|Operation Barbarossa remains the largest military operation, in terms of manpower, area traversed, and casualties, in human history. The failure of Operation Barbarossa resulted in the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany and is considered a turning point for the Third Reich. Most importantly, Operation Barbarossa opened up the Eastern Front, which ultimately became the biggest theater of war in world history. Operation Barbarossa and the areas which fell under it became the site of some of the largest and most brutal battles, deadliest atrocities, terrible loss of life, and horrific conditions for Soviets and Germans alike - all of which influenced the course of both World War II and the 20th century history.|
On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany and its Axis allies began a massive invasion of the Soviet Union named Operation Barbarossa -- some 4.5 million troops launched a surprise attack deployed from German-controlled Poland, Finland, and Romania. Hitler had his eyes on Soviet resources even after Germany and the USSR signed a non-aggression pact in 1939. Both sides had long been suspicious of one another and the agreement merely gave them more time to prepare for a probable war. The Soviets were unprepared for the sudden blitzkreig attacks across a border that spanned nearly 2,900 km (1,800 mi), and suffered horrible losses. Within a single week, German forces advanced 200 miles into Soviet territory, destroyed nearly 4,000 aircraft, and killed, captured, or wounded some 600,000 Red Army troops. By December of 1941, Germany had advanced to within sight of Moscow, and laid siege to the city, but the notorious Russian winter set in (nicknamed "General Winter"), and German advances came to a halt. At the end of this, one of the largest, deadliest military operations in history, Germany had suffered some 775,000 casualties, more than 800,000 Soviets had been killed, and an additional 6 million Soviet soldiers were wounded or captured. The operation was also a failure for Germany -- despite massive advances, Hitler's plan to conquer the Soviet Union before winter had failed, at great cost, which would prove to be a turning point in the war.
The Greatest Battle of All Time – Stalingrad
Mamayev Kurgan is a war memorial like no other on earth ~ for it is dominated by an angry goddess. The most gigantic, impressive and eerie statue in the world, Rodina-Mat, the Mother Goddess of Russia, touts up 160 feet without any pedestal, 20 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty ~ it is the resting place for 35,000 Soviet soldiers who died defending their city, their country and eventually the world.
Feb. 2 marked a very obscure date for Americans, but one that saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of young American boys in World War II ~ it is the 70th anniversary of the final surrender of German forces at Stalingrad ~ The decisive battle of World War II for quite suddenly a glimmer of world wide hope replaced the growing despair of watching an apparently invincible German Wehrmacht, that had conquered the entire European continent in less than three years, brought to its knees by the courageous Russian defenders of Stalingrad.
Americans have never had to defend their country from a fierce fighting force intent on occupying them such as Russia endured in World War 2 ~ so to truly understand the depth of Russian patriotism, as well as other occupied countries and states, we must understand the battle and triumph of Stalingrad against insurmountable odds.
The human cost was truly horrific, as Martin Sieff explains in his commemorative article entitled ~ The Greatest Battle of All Time ~ and Why It Still Matters Today.
Excerpt: “The colossal scale of the fighting between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War was well recognized by Americans and Britons at the time but it has been virtually forgotten since. But it dwarfed every other battlefront of the war combined. Eight out of 10 German soldiers killed in World War II died fighting the Red Army. The colossal total of nearly 27 million Soviet military and civilian dead was more than twice the death toll of all Americans, Britons, Commonwealth, French and even Germans killed in the war combined…. According to British military historian Anthony Bevoir, 1.1 million Soviet soldiers died in the Battle of Stalingrad and that does not include the at least 100,000 and possibly three times as many civilian inhabitants of the city massacred by the repeated waves of indiscriminate Luftwaffe air attacks….Nazi losses were colossal, too. According to Russian estimates, 1.5 million German and Axis soldiers lost their lives in the entire campaign, more than five times the entire U.S. combat dead for all of the war and more than twice the combined Union and Confederate dead of the entire U.S. Civil War.”
The Russian triumph at Stalingrad rapidly led to a German retreat and the inevitable encirclement of Berlin by allied forces. Here’s the scene in the German film Downfall, where Hitler finally realises he is defeated in Berlin, and lets out his anger on his Generals. This is the original video, parodied so many times on Youtube ~ the film is excellent and English Soft Subs/Closed Captions are available, look at the bottom right. 4 minute video
My point here is that patriotism that is grounded in overcoming a foreign invader ~ such as Russia’s victory at Stalingrad ~ is far more formidable than just waving flags and singing anthems. America should be conscious that our illegal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in millions of civilian deaths and displacements. More importantly they have also become the breeding ground of patriotic freedom fighters who can no longer be labeled insurgents or terrorists ~ who we use to justify even more military spending.
And who is paying the cost of roughly 3 trillion dollars for these illegal wars and occupations?
American families are now paying at least $20,000 each for these occupations (including the hidden social costs) with no end in sight.
It’s the biggest bubble of all ~ The so-called US government takes our money;
Then gives it to corporate thieves and uses it to create mayhem around the world.
We are poorer for it.
Our children are poorer for it.
The nation is poorer for it.
It’s really no more complicated than that.
Now, 70 years later, the apparently invincible American Wehrmacht, as recently represented by Vice President Joe Biden, set the record straight at the annual Munich Security Conference ~ as reported by WSWS “.. not only is this decade-long exercise in US militarism not ended, it is about to erupt in a whole number of new areas across the globe, threatening the lives of countless millions of people.”
“The greatest threat to our world and its peace comes from those who want war, who prepare for it, and who, by holding out vague promises of future peace or by instilling fear of foreign aggression, try to make us accomplices to their plans.” ~ Hermann Hesse
In calling off Operation Sea Lion, Adolf Hitler, the Supreme Commander of the world's most powerful armed forces, had suffered his first major setback. Nazi Germany had stumbled in the skies over Britain but Hitler was not discouraged. In the past, he had repeatedly overcome setbacks of one sort or another through drastic action elsewhere to both triumph over the failure and to move toward his ultimate goal. Now it was time to do it again.
All of Hitler's actions in Western Europe thus far, including the subjugation of France and the now-failed attack on Britain, were simply a prelude to achieving his principal goal as Führer, the acquisition of Lebensraum (Living Space) in the East. He had moved against the French, British and others in the West only as a necessary measure to secure Germany's western border, thereby freeing him to attack in the East with full force.
For Hitler, the war itself was first and foremost a racial struggle and he viewed all aspects of the conflict in racial terms. He considered the peoples of Western Europe and the British Isles to be racial comrades, ranked among the higher order of humans. The supreme form of human, according to Hitler, was the Germanic person, characterized by his or her fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes. The lowest form, Hitler believed, were the Jews and the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, including the Russians.
All of this had been outlined in his book, Mein Kampf, first published in 1925. In it, Hitler stated his fundamental belief that Germany’s survival depended on its ability to acquire vast tracts of land in the East to provide room for the expanding German population at the expense of the inferior peoples already living there, justified purely on racial grounds. Hitler explained that Nazi racial philosophy “by no means believes in an equality of races…and feels itself obligated to promote the victory of the better and stronger, and demand the subordination of the inferior and weaker.”
Therefore, in stark contrast to the battles so far in the West, Hitler intended the quest for Lebensraum in the East to be a "war of annihilation" utilizing the might of the German Army and Air Force against soldiers and civilians alike.
In March of 1941, he assembled his top generals and told them how their troops should behave: “This struggle is one of [political] ideologies and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness. All officers will have to rid themselves of obsolete ideologies…I insist absolutely that my orders be executed without contradiction." Hitler then ordered the killing of all Russian political authorities. "The [Russian] commissars are the bearers of ideologies directly opposed to National Socialism. Therefore the commissars will be liquidated. German soldiers guilty of breaking international law…will be excused.” His generals listened in silence to this command, known later as the Commissar Order.
For his most senior generals, the utterances of their Supreme Commander posed a dilemma. They were mostly men of the old-school, born and raised in Imperial Germany, long before Hitler, amid traditional morals of bygone days. Now, they felt duty-bound to follow Hitler’s orders, no matter how drastic, since they had all sworn an oath of obedience to the Führer. But to comply, they would have to abandon time-honored codes of military conduct, considered obsolete by Hitler, which prohibited senseless murder of civilians.
At the same time, they each owed a debt of gratitude to Hitler for restoring the Germany Army to greatness and for the slew of promotions bestowed upon them by the Führer in the wake of its continued success. Rank and privilege, and the immense prestige of holding the title of Colonel-General or Field Marshal in Hitler's Wehrmacht, had tremendous appeal for these men, Therefore, in the end, despite their misgivings, not one of them dared to speak up or refuse Hitler in regard to his war plans for Russia. Instead, they dutifully planned the invasion of Russia, knowing the attack would unleash an unprecedented wave of murder.
The invasion plan for Russia was named Operation Barbarossa (Red Beard) by Hitler in honor of German ruler Frederick I, nicknamed Red Beard, who had orchestrated a ruthless attack on the Slavic peoples of the East some eight centuries earlier.
Barbarossa would be Blitzkrieg again but on a continental scale this time, as Hitler boasted to his generals, "When Barbarossa commences the world will hold its breath and make no comment!" Set to begin on May 15, 1941, three million soldiers totaling 160 divisions would plunge deep into Russia in three massive army groups, reaching the Volga River, east of Moscow, by the end of summer, thus achieving victory.
Facing them would be Stalin's Red Army, estimated by the Germans at 200 divisions. Although somewhat outnumbered by the Russians, Hitler believed they did not pose a serious threat and would fall apart just like their fellow Slavs, the Poles, did in 1939. Against an army of battle-hardened, racially superior Germans, the Russians would be finished in a matter of weeks, Hitler claimed.
Most of his generals concurred, supported by recent evidence. They had watched with keen interest as Soviet Russia confidently invaded Finland in November 1939, only to see the Red Army disintegrate into a disorganized jumble amid embarrassing defeats at the hands of a much smaller blond-haired Finnish fighting force.
Buoyed by Hitler and awash in their own arrogance, the generals confidently finalized the details of Operation Barbarossa as the bulk of the German troops and armor slowly moved into position in the weeks leading up to May 15. But as the invasion date neared, complications arose that upset the whole timetable.
Hitler's old friend and chief ally, Benito Mussolini, leader of Fascist Italy, had foolishly tried to imitate the Führer and achieve battlefield glory for himself by launching a surprise invasion of Greece. British troops stationed in the Mediterranean then moved in to help the Greeks fend off the Italians. For Hitler, the very idea of British troops in Southern Europe was enough to keep him awake at night. Their presence was a threat to Germany's vulnerable southern flank, the region of Europe known as the Balkans, which also supplied most of Germany's oil. It would therefore be necessary to secure the Balkans before launching Barbarossa.
To quickly achieve this, Hitler slipped back into a familiar role – the political master manipulator – forging overnight alliances with two Balkan countries, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.
