Franz Grinkevich Memorial, Donetsk, Ukraine

This memorial in the centre of Donetsk commemorates Colonel Franz A. Grinkevich, who commanded the 32nd Guards Tank Brigade, one of the units that liberated the city, which was then known as Stalino.

Franz Grinkevich MemorialGrinkevich was killed on October 11, 1943, in the village of Kharkovo, in the Zaporizhia region to the southwest of Donetsk. Some of his men brought his body back to Stalino and built a tomb with his T-34/76 tank on top. In 1964, the pedestal was enlarged and the tank was later replaced by a T-34/85. Grinkevich’s original tank is now on display at the nearby Monument to the Liberators of the Donbass.

Vechnaya Slava DonetskGrinkevich 1905-43

The inscription on the front of the pedestal reads “Вечная слава героям, павшим в боях за свободу и независимость нашей Родины. 1941—1945,” which means “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in battle for the freedom and independence of our Motherland, 1941-1945.”

The monument stands on Artema Street (вул. Артема), Donetsk’s main central boulevard, close to the Opera and Drama Theatre and the Donbass Palace hotel.

Also in Donetsk:

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Reenactors, St. Petersburg, Russia

I happened to be passing through St. Petersburg on September 8, 2011, the 70th anniversary of the fall of Schlisselburg, which severed the last overland connection into Leningrad and began the 872-day siege. I spotted these reenactors on Nevskiy Prospekt. I don’t know where they were headed, but they weren’t going to get there in a hurry as the traffic was completely gridlocked.

Leningrad Reenactors ILeningrad Reenactors II

Also in St. Petersburg:

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Liberation Monument, Chisinau, Moldova

Liberation MonumentChisinau came under Soviet control on June 28, 1940, with the annexation of the previously Romanian-held regions of Bessarabia and Bukovina and the subsequent formation of the Moldavian SSR. On November 10, 1940, the city suffered significant damage from a 7.4-magnitude earthquake that had its epicentre at Vrancea, about 150 miles to the southwest. Further damage was inflicted by German air raids in the first days of Operation Barbarossa, and the city was captured on July 17 by the German 50th and 72nd Divisions and the Romanian 1st Armoured Division.

The Red Army’s first attempt at retaking the region was launched in the Spring of 1944, but made little progress against strong German defences. The second Jassy-Kishinev Offensive (Kishinev is the Russian name for Chisinau) was launched by the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts on August 20, 1944. This time, the defensive lines were quickly breached, and on August 23, a coup d’etat led by King Michael deposed the Romanian administration led by Marshal Antonescu, leading to the country’s defection from the Axis and opening the way for Soviet attacks into the Balkans. Chisinau was retaken by 5th Shock Army on August 24 and was reinstalled as the capital of the Moldavian SSR.

Statue (I)Statue (II)

The monument was built by the architect Vladimir Naumov and the sculptor Lazar Dubinovskiy and replaces an earlier version, featuring a soldier holding a PPSh submachine gun aloft, similar to the Liberation Memorial in Kharkov. The Chisinau memorial, however, quickly developed cracks and collapsed in 1968. The replacement bronze statue features a soldier holding a sword and a representation of the goddess of victory. It stands on a small square in front of the Chisinau Hotel and the Moldovan Academy of Sciences, at the intersection of Constantin Negruzzi Boulevard and Ciuflea Street. Apologies for the poor quality of my photos, it was dusk on a cloudy day when I visited.

Also in Chisinau:

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Malaya Zemlya Memorial Complex, Novorossiysk, Russia

In 2013/14, I completed an MA in Military History and Strategic Studies at Maynooth University. My thesis was on the campaign in the Kuban. The thesis can be found here.

Malaya Zemlya MainIn early 1943, as the Battle of Stalingrad reached its conclusion, the German Army Group A was withdrawn from the Caucasus to avoid an even greater catastrophe. However, Hitler insisted that the 17th Army held a bridgehead the Taman Peninsula/Novorossiysk area, so that the port of Novorossiysk would not fall back into the hands of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and to act as a launch point for a future attack back into the Caucasus, with forces ferried across the Strait of Kerch from Crimea.

