England football fans have laid a wreath in memory of the Soviet war dead in a ceremony to honour the two million who died during the Battle of Stalingrad.
Two supporters, James Lockett and Billy Grant, were among an official party who paid tribute at the memorial in central Volvograd this morning.
The ceremony took place ahead of England’s opening World Cup game against Tunisia tonight at 7pm as 2,000 fans flooded into the city.
More than a dozen England fans turned out to watch the service at the city’s Hall of Military Glory, in the heart of the Mamayev Kurgan memorial park commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad.
James Locket (left) Harpreet Robertson (centre) and Billy Grant (right) attend a wreath laying at the Eternal Flame Monument at Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd
England fan James Lockett, (left) alongside chairman of the FA Greg Clarke (second from right) and British Deputy Ambassador, Lindsay Skoll(far right) attend the wreath laying at the Eternal Flame Monument at Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd, Russia
The group also included British deputy ambassador Lindsay Skoll and FA chairman Greg Clarke.
Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate has pointed to the ‘perspective’ the war-ravaged history of Volgograd, which was formerly known as Stalingrad, had given his team ahead of the World Cup opener against Tunisia on Monday.
Volgograd is the site of one of the bloodiest battles in history, with estimates suggesting the number of troops killed, captured or wounded on both sides totalled nearly two million.
Historians believe the Soviet defence of the city, on the banks of the Volga river, was a turning point for the Allies against Hitler’s forces in the Second World War.
England fan Billy Grant stands in silence next to the FA Chairman Greg Clarke at the moving ceremony today
A tribute on the wreath laid by Mr Clarke at the memorial this morning
Chairman of the FA Greg Clarke (right) lays a wreath alongside fan Billy Grant memory of Soviet war dead at the city’s Hall of Military Glory
FA Chairman Mr Clarke alongside Billy Grant during the wreath laying ceremony at the Mamayev Kurgan World War Two memorial complex
A huge monument known as The Motherland Calls looms on the hill overlooking the Volgograd Arena and the memorial park is a short walk away from the stadium.
The city is also twinned with Coventry, after women from the Midlands city wrote to express support during the war.
Ms Skoll wrote in a book of commemoration: ‘May our bonds between the people of the UK and Russia remain forever strong and enduring.’
She said: ‘As you know the links between the UK and this great city are strong and enduring.
England fan Billy Grant with Tunisia fans at in Volgograd today
Security has been ramped in the city with officers patrolling the railway station as fans flood into the city ahead of the game
England football fans wave flags as they arrive at the Volgograd railway station in Volgograd
‘They were forged during the Second World War, with shared experience of destruction and devastation and immense bravery, and started by 900 women in Coventry, who sent messages of support and solidarity to their sisters in Stalingrad.’
Ms Skoll spoke about shared values between the two nations.
And she added: ‘Given the immense suffering of Volgograd and the pivotal part it played in the route towards victory I think it’s only fitting that the 2018 World Cup should have Volgograd as one of its host cities, after all Volgograd today plays host to people from all over the world including Great Britain, who are here in peace and with a common purpose.’
The Queen Mother was made an honorary citizen of the southern Russian city.
Only 2,500 fans have travelled to the Russian city of Volgograd for tonight’s Group G clash
England fans in Volgograd, with some were enjoying the beer at the Harat’s Pub in the city
Mr Grant, a Brentford fan who lives in north London, said he was ‘very honoured’ to be representing England at the event.
He said: ‘Obviously Russian soldiers that were killed in the great battle – it means a lot to them, it means a lot to us.
‘I’m into football, you’re into football but when you have an event like this you realise it’s more than just football.
‘People have given up their lives and for us we need to pay respect to the people that have done that because that was a very important moment in World War Two.’
Supermarkets in the city have also banned the sales of alcohol in glass bottles as authorities attempt to clampdown on any outbreak of violence ahead of kick off
Meanwhile England fans are expected to leave work early tonight as World Cup fever grips the nation with millions heading to the pub for the opening game.
Rush hour chaos will begin earlier than usual as supporters race home or out for drinks at heir local to watch the clash with Tunisia which kicks off at 7pm.