But in Yugoslavia, things unexpectedly spiraled out of control when the government, upon its alliance with Hitler, was immediately overthrown by its own citizens. Hitler was enraged by the news, perceiving it as a blow to his prestige. In a tirade, he ordered his generals to crush the country "as speedily as possible" and also ordered Göring's Air Force to obliterate the capital city, Belgrade, as "punishment." For the Luftwaffe, Belgrade was an easy target and they quickly turned it to rubble while killing 17,000 defenseless civilians.
Meanwhile, beginning on Sunday, April 6, 1941, the Wehrmacht poured 29 divisions into the region, taking Yugoslavia by storm, then took Greece for good measure, forcing British troops there to make a hasty exit. Thus the Balkans were secured. However, these actions took nearly five weeks and caused a lot of wear and tear on tanks and other armored equipment needed for the Russian campaign.
At 7 am that morning, over the radio, a proclamation from the Führer to the German people announced, “At this moment a march is taking place that, for its extent, compares with the greatest the world has ever seen. I have decided again today to place the fate and future of the Reich and our people in the hands of our soldiers. May God aid us, especially in this fight.”
In attacking Russia, Hitler had indeed stunned the world. But he also made a lot of Germans very nervous. Maria Mauth, a 17-year-old German schoolgirl at the time, recalled her father's reaction: "I will never forget my father saying: 'Right, now we have lost the war!' " But then reports arrived highlighting the easy successes. "In the weekly newsreels we would see glorious pictures of the German Army with all the soldiers singing and waving and cheering. And that was infectious of course...We simply thought it would be similar to what it was like in France or in Poland – everybody was convinced of that, considering the fabulous army we had."
Indeed, it was true. Whole armies of hapless Russians were now surrendering as the relentless three-pronged Blitzkrieg blasted its way forward. Soviet Russia had been caught unprepared due to the astounding negligence of the country's dictator, Josef Stalin, who had stubbornly disregarded a flurry of intelligence reports warning that a Nazi invasion was imminent.
The result was chaos. Georgy Semenyak, a 20-year-old Russian soldier at the time, remembered: “It was a dismal picture. During the day airplanes continuously dropped bombs on the retreating soldiers…When the order was given for the retreat, there were huge numbers of people heading in every direction…The lieutenants, captains, second-lieutenants took rides on passing vehicles…mostly trucks traveling eastwards…And without commanders, our ability to defend ourselves was so severely weakened that there was really nothing we could do.”
Hitler and the Army High Command were now poised to achieve the greatest military victory of all time by trouncing the Russians. At present, three gigantic army groups were proceeding like clockwork toward their objectives. Army Group North, with 20 infantry divisions and six armored divisions, headed for Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) by the Baltic Sea. Army Group Center, the largest, with 33 infantry and 15 armored divisions, continued on its 700-mile-long journey toward Russia’s capital, Moscow. Army Group South, with 33 infantry and eight armored divisions, headed for Kiev, capital of the Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe with its fertile wheat fields. Along the way, German field commanders employed their already-perfected Blitzkrieg techniques time and time again to pierce Russian defensive lines and surround bewildered Red Army soldiers.
June 1941 - Barbarossa
German invasion of the Soviet Union that opened World War II on the Eastern Front, commencing the largest, most bitterly contested, and bloodiest campaign of the war. Adolf Hitler’s objective for Operation BARBAROSSA was simple: he sought to crush the Soviet Union in one swift blow. With the USSR defeated and its vast resources at his disposal, surely Britain would have to sue for peace. So confident was he of victory that he made no effort to coordinate the invasion with his Japanese ally. Hitler predicted a quick victory in a campaign of, at most, three months.
German success hinged on the speed of advance of 154 German and satellite divisions deployed in three army groups: Army Group North in East Prussia, under Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leeb; Army Group Center in northern Poland, commanded by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock; and Army Group South in southern Poland and Romania under Field Marshal Karl Gerd von Rundstedt. Army Group North consisted of 3 panzer, 3 motorized, and 24 infantry divisions supported by the Luftflotte 1 and joined by Finnish forces. Farther north, German General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst’s Norway Army would carry out an offensive against Murmansk in order to sever its supply route to Leningrad. Within Army Group Center were 9 panzer, 7 motorized, and 34 infantry divisions, with the Luftflotte 2 in support. Marshal von Rundstedt’s Army Group South consisted of 5 panzer, 3 motorized, and 35 infantry divisions, along with 3 Italian divisions, 2 Romanian armies, and Hungarian and Slovak units. Luftflotte 4 provided air support.
Meeting this onslaught were 170 Soviet divisions organized into three “strategic axes” (commanding multiple fronts, the equivalent of army groups)—Northern, Central, and Southern or Ukrainian—that would come to be commanded by Marshals Kliment E. Voroshilov, Semen K. Timoshenko, and Semen M. Budenny, respectively. Voroshilov’s fronts were responsible for the defense of Leningrad, Karelia, and the recently acquired Baltic states. Timoshenko’s fronts protected the approaches to Smolensk and Moscow. And those of Budenny guarded the Ukraine. For the most part, these forces were largely unmechanized and were arrayed in three linear defensive echelons, the first as far as 30 miles from the border and the last as much as 180 miles back.
In World War 2, Hitler and Stalin, two of the most brutal dictators ever, commanded total control and led murderous terror regimes, in which fear of extreme punishment made it almost impossible to criticize or even to offer unfavorable advice, or even to awake the dictator late at night in case of emergency. In such regimes, one man makes all key decisions, and too many lesser decisions, and it's almost impossible to change his mind before or after he makes a major mistake. Here are some examples.
Full-scale development of the LaG-5, as the aircraft was now designated, began, and simultaneously problems arose concerning the initiation of the production process. Especially difficult to build were the first ten aircraft, assembled early in June 1942, which were manufactured in dreadful haste, with numerous errors. While it is normal practice to make parts from drawings, this time, on the contrary, final drawings were sometimes made from the parts. At the same time the tooling was being prepared and the process of producing new components was being mastered.
Aircraft Plant No.21 handled the task well. The transition to the modified fighter was effected almost without any reduction in the delivery rate to the air force. Following delivery of the first fully operational LaG-5 on 20th June 1942, the Gorkii workers turned out 37 more by the end of the month. In August the plant surpassed the production rate of all the previous months, 148 LaGG-3s being added to 145 new LaG-5s.
Series produced aircraft were considerably inferior to the prototype in speed, being some 24.8 to 31 mph (40 to 50km/h) slower. On the one hand this is understandable, as the LaGG-3 M-82 prototype lacked the radio antenna, bomb carriers and leading edge slats fitted to production aircraft. But there were other contributory causes, particularly insufficiently tight cowlings. Work carried out by Professor V Polinovsky with the workers of the design bureau of Plant No.21 enabled the openings to be found and eliminated.
Series built aircraft were sent to war, and the LaG-5's combat performance was proved in the 49th Red Banner Fighter Air Regiment of the 1st Air Army. In the unit's first 17 battles 16 enemy aircraft were shot down at a cost of ten of its own, five pilots being lost. Command believed that the heavy losses occurred because the new aircraft had not been fully mastered and, as a consequence, its operational qualities were not used to full advantage. Pilots noted that, owing to the machine's high weight and insufficient control surface balance, it made more demands upon flying technique than the LaGG-3 and Yak-1. At the same time, however, the LaG-5 had an advantage over fighters with liquid-cooled engines, as its double-row radial protected its pilot from frontal attacks. Aircraft survivability increased noticeably as a consequence. Three fighters returned to their airfield despite pierced inlet nozzles, exhaust pipes and rocker box covers.
The involvement of LaG-5s of the 287th Fighter Air Division, commanded by Colonel S Danilov, Hero of the Soviet Union, in the Battle of Stalingrad was a severe test for the aircraft. Fierce fighting took place over the Volga, and the Luftwaffe was stronger than ever before. The division experienced its first combats on 20th August 1942 with 57 LaG-5s, of which two-thirds were combat capable. Four regiments of the division were to have 80 fighters on strength, but a great many deficiencies prevented this. Serious accidents occurred; one fighter crashed during take-off, and two more collided while taxying owing to the pilots' poor view. During the first three flying days the LaGs shot down eight German fighters and three bombers. Seven were lost, including three to 'friendly' anti-aircraft fire.
Subsequently, the division pilots were more successful. There were repeated observations of attacks against enemy bombers, of which 57 were destroyed within a month, but the division's own losses were severe.
Based on experience gained during combat, the pilots of the 27th Fighter Air Regiment, 287th Fighter Air Division, concluded that their fighters were inferior to Bf109F-4s and, especially, 'G-2s in speed and vertical manoeuvrability. They reported: 'We have to engage only in defensive combat actions. The enemy is superior in altitude and, therefore, has a more favourable position from which to attack.'
Hitherto, it has often been stated in Soviet and other historical accounts that the La-5 (the designation assigned to the fighter in early September 1942) had passed its service tests during the Stalingrad battle in splendid fashion. In reality, this advanced fighter still had to overcome some 'growing pains'.
This was proved by state tests of the La-5 Series 4 at the NII WS during September and October 1942. At a flying weight of 7,4071b (3,360kg) the aircraft attained a maximum speed at ground level of 316mph (509km/h) at its normal power rating, 332.4mph (535 km/h) at its augmented rating and 360.4mph (580km/h) at the service ceiling of 20,500ft (6,250m) The Soviet-made M-82 family of engines - derived from the US-designed Wright R-1820 Cyclone - had an augmented power rating only at the first supercharger speed). The aircraft climbed to 16,400ft (5,000m) in 6.0 minutes at normal power rating and in 5.7 minutes with augmentation. Its armament was similar to that of the prototype. Horizontal manoeuvrability was slightly improved, but in the vertical plane it was decreased. Many defects in design and manufacture had not been corrected.
In combat Soviet pilots flew the La-5 with the canopy open, the cowling side flaps fully open and the tailwheel down, and this reduced its speed by another 18.6 to 24.8mph (30 to 40km/h). As a result, on 25th September 1942 the State Defence Committee issued an edict requiring that the La-5 be lightened, and that its performance and operational characteristics be improved.
The industry produced 1,129 La-5s during the second half of 1942, and these saw use during the counter attack by Soviet troops near Stalingrad. Of 289 La-5s in service with fighter aviation, the majority, 180 aircraft, were assigned to the forces of the Supreme Command Headquarters Reserve. The Soviet Command was preparing for a general winter offensive, and was building up reserves to place in support. One of these strong formations became the 2nd Mixed Air Corps under Hero of the Soviet Union Major-General I Yeryomenko, the two fighter divisions of which had five regiments (the 13th, 181st, 239th, 437th and 3rd Guards) equipped with the improved La-5. The new aircraft proved to be 11 to 12.4mph (18 to 20km/h) faster than the fighter which had passed the state tests at the NII WS in September and October 1942.