Initial frontal assaults failed to make any significant impact on 17th Army’s defences, so STAVKA devised a plan for an amphibious landing behind the main front line at Ozereika Bay, to the southwest of Novorossiysk. A simultaneous diversionary attack was also planned at Cape Myskhako, just to the south of the city. The attacks were launched on the night of February 3/4, 1943. The Ozereika operation was a disaster, and the landing party was almost completely wiped out, but the Myskhako operation, led by Major Cesar L. Kunikov of the naval infantry, succeeded in establishing a beach-head and repulsing attempts to drive them back into the sea.

Malaya Zemlya (II) Malaya Zemlya Figures

Realising the situation, the Soviet command transferred reinforcements originally intended for the Ozereika landing to the Myskhako beach-head, and by February 9, over 17,000 men had been put ashore. As in the cement factory district across Tsemess Bay in the northern suburbs of Novorossiysk, the situation settled into something of a stalemate, with neither German attempts to eliminate the bridgehead nor Soviet attempts to expand it into the city succeeding. The area acquired the name Malaya Zemlya (Малая Земля – the Small Land). The stalemate denied the use of the port facilities to both sides and was not broken until Novorossiysk was liberated in a wider attack on September 16 – 225 days after the initial landing.

Kunikov was wounded by a shell splinter on February 12 and died in hospital two days later. He is buried in Heroes’ Square. Future Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev served as a political commissar with the Transcaucasian Front and 18th Army in the region, and he was not shy in exaggerating his exploits in his memoirs. It was during Brezhnev’s leadership that Novorossiysk was awarded the title Hero City, on September 14, 1973.

Malaya Zemlya ObeliskMalaya Zemlya T34

The memorial complex is centred around a triangular arch, which rises to 22 metres at its highest point and represents the bow of a landing craft that has come ashore on the beach. One side of the “bow” features a 10-metre-tall bronze sculpture of a group of marines disembarking from the ship. The opposite side features bas-relief depictions of the battles. Inside the arch, a staircase, lined with plaques featuring the names of the units that took part in the operation and portraits of the heroes, leads up to the “prow” of the boat, where a niche holds a golden heart-shaped capsule holding the names of those who died in the area. The text of an oath it inscribed on the wall of the niche: “Отвоеванный нами у врага клочок земли под городом Новороссийском мы назвали “Малой землей”. Она хоть и мала, но она наша, советская, она полита нашим потом, нашей кровью, и мы ее никогда и никакому врагу не отдадим.” This translates as “We retook from the enemy a plot of land near the city of Novorossiysk that we called “Little Land.” Although it is small, it is ours, Soviet. We shed our sweat, our blood over it, and we will never give it up to the enemy.”

Malaya Zemlya HeartMalaya Zemlya Shturmovik

Beside the main memorial is a small exhibit of military hardware, including several tanks and artillery pieces. A large obelisk marks the entrance to the site from Lenin Avenue, and just beyond this, an Il-2 “Shturmovik” ground attack aircraft that was recovered from the bay and restored is mounted on a pedestal.

The complex was designed by the sculptor Vladimir Efimovich Tsigal and the architects Yakov Borisovich Belopolskiy, Roman Grigorievich Kananin and Vladimir Iosovich Khavin. It was officially opened on September 16, 1982, the 38th anniversary of the city’s liberation. The main memorial is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm every day except Monday, and admission costs just 40 rubles (about €1). The complex can be reached on foot from the centre in about 30 minutes (follow Lieutenant Schmidt Street [ул. Лейтенанта шмидт] and then Lenin Avenue [пр. Ленина]). Bus No. 1 and trolleybus no. 7 both pass right by the memorial, with a ticket costing 12 rubles.

Also in Novorossiysk:

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Museum of the Black Sea Fleet, Sevastopol, Ukraine

This museum, which is located in the heart of the city at 11 Lenin Street (ул. Ленина), covers the history of the Black Sea Fleet through three eras: Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet Russian Federation.


Photo from Wikipedia Commons, by Елизавета Резник

The museum first opened in 1869, and it was moved to its current location in 1895. Before the city fell to the Germans in 1942, the most valuable artefacts in the collection were evacuated and stored in Baku and Ulyanovsk. The museum building was badly damaged, but was quickly restored after the war and reopened on August 15, 1948.

