tour from £399pp.

A battlefield guide in the making – Conor Reeves

A battlefield guide in the making

When 15-year old budding World War historian Conor Reeves, from Cheshire, first came on a Leger battlefield tour, little did he know where it would lead.

 
After taking the Old Front Lines tour, he contacted his battlefield guide to thank them for the experience and to ask if there was any possibility he could do some work experience on a future tour. Fully expecting a polite ‘no’, he was amazed when Leger’s head battlefield guide, Paul Reed, got in touch to make it happen. So in July 2013, Conor took the ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ tour – but this time as a trainee guide, presenting some of his extraordinary knowledge about the topic to other guests on the tour. Here he explains the experience in his own words:
 
On the 26th of July, I embarked upon my journey to the First World War battlefields of Northern France and Flanders. I had travelled with Leger on three previous occasions and, consequently, knew what to expect. This time, however, my experience would differ because I would be aiding the Battlefield Guide.
After weeks of planning and preparation, I arrived at the hotel to be greeted by the specialist guide. We discussed how the weekend would work and which ‘presentations’ I would perform.
The 27th of July saw our group head out onto the Ypres Salient, in Belgium. After visiting the recreated trenches and museum at Sanctuary Wood in the middle of an electric storm, we were bound for Tyne Cot British Cemetery. The largest British and Commonwealth war cemetery in the world, with around 12,000 burials, Tyne Cot always captures hearts and minds of visitors; whether they are first timers or regulars. This would be the setting, and what a spectacular setting it was, for my first presentation. I decided to set the scene and put the cemeteries into context with a brief overview of common traits and a brief history of Common Wealth War Grave cemeteries as, for many, it was their first time visiting the battlefields. This was a leap of faith on my part as I had to judge to what depth of detail I should go into and how much people already knew.  Although, at first, my presentation started a little quietly, I started to pick up techniques from our guide. I tried to amalgamate a selection of different techniques like facts, opinions and anecdotes.

Connor Reeves on his work experience
Conor answering questions from the group

People were soon asking questions and it was a pleasure to able to answer them; it was a thoroughly enriching experience to help people understand and enjoy the trip. Although the battlefields have a certain pull factor, insisting that many visitors return time after time, for many it would be the first and only time on the old frontlines. The thought that I was helping to forge the only memories of visiting the battlefields on which their relatives probably fought and died, really is priceless. I choose the word “is” with some conviction because it still makes me feel proud and very grateful, even to this day.
Later that day, I presented some information at the Ploegsteert Memorial, with subjects including the story of a posthumous Victoria Cross winner and a former England Rugby captain. With my confidence improving, I was receiving lots of positive feedback which would stand me in good stead and give me great amount of encouragement for our time on the Somme, the following day.
The Somme holds a very special place within the consciousness of the British nation because of its apparent embodiment of the horrors associated with the First World War.
Feeling more at home, where I one day wish to reside, I was much more confident on the battlefields of the Somme, doing presentations at La Boisselle and Beaumont-Hamel. Presenting the events of 1916 to some of the descendants of the victims of this most gargantuan of battles was an absolute dream come true. A dream which I sometimes doubted would ever come to fruition, but which has done so before my 16th year. My dream, however, would not have been achievable if the opportunity had not been provided by Leger and its guides. To talk about the disastrous first day of the battle of the Somme was an honour and a privilege; something I will forever look fondly upon, to be able to share the stories of heroism and blunder and bear witness to the sacrifices made in the name of the British Empire.
On the Somme, it was a great surprise to be met by Paul Reed; the head Leger battlefield guide. I have previously met Paul a couple of times and he arranged my work experience, so I thought it was very nice of him to take time out of his holiday to see how I was getting on. Paul has continued to support me throughout my development and education into The Great War and is always willing to give me support and advice. He inquired as to how I was finding the experience and I gleefully explained what I had done and how brilliant I was finding it all. I even got him to sign my copy of his book “Walking the Somme”. Although I could have chatted to Paul all day, the tour beckoned and I had to adhere to battlefield guide rule number one; the customer is your number one priority – another moral I learnt as a result of my time spent with the great staff at Leger holidays!
Connor and Paul
Paul and Conor

