Russia marked the 70th anniversary of the epic 200-day Battle of Stalingrad on Saturday with a military parade and a gun salute.

A legendary wartime T-34 tank led the military parade in Volgograd, as Stalingrad is called today, followed by soldiers dressed in “telogreiki”, quilted jackets, warned by defenders of the city.

Some 200 survivors of the battle laid red carnations at a monument to the hundreds of thousands who died at Stalingrad. The festivities concluded with an 18-gun salute by World War Two cannons.

The six-month Battle of Stalingrad came to an end on February 2, 1943 with the humiliating surrender of senior-most commander, Field Marshal Paulus. The German forces razed Stalingrad to the ground and captured 90 percent of the city in fierce hand-to-hand fighting before the Red Army in a pincer counter-offensive encircled and destroyed the Nazi’s largest Sixth Army, whose strength exceeded 1,000,000 men at the peak of the battle.

It was the longest and bloodiest battles of World War Two, with at least 1.2 million people killed and almost as many wounded on both sides. More than 90,000 Nazi troops were taken prisoner. The epic battle opened a string of Red Army victories that two years later led to the fall of Berlin.

“The Battle of Stalingrad came down in history as a turning point toward the complete and ultimate rout of Nazism,“ President Vladimir Putin he said at a reception for war veterans in the Kremlin.

The lawmakers of Volgograd decided to return the wartime name of Stalingrad to Volgograd for ceremonial purposes six times a year, on memorial dates linked with the past war.

Russian Communists have led the campaign for Volgograd to be permanently renamed Stalingrad. Earlier this week they handed over to the Kremlin a petition to this effect signed by 50,000. The city name was changed in 1961 after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev exposed Stalin’s atrocities.

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