The movie follows a platoon of German Army soldiers as they are transferred from Italy and recent experiences in North Africa, to Russia where they ultimately find themselves unwilling participants in the Battle of Stalingrad.
The film is the second German attempt to portray the battle of Stalingrad in a movie. It is predated by the 1959 movie Hunde, wollt ihr ewig leben (English: Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever?).
|Dominique Horwitz||Obergefreiter Fritz Reiser|
|Thomas Kretschmann||Leutnant Hans von Witzland|
|Jochen Nickel||Unteroffizier Manfred " Rollo" Rohleder|
|Sebastian Rudolph||GeGe Müller|
|Martin Benrath||General Hentz|
|Karel Heřmánek||Hauptmann Hermann Musk|
|Heinz Emigholz||Edgar Emigholz|
|Dieter Okras||Hauptmann Haller|
|Mark Kuhn||Feldwebel Pflüger|
When the company arrives at Stalingrad, they pass some of the soldiers seriously wounded in the fighting. They also pass a column of Russian POWs who are being berated and beaten by German field police. When one of the POWs collapses, a guard continues beating him. Leutnant von Witzland, observing the gruesome spectacle, slips out of line and tries to stop the beating but is knocked down. As he looks on, the prostrate POW is beaten to death. Witzland gets up and protests to the Feldgendarmarie captain. The captain responds: "You wish to protest? Tell the Fuehrer." He then walks off, laughing cruelly.
Then follows a scene unique to films about the German military: a German Army chaplain holds a field service, at which two more characters are introduced; veteran Feldwebel Pfluger who has served at Voronezh, and Hauptmann Musk, another veteran who has lost an arm and who claims to have "absolutely no luck with my right side".
The scenes in the city attempt to capture the nature of combat in Stalingrad. In one scene, Lieutenant von Witzland's men are trapped in a building surrounded by Russians, yet neither side dares make the first move to attack. The stalemate goes on with bodies and the wounded lying in the streets. In an attempt to rescue the wounded and count the dead, the Germans propose a ceasefire between the two sides and to send out some unarmed men. Tension is high. After collecting dog tags from the dead, a Russian soldier pilfers some meat from a dead man. At the same time, Reiser produces some bread and they decide to share their prized possessions. But this moment of peace does not last long, as a shot rings out, and battle is rejoined. Similar scenes were described in William Craig's book "Enemy at the Gates" and other books detailing the real life battle.
After a tract of combat scenes, the idealism of the men fades by the time Schütze Emigholz loses a leg and dies while waiting for medical treatment. When the three main characters try to use force to get preferential treatment, they are sent to a Punishment Battalion. Here they meet "Otto", a former officer who served with Hauptmann Musk at Brest-Litovsk. He advises his new friends to tell their families they've died; he's been home and found his wife was a complete stranger to him.
The three main characters are given a chance for reinstatement when volunteers are mustered for a defensive action; the Russians have shattered the Romanian units on the flanks of the German 6th Army and the cut off Army must fight off overwhelming numbers. A detailed sequence showing a Soviet tank-infantry attack on prepared positions is shown, and the heroes of the piece earn the right to return to their unit. They are reinstated and given an unsavoury mission - taking part in an execution squad to carry out sentence on alleged civilian "saboteurs".
After the executions even von Witzland - son of a distinguished German officer - announces he no longer feels bound by his soldier's oath. An attempt by von Witzland, Reiser, and Muller to escape by faking injuries and boarding a medical flight is unsuccessful, and they are left stranded as the last German transport plane to leave Stalingrad takes off.
Brief respite comes from an airdrop, and an increasing number of unlikely coincidences involving characters from earlier in the film leads the main characters finding salvation in an abandoned warehouse. The characters die off in the last minutes of the film through suicide (Otto), succumbing to injuries (Rollo), and freezing in the snow (Witzland and Reiser).