Another Great Stalingrad Tour
This was my 4th Stalingrad Tour, all with Volgograd Sputnik Travel Company and all with Mikhail Shuvarikov as guide. This was a completely bespoke tour with Mikhail taking me to a number of specific areas I wanted to see, along with a couple of surprises!
On the first day with visited Mamayev Kurgan, which I had seen many times, but this time we wandered off the beaten track and saw the Western slopes, an old German Pillbox on the Summit and an old fresh water spring which is referenced in several books on the battle. On the way home we popped in to the Planetarium where we were able to see the Stalin Mosaic (now uncovered after Kruschev had originally ordered it covered over).
On the second day we first visited the Red October factory which is being renovated and looked very different on the outside. Where the works are taking place we were able to see original walls and foundations from old buildings. To my great surprise Mikhail was able to organise a tour of the Red October museum – normally closed to foreigners. This was partly by luck as he was able to contact the museum director who happened to be there and gave us a wonderful tour. I’d suggest giving plenty of notice if you wanted to do this. It is a terrific museum and well worth a visit if you are able to arrange it.
From there we moved north to visit the site of the western crossing point in this area for the 62nd Army. We then did a quick detour to the old Traktor Stalingrad football stadium which I had passed before and wanted to see. This is a post-war stadium but still interesting and worth a look.
We then moved off north again towards the Barrikady factory. Our plan here was to visit/revisit important locations from the battle for this area – covered in detail in Jason Mark’s excellent “Island of Fire”. We started off by visiting the site of the old Barrikady Fuel tanks, to the south-east of the factory, and from there went on to visit the (rebuilt) Kindergarten, the remains of the Komissarhaus. We think we also found some very limited remains of the Pharmacy (Apotheke). We then visited the Rolik Gully, where we saw the renovated memorial, the Transformer Hut (still operational) and the water pump. We went on to revisit the remains of Lyudnikov’s Observation post (The Red House/Rotes Haus), before visiting one of the Houses (possibly No 73) – repaired after the war and now an apartment block. Shell holes are still visible in some of the brickwork and the basement.
All of this was done during roasting temperatures of 36 degrees, so we took a short break, driving over to the beach on the East side of the Volga, where we had a welcome swim in the Volga and a nice cold beer! From here, staying on the east side, we went through Krasnysloboda to the memorial at the eastern crossing point for the 62nd Army, before crossing back to see the new memorial site at the location of Rodimtsev’s HQ (having been able to see Rodintsev’s wall from the East bank). To finish the day, Mikhail kindly drove to “Coventry Street” which I had never managed to find on my previous visits (it is close to the Chuikov memorial).
On the third day we headed to the River Don, to witness the closing ceremony of the annual excavations, where volunteers from all over the Russian Federation dig to find missing soldiers remains. On the way we stopped at two memorials. The first was to a Soviet tank crew who were deliberately burned alive in their tank by the Nazis. The second was at the site of a POW camp at Vertyachiy. We also found time for a swim in the River Don before moving on to find the Excavation team. I had previously been on the Excavations near Kuzmichi, so was aware how hard these teams work. Here we saw the presentations to the searchers, and then the moving closing ceremony which includes a blessing by a Russian Orthodox speech (respected by the volunteers of many faiths including Muslims and Buddhists), and a torch-lit end to the proceedings. Local government representatives were present and the event was covered by Regional TV.
On the fourth day, at my request Mikhail had arranged for us to visit a local shooting range where we were able to some modern guns but most importantly the famous PPSH-41. After that we took an impromptu river trip on the Volga. We went in a speed-boat, more expensive than the pleasure boats, but the boat goes right up to the hydro-electric dam. The pleasure boats turn around at the Motherland Calls statue, so the extra distance we covered allowed us to see the Factory District from the river (the Rolik Gully area was very clear). In hindsight I wish we had asked Mikhail to arrange this, as he could explain to the driver to slow down at important sights. Still a great trip – but if you do it get Mikhail to arrange it would be my advice.
To round off the day, we revisited the Univermag museum, which now included a (very load!) video presentation.
A fantastic trip, covering everything I wanted to see and more! I can’t recommend Mikhail and his company enough. When I (inevitably!) go back it will be with Mikhail as my guide again. Great bloke and a great guide.
Date of experience: August 2019