The story follows a group of German soldiers, from their Italian R&R in the summer of 1942 to the frozen steppes of Soviet Russia and ending with the battle for Stalingrad.
A depiction of the brutal battle of Stalingrad, the Third Reich's 'high water mark', as seen through the eyes of German officer Hans von Witzland and his battalion.
August 1942. A German combat engineer platoon is resting and recuperating in Italy after fighting in North Africa. Their Lieutenant was badly wounded in the fighting and a new, green, platoon commander, Lt Hans van Witzland, has just taken command. The platoon is soon to be attached to an elite unit and sent to a place synonymous with carnage and destruction on a massive scale. An operation that marked a turning point of World War 2. Stalingrad.
"Stalingrad" follows the progress of a German Platoon through the brutal fighting of the Battle of Stalingrad. After having half their number wiped out and after being placed under the command of a sadistic Captain, the Lieutenant of the platoon leads his men to desert. The men of the platoon attempt to escape from the city which is now surrounded by the Soviet Army.
- The movie begins in 1942 with some German troops relaxing in Italy. They are playing cards, swimming and drinking. They are enjoying themselves until they hear music and realize they are late for their formations, and they rush to join their ranks. Everyone is praised for their fighting in Africa and the soldiers are awarded medals for their victory, though simultaneously scolded for being late. They are told to be ready to move on to their next mission, and they get on a train and leave. On the train the new platoon leader, Lieutenant Hans von Witzland (Thomas Kretschmann), writes a letter to his love. The men discover that this is his first time to the front.
On the way to Stalingrad the men see many wounded soldiers. The Lt. sees the way the Russian prisoners are treated and tries to convince higher-ups to treat the Russians better but they rudely ignore him. A preacher gives a pep-talk to the troops.
Now in Stalingrad, the Germans are trying to take a factory. They suffer many casualties as they move toward the factory. The man who gave away their position in the first place is sent on a suicide mission to stop the Russian machine guns, which allows the rest of the soldiers to reach the factory. One man is told shoot anything that moves, and he accidentally shoots his friend, which makes him break down. As he stays with his friend he hears a fallen Russian soldier talking to his mother as he dies. They finally take the factory, despite the casualties suffered.
Nov 8, 1942: the troops listen to a broadcast from Adolf Hitler about why he wanted to reach Stalingrad and speaking of their victory there, with only a few pockets of resistance left. The troops talk about how they started with 400 men and now are only 62. The Lt. wants to agree to a short truce with the Russians to gather their wounded. The Russians agree but only if the Germans go first. The Lt. goes out first along with one of his men, Otto (Sylvester Groth). Otto and a Russian trade breads as they gather their wounded. One German back in the bunkers decides to shoot at the Russians and everyone begins shooting. The Lt. grabs a young Russian boy (Pavel Mang) and brings him back to their base, and yells at the man who began shooting.
In the morning the mail and food arrives. The Russian boy finally speaks to the Germans as the Russians begin singing. One soldier, Rollo (Jochen Nickel), gets a letter from his wife that she is leaving him for a French prisoner of war. Rollo says he will make the Russians pay for it. Just as the Lt. is trying to comfort him, the Russians bomb their shelter and begin attacking. The Lt. and a small group take flamethrowers and try to find a way out through the sewers. The Lt. gets lost and finds a Russian girl, Irina (Dana Vávrová) in the sewers, who happens to speak German. She makes a truce with him, to help him find his friends if he lets her go. However, when they get deeper in the sewers she pushes him into the water and runs away. Fritz (Dominique Horwitz), one of the Lt.s men, finds the Lt. and helps him to safety. Emigholz (Heinz Emigholz), who they brought for luck, is found with his leg blown off. As they carry him off, they discover a Russian woman and her children hiding and give them some bread as they move along.
When they get Emigholz to the medical area, they can not find a doctor so Fritz holds a gun to a doctor to get him to work on him. Captain Haller (Dieter Okras) shows up and says that they are under arrest. The Lt. wants to speak to the General about it, who says the event will not go unpunished.
Dec. 1942: the 6th Army has been surrounded for four weeks. The men are now prisoners, and must look for land mines in a snow field. They are told they will be sent to the front to help defend Marinovka. They are also told that they will be honorably reinstated when they leave for the front.
The men sit in foxholes waiting as fleet of Russian tanks drives by. The tanks notice them and begin to drive toward them. A battle ensues in which some of the men dig holes in the snow, wait for the tanks to drive over them and then stick grenades to the back of the tanks. With a combination of grenades and Molotov cocktails the Germans manage to destroy all of the tanks, though they suffer heavy losses. They are all honorably reinstated.
The Germans are then seen burning down a village while taking all of the Russians prisoner. The Lt. and his men are told that they are not going on leave. Instead they are forced to execute Russian prisoners. The Russian boy is among the prisoners. The Lt. tries to say that the boy worked for them and therefore should not be executed. Captain Haller makes them execute him anyway. Fritz says he is going to leave, and the Lt. says he no longer feels bound to his oath to stop him. Fritz leaves along with GG (Sebastian Rudolph) and the Lt. As they are on their way they encounter a camp of Russian refugees. A man tells them how to get to Pitomnik in exchange for some bread. As they travel further they find some dead German soldiers who were wounded and had passes to go home for being wounded. They each get a pass and plan to use them to go home.
At the airport the wounded are being inspected to ensure they are truly wounded and that it wasn't self-inflicted. After passing the inspection they are part of a large group pushing to try to get on a plane. They do not make it onto the plane. They meet back up with the other men. A plan flies over and drops a container of food and medals. The men begin to eat some chocolate and Rollo finally gets his Iron Cross that he wanted. As they do this, Captain Haller comes out and points a gun at them, telling them that he wants a report filed and that in the German army looters are to be shot. The Lt. tries to grab the gun from him and the Captain shoots GG. Rollo shoots the Captain, who proceeds to beg and plead with them. The Lt. says, You want a report? The Russian boy was named Kolya. And his name was Müllerlike a lot of others. They then shoot Captain Haller.
They go to the Captains house that he told them about and find it full of supplies. They find a girl in a room, tied up in a bed. They decided to go by rank, which means the Lt. would go first. The rest of the men leave the room, and the Lt. walks over and cuts the girls ties. The other men are listening to music, drinking and washing themselves. They begin playing cards, as they were in the beginning, and the line 'Herz ist Trumpf' is heard again. We see the Lt. in the room with the girl, who happens to be Irina, the girl he met in the sewers. She says she wants to be shot, so the Lt. gives her his gun and says to shoot herself. She can not, and they end up sitting and talking. Their injured Captain, Captain Musk (Karel Hermánek), who they brought with them, points a gun at them and tells them to be soldiers not deserters. Otto tells him that every night he prays to be killed. He then pulls out his gun, says Heil Hitler and shoots himself in the head. Rollo carries Captain Musk out and discovers a line of German officers, including the General, walking in a line with their hands raised, surrendering. The remaining two go with the Irina, who says she can get them out.
Irina leads the two through the snow. As they head to where she is leading them, shots are heard. Irina yells I am Soviet! but they continue to shoot, killing her. Fritz and the Lt. crawl away, and sit in the snow holding each other and talking to each other about the best thing about the cold until they both freeze to death. The movie ends with them covered in snow and tells us that over 1 million people died in the battle of Stalingrad. It says that of the 260,000 people of the 6th Army, 91,000 were taken prisoner and only 6,000 of them ever returned home.