“Not One Step Back”

Kukryniksy: There’s a Cliff on the Volga (from the folk song) (1942) Battle of Stalingrad Source: I. P. Abramskii: Vragi i druz’ia v zerkale Krokodila, 1922-1972. Moscow: Pravda. 1972.

Wave after wave of German soldiers crashed against the city of Stalingrad, and wave after wave they were stopped by the immovable cliff wall that was the soldiers  and people of the city of Stalingrad.  The Battle of Stalingrad was the single most decisive turning point in the advance of the German forces into Russia.  The Battle of Stalingrad was an intensely brutal battle which lasted from August 1942 to February 1943, and destroyed the entire city of Stalingrad along with the vast majority of its inhabitants.

The Nazi offensive of 1942 sought to capture the Baku oil fields which would have fueled the German advance and deprived the Russian army of direly necessary fuel.  Stalingrad, resting on the bank of the Volga River, lay in the German path.  While this city could have been avoided, the symbolic victory and demoralization from capturing Stalin’s namesake city became a priority for Hitler.  This motivator drove the German army to plunge into Stalingrad where many would meet their end.

The German army bombarded the entire city to a state of almost complete rubble, and pushed through the vast majority if the city.  However, the last remaining defenders, with their backs against the Volga River, refused to retreat whether they couldn’t or were simply to driven to accept defeat.  Stalin issued order No. 227, called “Not One Step Back.”  This order demanded that whatever the cost not another inch of the city would fall into German hands, no matter the circumstance.  Eventually the Russians were able to maneuver reinforcements of nearly one-million soldiers to surround the city and squeeze inwards around the German force.

Dmitrii Baltermants: Grief (The Dead Won’t Let Us Forget) (1942) Unpublished until 1965, when it appeared in Ogonek Source: Dmitri Baltermants: Faces of a Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing. 1996.

The German Sixth Army of originally about 400,00 troops was crushed and over 250,000 soldiers were trapped in the city fighting in a bloody inch by inch battle which lasted months of freezing, starvation, and bloody violence.  By the end of the battle, only 110,000 German soldiers surrendered.  It is estimated that the Soviets suffered over 750,000 casualties.

Literally the entire city was reduced to rubble.  Not one home or factory lay unscathed or even livable.  The soldiers who fought in Stalingrad lived in tunnels and ditches underground, beneath the city they once lived in.  The destruction was so great that the city could never be repaired but instead had to be completely rebuilt.  Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in the battle.

Video Footage From the Battle of Stalingrad

The Fighting at Stalingrad was among the most brutal in the entire war.  German air and artillery support was not enough to stop the battle from turning into building to building and hang to hand brutal bloodshed.  Supplies ran out for both forces, and the battle became an even more dire struggle for survival.  Hitler ordered the German Sixth Army to make no attempts to retreat but instead to secure Stalingrad whatever the cost.  Hitlers obsession with this victory in Stalingrad, which in reality was nothing more that symbolic, led to the complete defeat of the German Army on the Russian front.  The following image is of a fountain the survived the brutal battle of Stalingrad, and became a symbol of the city and of the victorious who endured so much and never gave in to defeat.

The City in Ruins (1942) This fountain left standing in the middle of Stalingrad came to symbolize the struggle and triumph of the city. Source: Tsaritsyn–Stalingrad–Volgograd. Volgograd: Izdatel’. 2000


Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:




Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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