When the 2nd Mixed Air Corps, with more than 300 first class combat aircraft, was used to reinforce the 8th Air Army, the latter had only 160 serviceable aircraft. The 2nd Mixed Air Corps, reliably protecting and supporting the counter offensive by troops along the lines of advance, flew over 8,000 missions and shot down 353 enemy aircraft from 19th November 1942 to 2nd February 1943.
Progress made in combat activities by the Air Corps aviators in co-operation with joint forces during offensive operations on the Stalingrad and Southern fronts were noted by the ground forces Command. General Rodion Malinovsky, Commander of the 2nd Guards Army (later Defence Minister), wrote:
'The active warfare of the fighter units of the 2nd Mixed Air Corps [of which 80% of its aircraft were La-5s], by covering and supporting combat formations of Army troops, actually helped to protect the army from enemy air attacks. Pilots displayed courage, heroism and valour in the battlefield. With appearance of the Air Corps fighters the hostile aircraft avoided battle.
These men are Russian officers in the ROA, the Russian Liberation Army (In Russian: Russkaya Osvoboditelnaya Armiya). They are a part of captured Russian soldiers who joined the Germans and their Allies in the struggle against Bolshevism. The officer second from the left is General Vlasov. The ROA consisted of two divisions under the command of General Vlasov and its popular name was Vlasov's army.
By 1944 defeat stared Germany in the face. Goebbels's propaganda machine did its best to counter the deterioration of morale, especially emphasizing the bleak prospects with which the "unconditional surrender" slogan confronted the German people. On July 20 a few army officers and government officials attempted to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime, but the plot miscarried and merely resulted in the liquidation of the chief non-Nazis anywhere near the summit of power.
Opportunely for Goebbels came Allied publication of lists of "war criminals," the mass proscription of the German General Staff, and the approval of the "Morgenthau Plan," which envisaged the destruction of German industry and the conversion of all Germany into "a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character," at the second Quebec conference in September 1944. Goebbels declared, "It hardly matters whether the Bolshevists want to destroy the Reich in one fashion and the Anglo-Saxons propose to do it in another." Doubtless the Morgenthau Plan did much to confuse those Germans who might be thinking of surrendering to the West while holding out against Stalin,, and thus Stalin could only profit by its dissemination by the U.S. and Britain.
At virtually the same moment that the Allies were endorsing the Morgenthau Plan at Quebec, the Nazi regime turned in desperation to a weapon which, if used earlier, might indeed have had great effect on the outcome of the war, but what the Nazis did with it in 1944 was too little and much too late. General Vlasov, who had been captured two years earlier, was to be transformed from a pawn of Nazi propaganda into the leader of a real Soviet anti-Stalinite army and government.
Vlasov, who was born in 1900, the son of a peasant family of Nizhnii Novgorod, had risen in Red Army ranks. A Party member since 1930, he had been Soviet military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek in 1938-1939, decorated in 1940, and in the autumn of 1941 one of the chief army commanders in the defense of Moscow. Apparently he possessed great personal magnetism, integrity, and ability. Not at all the opportunist and Nazi hireling he was accused of being, Vlasov "stressed his nationalism and strove to preserve the independence of the Movement," writes the most recent Investigator. Of the most influential men who joined his cause, probably the ablest was the brilliant but mysterious Milenty Zykov, who said he had been on the staff of Izvestiia under Bukharin and for a time had been exiled by Stalin. When captured he claimed to be serving as a battalion commissar, but it was suspected that he was much more.
By the end of 1942 Captain Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt of the German army propaganda section was planning to establish a Russian National Committee led by Vlasov at Smolensk. The plan was vetoed from above, but in December the formation of the committee was proclaimed on German soil Instead. Vlasov published a statement of his aims, and he was allowed to tour occupied Soviet areas, meeting a considerable popular response. In April 1943 an anti-Bolshevik conference of Soviet prisoners opposed to Stalin's regime was held in Brest-Litovsk. After Vlasov declared that if successful he would grant Ukraine and the Caucasus self-determination, Rosenberg was persuaded to support the committee. However, in June 1943 Hitler ordered that Vlasov was to be kept out of the occupation zone, and that the movement was to be confined to propaganda—that is, promises which Hitler could ignore later—across the lines to Soviet-held territory.
During 1943 Vlasov's circle, under the protection of Strik-Strikfeldt's section at Dabendorf just outside Berlin, was allowed to carry on remarkably free discussions about a future non-Communist government for Russia and to publish two newspapers in Russian, one for Soviet war prisoners and another for the Osttruppen. The political center of gravity at Dabendorf fluctuated between the more socialist-inclined entourage of Zykov and the more authoritarian-minded group close to the emigre anti-Soviet organization, N.T.S. (Natsionalno-Trudovoi Soiuz or National Tollers' Union). Of course political arguments among Soviet emigres were nothing new; what was new was the hope of imminent action, utilizing the five million Soviet nationals in Germany, to overthrow Stalin—either with Hitler's support or, if he should fall, perhaps in conjunction with the Western Allies. Despite arguments, a fair degree of harmony was maintained among the Russians at Dabendorf. Especially noteworthy was the extent to which Vlasov and his followers succeeded in preventing themselves from being compromised by Nazi Ideology and in maintaining the integrity of their own effort to win Russian freedom.
Until 1944, however, the Vlasov circle was confined to discussion and publication. Although the phrase, "Russian Liberation Army," and Its Russian abbreviation, ROA (for Russkaia Osvoboditel'naia Armiia), were much used in propaganda— with Hitler's approval—there was in fact no such army. "ROA" was only a shoulder patch which the Osttruppen, scattered in small units throughout the Nazi army, were permitted to wear. In the summer of 1944 the ablest Intellectual of the Vlasov group, Zykov, was abducted and almost certainly murdered forthwith by the SS.
Nevertheless it was Himmler, chief of the SS, who not long afterward achieved the reversal of Nazi policy toward Vlasov. In a meeting with Vlasov in mid-September 1944, Himmler agreed to the formation of a Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (Komitet Osvobozhdeniia Narodov Rossii or K.O.N.R.), which would have the potentiality of a government, and an actual army. It appears that Hitler consented to Himmler's new policy chiefly because his suspicion of other Nazi officials who opposed it was by 1944 greater than his fear of arming enemy nationals—a fear which, it must be said, was justified from the Nazi standpoint. The concrete results of Himmler's decision were meager, largely because the Russians could not, amid the disintegration which overtook the Nazi system during the last months of the war, obtain the material aid they needed to implement their plans.
However, in November 1944 in Prague the K.O.N.R. was officially established at a meeting which issued the so-called "Prague Manifesto." This document, declaring that the irruption of the Red armies into Eastern Europe revealed more clearly than ever the Soviet "aim to strengthen still more the mastery of Stalin's tyranny over the peoples of the USSR, and to establish it all over the world," stated the goals of the K.O.N.R. to be the overthrow of the Communist regime and the "creation of a new free People's political system without Bolsheviks and exploiters." It proclaimed recognition of the "equality of all peoples of Russia" and their right of self-determination as well as the intention of ending forced labor and the collective farms and of achieving real civil liberties and social justice. If such a document had been widely disseminated two or three years earlier and given some substance in Nazi occupation policy, the results might have been important or even decisive; coming in 1944, it had no observable effect on the Soviet peoples.
The Prague meeting did stimulate certain Nazi officials to make efforts to put the minorities into the picture with political committees and armies. A year earlier the Nazis had finally organized a Ukrainian SS division which bore the name "Galicia," but although it fought hard and well at the battle of Brody, on the Rovno-Lvov road, in July 1944, when it was finally overrun there, it dispersed to join Ukrainian partisan forces behind Red lines. In October an SS official, Dr. Fritz Arlt, attempted to secure the consent of the Ukrainian nationalist leaders to the formation of a Ukrainian national committee. To avoid being overshadowed by Vlasov, Bandera and Melnyk agreed to the setting up of such a committee, nominally headed by General Paul Shandruk. Melnyk protested the Prague Manifesto, but many Ukrainians nevertheless joined the Vlasov movement, along with representatives of other minorities.
In January 1945 the formation of the Armed Forces of the K.O.N.R. was announced; however, only two divisions were actually activated and mobilized. The First Division, under the command of a Ukrainian, General S. K. Buniachenko, was committed in April on the front near Frankfurt on the Oder, but the unit refused to fight under existing circumstances, and amid the Nazi military collapse moved south toward Czechoslovakia. At the call of the Czech resistance leaders in Prague, the division moved into the city and on May 7, with Czech aid, captured it from the Nazis.
However, in the Europe of the spring of 1945 there was no place for an anti-Soviet Russian army. The generals, including Vlasov, were turned over to the Soviet command by American and British forces, with or without authorization to do so. In February 1946 the remainder of the army was handed over by U.S. authorities without warning to Soviet repatriation officers at Plattling, Bavaria. In August Pravda announced the execution of Vlasov and his fellow officers, describing them as "agents of German intelligence" and failing to inform the Russian people that they had organized a movement to overthrow Stalin.
By mid-July 1941, all that remained was for the Russians to give up and accept their fate under Hitler, just like Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece.
But the Russians kept fighting.
Another emerging factor was the vastness of Russia itself. It was one thing to ponder a map, something else to traverse the boundless countryside, as Field Marshal Manstein remembered: "Everyone was captivated at one time or other by the endlessness of the landscape, through which it was possible to drive for hours on end – often guided by the compass – without encountering the least rise in the ground or setting eyes on a single human being or habitation. The distant horizon seemed like some mountain ridge behind which a paradise might beckon, but it only stretched on and on."
The vastness created logistical problems including worn out foot soldiers and dangerously overstretched supply lines. It also taxed the ability of the Luftwaffe to provide close cover for advancing ground troops, a vital ingredient in the Blitzkrieg formula.
On top of this, Russian resistance began to stiffen all over as the soldiers and people rallied behind Stalin in the defense of their Motherland. Stalin, at first overwhelmed by the magnitude of Barbarossa, had regained his bearings and publicly appealed for a "Great Patriotic War" against the Nazi invaders. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, he enacted ruthless measures, executing his top commander in the west and various field commanders who had been too eager to retreat.
Under Stalin's tight-fisted grip, the chaos and panic that had initially enveloped the Russian officer corps gradually subsided. Red Army commanders took heed from Stalin, instilling his 'fight to the death' mentality in their frontline soldiers. They set up new defensive positions, not to be yielded until every last soldier was killed. They also began their first-ever counter-attacks against the advancing Germans.
As a result, with each passing day the Germans began to lose momentum. They could no longer easily blow through the Russian defenses and had to be wary of counter-strikes. All the while, German foot soldiers were becoming increasingly fatigued. By August of 1941, it had become apparent to the Army High Command there would be no speedy victory. “The whole situation makes it increasingly plain that we have underestimated the Russian colossus,” General Franz Halder, Chief of the General Staff, had to admit.
