On February 13 and 17, 1943 Soviet mountain infantry troops ascended Elbrus to throw off Hitler's flags that had been previously placed there by the German Edelweiss division and put the Soviet flags above Europe's highest mountain peaks.
In the spring of 1942 after his failure to seize Moscow Hitler focused on the southern flank of the Soviet-German front. A fierce battle for the Caucasus began. Hitler sought control of the region’s oil resources, says Mikhail Myagkov, expert at the Institute of General History of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
“By seizing control of the oil fields in Baku and Grozny Hitler would have been able to unleash a global war that could have lasted for decades. In August-September of 1942 German Army Group A led by field marshal List with support of the Romanian troops was on its way to the Caucasus in order to win control of the Malgobek and Mozdok passes, as well as the town of Vladikavkaz.”
In August of 1942 the Berlin Radio reported: “Germany’s flag is waving above the highest peak of the Caucasus. Brave soldiers of the 1st Edelweiss division have placed the symbol of the German military glory on Mount Elbrus.”
The coverage of the battles taking place in the Caucasus controlled by Reich Minister of Propaganda Goebbels sounded like the country’s victory over the Soviets. But this turned out to be an illusion. In late December of 1942 the Red Army troops and the Soviet Air Forces launched a counter-offensive against Army Group A. To avoid a defeat the Nazi troops had to flee the Caucasus. On February 4, 1943, the Soviet mountain infantry troops were ordered to examine the abandoned German camps on Elbrus and replace the Nazi flags with Soviet ones. The operation was led by renowned athlete Alexander Gusev. Twenty soldiers divided into three groups to fulfill the task.
Expert at the museum of the Sports and Physical Training Institute Irina Didiguriya: “They did not have any uniform, just the basic equipment needed for alpine climbing. They also had padded jackets and automatic guns. The ascension took them several days because a team of 11 alpine climbers that had operated before the war no longer existed at the time.”
The ascension was not affected by snowfalls or freezing wind. The Elbrus West dome, which is 5,642 m high, was reached on February 13. The mount's East dome (5,421 m high) was ascended four days later. Many monuments were placed near Elbrus in memory of WW II heroes.