The battle for Stalingrad was undoubtedly one of the pivotal moments of World War II, and many would argue it was the single most decisive event in the eventual destruction of Nazi Germany. Although initially very successful, the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 had failed to achieve a victory for the Germans, so the following year Hitler ordered a campaign to capture the southern Russian oil fields, disregarding advice that Moscow should be the principal target. Again the campaign had gone well at first, but an ever-strengthening Red Army had slowed and then virtually stopped the Germans around the key city of Stalingrad, which had become a vital possession as much for propaganda reasons as for any strategic advantage. As a result both sides poured enormous resources into the struggle, causing horrific casualties in and around the rubble of the city. The ultimate German surrender marked the beginning of the long retreat of the Wehrmacht which would end with the Soviet capture of Berlin, but Stalingrad is also remembered as one of the most brutal and costly battles in German military history, where vast numbers of soldiers suffered and perished in the bitter fighting and the terrible winter weather.
The battle for Stalingrad went on for many weeks, but it is the final few weeks, when the Russian winter was at its worst and the Germans were cut off from supplies, that is best remembered today. Films such as 'Stalingrad' (1993) have vividly recreated the terrible conditions as the battle drew to a close, and this set too is clearly focused on those winter months as the end drew near. All the figures are wearing a wide variety of extra clothing, ranging from the regulation (but not very effective) greatcoat to various improvised items, and look a very shabby and unmilitary group as a result. Yet this look reflects well the footage of these troops at the time, for while the Germans were better prepared for the winter of 1942/43 than they had been for the one before, they still lacked enough warm clothing, particularly once the Red Army surrounded and effectively cut off the Sixth Army in the city. Under such circumstances troops will use whatever they can find to keep warm, and everything seen in this set, including some apparently civilian items, looks very appropriate, including the nice coat worn by the officer.
All this improvisation means uniform takes a back seat, but what can be seen here looks fine, as do the items of kit that are visible. Much of the fighting in Stalingrad in the final weeks was brutal hand-to-hand urban warfare, and the weapons of choice for most were grenades and submachine guns. However the Germans were never as well supplied with these as the Soviets, so while several do have the MP38 or MP40, some do still have the ordinary carbine. As we shall see, the weapons are often not detailed enough to be properly identified (or else are quite properly wrapped in rags etc.), but we were a little uncomfortable with the high proportion of submachine guns here, which probably exceeds what they were actually able to field. Also the Germans found the Soviet PPSh to be an excellent weapon that worked better in the extreme cold than their own, and they used captured stocks widely, so we were disappointed not to see any in the hands of any of these figures.
The winter fighting was characterised by house-to-house and even floor-to-floor fighting, and at times the front lines were only a handful of metres apart, so while we always like to see World War II soldiers keeping low and moving fast, this seems to be doubly appropriate for these troops. The two kneeling figures and the prone man match this expectation, as do the two running figures in the bottom row (the second because he seems to be wielding his entrenching tool as a blade), but most of the rest are in rather dull poses which might not be considered wrong but hardly convey the drama of this particular battle. Certainly there were lulls and times when soldiers were not in the front line, but there is not a lot of life in some of these figures; even the one apparently about to throw a grenade.
The published images of the masters for these figures looked very good, but the actual figures are something of a let-down. Certainly they are a bit less chunky than many previous Strelets sets, but the level of detail is not really any better, and that really matters for more modern subjects like this. Many of the weapons are hard to make out, and the machine gun in the second row (which must surely be an MG34) is crude in the extreme. The faces are quite nice and weapons are more slender and realistic than previous efforts, but there is still much of a gap between this and the best being made by other manufacturers. Also in some places there is rather more flash than we have come to expect from Strelets lately, so while these are a step forward, it is not a particularly big step in truth.
We often complain that sets of figures are too neat and regulation to reflect the actual subject in the middle of battle, and really that applies to most of the sets reviewed in these pages. Although winter Germans have been made before, this set does better than most to depict them in a realistic motley appearance which the privations of Stalingrad would require. Since most winter Germans thus far have been for the later part of the war this set does provide something different and worthwhile, and does it quite accurately despite the dubious proportions of weapons. However we were disappointed that so few poses seemed to truly reflect this specific and unusual battle, and while the sculpting is an improvement on much previous output, these are still not particularly pleasing to the eye. Nevertheless this is a welcome addition to the range of World War II Germans which genuinely delivers something new and depicts a crucial chapter in that war's history.