Therefore the question now arose – what to do – follow the original battle plan for Barbarossa or make changes to adapt?
Army Group Center was presently about 200 miles from Moscow, poised for a massive assault. However, the original plan called for Army Groups North and South to stage the main attacks in Russia, with Army Group Center playing a supporting role until their tasks were completed, after which Moscow would be taken.
A majority of Hitler’s senior generals now implored him to scrap Barbarossa in favor of an all-out attack on Moscow. If the Russian capital fell, they argued, it would devastate Russian morale and knock out the country’s chief transportation hub. Russia’s days would surely be numbered.
The decision rested solely with the Supreme Commander.
In what was perhaps his single biggest decision of World War II, Hitler passed up the chance to attack Moscow during the summer of 1941. Instead, he clung to the original plan to crush Leningrad in the north and simultaneously seize the Ukraine in the south. This, Hitler lectured his generals, would be far more devastating to the Russians than the fall of Moscow. A successful attack in the north would wreck the city named after one of the founders of Soviet Russia, Vladimir Lenin. Attacking the south would destroy the Russian armies protecting the region and place vital agricultural and industrial areas in German hands.
Though they remained unconvinced, the generals dutifully halted the advance on Moscow and repositioned troops and tanks away from Army Group Center to aid Army Groups North and South. By late September, bolstered by the additional Panzer tanks, Army Group South successfully captured the city of Kiev in the Ukraine, taking 650,000 Russian prisoners. As Army Group North approached Leningrad, a beautiful old city with palaces that once belonged to the Czars, Hitler ordered the place flattened via massive aerial and artillery bombardments. Concerning the five million trapped inhabitants, he told his generals, “The problem of the survival of the population and of supplying it with food is one which cannot and should not be solved by us.”
Now, with Leningrad surrounded and the Ukraine almost taken, the generals implored Hitler to let them take Moscow before the onset of winter. This time Hitler consented, but only partly. He would allow an attack on Moscow, provided that Army Group North also completed the capture of Leningrad, while Army Group South advanced deeper into southern Russia toward Stalingrad, the city on the Volga River named after the Soviet dictator.
This meant German forces in Russia would be attacking simultaneously on three major fronts over two thousand miles long, stretching their manpower and resources to the absolute limit. Realizing the danger, the generals pleaded once more for permission to focus on Moscow alone and strike the city with overwhelming force. But Hitler said no.
In the meantime, German troops still holding outside Moscow had remained idle for nearly two months, waiting for orders to advance. When the push finally began on October 2, 1941, a noticeable chill already hung in the morning air, and in a few places, snowflakes wafted from the sky. The notorious Russian winter was just around the corner.
At first it appeared Moscow might be another easy success. Two Russian army groups defending the main approach were quickly encircled and broken up by motorized Germans who took 660,000 prisoners.
Confident the war in Russia was just about won, Hitler took a leap by announcing victory to the German people: “I declare today, and I declare it without any reservation, that the enemy in the East has been struck down and will never rise again…Behind our troops already lies a territory twice the size of the German Reich when I came to power in 1933.”
By mid-October, forward German units had advanced to within 40 miles of Moscow. Only 90,000 Russian soldiers stood between the German armies and the Soviet capital. The entire government, including Stalin himself, prepared to evacuate.
But then the weather turned.
The German Army had counted on a quick summertime victory in Russia and had therefore neglected to prepare for the brutal winter warfare it now faced. German medical officer Heinrich Haape recalled: “The cold relentlessly crept into our bodies, our blood, our brains. Even the sun seemed to radiate a steely cold and at night the blood red skies above the burning villages merely hinted a mockery of warmth.”
Heavy boots, overcoats, blankets and thick socks were desperately needed but were unavailable. As a result, thousands of frostbitten soldiers dropped out of their frontline units. Some divisions fell to fifty-percent of their fighting strength. Food supplies also ran low and the troops became malnourished. Mechanical failures worsened as tank and truck engines cracked from the cold while iced-up artillery and machine-guns jammed.
The once-mighty German military machine had now ground to a halt in Russia.
Frontline Russians noticed the change. A Soviet commander in the 19th Rifle Brigade recalled: "I remember very well the Germans in July 1941. They were confident, strong tall guys. They marched ahead with their sleeves rolled up and carrying their machine-guns. But later on they became miserable, crooked, snotty guys wrapped in woolen kerchiefs stolen from old women in villages...Of course, they were still firing and defending themselves, but they weren't the Germans we knew earlier in 1941."
Ignoring the plight of his frontline soldiers, Hitler insisted that Moscow could still be taken and ordered all available troops in the region to make one final thrust for victory. Beginning on December 1, 1941, German tank formations attacked from the north and south of the city while infantrymen moved in from the east. But the Russians were ready and waiting. The weather delays had given them time to bring in massive reinforcements, including 30 Siberian divisions specially trained for winter warfare. Wherever the Germans struck they encountered fierce resistance and faltered. They were also stricken by temperatures that plunged to 40 degrees below zero at night.
Hitler had pushed his troops beyond human endurance and now they paid a terrible price. On Saturday, December 6th, a hundred Russian divisions under the command of the Red Army's new leader, General Georgi Zhukov, counter-attacked the Germans all along the 200-mile front around Moscow. For the first time in the war, the Germans experienced Blitzkrieg in reverse, as overwhelming numbers of Russian tanks, planes and artillery tore them apart. The impact was devastating. By mid-December, German forces around Moscow, battered, cold and tremendously fatigued, were in full retreat and facing the possibility of being routed by the Russians.
Just six months earlier, the Germans had been poised to achieve the greatest victory of all time and change world history. Instead, they had succumbed to the greatest-ever comeback by their Russian foes. By now a quarter of all German troops in Russia, some 750,000 men, were either dead, wounded, missing or ill.
Reacting to the catastrophe he had caused, Hitler blamed the Wehrmacht's leadership, dismissing dozens of field commanders and senior generals, including Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Hitler then took that rank for himself, assuming personal day-to-day operational command of the Army, and promptly ordered all surviving troops in Russia to halt in their tracks and retreat not one step further, which they did. As a result, the Eastern Front gradually stabilized.
In the bloodied fields of snow around Moscow, Adolf Hitler had suffered a breathtaking defeat. The German Army would never be the same. The illusion of invincibility that had caused the world to shudder in the face of Nazi Germany had vanished forever – replaced now by a sliver of hope.
But for the populations of Eastern Europe and occupied Russia, there was much suffering yet to be endured. In cities and villages behind the front lines, Hitler's war of annihilation was fully underway, comprising the most savage episode in human history.
Because of his experiences in Vienna, World War One, the Münich putsch and in prison, Adolf Hitler dreamed of building a vast German Empire sprawling across Central and Eastern Europe. Lebensraum could only be obtained and sustained by waging a war of conquest against the Soviet Union: German security demanded it and Hitler's racial ideology required it. War, then, was essential. It was essential to Hitler the man as well as essential to Hitler's dream of a new Germany. In the end, most historians have reached the consensus that World War Two was Hitler's war (for more on Hitler, see Lecture 9 and Lecture 10). Unfortunately, although most western statesmen had sufficient warning that Hitler was a threat to a general European peace, they failed to rally their people and take a stand until it was too late.
I estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated [at Auschwitz] by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70% or 80% of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries. . . .The final solution of the Jewish Question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. It took from three to fifteen minutes to kill people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one-half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special commandos took off the rings and extracted gold from the teeth of corpses. . . .The way we selected our victims was as follows. . . . Those who were fit to work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. . . . We endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions, and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under clothes, but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated.
Soviet troops at the Brandenburg Gate
the Fuehrer inspects boy-soldiers
defending Berlin April 20, 1945
Hammer & Sickle atop the Reichstag
at Russian headquarters, Berlin May 9, 1945
“Semi-blind, his memory gone, he languished for 46 years in prison, and spent over half of that time in solitary confinement. At first, he was detained in cells with blackened windows, sentinels flashing torches on his face all night at half-hour intervals, and later in conditions only marginally more humane.“Occasionally, mankind remembered that he was there: at a time when political prisoners were being released as a token of humanity, the world knew that he was there in Spandau, and timid souls felt somehow the safer for it. In 1987 the news emerged that somebody had recently stolen the prisoner’s 1940s flying helmet, goggles, and fur-lined boots, and fevered minds imagined that these, his hallowed relics of 1941, might be used in some way to power a Nazi revival.“The prisoner himself had long forgotten what those relics had ever meant to him. The dark-red brick of Spandau prison in West Berlin was crumbling and decaying around him, and the windows were cracked or falling out of mouldering frames. He was the only prisoner left – alone, outliving all his fellows, his brain perhaps a last uncertain repository of names and promises and places, grim secrets that the victorious Four Powers might have expected him to take to the grave long before.“The prisoner was Rudolf Hess, the last of the “war criminals.” In May 1941 he had flown single-handedly to Scotland on a reckless parachute mission to end the bloodshed and bombing. Put on trial by the victors, he had been condemned to imprisonment in perpetuity for “Crimes against the Peace.” The Four Powers had expected him to die and thus seal off the wells of speculation about him, but this stubborn old man with the haunting eyes had by his very longevity thwarted them.“Few questions remained about the other Nazis. Hitler’s jaw bone was preserved in a Soviet glass jar; Ley’s brain was in Massachusetts; Bormann’s skeleton was found beneath the Berlin cobblestones; Mengele’s mortal remains were dis- and reinterred; Speer had joined the Greatest Architect. Dead, too, were Hess’s judges and prosecutors.Hess himself was the last living Nazi giant, the last enigma, unable to communicate with the outside world, forbidden to talk with his son about political events, his diary taken away from him each day to be destroyed, his letters censored and scissored to excise illicit content. The macabre Four Powers statute – ignored, in the event – ordained that upon his death his body was to be reduced to ashes in the crematorium at Dachau concentration camp. The bulldozers were already standing by to wreck Spandau jail within hours of his decease, so that no place of Nazi pilgrimage remained.“For forty years this Berlin charade was the sole remaining joint activity of the wartime Allied powers, a wordless political ballet performed by the Western democracies and high-stepping Red Army guards. Every thirty days the guard was rotated. Each time that the British or the American or the French came to hold the key, they could in theory have turned it and set this old man free. But they did not, because the ghosts of Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt were themselves the jailers. In the name of a Four Power agreement that had long since been dishonored, these ghosts kept Hess behind bars; and so Hitler’s deputy lived on in Spandau, mocking history and making a mockery of justice itself.“Despite everything, he became a martyr to a cause. Mankind dared not turn the key to set him free, and mankind did not know why.”Hess Family Grave - Recently Vandalized
I speculate, as many do, that Hess might well have meant to offer to factions friendly to the Third Reich within the British government a roadmap to the stars.
