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SECRETS OF THE DEAD: Deadliest Battle

Airs Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Soviet soldiers move through city trenches, Stalingrad, autumn 1942.

German soldier Walter Guenther on the eve of the invasion of southern Russia, 1941. Guenther is among the surviving soldiers interviewed in this film about the Battle of Stalingrad.
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Above: German soldier Walter Guenther on the eve of the invasion of southern Russia, 1941. Guenther is among the surviving soldiers interviewed in this film about the Battle of Stalingrad.

Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was the largest troop offensive in military history. And the Battle of Stalingrad is arguably the deadliest single battle the world has ever seen. The eventual Russian victory has long been lauded as a shining example of Stalin’s military genius.

He is said to have baited the much more powerful and technologically advanced German army with a carefully executed withdrawal, then caught the Nazis unprepared in vicious city-block-by-city-block fighting that decimated the German forces.

Red Army officer Anatoly Merezhko, 1941. Merezhko is among the surviving soldiers interviewed in this film about the Battle of Stalingrad.
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Above: Red Army officer Anatoly Merezhko, 1941. Merezhko is among the surviving soldiers interviewed in this film about the Battle of Stalingrad.

By the time the battle was over, more than one million lives had been lost and the course of the war permanently altered. But 70 years after the battle was fought, newly uncovered documents, survivor accounts and stunning archival footage are revealing a different picture.

“Deadliest Battle” uncovers evidence that describes a forced retreat by the Russians, not a tactical one, in addition to much fiercer fighting in the countryside than previously thought. The battle not only changed the course of World War II, but established the Soviet Union as a superpower to be reckoned with in the long Cold War that lay ahead. More than a half-century later, the full impact of this horrific battle is revealed. Watch a preview.