Turning the Tide of War: The Battle of Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad is a prominent example of civilian disaster and involvement in a dark period of European history. Lasting five months, the majority of the civilian population did not leave their city, continuing their jobs and supporting the war in their way. This period of European history is well documented, therefore demonstrating the wide reaching influence of a heroic civilian population outside its own country. Why did these civilian acts of heroism create so much interest on a global scale?

Hitler’s ferocious invasion on Stalingrad forced civilians to be influential in the outcome of the battle. The participation of civilians can be partly based on desperation for the need of soldiers and partly due to Stalin forbidding the evacuation of civilians .[1] However, the German historian Lubbers states that ‘thousands of civilians fled from the battle’[2] thus creating a conflicted image of the role of civilians. The source below would provide evidence that despite the mass destruction, not all civilians did indeed evacuate despite the dire circumstances, thus suggesting that civilians were under the influence of discipline or held a sense of patriotism which kept them within the city. Contemporary newspaper reports provide evidence of collaboration between the Red Army and civilian forces in defending the city.[3] In this interpretation the role of civilians became increasingly militarised beyond a militia, enhancing their role in the battle of Stalingrad.



Although most civilians of Stalingrad were evacuated before the city was besieged, it would have been impossible to save them all. Any civilian survivors endured hell to stay alive. The death of innocent civilians was just one of the factors that spurred the Russian soldiers to fight so ferociously; snipers such as Vasily Zaytsev stated they often saw dead children hanging from trees in parks through their scopes[4]. The beach heads of the river Volga were littered with the mutilated bodies of women and children who had fallen victim to German artillery and air strikes[5]. The death and destruction left behind after the German occupation of the Soviet Union led to the merciless acts of the Red Army during the later occupation of Berlin. The events of Stalingrad greatly damaged the civilians and soldiers of both the Red Army and Wehrmacht, in extreme cases the harsh weather conditions and lack of food caused soldiers as well as civilians to resort to eating the dead [6]. The cannibalism, although not on a mass scale, represents the desperation and suffering implemented by the German advance. Hitler perceived the city as a priority as Stalingrad was Stalin’s city; the heart of communism. For the exact same reason Stalin perceived Stalingrad as a priority to hold on to, in order to save communism. The result was catastrophic.

Stalingrad’s civilian resistance was renowned globally as being one of the most courageous populations throughout the Second World War. While the loyalty of civilians towards Stalin, through either fear or love, can be called into question, their willingness to fight was unprecedented. The source below was written by typists in Britain and pits the civilian involvement at the same level as that of the soldiers.[7] This letter epitomises the civilian involvement in Stalingrad by recognising that the civilian’s involvement in the struggle was just as key to the defence of the city as the soldiers. Other international responses were more direct such as one hundred and fifty Canadian people volunteering for a winter clothes appeal for the homeless and orphans of Stalingrad[8]. The plight of the civilians within the battle rallied international response, whether it was a recognition of their effort such as in Britain, or a response of aid sent by Canada thus proving how civilian effort did not go unnoticed.

primary sources

In conclusion, the civilians of Stalingrad were instrumental in the defence of the city. Without such ferocious determination in defying Hitler and the support of their nation, then the population of Stalingrad would have been eradicated. This stand against a fascist regime led to international recognition and global support. Although suffering through great atrocities their resolve remained unchallenged and ultimately they prevailed.

[1] C.P. Chen, Battle of Stalingrad http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=3 (Accessed 13/03/2014 13:03pm)

[2] G.C Lubbers, The 6th German Army and the civilian population of Stalingrad inVierteljahrshefte Fur Zeitgeschichte Vol.54, 2006, Abstract

[3] Unknown, Nazi’s Ram way into Outskirts of Stalingrad: Civilians join Big Battle for City, Chicago Daily Tribune, 17th September 1942 P.1

[4] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2228373/Human-excrement-piled-waist-high-Full-horror-Stalingrad-revealed-time-interviews-Russian-soldiers-finally-light-day.html​

[5] Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), 09/25/1942, p. 1

[6] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2228373/Human-excrement-piled-waist-high-Full-horror-Stalingrad-revealed-time-interviews-Russian-soldiers-finally-light-day.html​


[8] http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aJ-3-MYELVsC&dat=19450202&printsec=frontpage&hl=en Unknown (Accessed 27/03/2014 13:05pm)


Turning the Tide of War: The Battle of Stalingrad


We are four first year students at Northumbria University studying history. Individually we are; Dominic, Jack, Joe and Beth but collectively we are team NuBlitzkrieg. Our combined interest focuses upon the battle of Stalingrad. We chose this because it is one of the most renowned battles that turned the tide of World War 2. We hope you find our take on Stalingrad interesting and insightful.