“Hess planned to meet the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon. He believed Hamilton to be an opponent of Winston Churchill, whom he held responsible for the outbreak of the war. His proposal of peace included returning all the western European countries conquered by Germany to their own national governments, but German police would remain in position. Germany would also pay back the cost of rebuilding these countries. In return, Britain would have to support the war against Soviet Russia. (…)“Churchill turned down the proposal for peace and held Hess as a prisoner of war in the Maryhill army barracks. Later Hess was transferred to Mytchett Place near Aldershot. The house was fitted out with microphones and sound recording equipment. Frank Foley and two other MI6 officers were given the job of debriefing Hess —”Jonathan”, as he was now known. Churchill’s instructions were that Hess should be strictly isolated and that every effort should be taken to get any information out of him that might be useful.“Controversy surrounds the case of whether Hitler knew of Hess’ plans to make peace with Britain. It is known that Hess had been getting flying lessons in a personalized Messerschmitt aircraft in the early stages of this preparation. He was accompanied by Hitler’s personal pilot, Hans Baur.Lured into a trap?“There is circumstantial evidence which suggests that Hess was lured to Scotland by the British secret service. Violet Roberts, whose nephew, Walter Roberts was a close relative of the Duke of Hamilton and was working in the political intelligence and propaganda branch of the Secret Intelligence Service (SO1/PWE), was friends with Hess’s mentor Karl Haushofer and wrote a letter to Haushofer, which Hess took great interest in prior to his flight.“According to data published in a book about Wilhelm Canaris, the head of German intelligence, a number of contacts between England and Germany were kept during the war. It cannot be known, however, whether these were direct contacts on specific affairs or an intentional confusion created between secret services for the purpose of deception. (…)“Certain documents Hess brought with him to Britain were to be sealed until 2017 but when the seal was broken in 1991-92 they were missing. Edvard Bene_, head of the Czechoslovak Government in Exile and his intelligence chief Franti_ek Moravec, who worked with SO1/PWE, speculated that British Intelligence used Haushofer’s reply to Violet Roberts as a means to trap Hess.“The fact that the files concerning Hess will be kept closed to the public until 2016 does allow the debate to continue, since without these files the existing theories cannot be fully verified.
“I had the privilege of working for many years of my life under the greatest son my nation has brought forth in its thousand-year history. Even if I could, I would not wish to expunge this time from my life. I am happy to know that I have done my duty toward my people, my duty as a German, as a National Socialist, as a loyal follower of my Führer. I regret nothing. No matter what people may do, one day I shall stand before the judgment seat of God Eternal. I will answer to Him, and I know that He will absolve me.”
“Keeping one man in Spandau cost the West German government about 850,000 marks a year. In addition, each of the four Allied powers had to provide an officer and 37 soldiers during their respective shifts, as well as a director and team of wardens throughout the entire year. The permanent maintenance staff of 22 included cooks, waitresses and cleaners.“In the final years of his life, Hess was a weak and frail old man, blind in one eye, who walked stooped forward with a cane. He lived in virtually total isolation according to a strictly regulated daily routine. Regulations stipulated that prison officials could not ever call Hess by name. He was addressed only as “Prisoner No. 7.”
“Every year after Hess’s death, nationalists from Germany and the rest of Europe gathered in Wunsiedel for a memorial march. Similar demonstrations took place around the anniversary of Hess’s death. These gatherings were banned from 1991 to 2000 and nationalists tried to assemble in other cities and countries (such as the Netherlands and Denmark). Demonstrations in Wunsiedel were again legalised in 2001. Over 5,000 nationalists marched in 2003, with around 7,000 in 2004, marking some of the biggest national demonstrations in Germany since 1945. After stricter German legislation regarding demonstrations by nationalists was enacted in March 2005 the demonstrations were banned again.Roosevelt Telegram to Churchill
German Occupation of Europe Timeline
What the Allies knew
Jews of the Channel Islands
The Polish Fortnightly Review
(Editor's note, the date in this caption was in error, these rocket launchers were not deployed until later in the war.) Soviet rocket launchers fire as German forces attack the USSR on June 22, 1941. (AFP/Getty Images) #An Sd.Kfz-250 half-track in front of German tank units, as they prepare for an attack, on July 21, 1941, somewhere along the Russian warfront, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. (AP Photo) #A German half-track driver inside an armored vehicle in Russia in August of 1941. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #German infantrymen watch enemy movements from their trenches shortly before an advance inside Soviet territory, on July 10, 1941. (AP Photo) #German Stuka dive-bombers, in flight heading towards their target over coastal territory between Dniepr and Crimea, towards the Gate of the Crimea on November 6, 1941. (AP Photo) #German soldiers cross a river, identified as the Don river, in a stormboat, sometime in 1941, during the German invasion of the Caucasus region in the Soviet Union. (AP Photo) #German soldiers move a horse-drawn vehicle over a corduroy road while crossing a wetland area, in October 1941, near Salla on Kola Peninsula, a Soviet-occupied region in northeast Finland. (AP Photo) #With a burning bridge across the Dnieper river in the background, a German sentry keeps watch in the recently-captured city of Kiev, in 1941. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #Machine gunners of the far eastern Red Army in the USSR, during the German invasion of 1941. (LOC) #A German bomber, with its starboard engine on fire, goes down over an unknown location, during World War II, in November, 1941. (AP Photo) #Nazi troops lie concealed in the undergrowth during the fighting prior to the capture of Kiev, Ukraine, in 1941. (AP Photo) #Evidence of Soviet resistance in the streets of Rostov, a scene in late 1941, encountered by the Germans as they entered the heavily besieged city. (AP Photo) #Russian soldiers, left, hands clasped to heads, marched back to the rear of the German lines on July 2, 1941, as aRussian men and women rescue their humble belongings from their burning homes, said to have been set on fire by the Russians, part of a scorched-earth policy, in a Leningrad suburb on October 21, 1941. (AP Photo) #Generally speaking, the Soviets followed a gradual approach in tank design, modifying a proven design rather than starting from scratch.The Soviet Union produced a large number of tank designs in the period between the two world wars. Early Russian experiments with AFVs in World War I had been limited to armored cars, such as the Austin Putilov. Based on a British chassis, it had entered service early in World War I. Lacking the industrial base of the other major military powers, the Russians concentrated in the postwar period on light tanks of simple design. Their first tanks were a few British and French models captured by the Bolshevik forces (known as the Reds) from their opponents (the Whites) during the Russian Civil War. The first Russian-built tank appeared in August 1920. It weighed some 15,700 pounds and had armor up to 16mm thick.With no tank design experience of their own, the Russians came to rely on the Germans in this regard. The new Bolshevik government of Russia and Weimar Germany found themselves at odds with the Western powers after World War I, and in 1922 at Rapallo the two governments normalized relations. Following this the two states undertook a clandestine military collaboration that included a German- Soviet tank-testing facility at Kazan in the Soviet Union. This gave the Germans an opportunity to carry out tank development in violation of the Versailles treaty, and the Soviets gained access to German technological and design developments.Although its designers had their own plans, the Soviet Union, in order to take advantage of new developments abroad, purchased a number of prototype tanks from other countries, including the Vickers tanks from Britain and Christie designs from the United States. The Vickers 6-Ton was the license-built Soviet T-26A. The T-26 of 1931 appeared in A and B versions. The A version, designed for infantry support, had twin turrets. The first production model mounted one 7.62mm machine gun in each turret. A follow-on mounted first a 27mm gun and then a 37mm gun in the right turret. The T-26A weighed some 19,000 pounds and had a crew of three. Powered by an 88-hp gasoline engine, it had a maximum speed of 22 mph. It had maximum 15mm armor protection.The single-turret T-26B version was intended as a mechanized cavalry AFV and mounted a high-velocity gun. The initial model mounted a single 37mm gun; follow-on models mounted a 45mm main gun. Despite their obsolescence, Soviet T-26 tanks fought in the early battles on the Eastern Front during World War II.The Soviet Union also purchased the light Vickers/Carden-Loyd tankette that the British abandoned. The Soviets enlarged it and put it into production in 1934. Some 1,200 were made as the T-37 light amphibious reconnaissance tank. The T-37 employed the Vickers hull and suspension married to a turret of Soviet design. A small propeller at the rear of the tank pushed it through water. Weighing some 7,100 pounds and capable of being air-lifted beneath a bomber, it had a 40-hp engine and could reach 21 mph on the road. It mounted a single 7.62mm machine gun and had only 10mm armor.An improved T-37 appeared in the T-38, produced beginning in 1936. Basically the T-37 in terms of armament and armor, it had an improved engine, transmission, and suspension. The T-38 remained in service until 1942.The final tank in this immediate series of light amphibians was the T-40. Quite different in appearance from its predecessors, the T- 40’s hull incorporated buoyancy tanks and had an upswept bow front similar to the later PT-76. It also had a small, sloped turret and was propelled in water by means of a small propeller. The T-40S version was simply a light tank without the amphibian feature. The T- 40 weighed some 12,300 pounds and had a two-man crew. It was armed with two machine guns, or a 20mm cannon and one machine gun. It had an 85-hp engine and was capable of 38 mph. The T-40 influenced the later T-60 and T-70 light tanks, the latter serving into the Cold War.The U.S. Christie designs and French tanks introduced a sprung bogie suspension system in place of a rigid system. This enabled increased speed without sacrificing armor or requiring an increase in the size of the power plant. This appealed to Soviet designers, and they copied the Christie M-1931 in their BT series of fast tanks (“BT” standing for bystrochodny tankovy, literally “fast tank”). The Soviet BT-1 was an exact reproduction of the Christie. The BT-1 weighed some 20,000 pounds, had a crew of three, and had top speeds of 65 mph on wheels and 40 mph on tracks. It mounted two machine guns and had maximum 13mm armor protection.Soon the Soviet Union was producing large numbers of BT tanks. The follow-on BT-2 was essentially the same hull as the BT-1 but with a new turret and a 37mm main gun and one machine gun. It was still in service in World War II. The BT-3, introduced in 1934, was essentially the BT-2 but with solid-disk road wheels instead of spoked wheels and a 45mm main gun instead of the 37mm.The BT-5 incorporated a number of improvements, chiefly in its lightweight 350-hp gasoline