The German war machine and its extremely effective tactics nicknamed Blitzkrieg, or lightning warfare, had proven almost unstoppable for the allies to try and defend against. When the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa in violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact in mid 1941, Stalin’s Russia was taken completely by surprise. Stalin was almost sure that Hitler would not invade the USSR, and his decision not to prepare against such a scenario proved very costly for both his people as well as his initial overall war effort.
Following Operation Barbarossa in 1942, the Germans launched another offensive with the goal of seizing the Russian’s main oil fields in Baku. Eventually, the Nazis were able to push the Soviet defenders in Stalingrad all the way back to the Volga river. In the ensuing stalemate that would last from the middle of November 1942 until the Soviets pressured the German 6th Army to surrender at the beginning of February in 1943, almost 2 million people would die. The city had been reduced to rubble as a result of the extremely intense fighting, but the USSR had prevailed and prevented a further German push into the Motherland. With the city that bore it’s leaders name safe, the Russian’s were then able to launch counteroffensives of their own and keep the German’s on their heels. On the way back west, the biggest tank battle in history, the Battle of Kursk, saw the staggering loss of almost 500,000 Germans as well as 30 of their 50 tank divisions. Such a loss would see the Germans struggle to maintain a defense against the now steamrolling Soviets, and with the invasion of Normandy in 1944, their defeat was all but certain.
Whats interesting to note about the social repercussions of such events is how history was written following the victory in Europe. With the onset of the Cold War, western media and historians would write the turning point of WWII with the beginning of D-Day, while easterners would maintain that the victory at Stalingrad was the reason for the German defeat. With all that we know now, and with a generally less biased view of the world, it is much easier to argue that the Russian offensive following victory at Stalingrad is the reason why the Germans lost the war. Losing so many men, equipment, and morale proved too great, and had it not occurred the Allies may have had a much harder test at Normandy, and may have even been halted in their invasion of Europe.
The Battle of Kursk was very dangerous to anyone not in a tank, but at the same time at least they werent in giant metal death traps that served to attract the attention of the enemies tanks and artillery.
Stalingrad after the Soviet Victory. This fountain looks very similar to the one depicted in the somewhat fictional film Enemy at the Gates, where star Soviet sniper Vasily Zaitsev, portrayed by Jude Law, first proves his worth to the Red Army.