Thursday, February 7, 2013

- When The Enemy Was At The Gate

Today is the anniversary of the end of the battle of Stalingrad. It was a big deal for WWII, and was probably the turning point in the war. There are two reasons gun guys have an interest in Stalingrad. One, is the superb (if mildly inaccurate) movie about it, Enemy at the Gates, which relates the legend of the battle more than the facts. And two, was the widespread arrival in the US of the Moisin Nagant rifle.

The Moisin model 1891 was the standard infantry weapon of the Russian Army at Stalingrad. In the movie there is a critical scene where the officers are seen handing a single rifle to every 2 soldiers for an infrantry charge. “When he is killed” says an unfeeling noncom handing nothing but a spare clip of ammo to the movie’s hero, “you pick up his rifle and you shoot”.

The Moisin is a practical and sturdy bolt action design that fires the legendary 7.62x54R cartridge – the longest running military caliber in the world. It was designed in 1891 for the Moisin, and was such a triumph of balance between power and handling, that it is still in service in many armies today, over 100 years later.

And since the fall of the Berlin Wall vast stockpiles of Russian, Polish and Finnish rifles have arrived in the US market – most to be sold for less than $100 dollars. It’s carbine cousin the Moisin Nagant model 1944 is considered one of the most “manly” weapons around. It has considerable recoil compared to modern weapons, and with its unforgiving steel butt plate it can be punishing to the shoulder. It also produces a muzzle flash the size of a beach ball, which is fun.

In my house the battle of Stalingrad hold a special place. My wife’s grandfather fought in the battle and was taken prisoner… by the Russians. Yes, he was fighting on the German side as a Hungarian conscript in the Romanian Army. If you lived in Transylvania back then the way you became a soldier was that a truck with a bunch of soldiers would roll up to your farm, grab you, give you a hat and a gun, and tell you that you were now a soldier. It didn’t have much to do with ideology.

He survived the war in spite of what must have been truly terrible conditions. The Russians didn’t care about their own soldier’s well being so I’m sure they treated captured soldiers who had spent the last year stampeding through their country, quite badly. But he lived, returned to his home (which thanks to a redraw of the border during his absence was now in Romania) and eventually married and had children – one of which was my mother in law.

He died before my wife and I were married so I never met him. But it’s an interesting thing to have a family member who took part in such an important moment in history, even in a small way.

Anyway, see the movie. I think it’s fairly thoughtful for a war movie. And even though it shows commies in a favorable light, I find I can forgive that. A good story is a good story. And the movie at least shows some of the warts.


ikaika said...

It was David V Goliath in terms of Bolt action rifles.

You had Ed Harris with the Mauser and the Russian peasant with the Moisin.

The Mauser Action in it's own right has probably been the most coveted of all bolt actions in comparison to the moisin load.

Hell_Is_Like_Newark said...

There is an excellent movie from the German perspective:

The USA release of course has subtitles.

~RA said...

I have watched the US release of the german version of Stalingrad.. very good..I own the DVD if someone wants to borrow it.