Hearts of Steel: The Sword of Stalingrad

Hearts of Steel: The Sword of Stalingrad

Presentation of the Sword of Stalingrad
Presentation of the Sword of Stalingrad

On 29th November 1943 during the Tehran Conference, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill presented Soviet leader Joseph Stalin with a ceremonial longsword. King George VI had asked for the sword to be commissioned in recognition of the defenders of Stalingrad, who had courageously fought for their city between August 1942 and February 1943. Apart from being one of the bloodiest battles of the war, the Allies knew it was an important turning point in the conflict.

The sword was made by master craftsman Tom Beasley and his assistant Sid Rouse of Wilkinson Sword, modelled on a design laid out by fine arts Professor Reginald Morier Yorke Gleadowe of Oxford University, a design which was personally approved by the king. The finished article was some four feet long, had a double-edged 36-inch blade of Sheffield steel, and a solid silver 10-inch cross guard designed to resemble a leopard’s head. The grip was bound in 18-carat gold wire and had a pommel made of rock crystal with an English rose made of gold. To house the sword, a scabbard was made of crimson coloured lamb skin (although some say it was of Moroccan leather) decorated with the British Royal Arms, silver mounts and a number of rubies and stars made of gold.

The blade was inscribed both in Russian and English with the following:

‘TO THE STEEL-HEARTED CITIZENS OF STALINGRAD – THE GIFT OF KING GEORGE VI – IN TOKEN OF THE HOMAGE OF THE BRITISH PEOPLE’

In order to ensure the correct use of Russian, the makers employed the advice of Sir Ellis Hovell Minns, the President of Pembroke College, Cambridge University, who was considered an authority on Slavonic icons.

Stalin kissing the Sword of Stalingrad
Stalin kissing the Sword of Stalingrad

During the presentation in the Ballroom at the Soviet embassy in Tehran, it is recorded that Churchill turned to Stalin and said: ‘I am commanded to present this sword of honour as a token of homage of the British people’. Taking the gift from a British officer, Stalin kissed the sword before handing it to President Franklin Roosevelt who removed the blade from the scabbard to take a closer look. Roosevelt then purportedly said: ‘Truly they had hearts of steel’. This was perhaps a rather clever remark since Stalin’s name roughly means ‘man of steel’.

Today the sword is on display at the Battle of Stalingrad Museum in Volgograd, Stalingrad’s modern name. However, it has also previously been on display in Britain during several temporary exhibitions. Prior to the Tehran Conference, the sword was displayed across Britain in order for the British people to view it before its official presentation to the Soviet leader. Cities in which it was displayed included Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester, Sheffield, London and Winchester. Later in the war, the citizens of Stalingrad presented some 30 special folios to the craftsmen who had worked on the sword as a thank you. One of these books was presented to Sid Rouse, which survives to this day.

Three copies made by Wilkinson Sword are known to exist, including one that is currently displayed at the Wilkinson Sword Museum in London.

A boy holding the Sword of Stalingrad in 1953
A boy holding the Sword of Stalingrad in 1953
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