We finished the day at the Thiepval memorial to the missing of the Somme. An appropriate ending to the day, putting the size of the battle into context with its 72,000 names, each one “denied the known and honoured burial” given to their comrades.
Earlier in the day, I had agreed to help a lady find her Grandfather on the memorial. One, amongst the endless names. To aid her in finding the relative’s name, which was the sole purpose of her pilgrimage, was an experience that I will never forget.
Aside from the historical and factual information gained from the trip, I gained a great amount of experience in public speaking and presentation which will help greatly in the future. Working with Leger has made me even more set on pursuing a career in military history which I will continue to work towards over the next few years. The ultimate goal at the end of my education is to be able to submerse myself in the history of the Great War and live on the battlefields, permanently, working for a company like Leger.
Until then!
Conor Reeves

Adam Rees’s – All Quiet On The Western Front Tour

All Quiet On The Western Front tour

In our magazine we’re always explaining to our readers that few experiences are as moving as visiting the fields on which family members fought and finding the grave or monument where they’re commemorated if they fell. To see the value of such an expedition for myself, I took a trip of the Western Front with Leger Holidays. ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ is a five-day introductory tour that includes meticulous visits of the Ypres Salient, Arras region and the Somme. It’s not only a must for any military history enthusiast, but also if you discover a family member who fought in these terrible battles of World War I.

Although there’s nothing stopping you visiting these places on your own, having an experienced tour guide with you makes the trip far more interesting, to add information on sites, facts and answer any questions that arise. Our expert Marc Hope gives colour to the history of the war, using maps, pointing out key positions and encouraging the attendees to take time to explore the cemeteries and monuments around every corner including going to “say hi to the Pals Battalions” who lay next to each other in Serre Road Cemetery no 2 on the Somme.

Battlefield guide Marc Hope talking to the group
Battlefield guide Marc Hope talking to the group

It’s this insight that makes a guide such an advantage. It’s easy enough to find the biggest British and Commonwealth cemetery at Tyne Cot or attend the incredibly poignant Last Post held every night at the Menin Gate, however, there are few printed tourist guides that show you the farmhouse on Ypres from where Adolf Hitler ran messages to his officers, or the café where Winston Churchill ate his breakfast while stationed on the Front – amazingly this was only a few miles away from his future adversary.
Although the tour is on a strict plan, detours can be made to accommodate personal visits to see the grave or name of a relative who was killed, giving an even more personal experience to your tour. During the trip to Arras one of the tourists took a moment to visit the grave of his great-uncle who was killed on the first day of the battle in 1917.
Tourists took a moment to visit the grave of his great-uncle
Tourists took a moment to visit the grave of his great-uncle

As well as the usual souvenirs, trips to battlefields can present a whole host of mementos. Any fan of programmes like Time Team will be aware of the priceless artefacts that can be uncovered in places such as battlefields and historic sites, in particular the Western Front with its high concentration of men taking part and unfathomable amounts of munitions used, many of which never exploded. Nearly a century later farmers on the Western Front are still digging up fragments of shells, clothes and, sadly, bodies. So it isn’t surprising when looking at the tower of the Ulster Division on the Somme that a farmer digs up two shells from WWI, undisturbed since they were fired in 1916, complete with heavy shrapnel balls that are shared out among our tour party.
Two recent discoveries
Two recent discoveries

The trip is both fascinating and incredibly moving, both for those who knew only patches of the history of the war or in my case, having read about it for 20 years. No matter how much you soak up from a book or watch in documentaries or dramatisations, the sheer scale of the loss and devastation wrought in this particular conflict is hard to fathom.
The Tyne Cot Cemetery
The Tyne Cot Cemetery

With preparations underway to commemorate the centenary of the war in 2014, with tours of the battlefields being booked up fast and events being planned across the country, there’s never been a better time to visit this scarred but fascinating corner of Europe, and discover the stories behind each name inscribed upon a wall or on a grave, for more information please visit the Battlefield Tours page
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