Mass grave containing 1,800 German soldiers who perished at the Battle of Stalingrad is uncovered in Russia - 75 years after WWII's largest confrontation claimed two million lives
Russian workmen laying a new water pipe in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) discovered the mass grave
The 430ft long, 23ft wide, 7ft deep pit holds the bodies of 1,837 Germans hastily buried to avoid epidemics
Historian Michael Jones said it was a sad fate for an army Hitler once said could conquer the gates of Heaven
By MIRANDA ALDERSLEY FOR MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 11:24 GMT, 12 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:33 GMT, 12 December 2018
It was the most brutal and bloodiest episode of World War Two. Now a grim reminder of the Battle of Stalingrad has been uncovered 75 years later - a mass grave containing almost 2,000 German soldiers.
The huge pit was stumbled upon by accident by Russian workmen laying a new water pipe in Volgograd (Stalingrad).
They notified the authorities, including the German War Graves Commission, and a careful excavation has since taken place to recover the dead.
In all, military archaeologists have found a staggering 1,837 bodies - all of them German soldiers.
Photo. The mass grave containing almost 2000 German soldiers being uncovered, more than 75 years after the most brutal and bloodiest battle of World War Two - the Battle of Stalingrad
They have also found the remains of horses killed alongside the men in the battle that was the biggest in World War Two and the bloodiest of all time, with about two million men killed, wounded or captured.
The painstaking job to try and identify the casualties is now underway. It is hoped relatives of the men who would have spent a lifetime not knowing what happened to them, can then be traced.
The dead will also be given a proper burial at a military ceremony in the city.
The mass grave, measuring 430ft long, 23ft wide and 7ft deep, was found in the district of Angarsky in Volgograd.
A spokesman for the German War Graves Commission explained they initially thought that 800 bodies were buried in the mass grave but that figure rose by over 1,000 following the excavations.
Photo. Soldiers' possessions - including a key, spoons and drinking bottle - found in the mass grave, which is being excavated by the German War Graves Commission
He said: 'At the beginning of October we reported 800 German war dead, in the former Stalingrad, today Volgograd.
'The (excavation) work is now complete. Instead of the assumed 800, it was in the end 1,837 war dead.
'We found numerous killed soldiers along with horse carcasses hastily buried. Due to the threat of epidemic at that time there was a rush to remove the countless corpses of men and animals as soon as possible.
'Earth holes, gorges and streams became mass graves.
'Every year in the former Stalingrad on average three to four mass graves are found. The finding on this scale is quite special.'
The spokesman said that ID tags have also been recovered and are now being cleaned before the identification process begins.
Photo. This item bears the name of the dead German soldier who owned it from Dresden, dated 1937. In all, military archaeologists have found a staggering 1,837 bodies - all of them German soldiers
He added: 'Usually the relatives are relieved to know what happened and pleased the body of their grandpa or uncle will be buried. It is very important.'
According to a historian and expert on the Battle of Stalingrad, the mass grave is consistent with accounts of the victorious Soviet Red Army hurriedly burying the German dead in a gorge towards the end of the conflict.
Michael Jones, author of Stalingrad: How the Red Army Triumphed, said: 'The Battle of Stalingrad was a catastrophic defeat for the German 6th Army.
'A month after its surrender, at the beginning of March 1943, Soviet Lieutenant Vladimir Gelfand visited the city.
'He wrote in his diary of seeing a terrible picture of destruction with dead bodies everywhere. He said that some had been placed in heaps for burial and others lay on the ground, partially stripped of clothing.
'The recent discovery of a mass German grave at Angarsky in present-day Volgograd, containing more than 1,800 soldiers corroborates Gelfand's account.
Photo. The mass grave is consistent with accounts of the Soviet Red Army hurriedly burying the German dead towards the end of the conflict
Watch video: World War II soldiers fight in the Battle of Stalingrad
'For in March 1943 a gorge near the Angarsky settlement was hurriedly used by the Soviets - fearful of an outbreak of disease as spring approached - as a makeshift burial pit for the remains of thousands of German troops and their horses.