Ukraine 178 Ukraine 180

The museum’s collection now comprises over 30,000 artefacts, documents and paintings, and the exhibits are displayed in chronological order in a series of eight halls:

  • The Establishment of the Fleet and the base at Sevastopol
  • The Crimean War Siege of 1854-5
  • The Fleet during the second half of the 19th century
  • The Fleet during the early years of the 20th century
  • The October Revolution
  • The Defence of Sevastopol in 1941-2
  • The liberation of the Crimea and Kuban 1943-4
  • The Fleet in the post-WWII era

In addition, some larger items, such as torpedoes and missiles, are held in an open-air display in the museum courtyard.

Ukraine 173 Ukraine 170

The museum is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm every day except Monday. Admission is 25 UAH (about €2.50), with a photography pass costing an extra 15 UAH.

Also in Sevastopol:

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Treptower Park Memorial Complex, Berlin, Germany

Treptower Parks covers an area of 88 hectares (~220 acres) beside the River Spree in the Treptow-Köpenick district to the south-east of Berlin’s centre. At the end of the war, it was chosen as the location for the main Soviet memorial in East Berlin. The architect Yakov Belopolovskiy and the sculptor Evgeniy Vuchetich were chosen as the main authors of the complex, which was opened on May 8, 1949.

Treptower Park

Photo by Chrissy85, from Wikipedia Commons

The complex can be entered through either of two ceremonial arches from Puschkinallee, on the eastern side of the park, or Am Treptower Park, on the west. The paths from the two gates converge at a statue of a mourning woman, which represents the Motherland grieving for her fallen sons. A tree-lined path leads to a the entrance to the main part of the memorial and cemetery, formed from a pair of stylized Soviet flags, built of red granite and with a statue of a kneeling Red Army soldier in front of each.

Motherland statue, Treptower Park Marble Flag, Treptower ParkThe central area of the memorial has five grass squares, each with a wreath representing a different arm of the Soviet military. These are flanked by 16 marble sarcophagi, each one representing one of the Soviet republics (of which there were 16 until 1956). Each is engraved with a quote by Stalin, in both Russian and German. Mass graves behind the sarcophagi hold the remains of some 5,000 of the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who were killed in the battle for Berlin.

Marble Sarcophagus (II) Navy Wreath, Treptow

The heart of the memorial is a 12-metre-tall statue of a Soviet infantryman holding a young girl and resting a sword on a broken swastika. The statue represents Nikolai Masalov, a sergeant in the 220th Guards Rifle Regiment, who is said to have rescued a 3-year-old girl, while under heavy fire, as the battle reached its peak. The statue was removed for extensive restoration in 2003, with the restored monument being officially opened on May 4, 2004.

Main Memorial, TreptowThe easiest way to get to the memorial is on the S-Bahn to the Treptower Park station, which is served by the S41, S42, S8, S85 and S9 lines.

Also in and around Berlin:

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“Stalingrad” Film Trailer

A trailer for the upcoming big-budget Stalingrad movie has been released. The film was directed by Fedor Bondarchuk, who received widespread acclaim for The 9th Company, his 2005 film about the Soviet-Afghan War. Stalingrad is the first Russian film to be shot in 3-D and IMAX formats, and was mostly shot on a set that was built near St. Petersburg at a cost of around $30 million. A series of photos of the set can be viewed here.

The film stars Petr Fedorov, Dmitriy Lysenkov and Thomas Kretschmann, who also featured in the German-made 1993 film Stalingrad and Downfall. The dialogue will be in Russian and German, with subtitles rather than dubbing. The premiere is planned for Volgograd in October.

Judging from the trailer and everything I’ve read about the film, the plot appears to be based on Pavlov’s House, with a dash of Enemy at the Gates (the love story) and a sprinkling of Saving Private Ryan (the brothers). I tend to approach war films with a healthy dose of scepticism, because, let’s be honest, most of them aren’t much good. I suspect that I’ll see Stalingrad thinking “At least it can’t be as bad as Enemy at the Gates, can it?” I hope I’m not wrong.

Here’s another trailer (added October 10):

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