engine, originally an aircraft design. Entering production in 1935, the tank itself weighed some 25,300 pounds, had a crew of three, maximum 13mm armor, and could reach 40 mph on tracks. The BT-5 was armed with a 45mm main gun and one machine gun. It formed the basis of Soviet armored formations of the late 1930s. It was in fact superior in almost all performance characteristics to the German PzKpfw I, which mounted only two machine guns. The two tanks came up against one another in the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939.The follow-on BT-7 of 1937 was essentially an improved BT-5 incorporating sloped armor. The BT-7 was heavier and slower than the BT-5, reflecting the race between guns and armor and increasing concern about the lethality of antitank guns. Weighing some 30,600 pounds and crewed by three men, it utilized a new engine and had increased fuel capacity. Its two-man turret continued the 45mm main-gun armament. Armor thickness was a maximum 22mm.BT-1S MEDIUM TANK Final development of the BT series, this vehicle was built as a prototype only and was based on the BT-7M but was given sloped side armour as well as the sloping glacis. It retained the conical turret of the BT-7-2 and had removable side skirts. This was an important development vehicle in the evolution of the T-34 tank and was the first Soviet tank with all-sloped armour 15.6tons; crew 3; 45mm gun plus MG; armour 6-30mm; engine (diesel) 500hp; 40mph; 18.98ft x 7.5ft x 7.5ft.Following experience gained in the Spanish Civil War, the BT-7’s armor was increased, and it received a new engine. The resulting BT-7M medium tank, also known as the BT-8, was produced only in limited numbers. The hull was modified and included a new fullwidth, well-sloped front glacis plate instead of the faired nose of the earlier BT series. The BT-7M also mounted a 76mm gun and two machine guns.BT-7 tanks played a key role in the Soviet victory against the Japanese in the Battle of Nomonhan/Khalkhin Gol during May–September 1939. BT variants included command tanks, bridge-laying tanks, and a few flamethrower tanks. The BT-7 was certainly the most important Soviet tank in September 1939.The final BT-series tank, the BT-1S, appeared in prototype only. Employing sloping side armor and glacis, the BT-1S also had removable side skirts. The first Soviet tank with all-sloping armor, it was an important step forward to the T-34.The first indigenous Soviet medium tank design, the T-28, incorporated multiple turrets and was intended for an independent breakthrough role. Inspired by the Vickers A6 (its suspension was a clear copy) and German Grosstraktor designs, it grew out of the 1932 Red Army mechanization plan and was first produced by the Leningrad Kirov Plant. Intended for an attack role, the T-28 had a central main gun turret and two machine-gun turrets in front and to either side. The T-28 weighed 28,560 pounds, had a six-man crew, and was powered by a 500-hp engine and had a road speed of 23 mph. It had only 30mm maximum armor protection. The prototype mounted a 45mm gun, but production vehicles had a 76.2mm low-velocity main gun and two machine guns. Combat experience with the T-28 led to changes. Armor was increased on the C version to 80mm for the hull front and turret. Some T-28s substituted a low-velocity 45mm gun in the right front turret for the machine gun normally carried there. The T-28 had a poor combat record, however.The Soviets also came up with a number of heavy tanks. Indeed, from the early 1930s Soviet heavy tank design was dominated by multiturret “land battleships,” many of which saw service in the 1939–1940 Winter War with Finland and even into the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union. Among these was the T-35 heavy tank with five turrets. Weighing some 110,200 pounds, the T- 35 had a crew of 11 and was powered by a 500-hp engine that gave it a speed of nearly 19 mph. It had only maximum 30mm armor protection, however. The T-35 mounted a 76mm gun, two 45mm guns, and six machine guns.The Soviet experimental SMK (Sergius Mironovitch Kirov) heavy tank (with two turrets, one superimposed), which never went into production, was even larger. Weighing 58 tons, it had a 500-hp engine, a crew of seven, and 60mm armor, double that of the T-35. It was capable of 15 mph. Armament consisted of a 76mm gun, a 45mm gun, and three machine guns. Although these huge machines proved no match for the more nimble German tanks and artillery in 1941, the turrets, guns, and suspension systems developed for them did find their way into the KV series of heavy tanks.Ultimately the strain on their production facilities forced the Soviets to decide between a few monster tanks or more numerous smaller ones. They opted for continuation of the BT series and one heavy tank, the KV-1. The Soviets and the Germans recognized what the British and Americans did not: at least some of the tanks in a nation’s armor inventory needed to mount heavier guns capable of firing shells in order to engage and destroy enemy tanks. Both Germany and the Soviet Union settled on the 75mm (2.9-inch) gun or 76mm (3-inch) gun as their chief heavy weapon; the biggest tank gun in most other national armies was a 47mm (1.85-inch) gun or smaller.In the late 1930s the Soviet Union, not Germany, was the nation most interested in massive armor formations. It also possessed by far the largest number of armored fighting vehicles of any nation. In June 1941 the Soviet Union had 23,140 tanks (10,394 in the West), whereas the invading Germans had only about 6,000. Besides the advantage in numbers, the Soviets also had some of the best tanks in the world. During the war the Soviet Union built more tanks than any other power; these included a wide range of AFVs, from light to heavy tanks.At the beginning of World War II the Soviets possessed a large number of their medium BT-series tanks, chiefly BT-5s and BT-7s. These and the Soviet T-26s were superior in armor, firepower, and maneuverability to the German light PzKpfw Marks III and IV and could destroy any German tank. The Russian T-34 medium introduced in 1941 and KV-1 heavy tank introduced in 1940 both mounted the 76.2mm (3-inch) gun and were superior to the PzKpfws III and IV and every other German tank in 1941.Reindeer graze on an airfield in Finland on July 26, 1941. In the background a German war plane takes off. (AP Photo) #Heinrich Himmler (left, in glasses), head of the Gestapo and the Waffen-SS, inspects a prisoner-of-war camp in this from 1940-41 in Russia. (National Archives) #Evidence of the fierce fighting on the Moscow sector of the front is provided in this photo showing what the Germans claim to be some of the 650,000 Russian prisoners which they captured at Bryansk and Vyasma. They are here seen waiting to be transported to a prisoner of war camp somewhere in Russia, on Nov. 2, 1941. (AP Photo) #Adolf Hitler, center, studies a Russian war map with General Field Marshal Walter Von Brauchitsch, left, German commander in chief, and Chief of Staff Col. General Franz Halder, on August 7, 1941. (AP Photo) #German soldiers, supported by armored personnel carriers, move into a burning Russian village at an unknown location during the German invasion of the Soviet Union, on June 26, 1941. (AP Photo) #A huge Russian gun on tracks, likely a 203 mm howitzer M1931, is manned by its crew in a well-concealed position on the Russian front on September 15, 1941. (AP Photo) #Rapidly advancing German forces encountered serious guerrilla resistance behind their front lines. Here, four guerrillas with fixed bayonets and a small machine gun are seen in action, near a small village. (LOC) #Red Army soldiers examine war trophies captured in battles with invading Germans, somewhere in Russia, on September 19, 1941. (AP Photo) #A view of the destruction in Riga, the capital of Latvia, on October 3, 1941, after the wave of war had passed over it, the Russians had withdrawn and it was in Nazi hands. (AP Photo) #Five Soviet civilians on a platform, with nooses around their necks, about to be hanged by German soldiers, near the town of Velizh in the Smolensk region, in September of 1941. (LOC) #A Finnish troop train passes through a scene of an earlier explosion which wrecked one train, tearing up the rails and embankment, on October 19, 1941. (AP Photo) #Burning houses, ruins and wrecks speak for the ferocity of the battle preceding this moment when German forces entered the stubbornly defended industrial center of Rostov on the lower Don River, in Russia, on November 22, 1941. (AP Photo) #General Heinz Guderian, commander of Germany's Panzergruppe 2, chats with members of a tank crew on the Russian front, on September 3, 1941. (AP Photo) #German soldiers remove one of many Soviet national emblems during their drive to conquer Russia on July 18, 1941. (AP Photo) #A man, his wife, and child are seen after they had left Minsk on August 9, 1941, when the German army swarmed in. The original wartime caption reads, in part: "Hatred for the Nazis burns in the man's eyes as he holds his little child, while his wife, completely exhausted, lies on the pavement." (AP Photo) #German officials claimed that this photo was a long-distance camera view of Leningrad, taken from the Germans' seige lines, on October 1, 1941, the dark shapes in the sky were identified as Soviet aircraft on patrol, but were more likely barrage balloons. This would mark the furthest advance into the city for the Germans, who laid seige to Leningrad for more than two more years, but were unable to fully capture the city. (AP Photo) #A flood of Russian armored cars move toward the front, on October 19, 1941. (AP Photo) #German Army Commander Colonel General Ernst Busch inspects an anti-aircraft gun position, somewhere in Germany, on Sept. 3, 1941. (AP Photo) #Finnish soldiers storm a soviet bunker on August 10, 1941. One of the Soviet bunker's crew surrenders, left. (AP Photo) #German troops make a hasty advance through a blazing Leningrad suburb, in Russia on Nov. 24, 1941. (AP Photo) #Russian prisoners of war, taken by the Germans on July 7, 1941. (AP Photo) #An column of Russian prisoners of war taken during recent fighting in Ukraine, on their way to a Nazi prison camp on September 3, 1941. (AP Photo) #German mechanized troops rest at Stariza, Russia on November 21, 1941, only just evacuated by the Russians, before continuing the fight for Kiev. The gutted buildings in the background testify to the thoroughness of the Russians "scorched earth" policy. (AP Photo) #German infantrymen force their way into a snipers hide-out, where Russians had been firing upon advancing German troops, on September 1, 1941. (AP Photo) #Two Russian soldiers, now prisoners of war, inspect a giant statue of Lenin, somewhere in Russia, torn from its pedestal and smashed by the Germans in their advance, on August 9, 1941. Note the rope round the neck of the statue, left there in symbolic fashion by the Germans. (AP Photo) #German sources described the gloomy looking officer at the right as a captured Russian colonel who is being interrogated by Nazi officers on October 24, 1941. (AP Photo) #Flames shoot high from burning buildings in the background as German troops enter the city of Smolensk, in the central Soviet Union, during their offensive drive onto the capital Moscow, in August of 1941. (AP Photo) #This trainload of men was described by German sources as Soviet prisoners en route to Germany, on October 3, 1941. Several million Soviet soldiers were eventually sent to German prison camps, the majority of whom never returned alive. (AP Photo) #Russian snipers leave their hide-out in a wheat field, somewhere in Russia, on August 27, 1941, watched by German soldiers. In foreground is a disabled soviet tank. (AP Photo) #
German infantrymen in heavy winter gear march next to horse-drawn vehicles as they pass through a district near Moscow, in November 1941. Winter conditions strained an already thin supply line, and forced Germany to halt its advance - leaving soldiers exposed to the elements and Soviet counterattacks, resulting in heavy casualties and a serious loss of momentum in the war. (AP Photo) #
