We started our trip in St Petersburg; formerly Leningrad. Here is the square behind the Czar's winter Palace; the so called "birthplace of the Oktober revolution in 1917

In the car leaving south from St Petersburg with my two friends; Anton and Lena. Ahead of us; 36 hours on the road.

 

 

We passed this place along the highway between St Petersburg and Moscow. " Samovars "R" us"; I guess. Overpriced Czarist and Soviet era souvenirs for the tourists.

 

 

Southern Russia

We drove by car some 1500 kilometers ( on fairly miserable Russian two lane roads) south from St Petersburg through Moscow, Tula, Orel, Kursk, Belgorod then we turned east in the direction of the Don river towards Stalingrad on the Volga.

Along the way we saw miles and miles of Sunflower fields just as described in accounts of the German advances in 1941-42

Here is a period photo of a German soldier posing among the sunflowers during the 1942 campaign toward Stalingrad

 

Below: Somewhere south of Voronezh; I am pretty sure that I found the exact spot 65 years later. I mean; it looked like the same spot anyway.

 

This is a typical village house painted in blue and white. These colors are very typical in warm regions. As we headed south, the temperatures rose into the 40s (Celsius) meaning around a hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Below is a view of the bridge at Kalach on the Don river. This is where the two great Soviet pincers met on November 22, 1942 trapping 6th army in the Stalingrad pocket.

 

Approaching Stalingrad from the west across the seemingly endless steppe. Arid and sun-baked; it's the most inhospitable landscape I have seen in Europe

 

 

Modern day Volgograd seems to spring from the steppe. One moment, you are in a vast empty plain and suddenly at the edge of the city.

 

Reminders of the city's past are everywhere. Here: "Glorious heroic Stalingrad!" appears over a 10 foot wide facsimile of the Order of Victory.

 

 

STALINGRAD

  

The main monument to the battle of Stalingrad is the statue of Mother Russia atop Mamaev kurgan in the center of the city. The statue stands about 3/4 of a mile from the road and is reached by climbing 200 steps to get to the base of the hill.

The Mamaev kurgan is an ancient tartar burial mound standing about 300 feet at it's peak. It was heavily contested during the battles of the autumn of 1942. In 1967 the Soviet Union erected the statue known as " The motherland calls". The largest free-standing statue in the world; it measures 279 feet from the base to the tip of the sword.

 

Most 5-year-old boys' dads take them to Disneyland on summer vacation. But my kid is eventually going to have to get used to the strange things that I do; so he may as well get started now.

 

 

A huge circular room at the base of the statue houses the eternal flame accompanied by funeral music and Russian army guards. Just like I have always read; it is one of the most somber places on earth.

 

 

A view of the factory district along the river north of Mamaev hill. Room-to-room fighting in each of these three factories is well described in every book written about Stalingrad.

 

This model depicts the city center as it appeared after the battle. Field Marshal Paulus' last headquarters was located in the cellar of the univermag department store on Mira prospect.

Below is the front of the department store today. It was rebuilt after the battle and continued to house the Univermag until the 1960s when the front was closed off due to the construction of the famous "intourist" hotel.

 

The room which served as Paulus's headquarters is still present in the cellar and is marked by a plaque

 

 

The ruins of the grain mill have been preserved to show the condition of the buildings after nearly 3 months of street fighting in the city center.

 

 

The flea market was one of the most interesting things we saw in the city. There were a couple of guys there who make trips out to the steppe and search farm houses for relics. They also obviously use metal detectors as well. On some weekends they bring found items to the flea market. Very few tourists go here but there apparently is something of a local collecting community. I couldn't resist the bullet riddled helmet which appears in the photo at right center. So I bought it.

My souvenirs of Stalingrad. The buckle and the M40 single decal army helmet were found in a trench near the Gumrak airfield about 10 kilometers west of the city.

 

 

This was my hotel during our stay in Volgograd. A great place. Only 5 suites; it was built in the early 50s to house government guests and diplomats who made pilgrimages to the city. Eisenhower stayed here. As well as Zhukov, Khrushchev, Castro, Charles de Gaulle; ect, ect. I got the larger suite because I wanted to use the same bathroom that Eisenhower used. He was a Republican, you know....

 

 

This is Stanislav Borischev; the gatekeeper at the hotel. He was born in Stalingrad and lived here all his life. During the battle, he and his family were not evacuated from the city. From September '42 until February '43; they lived in the boiler room under a technical institute near the city center. He told how the building took many hits from aerial bombs and later; artillery. After Paulus' surrender he remembered the German's being marched away wrapped in rags. Later; a number of them returned to be used as labor during the first rebuilding. Most of them were toothless and wasted away by Typhoid, typhus and pellagra. Stanislav's mother took pity on them and would occasionally throw them onions. The Germans answered back by tossing them medals and such which they tore from their uniforms.

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