'Such was the fate of an army which Hitler had proudly proclaimed could conquer the very gates of Heaven itself.'
Mr Jones believes there will still be Russian war veterans alive today who would begrudge the German dead a proper burial.
He said: 'The remains will probably be moved to the nearby war cemetery at Rossoschka, which contains both German and Russian dead, although some Red Army veterans are still resolutely opposed to any form of commemoration for their fallen opponents.
'Hero of the Soviet Union Mikhail Borisov said bluntly 'the Germans seized vast tracts of our country and killed or enslaved millions of our people. There should not be any memorials to them on our land.'
Watch video: WWII: Unpublished footage of Battle of Stalingrad finally released
What happened at the Battle of Stalingrad?
The battle for Stalingrad was the turning point of the Second World War. After the German invasion of Russia — codenamed Operation Barbarossa, which began in June 1941 — the Wehrmacht continued to head eastward, destroying whole Soviet armies and capturing two million prisoners, most of whom they starved to death.
In Washington and London, leaders wondered gloomily how long the Russians could stave off absolute defeat.
In the spring of 1942, Hitler's legions drove deeper into the Russian heartland, besieging St Petersburg, over-running the Crimea, and threatening the oilfields of the Caucasus.
Photo. German soldiers use the evening light to approach a Russian outpost on the outskirts of Stalingrad
The Fuhrer was convinced the Russians were at their last gasp. He was exultant when in June 'Operation Blue' enabled his armies to occupy new swathes of central Russia.
Scenting final victory, Hitler deputed General Friedrich Paulus, a staff officer eager to prove himself as a fighting commander, to lead a dash for the city on the Volga that was named after Stalin, and secure a symbolic triumph, while another German army group swung southwards to grab the oilfields.
Hitler's top soldiers were appalled by the perils of splitting the Wehrmacht merely to capture Stalingrad, which was strategically unimportant. Their protests were ignored: the Fuhrer insisted.
Likewise in Moscow, when the German objective became plain, Russia's dictator Josef Stalin gave the order that 'his' city must be held at any cost. Thus the stage was set for one of history's most terrible clashes of arms, in which on the two sides more than a million men became locked in strife between the autumn of 1942 and the following spring.
On September 12, the first German troops entered Stalingrad. From the Kremlin came a new order to the Red Army: 'Not a step back . . . The only extenuating circumstance is death.'
The first German air attacks killed between 10,000 and 40,000 people — almost as many as died in the entire London blitz. Shellfire and bombs rained down on the city, day after day and week upon week.
Stuka pilot Herbert Pabst wrote: 'It is incomprehensible to me how people can continue to live in that hell, but the Russians are firmly established in the wreckage, in ravines, cellars, and in a chaos of twisted skeletons of factories'.
Photo. Two German soldiers hold their ground and take cover as they fire from a derelict building
General Vasily Chuikov, commanding Stalin's 62nd Army in the city, wrote: 'The streets of the city are dead. There is not a single green twig on the trees; everything has perished in the flames.'
The Russians initially held a perimeter 30 miles by 18, which shrank relentlessly as Paulus's men thrust forward to within a few hundred yards of the Volga.
Each night, up to three thousand Russian wounded were ferried eastward from the city, while a matching stream of reinforcements, ammunition and supplies reached the defenders.
New units were thrust into the battle as fast as they arrived, to join duels in the ruins that often became hand-to-hand death grapples.
Both sides were chronically short of food and water. The few surviving civilians suffered terribly, eking a troglodyte existence in cellars.
Some soldiers were reduced to cannibalism in order to stay alive in the ruins of the city as the mercury plunged to -40C.
The bloodiest battle in Second World War came to an end on January 31, 1943 when Field Marshall Paulus surrendered, disobeying the orders of his Fuhrer to kill himself.
Of the 110,000 Germans who surrendered, only 5,000 would survive Stalin's gulags to return to a defeated Germany.
The battle cost the German army a quarter of everything it possessed by way of material - guns, tanks and munitions. It was a defeat from which it never recovered and for days afterwards in Berlin all shops and restaurants were closed as a mark of respect.