The war on the Eastern Front, known to Russians as the "Great Patriotic War", was the scene of the largest military confrontation in history. More than 400 Red Army and German divisions clashed in a series of military operations over four years, along a front that extended more than 1,000 miles. Some 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians and nearly 4 million German troops lost their lives along the Eastern Front during those years of brutality. The warfare there was total and ferocious -- the largest armored clashes in history (Battle of Kursk), the most costly siege on a modern city (nearly 900 days in Leningrad), scorched earth policies, utter devastation of thousands of villages, mass deportations, mass executions, and countless atrocities attributed to both sides. To make things even more complex, forces within the Soviet Union were often fractured among themselves -- early in the war, some groups had even welcomed the Germans as liberators from their mistreatment under Stalin, and fought against the Red Army. Later, as battles became desperate, Stalin issued Order No. 227, "Not a Step Back!", which forbid Soviet forces from retreating without direct orders -- commanders would face a tribunal, and foot soldiers faced "blocking detachments" from their own army, ready to gun down any who fled. The photos gathered here cover much of the years of 1942-1943, from the siege of Leningrad to the decisive Soviet victories in Stalingrad and Kursk. The vastness of the scale of the warfare is nearly unimaginable, and nearly impossible to capture in a handful of images, so take these as a mere glimpse of the horrors of the Eastern Front. (This entry is Part 14 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)
Sometime in the Autumn of 1942, Soviet soldiers advance through the rubble of Stalingrad. (Georgy Zelma/Waralbum.ru)
Sometime in the Autumn of 1942, Soviet soldiers advance through the rubble of Stalingrad. (Georgy Zelma/Waralbum.ru) The commander of a Cossack unit on active service in the Kharkov region, Ukraine, on June 21, 1942, watching the progress of his troops. (AP Photo) #The crew of a German anti-tank gun, ready for action at the Russian front in late 1942. (AP Photo) #This photo, taken in the winter months of 1942, shows citizens of Leningrad as they dip for water from a broken main, during the nearly 900-day siege of the Russian city by German invaders. Unable to capture the Leningrad (today known as Saint Petersburg), the Germans cut it off from the world, disrupting utilities and shelling the city heavily for more than two years. (AP Photo) #A farewell in Leningrad, in the spring of 1942. The German Siege of Leningrad caused widespread starvation among citizens, and lack of medical supplies and facilities made illnesses and injuries far more deadly. Some 1.5 million soldiers and civilians died in Leningrad during the siege - nearly the same number were evacuated, and many of them did not survive the trip due to starvation, illness, or bombing. (Vsevolod Tarasevich/Waralbum.ru) #Evidence of the bitter street fighting which took place during the occupation of Rostov, Russia by German forces in August of 1942. (AP Photo) #A German motorized artillery column crossing the Don river by means of a pontoon bridge on July 31, 1942. Wrecked equipment and materiel of all kinds lies strewn around as the crossing is made. (AP Photo) #A Russian woman watches building burn sometime in 1942. (NARA) #Warning:
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Click to view imageAn execution of Jews in Kiev, carried out by German soldiers near Ivangorod, Ukraine, sometime in 1942. This photo was mailed from the Eastern Front to Germany and intercepted at a Warsaw post office by a member of the Polish resistance collecting documentation on Nazi war crimes. The original print was owned by Tadeusz Mazur and Jerzy Tomaszewski and now resides in Historical Archives in Warsaw. The original German inscription on the back of the photograph reads, "Ukraine 1942, Jewish Action [operation], Ivangorod." #A German soldier with a machine gun during the Battle of Stalingrad, in Spring of 1942. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #German soldiers crossing a Russian River on their tank on August 3, 1942. (AP Photo) #Warning:
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Click to view imageAfter having occupied a village on the Leningrad sector in 1942, Soviet forces discovered 38 bodies of Soviet soldiers that had been taken prisoner by the Germans and apparently tortured to death. (AP Photo) #This picture, received by the Associated Press on September 25, 1942 through a neutral source, shows a bomb falling after it has just left the plane on its descent to Stalingrad below. (AP Photo) #Three Russian war orphans stand amid the remains of what was once their home, in late 1942. After German forces destroyed the family's house, they took the parents as prisoners, leaving the children abandoned. (AP Photo) #A German armored car amidst the debris of the Soviet fortress Sevastopol in Ukraine on August 4, 1942. (AP Photo) #Stalingrad in October of 1942, Soviet soldiers fighting in the ruins of the factory "Red October". (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #Antitank gun crews of the Red Army prepare to fire against approaching German tank units, on an unknown battlefield, on October 13, 1942, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. (AP Photo) #In October of 1942, a German Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bomber attacks during the Battle of Stalingrad. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #A German tank rolls up to its defeated enemy tank which burns near the edge of a patch of woods, somewhere in Russia, on October 20, 1942. (AP Photo) #German soldiers advance outside Stalingrad late in 1942. (NARA) #Sometime in the Autumn 1942, a German soldier hangs a Nazi flag from a building in downtown Stalingrad. (NARA) #While Russian forces drive around behind them, threatening encirclement, the Germans continue their attempt to take Stalingrad. A Stuka raid on the factory district of Stalingrad is seen in this photo, taken on November 24, 1942. (AP Photo) #A scene of devastation as an abandoned horse stands among the ruins of Stalingrad in December of 1942. (AP Photo) #A tank cemetery which the Germans are stated to have established at Rzhev on December 21, 1942. Some 2,000 tanks were said to be in this cemetery in various stages of disrepair. (AP Photo) #German troops pass through a wrecked generating station in the factory district of Stalingrad, on December 28, 1942. (AP Photo) #Ruins of part of the city of Stalingrad, on November 5, 1942, following huge battles, with wrecked shells of buildings on either side. (AP Photo) #Standing in the backyard of an abandoned house in the outskirts of the besieged city of Leningrad, a rifleman of the Red Army aims and fires his machine gun at German positions on December 16, 1942. (AP Photo) #In January of 1943, a Soviet T-34 tank roars through the Square of Fallen Fighters in Stalingrad. (Georgy Zelma/Waralbum.ru) #Soviet soldiers in camouflage winter uniforms line up along the roof of a house in Stalingrad, in January of 1943. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #Soviet soldiers find cover in piles of rubble from blasted buildings while engaging German forces in street fighting on the outskirts of Stalingrad in early 1943. (AP Photo) #German troops involved in street fighting in the destroyed streets of Stalingrad in early 1943. (AP Photo) #Red Army soldiers in camouflage gear on a snow-covered battlefield, somewhere along the German-Russian war front, as they advance against German positions on March 3, 1943. (AP Photo) #Soviet infantrymen move across snow-covered hills around Stalingrad, on their advance to lift the German siege of the city in early 1943. The Red Army eventually encircled the German Sixth Army, trapping nearly 300,000 German and Romanian soldiers in a narrow pocket. (AP Photo) #In February of 1943, a Soviet soldier stands guard behind a captured German soldier. Months after being encircled by the Soviets in Stalingrad, the remnants of the German Sixth Army surrendered, after fierce fighting and starvation had already claimed the lives of some 200,000. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #Germany's Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus at Red Army Headquarters for interrogation at Stalingrad, Russia, on March 1, 1943. Paulus was the first German Field Marshal taken prisoner in the war, defying Hitler's expectations that he fight until death (or take his own life in defeat). Paulus eventually became a vocal critic of the Nazi regime while in Soviet captivity, and later acted as a witness for the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials. (AP Photo) #Red Army soldiers in a trench as a Russian T-34 tank passes over them in 1943, during the Battle of Kursk. (Mark Markov-Grinberg/Waralbum.ru) #Warning:
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Click to view imageBodies of dead German soldiers lie sprawled across a roadside southwest of Stalingrad, on April 14, 1943. (AP Photo) #Soviet soldiers, on their backs, launch a volley of bullets at enemy aircraft in June of 1943. (Waralbum.ru) #In mid-July of 1943, "Tiger" tanks of the German Army during the heavy fighting south of Orel, during the Battle of Kursk. From July until August of 1943, the region around Kursk would see the largest series of armored battles in history, as Germans brought some 3,000 of their tanks to engage more than 5,000 Soviet tanks. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #Huge numbers of German tanks concentrate for a new attack on Soviet fortifications on July 28, 1943, during the Battle of Kursk. After taking months to prepare for the offensive, German forces fell far short of their objectives - the Soviets, having been aware of their plans, had built massive defenses. After the German defeat at Kursk, the Red Army would effectively have the upper hand for the rest of the war. (AP Photo) #German soldiers march before a "Tiger" tank during the Battle of Kursk in June or July of 1943. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #A Russian anti-tank gun crew advances towards the German positions under cover of a smoke screen, somewhere in Russia, on July 23, 1943. (AP Photo) #Captured German tanks southwest of Stalingrad, shown on April 14, 1943. (AP Photo) #A Soviet lieutenant hands cigarettes to German prisoners somewhere near Kursk, in July of 1943. (Michael Savin/Waralbum.ru) #
The ruins of Stalingrad -- nearly completely destroyed after some six months of brutal warfare -- seen from an aircraft after the end of hostilities, in late 1943. (Michael Savin/Waralbum.ru)
The Fall of Nazi Germany
After the successful Allied invasions of western France, Germany gathered reserve forces and launched a massive counter-offensive in the Ardennes, which collapsed by January. At the same time, Soviet forces were closing in from the east, invading Poland and East Prussia. By March, Western Allied forces were crossing the Rhine River, capturing hundreds of thousands of troops from Germany's Army Group B, and the Red Army had entered Austria, both fronts quickly approaching Berlin. Strategic bombing campaigns by Allied aircraft were pounding German territory, sometimes destroying entire cities in a night. In the first several months of 1945, Germany put up a fierce defense, but was rapidly losing territory, running out of supplies, and running low on options. In April, Allied forces pushed through the German defensive line in Italy, and East met West on the River Elbe on April 25, 1945, when Soviet and American troops met near Torgau, Germany. Then came the end of the Third Reich, as the Soviets took Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, and Germany surrendered unconditionally on all fronts by May 8 (May 7 on the Western Front). Hitler's planned "Thousand Year Reich" lasted only 12 incredibly destructive years.