Experts predicted that Britons will drink 14million extra pints at the pub, with the British Beer and Pub Association estimating a £42million boost to the economy.
Only 2,500 fans have travelled to the Russian city of Volgograd for tonight’s Group G clash, with many choosing to stay at home amid fears over violence from football hooligans.
Around 3,000 Tunisia fans will outnumber the Three Lions support in the 45,568-capacity stadium, but fan Pete Courts vowed: ‘We’ll make as much noise as 50,000.’
Around 3,000 Tunisia fans will outnumber the Three Lions support in the 45,568-capacity stadium, but fan Pete Courts vowed: ‘We’ll make as much noise as 50,000’
Security is tight in the city, with the few England fans that have made the journey vowing to make it an atmosphere to remember.
Supermarkets in the city have also banned the sales of alcohol in glass bottles as authorities attempt to clampdown on any outbreak of violence ahead of kick off.
Photos of shop shelves showed the entire alcohol aisle taped off.
The AA said that the rush hour will begin ‘much earlier’ with the roads and rail networks quieter than usual between 7pm and 9pm.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy at the AA told The Sun: ‘We will see the usual rush-hour conditions much earlier in the day as people try to get a good spot.
‘The fixture list has been quite kind, but people who usually finish at 5pm or 6pm will create a spike in traffic as they down-tools early.
‘We anticipate the roads will be quiet between 7pm and 9pm because most people will be glued to game.’
Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), told the paper: ‘We’ve been helped by the very convenient kick-off time.
‘We predict that many more people will go to the pub because they might not make it home in time for the game.
It means lots of people will also grab some dinner at the pub, giving an extra boost to our industry.
‘Pubs are the best place to watch football anyway, and lots of places which don’t normally show it will be making special arrangements for the World Cup.
The BBPA said that the pub will be a big winner from the kick off times for the England group games, with the game against Belgium also after work, and Panama at the weekend.
Ms Simmonds added: ‘When it comes to watching England at the World Cup, only being at the game itself can compare with being in the pub.
‘Millions of England fans will be going to the pub to cheer on the team with their friends, which is both great for the local pub and great for the England team.
Let’s hope the England team do us proud!’
According to the Football Supporters’ Federation, just 2,100 tickets were sold to England fans for the opening game.
In comparison, 5,000 England fans travelled to Manaus for the opening match of the Brazil 2014 tournament.
In 2010, more than 7,000 supporters went to the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, South Africa, to watch their side’s opening World Cup clash.
And 50,000 travelled to Frankfurt in 2006 for England’s match against Paraguay. Yesterday afternoon there were just a few England fans milling around Volgograd’s city centre. Despite the tensions, England fans in Volgograd, which is 560 miles south of Moscow, last night said they were looking forward to the tournament.
The AA said that the rush hour will begin ‘much earlier’ with the roads and rail networks quieter than usual between 7pm and 9pm
England manager Gareth Southgate has paid tribute to the fans, saying: ‘There’s been a lot of stories leading into the tournament that have put people off coming.
‘We’re really grateful for the people who are travelling, it’s a huge lift for us to see England fans in the stadium.’
Retired taxi firm owner Tom Trueman is attending his sixth World Cup having seen Bobby Moore lift the trophy at Wembley in 1966, and said he had ‘no second thoughts’ about it.
Warehouse manager Paul Elliott, 46, from Coventry, West Midlands – which is twinned with Volgograd – said: ‘People said we were mad to come here with the threat of trouble.
‘But I’m here with a beer in my hand and a smile on my face.’
Nobby Robb, 58, from Liskeard, Cornwall, told the Daily Mirror he has a ticket for every England game, all the way to the final if they should make it.
‘I’ve booked flights, accommodation, and spent 1,500 dollars on the tickets alone,’ he said. ‘I will be here as long as England are here.’
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.
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’.
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.
Author: Nancy Parker
Nancy Parker is a five time Emmy Award winning journalist and seven time Emmy nominee who has spent almost twenty five years covering news in South Louisiana. She has anchored every prime time newscast at WVUE FOX8 during her twenty year tenure in New Orleans.