‘There were special NKVD forces who were given orders to shoot anyone who tried to desert or to retreat - but it wasn't them who won the battle'.
Ten days after the battle began Stalin issued an order number 277, also known as ‘Not a single step back’
It was year 1942. Encouraged by the victories on the southern front, German troops moved towards Stalingrad.
The city was a major transportation center on the west bank of the Volga River, the main water way of the country. It was also important for the Germans to defeat Stalingrad because Hitler was obsessed with the idea to destruct the city named after Stalin.
By the beginning of the battle the Germans owned initiative and had a clear advantage in force.
Siberian-born Nikolai Zavertan, a participant of the Stalingrad battle: ‘the enemy pressed us strongly. We suffered huge losses’.
'The average lifetime of a soldier coming to Stalingrad front was 24 hours - just one day!’
Ten days after the battle of Stalingrad started, in a desperate attempt to stop the disaster Stalin issued an order known as ‘Not a single step back’.
‘It was an order number 227 which stated that we should persist until the last drop of our blood to defend every position, every single meter of our land’, - continues Nikolai. 'All of all felt that responsibility - the generals, the officers, the soldiers. We’ve anyway fought till death, but somehow the words that we should not make a single step back made even stronger effect’.
Nikolai Zavertan, 70: '‘By the end of the battle there was no covers for us, no tents, nothing - we slept outside, in the clothes we had, sometimes even falling asleep standing upright. And you know, no one got ill after that, and only very few complained about frostbites’. Picture: Yelena Agamyan
‘There were special NKVD forces who were given orders to shoot anyone who tried to desert or to retreat, but it wasn't them who won the battle, it was the soldiers’ - Nikolai adds.
‘The Germans tried all they could to break our spirit. There was a time when we fought only after dark’ - says another WWII veteran Alexey Breus.
‘During the daytime the German planes bombarded us with the leaflets: ‘Give up, Russians - you are going to lose!
‘The leaflets also said that Stalin's son Vasily surrendered and used that leaflet as a pass to the safety of German positions.
‘One day I saw two of my soldiers running after such leaflets.
‘What you are doing? - I shouted at them. ‘It's German propaganda!
‘They turned at me and laughed - ‘we’ve got a new supply of tobacco, so the leaflets came just on time to roll the cigarettes up!’
'Good that I’ve asked them first and didn’t just started to shoot'.
Strength, persistence and dedication of Siberian soldiers made even Germans to create legends about them.
The sword of Stalingrad, forged and inscribed by command of King George VI as a sign of homage from the British people to the Soviet defenders of the city during the battle of Stalingrad
One story tells how Marshal Chuikov said to new soldiers: ‘step forward if you are from Siberia. To defend Stalingrad I need men who know how to put all they can into fight; others do get back to positions behind Volga’, and no-one was surprised.
Just as no one surprised when a Siberian Lieutenant Nedyadko shot down a bomber plane from a machine gun.
The memory about the Siberian soldiers is immortalized in Volgograd.
27 divisions formed in different parts of Siberia took part in the Battle of Stalingrad - 27 granite memorial plates were installed in the Siberian Walk of Fame, organised by late Ivan Goncharov. He spent years of his life raising funds to build a chapel in honor of Siberians who fought for Stalingrad.
Peter Chernobrovtsev, the main architect of the chapel was born after the war, but he can't get back to the days he spent in Volgograd without tears: ‘We came to choose a location for the chapel. When people heard we were from Siberia they literally wanted to kiss us. People there firmly believe that Siberians won the battle’.
‘One architect told me that he was a kid during the war. They lived a hundred kilometers away from Stalingrad and every day he would put his ear to the ground to check if it was buzzing. If the noise was there it meant everything was fine, our troops were fighting. He was scared to hear silence as it would have meant our solders began the retreat’.
Retired Colonel Popantonopulo said: ‘On the 23d of August German air forces were ordered to destroy the entire city. Almost every building in Stalingrad was ruined, even Volga was burning’.
During that day the amount equal to eight kilotons of TNT was dropped on Stalingrad. The power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 20 kilotons. Stalingrad was burning so badly that on the night of August 23 it was so light that one could read a book being 20 kilometers away from the city.
On the night of August 23 Stalingrad was burning so badly that one could read a book 20 kilometers away from the city
The Wehrmacht kept bringing new troops and went on attacking Stalingrad, district after district. By late November Germans took over the whole central and northern part of the city, except for the last areas which became monuments after the battle: the Pavlov's House, the Windmill and the Ludnikov's island.
Then the winter began - so severe that it was impossible to dig the trenches in the rock solid soil.
‘There was no covers for us, no tents, nothing - we slept outside, in whatever the clothes we had, sometimes standing up. And you know, no one got ill after that, and only very few complained about frostbites’, Nikolai Zavertan said.
Seventy years ago, on February 2, 1943, the 6th German army surrendered. That victory was a turning point for the Soviet Union in the World War II.
As someone said years later, ‘there are more monuments on Volga in honour of people who died fighting for Stalingrad than birch trees in Russia’.
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