"Raising a flag over the Reichstag" the famous photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei, taken on May 2, 1945. The photo shows Soviet soldiers raising the flag of the Soviet Union on top of the German Reichstag building following the Battle of Berlin. The moment was actually a re-enactment of an earlier flag-raising, and the photo was embroiled in controversy over the identities of the soldiers, the photographer, and some significant photo editing. More about this image from Wikipedia. (Yevgeny Khaldei/LOC)"Raising a flag over the Reichstag" the famous photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei, taken on May 2, 1945. The photo shows Soviet soldiers raising the flag of the Soviet Union on top of the German Reichstag building following the Battle of Berlin. The moment was actually a re-enactment of an earlier flag-raising, and the photo was embroiled in controversy over the identities of the soldiers, the photographer, and some significant photo editing. More about this image from Wikipedia. (Yevgeny Khaldei/LOC)A group of Hitler youth receive instruction in the use of a machine-gun, somewhere in Germany, on December 27, 1944. (AP Photo) #A formation of B-24s of Maj. General Nathan F. Twining's U.S. Army 15th Air Force thunders over the railway yards of Salzburg, Austria, on December 27, 1944. The smoke created by their bombs mingles with that from the enemy's many smudge pots. (AP Photo) #A heavily armed German soldier carries ammunition boxes forward during the German counter-offensive in the Belgium-Luxembourg salient, on January 2, 1945. (AP Photo) #An infantryman from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division goes out on a one-man sortie while covered by a comrade in the background, near Bra, Belgium, on December 24, 1944. (AP Photo) #A Soviet machine gun crew crosses a river along the second Baltic front, in January of 1945. The soldier on the left is holding his rifle overhead while his comrades push a floating device with the artillery gun forward, followed by two men with several supply boxes. (AP Photo) #Low flying C-47 transport planes roar overhead as they carry supplies to the besieged American Forces battling the Germans at Bastogne, during the enemy breakthrough on January 6, 1945 in Belgium. In the distance, smoke rises from wrecked German equipment, while in the foreground, American tanks move up to support the infantry in the fighting. (AP Photo) #Warning:
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Click to view imageThe bodies of some of the seven American soldiers that had been shot in the face by an SS trooper are recovered from the snow, searched for identification and carried away on stretcher for burial on January 25, 1945. (AP Photo/Peter J. Carroll) #These German soldiers stand in the debris strewn street of Bastogne, Belgium, on January 9, 1945, after they were captured by the U.S. 4th Armored Division which helped break the German siege of the city. (AP Photo) #Refugees stand in a group in a street in La Gleize, Belgium on January 2, 1945, waiting to be transported from the war-torn town after its recapture by American Forces during the German thrust in the Belgium-Luxembourg salient. (AP Photo/Peter J. Carroll) #A dead German soldier, killed during the German counter offensive in the Belgium-Luxembourg salient, is left behind on a street corner in Stavelot, Belgium, on January 2, 1945, as fighting moves on during the Battle of the Bulge. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps) #From left, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin sit on the patio of Livadia Palace, Yalta, Crimea, in this February 4, 1945 photo. The three leaders were meeting to discuss the post-war reorganization of Europe, and the fate of post-war Germany. (AP Photo/File) #Soviet troops of the 3rd Ukrainian front in action amid the buildings of the Hungarian capital on February 5, 1945. (AP Photo) #Across the Channel, Britain was being struck by continual bombardment by thousands of V-1 and V-2 bombs launched from German-controlled territory. This photo, taken from a fleet street roof-top, shows a V-1 flying bomb "buzzbomb" plunging toward central London. The distinctive sky-line of London's law-courts clearly locates the scene of the incident. Falling on a side road off Drury Lane, this bomb blasted several buildings, including the office of the Daily Herald. The last enemy action of British soil was a V-1 attack that struck Datchworth in Hertfordshire, on March 29 1945. (AP Photo) #With more and more members of the Volkssturm (Germany's National Militia) being directed to the front line, German authorities were experiencing an ever-increasing strain on their stocks of army equipment and clothing. In a desperate attempt to overcome this deficiency, street to street collection depots called the Volksopfer, meaning Sacrifice of the people, scoured the country, collecting uniforms, boots and equipment from German civilians, as seen here in Berlin on February 12, 1945. The Volksopfer bears the words "The Fuhrer expects your sacrifice for Army and Home Guard. So that you're proud your Home Guard man can show himself in uniform - empty your wardrobe and bring its contents to us". (AP Photo) #Warning:
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Click to view imageThree U.S. infantrymen look over the bodies of a number of dead German soldiers arranged in rows before an unidentified building in Echternach, Luxembourg, about 25 miles south of Pruem, on February 21, 1945. (AP Photo) #A party sets out to repair telephone lines on the main road in Kranenburg on February 22, 1945, amid four-foot deep floods caused by the bursting of Dikes by the retreating Germans. During the floods, British troops further into Germany have had their supplies brought by amphibious vehicles. (AP Photo) #This combination of three photographs shows the reaction of a 16-year old German soldier after he was captured by U.S. forces, at an unknown location in Germany, in 1945. (AP Photo) #Flak bursts through the vapor trails from B-17 flying fortresses of the 15th air force during the attack on the rail yards at Graz, Austria, on March 3, 1945. (AP Photo) #A view taken from Dresden's town hall of the destroyed Old Town after the allied bombings between February 13 and 15, 1945. Some 3,600 aircraft dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the German city. The resulting firestorm destroyed 15 square miles of the city center, and killed more than 22,000. (Walter Hahn/AFP/Getty Images) #Warning:
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Click to view imageA large stack of corpses is cremated in Dresden, Germany, after the British-American air attack between February 13 and 15, 1945. The bombing of Dresden has been questioned in post-war years, with critics claiming the area bombing of the historic city center (as opposed to the industrial suburbs) was not justified militarily. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Army storm into Coblenz, Germany, as a dead comrade lies against the wall, on March 18, 1945. (AP Photo/Byron H. Rollins) #Men of the American 7th Army pour through a breach in the Siegfried Line defenses, on their way to Karlsruhe, Germany on March 27, 1945, which lies on the road to Stuttgart. (AP Photo) #Pfc. Abraham Mirmelstein of Newport News, Virginia, holds the Holy Scroll as Capt. Manuel M. Poliakoff, and Cpl. Martin Willen, of Baltimore, Maryland, conduct services in Schloss Rheydt, former residence of Dr. Joseph Paul Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, in Münchengladbach, Germany on March 18, 1945. They were the first Jewish services held east of the Rur River and were offered in memory of soldiers of the faith who were lost by the 29th Division, U.S. 9th Army. (AP Photo) #American soldiers aboard an assault boat huddle together as they cross the Rhine river at St. Goar, Germany, while under heavy fire from the German forces, in March of 1945. (AP Photo) #An unidentified American soldier, shot dead by a German sniper, clutches his rifle and hand grenade in March of 1945 in Coblenz, Germany. (AP Photo/Byron H. Rollins) #War-torn Cologne Cathedral stands out of the devastated area on the west bank of the Rhine, in Cologne, Germany, April 24, 1945. The railroad station and the Hohenzollern Bridge, at right, are completely destroyed after three years of Allied air raids. (AP Photo) #Warning:
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Click to view imageWith a torn picture of his "Führer" beside his clenched fist, a general of the Volkssturm, Hitler's last-stand home defense forces, lies dead on the floor of city hall in Leipzig, April 19, 1945. He committed suicide rather than face the U.S. troops capturing the city. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps, J. M. Heslop) #An American soldier of the 12th Armored Division stands guard over a group of German soldiers, captured in April 1945, in a forest at an unknown location in Germany. (AP Photo) #Adolf Hitler decorates members of his Nazi youth organization "Hitler Jugend" in a photo reportedly taken in front of the Chancellery Bunker in Berlin, on April 25, 1945. That was just four days before Hitler committed suicide. (AP Photo) #Partly completed Heinkel He-162 fighter jets sit on the assembly line in the underground Junkers factory at Tarthun, Germany, in early April 1945. The huge underground galleries, in a former salt mine, were discovered by the 1st U.S. Army during their advance on Magdeburg. (AP Photo) #Soviet officers and U.S. soldiers during a friendly meeting on the Elbe River in April of 1945. (Waralbum.ru) #Compounds erected by the Allies for their collections of prisoners never seem to be big enough, here is an over-crowded cage of Germans rounded up by the Seventh Army during its drive to Heidelberg, on April 4, 1945. (AP Photo) #A U.S. soldier stands in the middle of rubble in the Monument of the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig after they attacked the city on April 18, 1945. The huge monument commemorating the defeat of Napoleon in 1813 was one of the last strongholds in the city to surrender. One hundred and fifty SS fanatics with ammunition and foodstuffs stored in the structure to last three months dug themselves in and were determined to hold out as long as their supplies. American First Army artillery eventually blasted the SS troops into surrender. (Eric Schwab/AFP/Getty Images) #Soviet soldiers lead house-to-house fighting in the outskirts of Königsberg, East Prussia, Germany, in April of 1945. (Dmitry Chernov/Waralbum.ru) #A German officer eats C-rations as he sits amid the ruins of Saarbrücken, a German city and stronghold along the Siegfried Line, in early spring of 1945. (AP Photo) #Overwhelmed with emotion, this Czech mother kisses a Russian soldier in Prague, Czech Republic on May 5, 1945, thanking one who fought to free her beloved home. (AP Photo) #The subway rush hour is brought to a standstill in New York City, May 1, 1945 as the report of Hitler's death was received. The German leader and head of the Nazi Party had shot himself in the head in a bunker in Berlin on April 30, 1945. His successor, Karl Dönitz, announced on German radio that Hitler had died the death of a hero, and that he would continue the war against the Allies. (AP Photo) #Britain's Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, right, reads over the surrender pact, while senior German officers, from left, Major Friedel, Rear Admiral Wagner and Admiral Hans-Georg Von Friedeburg, look on, in a tent at Montgomery's 21st Army Group headquarters, at Luneburg Heath, on May 4, 1945. The pact agreed a ceasefire on the British fronts in north west Germany, Denmark and Holland as from 8am on May 5. German forces in Italy had surrendered earlier, on April 29, and the remainder of the the Army in Western Europe surrendered on May 7 -- on the Eastern Front, the German surrender to the Soviets took place on May 8, 1945. More than five years of horrific warfare on European soil was officially over. (AP Photo) #A seething mass of humanity jammed itself into Whitehall in central London on VE-Day (Victory in Europe Day), May 8, 1945, to hear the premier officially announce Germany's unconditional surrender. More than one million people celebrated in the streets of London. (AP Photo) #Looking north from 44th Street, New York's Times Square is packed Monday, May 7, 1945, with crowds celebrating the news of Germany's unconditional surrender in World War II. (AP Photo/Tom Fitzsimmons) #Celebration of Victory in Moscow's Red Square, in the Soviet Union. Fireworks began on May 9, 1945, followed by bursts of gunfire and a sky illuminated by searchlights. (Sergei Loskutov/Waralbum.ru) #The wrecked Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, with a destroyed German military vehicle in the foreground, at the end of World War II. (AP Photo) #Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 ground attack aircraft fly in the skies above Berlin, Germany in 1945. (Waralbum.ru) #A color photograph of the bombed-out historic city of Nuremberg, Germany in June of 1945, after the end of World War II. Nuremberg had been the host of huge Nazi Party conventions from 1927 to 1938. The last scheduled rally in 1939 was canceled at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict: the German invasion of Poland one day prior to the rally date. The city was also the birthplace of the Nuremberg Laws, a set of draconian antisemitic laws adopted by Nazi Germany. Allied bombings from 1943 until 1945 destroyed more than 90% of the city center, and killed more than 6,000 residents. Nuremberg would soon become famous one last time as the host of the Nuremberg Trials -- a series of military tribunals set up to prosecute the surviving leaders of Nazi Germany. The war crimes these men were charged with included "Crimes Against Humanity", the systematic murder of more than 10 million people, including some 6 million Jews. This genocide will be the subject of part 18 in this series, coming next week. (NARA) #